Now anyone who knows me knows that I rarely leave the city of DC to venture out into the suburbs. There really is no need as the best and finest restaurants are mostly within city limits. But, having heard so much about this restaurant, I finally got intrigued enough to make the one-hour trek to Frederick, Maryland.
We arrived a few minutes early for our 6 p.m. reservation so the servers, dressed in formal suits with sneakers, asked if we wouldn't mind waiting in the lounge.
After a few minutes, we were escorted past the main dining room into the Chef's Kitchen Dining Room. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were seated in the table closest to the open kitchen with a full view of the chefs. Next to us was Table 21, a 21-course dining experience. You are probably wondering why we weren't dining at that table. We just thought it would be better to experience a regular six-course meal before we made that kind of commitment.
The Chef's Kitchen Dining Room is very modern with white walls adorned with reddish brown tile and a stainless steel kitchen. We were immediately greeted by the sommelier, TJ, who presented us with a champagne--a gift from Zach's father to celebrate Zach's birthday. What a nice surprise.
As our server handed us the menus, he said we could choose either a four-course or six-course meal and that many of the locally sourced, seasonal, organic dishes on the menu could be modified to be vegan. But, when he went through the dishes that could be made vegan, it sounded like there were only six of them, leaving us few choices for our six-course meals. After scanning the menu, I was most intrigued by the dishes made with morel mushrooms as they are my favorite mushroom of all. The server said that they couldn't be made vegan because the steel cut oats served with these dishes were made with dairy. I asked if the server might check with Chef to see if somehow I could have a dish with morel mushrooms even if it wasn't exactly as listed on the menu. I was so pleased when he came back and said that Chef was going to go with it and just make us something he'd never made before. Now, we're talking.
Chef Bryan Voltaggio is best known for his stint on Bravo's "Top Chef" cooking competition in 2009 where he placed second only to his brother, further elevating the Volt name. In 2010, he was nominated for the coveted James Beard Award as Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Having trained under Chef Charlie Palmer in New York, Voltaggio had already made quite a name for himself early on. So by the time he opened his restaurant in 2008, there were high expectations.
For me, the amuse bouche is the dish that really sets the stage for the meal. My expectations were extremely high for this meal and the initial offering did not disappoint. On the first spoon, sliced carrots were piled high surrounded by caramelized onion and English peas. On the second, diced apples with Sorrel leaf. And on the third, morel mushroom with some sort of salty seaweed. We loved them all.
For the first course, we were served young smoked carrots in an aromatic salt crust with sliced young carrots dressed in a basil pesto. This course sounded so simple, but really blew our minds and left us wanting more.
The second course consisted of roasted sunchokes with charred spring garlic, raisins smoked with applewood, and watercress dressed with vinegar from concord grapes. Amazing.
The third course was a yellow mustard radiatore made from mustard flour served with mustard green pesto and cippolini onions. Adorned with edible flowers, this light dish was heavy on flavor as the pasta took on a taste of its own with the unique flavoring of mustard.
The fourth course was the one that sounded the least interesting to me, but turned out to be quite spectacular. Caramelized iceberg lettuce was cooked to perfection and served with smoked pine nut praline, roasted purple-top turnips, mustard leaves and flowers. The sauce was quite remarkable.
The fifth course was the most exciting as Chef Bryan Voltaggio himself came out to our table to show us what he had been preparing for us off-menu. He wanted to show us how he was cooking the morel mushrooms inside a crust made of just flour and salt. Inside were the morel mushrooms he was preparing to plate. I was so enthralled by this cooking style that I completely forgot to take a picture of the actual dish! But, it was utterly breathtaking as the morel mushrooms were paired with sea lettuces, quinoa, and raisins. By the time we had both scarfed up our dishes, we realized we had not taken a picture. You'll have to just trust me when I tell you it was amazing.
Oh, and I should mention the wine list was extremely impressive as was the sommelier's knowledge of the wines. We did not have the opportunity to choose a wine though as again we were presented with a gift from Zach's father -- a French Thibault Liger-Belair Chambolle Musigny. This was a most elegant wine.
Finally, for dessert, Chef served us a beet sorbet with rhubarb, mustard greens, and ambrosia flowers. It was one of the best sorbet desserts I've ever had and I do not get excited about sorbets often. I treated myself with a fine dessert wine from their wonderful list of cordials and wines.
Lastly, a parting gift of apple pads with grapefruit gels sealed off the wonderful evening.
VOLT gets five stars from me and is most akin to my experience at CityZen, which is saying a lot. Chef Bryan Voltaggio is an extremely talented chef and his restaurant and staff are among the best I've ever experienced. The six-course tasting menu at $95 per person is a small price to pay for an elegantly prepared vegan meal with attentive service. The inconvenience of the trek to Frederick will long be forgotten upon your first bite at VOLT. Stupendous!
228 North Market Street
Frederick, MD 21701