This evening, Volare Ristorante on Frankfort Avenue hosted a 5-course dinner with wines from the family vineyards of Cantine Riondo in Veneto, Italy. It was outstanding. Genuinely head and shoulders above any meal that I’ve had in a long, long time. And I’m pretty sure that Chef Moore is some sort of Italian food wizard. Just putting that out there.
We started off the meal with the Antipasto, a trio of elegant and stunningly-beautiful bites. The Pumpkin Timbale with Black Walnut Herb Sauce, a noticeable favorite of my fellow diners, was gorgeous, smooth, and well-seasoned with a sweet drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a sage leaf. It was so light and airy that it almost instantly disappeared once my lips closed around it. Oddly enough, the Bruschetta with Mushroom Duxelle, Peppadews, and Fresh Mozzarella, though clearly prepared with Italian ingredients and kissed with a lovely anise flavor, smelled and tasted Asian! I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, but my date nodded in agreement when I voiced such a ridiculous notion. However, it was delicious and tender with clean flavors, and I really appreciated the crunchy variation in texture it brought to its two counterparts. The Butternut Squash Bisque with Pancetta and Cinnamon Oil took a moment to get used to, but with each sip, I discovered more and more flavors, and it quickly became my favorite of the trio. Garnished with cinnamon oil, green onions, and a crispy piece of pancetta, it was fascinatingly complex in spite of its simplicity, and I was immediately very impressed by Chef Moore. It may not have been intentional, but the bisque was cold when it was set before me, and I was glad because I could taste each component with perfect clarity. All three bites were fabulous and perfect with the wine, a bubbly Prosecco (Riondo Prosecco Punto Rosso DOC 2010), which smelled sweet, but had a bright, tart, and citrusy flavor that cleansed the palate well between each bite. This clearly versatile and undeniably refreshing wine would be perfect for entertaining!
The second course, Insalate, served with a golden Soave (Riondo 2011), was perfect, and I really mean that. It was simple, clean, and very well-conceived. Described as “Inverno-Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Fried Goat Cheese, Red Beets, Mixed Greens, and Honey-Truffle Vinaigrette”, it was everything that I expected it to be, yet infinitely exceeded those expectations. First off, thank you, Chef Moore, for using fresh beets and being thoughtful enough to include beet greens in the salad, as well. I adore beets, and it makes me sad that most people think they hate them because all they’ve had is the ones out of a can. If you are one of these people, please march your can down to Volare and have the chef prepare this salad for you. The greens were cool and fresh against the warmth of a soft ball of fried goat cheese and the sweet crunch of roasted pumpkin seeds. Everything was tied together by an incredible honey-truffle vinaigrette, which was clean, sweet, and pure. I may have scraped up the remainder of it with my fork and unceremoniously licked each prong clean when I finished the salad. I don’t really recall… Moving on!
The third course, Grandi Paste, was Pumpkin Lune – housemade tomato pasta lune filled with roasted pumpkin and Reggiano cheese, finished with a sage brown butter and grated amaretti cookie. This dish did an immaculate job of skirting the line between savory and sweet. The pasta, clearly handmade in the most complimentary way possible, was tender and a beautiful bright orange color. Inside, smooth pumpkin waited with sharp Parmesan to tantalize my senses and lure me in for another assertively-seasoned bite. The lune were liberally sprinkled with cheese and laced with crispy crumbled sage and amaretti cookie pieces, which added a new dimension of beautiful Fall flavors. Served with the Riondo Rosso 2009, a rich red with tones of raisin, blackberry, and chocolate, it was beyond delicious. I would have wished for more than three if I hadn’t been waiting so excitedly for the next dish.
The 4th course, the Principale, though perhaps a bit large, was the epitome of farm to table food done to perfection. The description, “Espresso-braised Grilled Pork Ribeye with Cippolini Onions, Rosemary Butter, Swiss Chard, Celery Root, and Butternut Risotto”, couldn’t do enough justice to what I ate - every element worked together to create in immaculate meal. The plating was gorgeous and the smell was overwhelmingly seductive, but the shock was right there in the first bite – everything tasted exactly as it was supposed to! The celery root tasted like nothing other than celery root, the pork tasted like a juicy hunk of pig, the swiss chard tasted like swiss chard! Do you get the idea? Chef Moore grew some of this produce, and he had enough respect for his ingredients to let them all sing with simple seasoning and well-executed techniques. There were no muddled flavors, no questions of what I was eating… It was so gratifying and refreshing! The grill marks on the pork were just beautiful, and the meat itself was tender, juicy, and just the right amount of light pink inside. I found the risotto a little sweet on its own, but it was clearly meant to be eaten with the rest of the components, and therefore added the perfect element to each bite. The red wine with which it was served, the Riondo Amarone DOC, 2005, was clean and full-bodied with a dark, raisin-like flavor, and the highest alcohol content of the evening. It was strong with a nice balance between bitter and sweet.
Il Dolce, the dessert, was a lemon goat cheese cake with ripe berries and “Beans of the Dead” (Ossa dei Morti). The cake was spectacular – wonderfully tart with a distinct, citrusy goat cheese flavor, and it was substantial but light at the same time. Perhaps I mean to say that it was filling, but very easy to keep eating well after one’s stomach is full, much like a candy-flavored cocktail that goes down just a little too easily, so you end up having 5 and kissing a stranger. Or three… Anywho, neither the cake nor the bright, bubbly, citrusy Moscato (Riondo Moscato d’Asti 2010) with which it was served were particularly sweet, but that is precisely what made this dessert so lovely. Just how good was it, you ask? Well, when the waiter tried to take my mother’s plate away with half a slice of cake still perched upon it, I turned to him and said, “We have the same saliva… I’ll take hers home with me, too!” I want the recipe.
Ok, I have to say something negative, right? Just so you don’t think I’m exaggerating about how fantastic this dinner was? Well, the “Beans of the Dead” with the dessert were not great. They were incredibly hard and crunchy, much like gnawing on a nutmeg-flavored rock. However, they were merely a side note in the corner of the dish, and Chef Moore said that they were the only traditional Italian Halloween item he could find, which explains their appearance in the last course. Believe me when I say that it was hard to find something wrong with this meal!
The wine pairings were immaculate, and I was told that Chef Moore was in charge of that. Well done. And I know that a kitchen can’t run without a great sous chef and some hard-workers on the line, so I’d like to thank them for the remarkable meal as well. Each and every person in that kitchen should be proud of what was served this evening.
Executive Chef Joshua D. Moore is one to watch. He cooks with a confidence that only comes from knowledge, time, hard work, and passion. He found his purpose years ago, and by all means, you should take it upon yourself to support his cooking - it truly is art.
The ambience inside the restaurant was relaxing with dim lighting and the familiar lull of Frank Sinatra in the background. Little touches here and there of Halloween décor (spider webs on the mirrors, pumpkins on the tables, etc.) kept things both classy and festive. Unfortunately, not many folks wore costumes, but I proudly showed up as a librarian and my mother was the cutest pirate wench I had ever seen. We had a wonderful time. For $70, this dinner was a steal, and I hope that Volare will host many more special meals.
2300 Frankfort Ave.