Monday, March 22, 2010


About 12 hours after our dinner at Volt, I'm still in a daze. Everything about the experience made me smile. Well, let's step back for a minute. The reservation process did not bring a smile to my face, but that isn't entirely the restaurant's fault.

Volt is owned by Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio. Despite the fact that it is 50 miles from DC in Frederick, Maryland, it manages to pack its tables every single night. For Christmas I wanted to give B a meal at the Table 21 chef's table (21 courses served right in the middle of the kitchen's action) but they were booked until January 2011! After weeks of calls and checking Open Table, I finally snagged two seats at "Chef's Kitchen" in March.

When March finally arrived, we made the trek to Frederick to see if Volt was worth all of the hype and the months-long wait for a table. Volt is housed in a Victorian mansion that dates back to the 1890's. Chef Voltaggio and his team managed to create a modern restaurant while keeping the historic charm of the house. Our reservation was for Chef's Kitchen, which accommodates just over a dozen people in a cozy little room right next to the open kitchen. While Chef Voltaggio was not in the kitchen during our visit, his sous chef and team executed his vision and cooking style masterfully.

Chef's Kitchen features a six course menu. You may select either the protein menu or the market vegetable menu. Both looked completely amazing so we had a hard time deciding. Eventually, B ordered the protein-based menu and I chose the market vegetable menu. After ordering, the parade began:

Butternut squash soup, celeriac macaroon (protein: fois gras, vegetarian: pear), saffron aranchini. Three bites of pure happiness.


Protein: Shitake veloute (pinenuts, chili oil, opal basil). I have never seen B so excited about a soup. He was ready to high five the chef.

Vegetarian: Potato-leek chowder (braised fennel, leek transparency). See ya later winter! Spring just jumped into my bowl of soup.

Both: Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese ravioli (celeriac, sage brown butter, hedgehog mushrooms). Creamy yet tart goat cheese mixed with heavenly brown butter sauce. Paula Deen would be proud.

Protein: Arctic Char (cuttlefish cavatelli, cucumber, fennel, sauce americaine). Just in case you thought the foam or "air" trend died last year, Mr. Voltaggio resuscitated it. The cuttlefish ink cavatelli was unique but the arctic char was strong on the fish flavor.

Vegetarian: Shitake mushrooms (bok choy, pinenut noodles, ginger). Noodles made out of pinenuts? Yum! The soft noodles were paired with crispy mushrooms that made this dish a real "wow" moment.


Protein: Red Wattle pork belly (cannelini beans, glazed turnip, pickled mustard with a bbq gelee). If foam was last year's food trend, pork belly is definitely in this year. Chef Bryan's version stood out from the pack due to its ribbon of bbq gelee. Didn't think there was a classy way to put bbq sauce on a dish? Think again.

Vegetarian: Cauliflower (beluga lentils, red onion, verjus, petite shiso). A stunningly beautiful way to serve a bland veggie. I don't even like cauliflower and this dish was one of my favorites.

Protein: Pineland Farm beef strip loin (yukon gold potato, red pepper, chive red onion). Another gorgeous presentation with the flavor to back it up. Different sauces were placed in pillowy potato pockets around the plate.

Vegetarian: Farro risotto (morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns). Love at first bite. Too bad I was so full at this point. I must figure out how to cook farro. This was the best risotto I've ever eaten.

Both: Textures of Chocolate (formed white chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel, raw organic cocoa). Somehow I found the room to polish off this entire dessert. The s-shaped ganache was silky smooth and contrasted with crunchy cocoa bits and sticky chocolate caramel sauce.

And in case you're still hungry: Mini ice cream sandwiches. I should've worn my Thanksgiving pants. This was no stale after-dinner mint and I just couldn't say no.

I never imagined that I would be so mesmerized by an all-vegetable menu. If Bryan Voltaggio cooked for me every day, I would have no problem being a vegetarian. This was no collection of side dishes: each dish was artfully prepared and shone just as brightly as the dishes on the protein menu. The use of interesting ingredients (e.g., fiddlehead ferns) and a masterful blending of textures and flavors equaled one of the best meals I've ever eaten. It was worth every minute of the 3 month wait and one hour drive. Though Chef Voltaggio didn't win Top Chef, he and his team have created something very special in Frederick.

Second Thoughts From B

If we've learned anything during our culinary exploration of DC, it is that this is quite the foodie town. So anything that makes us trek 50 miles out of the city on a Friday night must be something special. And Volt was just that.

The restaurant lived up to the hype and finally added actual flavors to the dishes that looked so wonderful on TV. But that's not why I think Volt is special. We've got celebrity and award-winning chefs around the corner. And you can probably find expertly conceived and prepared dishes made from fresh and local ingredients - and of Volt's caliber - at quite a few local establishments. So what's the big deal?

The thing I loved about Volt was that they were able to walk the line between fine dining and pretentious/exclusive dining. It seemed to be a founding concept of Volt; the service, the flavor profiles, and even the "uniforms" (suits with brown Converse), seemed luxurious yet accessible. And how appropriate for a "Top Chef."

You see, Top Chef and shows like it have made fine dining accessible to the masses. And at Volt, I felt that no question was too remedial and no flavor too complex. At the same time, even the most seasoned foodie would have been impressed by the depth and dimension of the dishes. There were several moments during the evening when one of us would say to the other, "This is the best --- that I've ever had." That really speaks to the genius of the chef, especially considering that the menu is altered almost daily to reflect whatever ingredients are currently available. It also means that we'll have to go back to see what the good Mr. Voltaggio is cooking up next time we're able to snag a reservation...
Volt on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Amy W. said...

That looks like an amazing meal! Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your experience.