Where Valentines are concerned, a great dinner is worth its weight in Cupids arrows. The place should be uniqueunless youre dating a bore and romantic, though I was in no mood for a pre-set and overpriced meal. I chose Volo, a wine bar in Roscoe Village which I hoped wouldnt disappoint on either count.
My Valentine and I stepped into a noisy scene complete with a rowdy table full of laughers and clappers straight out of Wrigleyville. Reassuring were groups of couples leaning against each other by the window and foursomes huddled over their appetizers murmuring. After a few uncomfortable minutes standing sheepishly by the door, a guy dressed like a busboy sauntered over to us, verified our reservation and pointed us to a table. I sat against a soft-backed bench, facing out as my date took a chair and our waitress approached.
What the place lacked in greeting and serenity, it made up for with one of the coolest waitresses Ive met. Discussing wine and cheese can be a pretentious affair, but not with this chic yet down to earth aficionado. She suggested accompaniments for our wine flights and had me at its the really smelly cheese. Thats the way I like my wine bar evenings. While I cant be certain all the VOLO staff would follow her strong lead, I can hope.
The menu features wine with sides of food. Flights dominate half the front side, ranging from Aromatic Whites to Spanish Reds. Appetizers and entrees split the other half, and we settled on the cheese plate, oysters, calamari and veal pot pie. The oysters arrived big and well-dressed with cocktail sauce and tiny lemon wedgescut thin, not like the kind that come in table wateratop a trough of crushed ice. We shot them down. Calamari, so often a tired staple in the dining scene, topped all my past experiences and reminded me that an old favorite can still surprise.
But the veal pot pie just didnt reach me. First of all, it was nothing spectacular any way you look at it. The thin crust that justified it as pot pie tasted better than the meat or broth, but there wasnt much of it to go around, a bite or two for each of us at best. The meat itself, while tender, felt a few notches below the par wed come to expect from the top-quality wine and previous fare. It didnt stop us, however, from aiming high for dessert.
For a chocolate-hater like myself, I place a lot of weight on a restaurants chocolate-less options. In this case, that left me with cheesecake once again, an item tired from menu over-appearance. But this simple round cheesecake drizzled in guava proved to be far from ordinary. First, it was round, deviating from the typical thick wedge, and the crust tasted like a sugar cookie rather than a crumbly graham cracker pre-made from the freezer.
Dessert redeemed the temporary falter of our veal selection and seemed to underscore that which Ive come to appreciate in VOLO, a delightful place where an unassuming cheesecake dazzles and cheese described as smelly actually tastes better than usual.
And if I hadnt been with my Valentine, I would have tried to date the waitress.