By Iron Chef Leftovers
It has been a long time since I wrote a restaurant review, so one is definitely overdue.
On a recent trip back East, I got the opportunity to travel through Frederick, Maryland on the way back from the Antietam Battlefield National Monument (on a side note – if you have never been to Antietam, you really should go.) Luckily, Frederick is the home to former Iron Cheftestant Bryan Voltaggio and his restaurant Volt. Located in downtown Frederick in a converted mansion is a mix of the old charms of a mansion and a sleek modern interior. We opted for the dining room, which was fairly empty on a Tuesday night, but there is a chef’s table option, which was packed and they seemed to be having a good time.
The menu is what you would expect from Voltaggio – twists on the familiar, artfully done with intense flavors done with seasonal ingredients and combinations that should not work but somehow do. Our server recommended 3-4 courses per person (they also offer a tasting menu) and, depending on what you order, 3 could easily fill you up. Because 2 of us ordered 4 courses and 2 of us ordered 3, our waiter, Joseph, arranged the plates to be delivered so that there was always a variety of food on the table. This was a great thing because the plates at Volt are worth sharing.
Here is what we ordered (with the prices after the |) – it represents more than half of the menu.
MOREL MUSHROOMS pickled ramps, steel cut oats, sea lettuces | 18
I wanted to try this since I am such a sucker for morels and they are in season. This was a take on a polenta dish and frankly this may have been the best dish of the night and possibly one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. The oats were combined with corn foam and might as well have been polenta and the smells and flavors on this dish were amazingly intense – I could actually smell this dish as the server was bringing it to the table. I really wanted to lick the bowl. I would go back just to have this again.
SPRING PEAS buttermilk, shrimp, smoked pine nut | 10
Perfect example of how well they use ingredients. I guess I would describe this as pea soup on steroids. Amazing intense flavors, but well balanced.
YELLOW MUSTARD RADIATORE rabbit, prosciutto, ramp pesto, cippolini | 11
Ok, I have to admit, I was skeptical about yellow mustard pasta, but after having this, I am going to have to try to make it at home. It was a light mustard flavor which paired perfectly with the rabbit and prosciutto. Ant the rabbit – perfectly cooked prosciutto wrapped cigars of loin. Probably the second best rabbit dish I have had in a restaurant.
CALAMARI BOLOGNESE miso, squid ink cavatelli, parmesan | 12
The most interesting dish of the night and certainly the most ambitious. It was good but wasn’t as good as the rest of the meal. The pasta was perfectly cooked the miso balanced the strong squid flavors well and the Bolognese itself was tender and delicious. It really reminded me of my dad’s seafood pasta that we ate growing up. If you really want to go out on a limb and try something different, this is the dish.
SOURDOUGH LINGUINI olde salt clams, smoked potato, chives | 14
This was probably the groups’ favorite dish of the night. It really had a ton going on for such a simple dish. The smoked potato really threw it over the top – they were crunchy like breadcrumbs and added a great contrasting texture to the pasta.
COD CHEEKS charred spring garlic, smoked raisin, pickled grapes | 23
There was some apprehension ordering the dish, but it was stellar – perfectly cooked cod cheeks, very mild in flavor balanced nicely with the salty/sweet/sour punch of the grapes and raisins. Heck, I could have gone for a bowl of the grapes. They were fantastic.
HALIBUT wilted green cabbage, chorizo, purple top turnip, mustards, green apple | 25
Living in Seattle, I am always hesitant to order halibut since it is usually either not done well or overwhelmed by the other items on the plate. This was a perfectly cooked piece of fish and another one that involved all of the senses. I think the chorizo really threw this one over the top and I am going to have to try a version of this at some point.
YOUNG CHICKEN chickweed, sunchokes, black trumpet mushrooms, dates | 23
This was far and away the best chicken that I have ever had. Delicate and intense at the same time, really makes me want to go out and get a sous vide machine.
BEEF SKIRT STEAK sugar snap peas, carrots, vadouvan, coconut yogurt | 31
Volt does something interesting here – they take 3 pieces of skirt steak and press them together in a meat napoleon. I have no idea how they do this but I really want to learn it. They also managed to turn a beef dish into something light and distinguished without skimping on the flavor. Extraordinary.
LAMB hulled barley, slow braised neck, chickpeas, lacinato kale | 33
It had all the intensity that you want from a lamb dish with so many subtle flavors from the compliments that I would have lost if I was making the dish.
Amuse Bouche – smoked oyster with rice wine vinegar and apple.
If you don’t like oysters – try this. Amazing flavors.
We didn’t make it to dessert – we were too full.
Service – the service was outstanding, some of the best I have seen in a long time. The table was completely cleared between courses, plates were put down simultaneously, wine glasses were never empty (nor were water glasses) and every need we had was attended to. The staff should be proud of the service they provide – it is how every restaurant should do it.
Wine – I wanted to give a special shout out to our wine steward for the evening. Volt has an extensive wine list and they were out of the Sassella which I spotted on their list. He listened asked me what I was looking for in the wine and brought back a couple of selections that had similar characteristics but were not on the list. It reminds me why all restaurants should have someone that knows their wine list well.
Overall, Volt was an amazing dining experience; so good in fact that I am going to say that this was the 4th best restaurant meal that I have ever had – behind, Le Bec Fin in Philly, Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal and the CIA restaurant in Yountville. If you are in Baltimore or DC, take the 1 hour drive north to Volt. You might even get lucky and catch a glimpse of Bryan Voltaggio in the kitchen on your way to/from the bathroom.