August 5, 2011 - I have been trying for quite some time to get reservations at Volt but they always seem to be booked at least 6 months in advance. I've often said that I wish they would change their reservation policy to allow people to only book 1 month in advance. They haven't done that yet but, nevertheless, I was very lucky to get literally last minute reservations (I made them the night before) on opentable.com for me and my friend Cathy for my birthday. It must have been fate and I was totally excited!
First, let me tell you a little about the chef. Bryan Voltaggio, a native of Frederick, MD, is chef and part owner of Volt which is located in Frederick's historic district. Bryan was nominated for a James Beard Award as Best Mid-Atlantic Chef in 2010 and was also a finalist, along with his brother (who won Season 6), on "Top Chef" in 2009. If you've watched Bryan on Top Chef, you probably know that he is a big fan of using foams and molecular gastronomy in his dishes.
From the minute we walked into Volt, the service was exceptional. In fact, I would probably rank Volt's service in the top 5 of the best service I've experienced in a restaurant to date. Volt offers 3 menus, a 21 course tasting menu served at Table 21, a chef's tasting menu served in the Chef's Kitchen, and an A La Carte menu served in the main dining room and the bar/lounge area. Incidentally, the seating in the bar/lounge is first come, first serve so if you are in the area and don't have a reservation, you might try finding a seat at the bar. They actually have a TV where you can watch all the happenings and the chefs at work in Volt's kitchen. The hostess was very friendly and polite and sat us at a great table by the window in the main dining room where we were offered the A La Carte menu.
The first thing the waiter brought us was some sea salt breadsticks and a selection of fresh savory cornbread, biscuits, brioches, and rolls. It was a tough decision to choose which bread I wanted so I asked to have one of each. The waiter was more than happy to give me whatever I wanted. The biscuit was the best biscuit I think I've ever had in my life - it was fresh, tender and very tasty. The breads were all wonderful and even more heavenly with the sea salt butter.
For my first glass of wine, the waiter recommended that I try the New Zealand 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu. This wine was a blend of 80% merlot, 12% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon, 3% malice, and it was exactly what I wanted. It was very fragrant with hints of blackberries, and tasted of black fruit, some tannins, and spice on the end with very long finish. New Zealand is mainly known for their sauvignon blanc and pinot noir so I was quite surprised to see New Zealand produce such an exceptional blend of these 4 varieties.
Next, compliments of the chef, was an amuse bouche of savory merengue topped with caviar. I don't really remember anything remarkable about this except that it was very interesting looking.
For my first course, I ordered the yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado, chili oil, cilantro, marinated whitefish roe, and topped with soy foam. I thought this was very good. My tuna tasted fresh and the avocado mousse, chili oil and soy foam added nicely to the yellowfin tuna and the dish's flavor profile.
Cathy ordered the heirloom tomatoes, with shrimp, “nitro” gazpacho, and red rubin basil. This dish was brilliant and in my humble opinion, the winner for the evening. Cathy definitely out ordered me on the first course as this was fabulous. I thought the "nitro" (frozen) gazpacho was a genius addition to the dish and it enhanced the flavor of the tomatoes and went nicely with the shrimp.
For our second course, Cathy and I both ordered the sheep’s milk ricotta cavatelli with country ham, broccoli rabe, and parmesan. This dish was very beautiful and all the ingredients melded very well together. The cavatelli was made with rye flour and the dish in general had a very earthy flavor to it.
Since it was my birthday, I splurged and ordered a second glass of wine. Again, I took the waiter's suggestion and ordered the Land's Edge 2007 Pinot Noir. It tasted of raspberry and black cherry fruit with a very nice finish of licorice and cedar.
For my third couse, I ordered the rockfish. The rockfish was perfectly prepared with a nice crunchy crust. The artichokes, fennel, and baby carrots were a great compliment to the dish. I enjoyed this very much.
For Cathy's third course, she ordered the halibut with risotto, aparagus, and yuzu air. I only had a small taste of Cathy's third course but I could quickly tell that she had outordered me once again. This dish was fabulous. The risotto was perfectly cooked al dente and the halibut was very moist and tender and practically melted in your mouth. I didn't have a clue as to what yuzu air was or how you would even make it. Yuzu is actually a citrus fruit commonly grown in Asia and generally used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine. You can find yuzu at your local Korean or international market. You can make the air (or foam) by putting the juice in a whipped cream dispenser and charging it with nitrous oxide.
Next up was my favorite course - dessert. Because it was my birthday, the waiter brought me, compliments of the chef, a vanilla semifreddo with pistachios, orange zest, and chocolate. I actually liked this dessert better than the one I ordered.
For my dessert, since it's tradition for me to have cake on my birthday, I ordered the walnut cake with grapes and caramel ice cream (it was the only cake on the menu). If I'm being honest, this dessert was just ok. I don't recall anything exceptional about it.
Cathy ordered the textures of chocolate with bitter chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel, pistachio, and raw organic cocoa. I didn't taste this because at this point I was so full that I wasn't even sure I could finish my dessert. Cathy seemed to enjoy this very much because she moaned with each bite - now I can't say for sure that she was moaning from pleasure or moaning because she was about to go into a food coma from eating so much.
After dessert, the waiter brought us a plate of cookies and other treats. I'm a cookie girl and all of these were very good. The waiter asked us if he could get us anything else and I said yes, "I'd like to meet Bryan Voltaggio if he's here." I asked this half joking, not expecting that I'd actually get to meet him; however, the waiter happily obliged us. He grabbed the hostess who took us on a tour of the restaurant and the kitchen where we met Bryan himself. Bryan was so nice to stop what he was doing to say hello and pose in a picture with us. It was a perfect way to end my birthday dinner.
Final Note: I've always said that in order for me to really like a restaurant, the dessert must be great because it's the last thing I eat and my last memory of my meal. The dessert for me can usually make or break my impression of the restaurant. Even though I wasn't wowed by my dessert, I can say without a doubt that my entire birthday experience at Volt was exceptional, from start to finish, culminating in meeting Bryan himself. The service was top notch, and the pacing of the food was perfect. I will definitely go back and I can't wait to try Table 21.