As a professional chef, I don’t get the time to go out and experience my colleagues’ restaurants, as I’m usually too busy working at my own. A few weeks ago, I finally got the chance to check out Bryan Voltaggio’s signature restaurant Volt in Frederick, Maryland. Ever since his turn on Top Chef, it has been very difficult to get a seat in his place, especially in the chef’s kitchen, where my wife decided we should be to celebrate my birthday. What follows is a brief trip through the tasting menu that we had, and some commentary on the various dishes. Throught the meal, Voltaggio integrated his farm-to-table philosophy with some of the molecular gastronomy tricks he picked up during his stint on Top Chef (mostly from his brother Michael).
When we first were seated, my wife and I each ordered a cocktail (hey, what’s worth doing is worth doing right). She ordered the Greenbrier (smooth ambler gin, cucumber, mint, lime and lavender), and I bypassed my usual Manhattan for the Gingered Blossom (Hangar One mandarin vodka, lemon juice, cranberry and ginger). Both cocktails were the perfect remedy to the 185 degree furnace outside, and were a little too smooth and drinkable. I was seriously about to order another one, when the circus began.
We were presented with two potential tasting menus – one that focused on proteins, and one that focused on fresh, seasonal, locally grown vegetables. Both of us opted for the protein menu, but the vegetable menu certainly looked appetizing. I’ll try that the next time I’m up in town. Before our courses started, the evil geniuses in the kitchen decided to send some canapés to the table. The first canapé was a black pepper and pineapple lollipop (frozen with liquid nitrogen), served with a marshmallow and some balsamic vinegar. While this does not sound like anything I would ever put together, it all worked very well, and was the perfect opening.
The next plate that came out had three different canapés. They were (left to right), an “oyster” that was actually made of salsify, gazpacho “dippin’ dots” topped with a lobster ceviche salad, and a celeriac macaron with foie gras mousse (best canapé ever, by the way). All this was great, and everything paired together fairly well. There was a big plume of “smoke” from the liquid nitrogen tank in the kitchen, and we started chatting with the people at the table next to us. Then the fun really began when the waiter arrived with our first course.
Our first course was a sashimi of Fluke served with cucumber flowers, yellow doll watermelon, radish, ginger and garlic scapes. Very light, fresh, acidic and it paired perfectly with the non-vintage Murai family Sugidama sake. More restaurants should have dishes like this.
The second course was a bowl of buckwheat gnocchetti, served with house-smoked bacon, foraged herbs and flowers, and porcini and morel mushrooms. This was easily one of my two favorite courses. It was rustic and simple, but very flavorful (I also love wild mushrooms). Wine pairing: 2008 Domaine Antonin Guyon, Pinot Noir from Savigny Les Beaune in Burgundy, France.
Third course was a mixture of fisherman’s daughter shrimp, served with almond milk “tapioca pearls” (again with that molecular gastronomy), oysters, and a parsley air. This was the wife’s favorite dish. Then again, she’s always been a sucker for seafood. Wine pairing: 2009 Fleuron Chardonnay from the Alexander Valley in California (very well done, and not oaked to death like other California Chards).
After this came a sous-vide squab with caramelized walla walla onion, collard greens, and groats served in a procini mushroom broth. This was my other favorite dish. Everything seemed perfectly paired. This dish was paired with a 2007 Fonterutoli Sangiovese Chianti Classico from Tuscany, Italy. It brought back fond memories from my own trip there a couple years ago.
For the fifth course, we had pineland farms New York strip with morel mushrooms, garlic scapes, creamed spinach Yukon Gold Potato Puree and fava beans. No, it did not go with a nice Chianti, it went with a 2007 Emilio Moro tempranillo from Ribera del Duero in Spain.
A blood orange, fennel, and dark chocolate sorbetto course came out for me since it was my birthday, and it was quite good, but I didn’t realize that wasn’t the dessert course. The actual dessert course was a demonstration of the various textures of chocolate, which consisted of ganache, chocolate caramel, pistachios, and raw organic cocoa. This was paired with a 2004 late bottle vintage Ramos Pinto port, which was quite sublime, and it went very well with the richness of the chocolate.
Overall, one of the best dinners I’ve had in the D.C. area. Someone better call the postal authorities, though, because I have a feeling I’ll need my own ZIP code soon. Generally speaking, I’ve found a lot of the places in DC to be pretty overrated, and while they have good food overall, they’re not really worth they hype. This restaurant did a fantastic job, and the service was impeccable (although I was a bit put off that brown Chuck Taylors are part of the uniform for all non-kitchen staff). I will definitely go back again, because all things considered, the price tag on this meal was much cheaper than I thought it would be. Well done, Mr. Voltaggio, I may even try the vegetable menu next time.