Voltaire recently opened in the old R Bar space in the West Bottoms. Owned by Wes Gartner and Jill Myers of Moxie Catering, the couple serves up dinner and Happy Hour Wednesday-Saturday, and utilize the kitchen for their catering business the rest of the week. Though the old stage up front was transformed into a comfortable seating area, they left the rest of the restaurant intact, fortunately leaving the gorgeous bar as it was. Both times I’ve been there, the place was hopping with mostly under 30s.
The menu consists of innovative and delicious dishes, some small, others not so. On my first visit, the server suggested 2-4 dishes per couple; the second time I dined there it became clear that the number greatly depends on what dish you order. The plates get bigger as you move down the menu, so if you get one of the dishes at the bottom featuring meat, chicken or fish, you probably only need a salad or one of the more appetizer type dishes to complete your meal. If you stick to the top half of the menu, you’ll need to order more to make a complete meal.
A new menu is printed up every week, with many new items added depending on what’s fresh. I tried most of the dishes on the spring menu, and was excited by what I ate.
The roasted cauliflower with tempura snake beans, pigeon peas (which taste like a cross between lentils and red beans) with nam prik num sauce is one of the most complex and flavorful vegetarian dishes I’ve experienced in town. (I wish young Sulzberger from the New York Times was still here to enjoy it.) I will order it as long as it stays on the menu.
The Anaheim chile is charred and sits atop a gazpacho sauce. It’s sprinkled with fried anchovies, and while they may not be my favorite taste, the anchovies do transform a simple dish into something quite addictive. Beet and arugula salad with a fried egg and blue cheese crostini was lovely, but was the only dish that was less than flawless, and only because it was overdressed.
P.E.I Mussels with fennel, leek, pernod and thyme were piled high in a bowl, with grilled bread for dunking. The colors and flavors in the beautifully presented Bibb salad made it vastly different than most “house” salads, especially since it was dressed with good old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing.
The risotto wasn’t my favorite, but others at the table really enjoyed it. The base was mushroom and was a bit bland, though the asparagus, pea sprouts and pistachios swirled into it made up for that lapse. A beet risotto that’s currently on the menu is getting raves.
Tri-tip Beef with chimmichurri and roasted poblano rajas brings a bit of Argentina to the menu, and the strips of salmon on a stick sitting on a bed of bok choy with sake-yuzu beurre blanc takes diners to Asia. Looking to India for inspiration, the chef devised the current lamb chop dish. Coriander crusted, the two chops sit atop a saffron-potato pancake and tikka masala salsa, and are topped off with mint raita.
Since much of the fare may be a bit unfamiliar to some diners, it’s fortunate that the servers are knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the menu. And those who enjoy sipping a good cocktail will be happy to hear that Ryan Miller, former barman at the Boot in Westport, is working his magic behind the bar at Voltaire.
Voltaire’s hip vibe and ambiance, sophisticated but unfussy fare, and creative cocktail list make this new hot spot a really fun place to hang out. And for those of us who have passed the half-century mark, I promise that just being there will make you feel younger.