Sunday, January 3, 2010

For Top Chef Fans: My Late December Lunch at Volt

Happy belated New Year everyone! (Did you miss me?)
Welcome to my first post since the 12 Days of Feasting ended two weeks ago.  Honestly, I think it's taken me this long to recover from posting every day, not to mention cooking (and eating!) all those medieval meals. ...  Let's just say I still have a lot of bread pudding, slices of Ember Day tart, and egg nog to work off.

For those of you following along at home, in my last post I promised to share the deets of my  late December lunch at Volt.  Top Chef fans will recognize Volt as the restaurant of finalist and first runner-up Bryan Voltaggio,  brother of winner Michael Voltaggio. If you don't watch the show, there's a good chance you've never heard of the place, unless you happen to live in Frederick or the Baltimore/DC metro area. That's too bad: The vibe at Volt is definitely more urban than the Western Maryland location would lead you to expect, and I'd happily drive double the hour-plus it takes me to get there to enjoy both the (mostly) spot-on food and the impeccable, knowledgeable service.
My party - Poppa Trix, mother-in-law Trix, brother-in-law Trix, and his wife - chose the three-course lunch with wine pairings. If you know of another fine dining restaurant where you can get a deal like this for $35 ($20 for lunch, plus $15 for the wine pairings), please let me know and I'll meet you there! Seriously, lunch at Volt  is a steal: I've spent more money in one sitting for cruddy food, flat beer, and saucy service.

First things first: the bread. This is a make-or-break moment for me. No matter how nice a place is, if they skimp on the bread, you'll never convince me that they really care. Fortunately, I felt the love right off the bat with still-warm roll that was fragrant with rosemary and seasoned with flecks of salt:

Did the bread sticks really need that fennel pollen? Maybe not, but it was a fun touch:
Voltaggio has said that one reason he has stayed in his hometown of Frederick is because of its proximity to agriculture and fresh produce. Whenever possible, he sources his ingredients locally and/or sustainably. This philosophy was showcased in my first course, a salad of  Tuscarora farm beets, Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese mousse, pea shoots, and balsamic vinegar:
This was a simple and fresh way to begin my meal. The pairing, a 2007 Graham Beck Rose from South Africa, balanced the earthiness of the beets without overpowering the delicate goat cheese mousse.

Bro-in-law Trix had a shiitake veloute with chili oil, basil, and a pinenut sabayon:

I confess that in general I am not the biggest mushroom fan - but this soup may just have converted me. The mushrooms were not at all overpowering or one-note; rather, combined with the sabayon, they were a subtle, woodsy, and mellow presence.

But Poppa ordered the stand-out starter, the yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, yuzu vinaigarette, chili oil, red shiso, soy air, and sesame lavash:
A lot of ingredients? Oh yes, and in the hands of a lesser chef this dish could have been chaos. Instead, when tasted together, all of the flavors remained distinct, yet also came together to form a succession of lingering taste impressions, ending with a pleasant heat. I admit, that soy air may be a bit fussy ... but it worked.

Next up, Poppa Trix and I both had the striped bass with a farro risotto and a cardamom-spiced carrot broth, along with more of those pea shoots:

This was actually our least favorite course.  There was nothing wrong with it at all - in fact, the fish was perfectly cooked and wonderfully moist in the inside, with that little bit of crunchy skin - but something was missing.  Perhaps it was because I couldn't taste the cardamom in the carrot broth, or it may have been that the farro "risotto" was a tad under seasoned. Don't get me wrong: This was a really good dish, and it may just be that everything else was so perfectly seasoned and "wow," that it suffered by comparison. In any case, for this to be the weakest dish is really a testament to the strength of the other courses in the meal.

But it was dessert, which I usually find to be the least memeorable or exciting part of the meal,  that has really stuck with me. The problem is that all too often, desserts are overly sweet, and obliterate the flavors of the savory part of the meal, when instead the last course should complement what has come before. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you ... textures of chocolate. Sorry Poppa Trix - I think I want to marry this dessert:
Ah, just look at that ...  white chocolate mousse, crunchy, slightly-bitter dark chocolate tuiles, raw organic cocoa,  chocolate caramel, and milk chocolate ice cream - and none of it was a cloying sugar bomb! Hooray! Perfectly paired with the 2008 Robertson Winery Gewurztraminer, this was a dessert to savor slowly, and enjoy the way the textures and flavors of bitter and sweet worked together.

As if all this wasn't enough, we were sent off with muffins to enjoy the next day for breakfast:


I'm looking forward to a return trip - if I can get a table, that is. We ate there just days after the Top Chef finale (I had made reservations many weeks in advance), and the place was just packed and buzzing with excitement. In fact,  the chef's table is booked through November 2010. It's a good thing lunch is my favorite meal of the day!

Here's to many great meals in the new year!






