A place where gray meets brown in a fashionable manner. Where everyone wears brown Chucks. Where food is served synchronized and perfectly timed. Where it’s okay to giggle and act like a 12 year old. Where the bread basket is never ending (hello, bacon popover).
Now, my friends often laugh at my superlative of “Top 5 Meal.” I give it often enough that the Top 5 has grown to maybe 50. But this meal? Really was.
This past weekend, five friends and I had the awesome privilege of dining at Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s VOLT in Frederick, Md. You may know Bryan from such shows as, well, Top Chef. When coming to our table the first time, the sommelier asked us how we heard about VOLT. The six of us giggled. And when the Chef himself actually came to the table, well, there was some more giggling.
When making our reservation months ago, we expressed interest in the tasting menu. This meant that we got to eat in the kitchen. The same kitchen where Chef and his talented staff cooked the food we devoured. The same kitchen!
The six course tasting menu ($95) had two options–the Kitchen Menu and a vegetarian option.
We all started off with beverages. I chose the Spicy Spark, a sparkling wine mixed with a jalapeno simple syrup. The rim of the glass was dusted with almond and cinnamon. The sweetness of the simple syrup helped downplay the spice of the jalapeno. Mixed with the dry sparkling wine, it was an interesting and tasty combination. Best left as a pre or post dinner cocktail and not a meal accompaniment, though.
As we sat and watched Chef and his crew in the kitchen, we gawked at the menu in front of us. Six delectable courses. We couldn’t wait. And, we didn’t have to. Before we knew it, three servers swooped down on our table, placing in front of us a bonus course. More like an amuse bouche, the tri colored macaroons were a sight to be seen. One was filled with foie gras, one was a take on Caesar salad, and while I can’t recall what the third was, I can assure you it was delicious. The exterior of the macaroons was similar to those meringue cookies that were ubiquitous at piano recitals. You know the ones. Biting into each of these, though, we were welcomed by a smooth, creamy treat.
Our next course was another bonus: lobster flan with caviar. Fancy pants we definitely were. It was an interesting dish that I can best describe as a creamy custard (think a little firmer than creme brulee, but savory not sweet) with lots and lots of chunks of lobster mixed in. The lobster was tender and not rubbery. And the caviar was the perfect touch of saltiness the dish needed. (Note: as a salt fiend, I am happy to give compliments to the Chef–I did not wince, once, because there was no salt on the table…not that I would’ve asked for it (I know better), but the fact I didn’t have to is pretty cool).
And if that weren’t enough, we were brought a morsel of falafel. As a self-proclaimed expert in this genre of cuisine, I’d say that Chef Bryan has it down. It had the right combination of spices and was a perfect texture–if done poorly, falafel can be dry and crumbly. This was quite the opposite.
And now on to the menu items. First on the list was the Yukon Gold potato soup. The bowl came empty but for the bonus accoutrements, the brunt of which I don’t recall but there was definitely some crunchy pancetta in the mix. What more could you ask for, really? The servers meticulously poured the creamy soup into our bowls and we dove in. The potatoes were pureed to a golden, creamy, liquid consistency. The soup was so smooth and served at just the right temperature. Had we not all quickly scarfed down our bread minutes before, I can assure you there would have been some serious dipping and plate mopping going on.
Next up: the Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese ravioli with butternut squash puree, sage brown butter, and sage foam. If forced to choose my favorite course, I’d have to say this was mine (though my impeccably cleaned plate for each course would cause one to believe I liked them all equally). I generally am not a fan of foam–I always order my lattes without it. But on this? It worked. Much like Graham Elliot used a horseradish foam to highlight the taste of the beef in my deconstructed beef stroganoff several weeks ago, Chef Bryan Voltaggio used the sage foam–a slightly more pungent flavor–to highlight the delicate flavor of the butternut squash brown butter and the slightly stronger flavor of the goat cheese. The ravioli itself was perfectly cooked–it was tender all around, not hard on the sides as ravioli can sometimes tend to be. I could have eaten a full sized entree of this and called it a night. Thank goodness I didn’t have to.
Next up were the pint sized Nantucket Bay scallops. I don’t like scallops, but I probably could’ve fooled anyone who saw me take that plate down. These succulent scallops were served with black forbidden rice, cardamom spiced carrots, shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, and coconut. The pairing of the flavors had an obviously Asian twist that worked well. The lemongrass and coconut helped to tame the stronger cardamom.
Pork belly. Pork belly. Pork belly. Need I really say more? Cholesterol be damned, this made my heart happy. Served atop cannelini beans (whose blandness helped cut down the salty from the pork belly) and with a side of crispy petite red ribbon sorrel (think thin circle of bacon) and moutarda, this was a true treat. The sauce was a sweet complement to the salty fatness of the overall dish. Definitely not for those who are watching their fat or caloric intake. Which is why it was so damn good.
Our final savory course was the piece de resistance for many of my dining companions: the Wagyu beef culotte. Wagyu beef is suddenly the be all end all of beef, taking over the throne from Kobe (Kobe is Wagyu, but Wagyu is not always Kobe–you know the whole square and rectangle conundrum). This beef proved why. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (again, not for the faint of heart) and accompanied by ratte potatoes, golden raisins, dragon carrots, and glazed Tokyo turnips. The turnips were the only thing I was served that I did not eat. I wish I knew what he put in those potatoes but maybe that’s a secret he should keep, as I would make them ALL THE TIME and then get sick of them. An interesting garnish on the plate was a garlic transparency…it was just a clear square that, when you bit into it, made you glad you weren’t a vampire.
And now, on to dessert. It was called Textures of Chocolate and included a white chocolate ganache, milk chocolate ice cream, chocolate caramel. There was some kind of chocolate wafer served along with it, as well–it tasted a bit burnt but that flavor went so well with the caramel (if you were innovative enough to dip it, as I obviously was). The whole thing was dusted with a light cocoa.
And if that weren’t enough, we ordered a cheese plate. Make that two. There were four types of cheese on each plate. Served with whole wheat walnut toast, the cheese selection had something for everyone–there was bland, there was hard, there was creamy, and there was stinky.
Just as we thought we were winding down, one last course appeared before us. Compliments of the maitre d’ and as a thanks for joining them for dinner, we had an assortment of house made, mini ice cream sandwiches (think Chipwich–but better). As a thanks for allowing us to join them for dinner, we ate the three different varieties–oatmeal raisin with coconut ice cream, chocolate chip with chocolate ice cream, and white chocolate chip with vanilla ice cream.
So, let’s recap: six courses ($95) with an optional wine pairing (for an extra $45). A regular or vegetarian course option (there was some molecular gastronomy going on with the vegetarian options). Extreme willingness to sub in or out from the menus, based on preference and/or dietary restrictions. Three bonus “tastes” from the kitchen. Perfectly synchronized serving of all dishes, with a knowledgeable server letting us know what was in front of us. Friendly staff who took the time to chat and socialize–not a cranky pants in the group. Amazing view of the kitchen and all the action. Mellow yet sophisticated atmosphere.
Top. Five. Meal.
PS we were sent home with a cranberry orange muffin so that we could prolong our fabulous dining experience.