First Look at the Modern Brasserie Cuisine of Volta

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Herring plate. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Gravlax. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Poulet vert. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Boeuf bourguignon with puréed potatoes. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Swedish princess cake. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Over the weekend, I was invited into the soon-to-open ~VOLTA~ for an exclusive look at the menu and cuisine. While the space is still in the final stages of assembly, the kitchen has been hard at work. To recap from our most recent post, this is the third restaurant from Umberto Gibin and Staffan Terje (Perbacco, Barbacco). Volta is soft opening in SoMa over the holidays, quite possibly by this Friday or Saturday, although the official opening is Wednesday January 6th.

They are returning to chef Terje’s French culinary roots with this modern brasserie concept, weaving in some nods to his Scandinavian heritage and California ingredients and seasonality too. He is collaborating closely with chef de cuisine Keven Wilson, who has been working with him at Perbacco the past three years. (By the way, with Wilson vacating his post at Perbacco, Colin Dewey is taking over—he was most recently at Florio.)

The menu (here’s your first look—please note prices are approximate) starts with some shellfish selections and six kinds of charcuterie, like a luxe torchon of foie gras with lemon confit (pointedly made of regular lemons, and not our overused Meyer), with notes of bay and pink peppercorn and brightened with turmeric. There is also a little jar of decadent pork rillettes with a layer of Hamada Farms plum marmalade. A personal favorite was the chilled pot-au-feu terrine, made with oxtail and beef cheek and the classic vegetables you’d find in the rustic dish, with the clever addition of foie gras as a substitute for the usual marrow (which is nice when the dish is hot, but again, this is a cold terrine). The sauce ravigote brightens up the dish like salsa verde does with bollito misto.

Of course there has to be some herring on the menu (this herring comes from the North Sea—local herring is too lean), and the Technicolor herring tasting plate will take you on a flavor journey, from a Swedish rendition with mustard and dill to a Southern Swedish and Danish version with curry and apple, five in all. Any tartness from the vinegar-curing notes is balanced with the Västerbotten cheese (like an English Cheddar) and the seeded cracker and herb butter on the plate. It’s also a good idea to order some of Terje’s house aquavit, made with caraway, fennel, dill flower, ginger, Scotch, and sherry.

Another dish that is sure to become a trademark is the gravlax, cured for two days and cut very thickly (my sister called it “Swedish sashimi”). The kitchen does a fast sear on the salmon skin, which gives the dish some excellent texture and heightened flavor without sacrificing the silkiness of the raw salmon. Brilliant flourish. It’s served with a mustard sauce, dill, endive, cress, and thinly sliced radish.

Other cold appetizers include brasserie classics like steak tartare, plus a beet salad, Nicoise salad, and another Scandinavian dish: skagen (with North Atlantic shrimp, brioche toast, and dill and horseradish sauce). Hot appetizers feature shellfish bisque, escargots simmered in pastis, and more.

There are 12 main dishes to choose from, and you can tell that Terje and Wilson were having fun cracking open their Larousse Gastronomique again. We tried the poulet vert, which is offering us all a break from omnipresent roast chicken and celebrating the singular pleasure of nicely poached chicken instead. The breast, thigh, and leg are napped in a vibrant velouté of fines herbes, with notes of parsley and tarragon, and you’ll note the turned carrots on the plate (the kitchen is getting charmingly old school!), plus pearl onions, potatoes, and celery. While you don’t get the roasted chicken skin with this poached preparation, you do get some cracklings crumbled on top (this place has a way with skin, I tell you).

The dish that really stood out was the boeuf bourguignon, one of the best preparations I have ever tasted. Volta’s version is made with braised chuck, cheek, and oxtail, offering different flavors and textures, with the classic button mushrooms, lardons, pearl onions, and carrots nestled in a totally glistening sauce, which has a little bittersweet chocolate added to it. And then you scoop up the velvety potatoes served on the side, loaded with more butter than I’d ever want to really know. What a dish.

You’ll also see skate meunière, sea bass, mussels poached in cider and Calvados, and of course steak frites and Swedish meatballs. Vegetarians will find a clever roasted squash “marrow bone” with mushroom broth, and gnocchi “parisienne” with pan-fried herb gnocchi and wild mushrooms.

Laura Cronin, the pastry chef of Perbacco and Barbacco, also gets to dip into some French pastry classics, from crème brûlée to baba au rhum to an éclair, and then there’s her deconstructed spin on Swedish princess cake, with vanilla-almond sponge cake, raspberry confiture, crème patisserie and chantilly, and housemade marzipan, plus a marzipan rose. All the flavors are there, just represented in an elegant and modern way. Swedish roots also pop up in the Swedish punsch-raisin ice cream, paired with the very crisp drommar “dream cookie.”

The 7,200-square-foot space is airy and open, but there are numerous booths, corners, and sections where diners can be tucked away. The room is chic and soothing, with many shades of gray (sorry, couldn’t resist) and sea blue from the patterned tiled floor. We’ll have a quick update next week with pics of the finished space—which is by Cass Calder Smith (CCS Architecture)—and more details about the bar, wine program, and more.

If you’re downtown holiday shopping and the chilly weather screams boeuf bourguignon, you know where to go. Like a good brasserie, Volta will be open for lunch (11:30am-2:30pm) and dinner (5:30pm-10pm) daily. Brunch will be coming in January 2016. Get ready for some fantastic egg dishes—again, Terje has been spelunking the Larousse. 868 Mission St. at 5th St.