26 comments:

  1. How exciting! He was one of my faves on the show and, even though he didn't win, I'm sure he has a very bright future. Great post-- thanks for sharing the experience!

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  2. Yay! Jealous you got to eat there! Bryan was one of my faves on Top Chef. Thanks for sharing the experience and posting the awesome pics so I can eat vicariously through you!

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  3. Hooray you are back! Glad to see you posting again! So I have Volt envy right now--I loved the brothers in Top Chef--did not miss an episode. The shitake veloute--I wonder if mail ordering is an option--it looks delicious. Chef's table--I say book it for December 2010!

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  4. what a great review and a fun time - I know you and Poppa Trix and Poppa Trix in-laws (I just love getting all that in) really enjoyed the time and it showed ... great post for a new year

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  5. Welcome back! Wonderful feast for the eyes. Based on your excellent review, I'd go to Volt JUST to experience the shitakke veloute with chili oil, basil, and a pinenut sabayon (aka mushroom soup!) and...that astounding textures of chocolate dessert. The muffin send off is absolutlely charming, as well.

    Cheers and Happy New Decade!

    ~ Cleo Coyle
    author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries

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  6. I am soooo jealous you were holding out with this great event of a post! Wow how exciting to have such a wonderful top notch lunch. Dying to know what that bill was! A freind of mine just at at Batali in NY, she went to time square over $300 for two....but worth it she said. Anyway this looks terrific no matter what the price was.You captured the colors and foods perfectly...I just scolded you minutes ago for not posting yet, guess I better get with the program lol this was a great read and nice way to start the year for you!!! thank Mr and Mrs Tasty/Poppa Trix and Inlaw Trix's

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  7. How awesome that you got a chance to eat there! I was so impressed with the Voltaggio brothers - they would take dishes that as you said, under the hands of any other chef, would have been chaos, but it seemed that time and time again they pulled it off. What a delicious sounding meal. I'm so totally jealous, just so you know.

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  8. yep I missed you wow great restaurant and a nice treat and really not a bad price either,

    cute pic of you at the end lol

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  9. Sounds like a great meal. Both brothers are cooking at the James Beard House, but the dinner sold out too quickly for us to get in. I guess we will have to make a road trip to MD.

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  10. Course I missed ya! :D The restaurant looks awesome and that dessert... Wow! I have no idea about 'Top Chef' or 'Volt' but I know that I reallllly wanna taste that shiitake veloute!

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  11. look at you in your haute winter coat! ;) this place sounds wonderful and i totally agree on the bread at a place like this. i expect herbs in the bread and/or butter, but fruit butter gets even more points. and that's crazy to see a white chocolate ganache ribbon in a dessert - i just saw my first one on Food Network last night. i must have one! glad you enjoyed your trip! :)

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  12. I love Top Chef. What a lovely restaurant and nice meal! Looking forward to more posts in 2010 :)

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  13. Don't know about Top Chef but that meal looked absolutely delightful...I sure will give it a try if I ever get in that side of the country! Bon appétit!

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  14. I wish I lived closer to the East Coast! This looks like a fantastic lunch and I'm sure dinner would be even more extravagant! Next time I'm in the area I'm definitely going to plan for a visit here!

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  15. My experience at Volt sent me into a sensory overload that I can only guess addicts of all kinds experience. The mood sent me into a wonderful anxiousness ...quite conducive to the 3-hour gastronomic amusement park adventure that ensued. With a $25 3-course meal to rock your jollies...it is more than worth the hour trek from Bawlmer to Frederick!

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  16. great post! you should check out michael and brian's new website (www.voltaggiobrothers.com) send brian your post and maybe he'll invite you back to volt again! - and then you can invite me to join you!
    happy new year by the way!
    i survived - barely - but i'm still here!

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  17. Sounds like a terrific dining experience! The dessert looks just heavenly! I'm looking forward to eating there sometime soon, but I do want the Chef's table!

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  18. Wow! Very impressed with the food, color, and flavor combinations at Volt! Thank you for sharing your foodie adventure at the "Top Chef" restaurant.

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  19. I love the very occasional nice treat of such an establishment. I want that dessert too now!

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  20. what a great restaurant! you're so lucky to have all of those great tasting dishes!

    I took a break from blogging for a while as well. I wanted to enjoy the holidays and just have fun in the kitchen without worrying about snapping photos or blogging the next day. It feels great to be back though!

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  21. Welcome back to the 21st century (although we LOVED your medieval series!). Such a fabulous, grown-up lunch out. I can't remember the last time we did that!

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  22. I am pea-green with envy. Love Top Chef and wanted BOTH brothers to win! Make your December 2010 reservations now!

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  23. Great right up - thanks for this! It's my goal to eat at a few of the Top Cheftestants' restaurants in 2010.

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  24. Enjoyed the post and the trip to the restaurant vicariously~

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