Confounding or profound?
Vol. 94 Wine Bistro’s name arouses curiosity
By Dan O'Heron 06/28/2012
About the meaning of new restaurant industry jargon, I’m usually curious enough without doing much more than wondering.
But I felt obligated to investigate Vol.94 Wine Bistro, as its name has occasioned a great deal of speculation in the community. Some people told me that they thought it is some sort of code name understood only by Mensa cardholders. Others suggested it could refer to a volume in a book of Mormons. More practically, I had guessed that Vol. 94 stood for a collection of numbered, printed sheets bound together to form a very large menu.
It turns out that there is a practical ambiguity in blurring the meaning.
“It arouses curiosity,” said Chef Phil Lee.
Desirous of knowing what it’s all about leads guests to come in just for a look-see. Once satisfied, “they’ll tell their friends about us,” said Lee.
Owner Joon Kim, born and raised by a prominent restaurant family in Korea, defines “Vol.” as an abbreviation for “voluminous,” referring to the expectation it inspires in him to court a wide patronage for Lee’s new takes on global cuisine.
While the cookery has taproots in Korea, Lee’s new globalization, said Kim, brings together a variety of international tastes and textures perhaps never before experienced by the dining crowd. These include appetizers like chilled cantaloupe gazpacho with prosciutto, basil and balsamic ($6) and curry-spiced purple cauliflower/romanesco, whose florets, rather than being rounded like cauliflower, rise in a pyramid of pointed spiraling cones ($8).
Lee’s way with “Seoul Food” includes soju-marinated soft shell crab with spiced Korean jam and Korean pears. But much of the heart of his cooking is derived from his experience in cooking under celebrated Chef David LeFevre, who then worked at Water Grill and was ranked as the top seafooder in L.A.
From the fruits of this training, you’ll likely be hooked on fish dishes like amberjack crudo. Similar to yellowtail, this lean and mild amberjack is from the jack family, not Charlie the Tuna’s. It’s served with full-flavored tamarind and caramel popcorn and mango/kaffir lime relish ($14).
Just as “Vol.” is a fitting name to ride on, “94” also travels well. The numeral, said Lee, references the number of days in summer, the latter of which are peak times for grape picking.
A large and selective wine list at Vol. 94 reflects more than a random harvest.
French reds include an ‘09 Domaine Lucien Barrot et Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape, $69 a bottle; whites, a ‘10 Sancerre Jean-Max Roger, at $59. And there’s a big list of some of the finer wines from Italy, Spain, Chile, Argentina and Napa Valley. And, of course, there is Dom Perignon champagne.
Kim and Lee believe they’ve got the goods to make perfect pairings in wine and food, that when two are brought together with finesse, they combine for a gastronomical treat more delicious than either alone could provide.
But trying to match a different wine with each taste can get highly expensive. For the one best bottle to fit all fare, Lee recommends Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s available for as much as $72 for a bottle of ’07 Bell, or as little as $9 a glass for an ‘07 Tolusa.
There are also special introductory events that help put a cork in costs. On Mondays and Tuesdays, discounted wines by the glass include a $4 Cab. On Wednesdays, you can get 50 percent off on select bottles. There’s no corkage fee on Thursday, and on Tuesday through Thursday, $30 four-course prix fixe dinners — with seven main course choices — are offered.
239 E. Colorado Blvd. Old Pasadena
I’d recommend you start with both purple cauliflower and roasted asparagus with brown butter and poached egg. For the main course, try roasted chicken au jus and a bacon-chive waffle, unctuous with vanilla-maple butter. Before leaving, go for the dark chocolate panna cotta, a silky, eggless custard. It feels spiritual, like getting out of church.
How is the covenant between Vol. 94 and local wine connoisseurs and food matchmakers working out so far?
The answers I got from most every customer sounded very much like what is repeated in response to “Who wants ice cream?”
So what’s in a name? Plenty. n