When you're about to eat an experimental cuisine, there's nothing as assuring as knowing that the experimenters are experts. Volta, which means "turning point" in Latin, is the latest creation from San Francisco's dynamic dining duo of Chef Staffan Terje and owner Umberto Gibin.
Volta dining room — Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
Terje and Gibin have operated Perbacco and Barbacco, two successful Italian restaurants in the Financial District, for many years. Since Gibin was born in Venice and raised in Torino, those menus came second nature to him.
But his friend and partner Terje, whose knowledge and passion for cooking came from being raised outside of Stockholm on his grandfather's farm, had a different cuisine in mind when they decided to open another restaurant.
"He's the Viking of the two of us," Gibin explained.
Volta owner Umberto Gibin — Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
For those Americans intimidated by the exotic idea of Scandinavian food, don't worry. They serve steak, too.
"We do serve a big steak," Gibin said. "We have two big steaks that we serve, in fact."
And, although the two-story, 150-seat interior of Volta feels upscale and posh, the menu is reasonably priced for the heart of downtown San Francisco.
The most popular dishes so far have turned out to be either the herring or the Swedish meatballs. "I never thought the herring would become so popular," Gibin noted.
"Herring Five Ways" at Volta — Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger
Herring are salted and cured in Scandinavia and then shipped to Volta. The bulk of the menu, though, is locally sourced.
Volta's selections share some French influences, and Volta's varied menu of shellfish, salads, meats and vegetables offers something for everyone. The colorful but distinct flavor of the cod roe, however, is definitely an acquired taste.
Gibin compared the popularity of cod roe in Scandinavia to his love of Nutella as a boy growing up in Italy. "Nutella was the little snack at the end of the day that I always looked forward to," he explained. "Cod roe is like that for kids growing up in Scandinavia."
The clientele at Volta can change almost daily. Reporters from the nearby San Francisco Chronicle offices make the rounds, and conventioneers from the Moscone Center just a block and a half away can sometimes pack the restaurant.
If you'd like the essence of the restaurant, but served in a glass rather than on a plate, order the signature Volta! cocktail: Linie aquavit (a Norwegian spirit famous for being finished off at sea in oak sherry casks), carrot juice, honey syrup and lemon. It's a fantastic way to start your Scandinavian experience at this unique restaurant run by two masters of the trade.