Our first visit to Voila, as part of a whirlwind of restaurant activity during Va Beach and Norfolk Restaurant Weeks. The restaurant is located away from Norfolk's Granby Street restaurant scene, in a nicely maintained older section of the city at the corner of Botetort and W Bute Streets, very near the river and Norfolk's NOAA facility. It's a small place, probably less than 15 tables, plus a small bar area. Interior decoration is nicely done and very colorful, with a mix of prints (mostly French Impressionists) and opera and theater posters on the walls, plus exotic fabrics serving as drapes and wall and ceiling hangings. Lighting is also pleasant, and is provided by several low-intensity chandeliers, indirect wall lighting fixtures, and candles on the tables. Very quiet music plays in the background. The initial vibe is one of sophistication, with the intent maybe being to create a mix between a more upscale French bistro and a darker Mediterranean cafe. And, OK ---since the restaurant's logo shows a waiter in a tux, with the words "Cuisine Internationale," maybe that's also where we got that idea...
But it turned out that we weren't going to need to remember our French, or get to compare the richness and subtle flavors of the sauces accompanying our entrees, after all. Our server got us off to a bad start by speaking in a very low mumble (sadly, throughout the evening), and did not look directly at either my wife or me when she spoke. After taking and delivering our cocktail orders, it became extremely difficult to engage her in any meaningful conversation about the menus, the somewhat limited wine list, the kitchen, or any other bits of normal conversation you might enjoy having with your server at a restaurant you'd not visited before, and that is trying to position itself as upscale. We did manage to find out that the restaurant has changed owners less than a year ago, and that the new owner is (maybe) first-generation Greek, but is not connected to any of the notorious Greek restaurateurs in Virginia Beach. So, armed with that information, we set out to navigate the menus ourselves --- and were a little bit disappointed with our results.
With a glass of too-sweet house reisling in hand, my wife stayed with the Restaurant Week menu and ordered escargots, followed by a lightly breaded and sauteed breast of chicken, stuffed with a creamed spinach and served with mashed potatoes and a fresh vegetable medley, mostly broccoli. She found the escargot to be cooked well, but the accompanying white wine sauce to be tasteless, not at all rich or smooth and containing bits of parsley that apparently had been cooked with the sauce. She thought her chicken was also cooked correctly, but again found the accompanying lemon white wine sauce to be much too thin and tasteless. I tried a glass of an OK Sonoma Pinot Noir, and had better luck ordering from the regular menu: my keftedes was very flavorful and cooked exactly right (moist on the inside, crispy on the outside), and the accompanying tzatziki was clearly home made, and delicious. I then went to the rack of lamb (on the menu, the Côtelette d'Agneau) and was again very happy with the medium rare preparation, the accompanying thin shallot demi, and the crisp fresh asparagus. But presentation on all our dishes was average at best, and neither my wife no I could figure out the mashed potatoes that came with both our entrees --- they just made no sense as an accompaniment to the rest of either of our dishes. And now realizing that the strength of the menu seemed to be in the Greek and Mediterranean dishes, we both chose the galaktoboureko for dessert. This was very flavorful and creamy, clearly homemade and not too sweet, but was served ice cold and, based upon its consistency and texture, seemed to have been previously frozen. At that point, we were both just ready for coffee, which turned out to be fine.
So we left a little disappointed with our experience at Voila. Our initial feeling was one of a first-rate Continental cafe with hints of Mediterranean, but our waitstaff experience, and the output from the kitchen, suggested more of a nice spot for average Greek food --- but with French names on some of the menu offerings. In fairness, the kitchen's bland seasoning and thin sauces may be an attempt at country French or Tuscan cuisine --- but if so, the choices of ingredients have a ways to go in order to duplicate those styles. And the stark contrasts between the quality of the Greek-inspired dishes we had, and the rest of our food, suggests to me that maybe they would really like to ditch the Continental, and concentrate on the Mediterranean. Which would be fine: next time, we just won't expect so much when we visit.
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