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!