By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
The servers like to talk. "Your chef tonight is a gentleman by the name of George Papadopoulos, who's from New York," says a server at the next table over. "He's cooked at the Waldorf Astoria, and his family has owned several restaurants in Manhattan."
This server is waiting on a family with two teenagers and a set of grandparents. The boy, dressed in a T-shirt, nylon sweat pants, and an expensive watch, has a cell phone near his plate that goes off every three minutes. He wears a puzzled look as the server rattles through the menu -- looks suggesting that maybe Ginsburg is a fool to have deviated from his original plan.
The servers walk you through each dish, ticking off the ingredients, throwing in a little on how they're made, clueing you in to their personal favorites. I thought the chatter was distracting, but my companion found the windy dissertations helpful. In fact, she ordered the pan-seared diver scallops ($14) based on a server's word. Plopped in a puddle of jasmine-soy essence merged with a beurre blanc, the generous, thick, tender disks of pearly meat were meltingly delicate, yet firm and braced with a whisper-thin crust that bristled with traces of pungency. Fluffs of saffron-curried vegetable couscous, moist and brilliantly flavorful, rounded out the dish.
But I skirted all recommendations and went straight for the sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras ($22), which turned out to be the meanest, baddest duck liver I can remember slipping through my lips. The liver, scored with a repeating diamond pattern across its surface, is folded in half, like a seat and chair back, and placed on a cushion of light, creamy mashed potatoes. Two pieces of toast jut out from either side like a pair of rabbit ears. Mouth-melting but firm, the meat unfurls across the palate in a rich, nutty flavor cut with piquancy from a generous salting.
Behind this sculptured liver chair is a bale of greens. In front of it is an endless fanning of thin green apple slices pocked with black currants and bathed in a clean, slightly sweet mandarin emulsion. I thought the apple slices were a bit of an over-embellishment, until I tasted them: They were flush with juicy, sweet-tart flavor, and I ate every one of them.
Voltaire's offerings are full and satisfying, not tiny and pretty, but this verbosity doesn't emerge just on the plates: It's everywhere. Once you're seated at a table, there is an endless array of eye appetizers: the art, wood panel touches, the glassed wine cellars, and various ceiling treatments that include a copper screen and an eye that fluctuates with color. Slung over one table is a large menorah with unlit candles.
Then there's that small dining space with the glass case containing a collection of brilliantly colorful glass sculptures by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. Like a crowd of undulating mouths on a stretch of transparent reef, the sculptures seem to float in a hovering aquarium.
"That glass is bulletproof," says a man in a dark jacket, waving his hand toward the case as he escorts his date through the restaurant. "It could hold a 600-pound man; the glass is that thick. Scott designed it himself." His date seems unimpressed.
"You know, Dale Chihuly was in here the other night," says Voltaire's sommelier and former Mansion cellar master Darryl Beeson. Chihuly was in town to dedicate a 16-foot-tall glass sculpture surrounded by a reflecting pool he created for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Someone told the lauded glass sculptor about the shrine Ginsburg erected to him at Voltaire, so he stopped by, wearing a black eye patch and a hat from which spilled his hair. "He came with one attractive woman, and he left with two attractive women. It must be that artist thing," Beeson adds.
He says he told Chihuly a story about how his then 7-year-old nephew reacted to the Chihuly show at the Dallas Museum of Art a few years back. The boy stood in front of the sculptures, taking in the color, and started clapping. The lone smack of hands echoing through the museum space caught all of the other museum patrons off guard. "What the hell is this vulgar kid clapping for?" they seemed to wonder. But somehow, the reaction was perfectly appropriate.
After hearing the story, Chihuly removed the white napkin from his lap and quickly sketched on the cloth a rendition of the sculpture he had just dedicated. He dropped the napkin, spread it on the floor, and dipped his fingers into his glass of red wine, flicking dribbles over the drawing. Then he picked it up and wadded it in his hands, sort of tie-dying it as he continued to converse. After a few moments, he opened up the napkin, revealing a colorful splashing. He signed it and dedicated it to Beeson's nephew. "Pretty neat, huh?" says Beeson.