Saturday, April 7, 2012

Volt

228 North Market St
Frederick, MD  21701
301.696.8658
www.voltrestaurant.com
Volt on Urbanspoon

When I think of my top five favorite restaurants, I'm certain that a place like Volt would never make it on that list.  But, I think that's mainly because the criteria I use is not just the quality of the food but whether or not it is reasonable to come back over and over again.  For the restaurants on my top five list, I can see myself going back repeatedly and I have.  For a place like Volt, you need to plan it out well in advance and it certainly does not evoke the casualness that I like in my top five.  That being said, Volt definitely makes my top five if I were just rating the best meals I've ever had in a restaurant.  It may even be at the top of that list.

So, instead of going to Woodberry Kitchen for my birthday this year (like I thought I would), I managed to get a reservation for Volt on short notice (someone happened to cancel).  So, eight of us made the drive up to Frederick, MD.  Having eight people go was good and bad.  It was good because we have the opportunity to try a good variety of the dishes on the tasting menu.  It was bad because you could only choose either the four-course tasting menu ($80 per person) or the seven-course tasting menu ($95) so either way, it was not going to be an inexpensive meal.  The best part about it was that my two young nieces came so that they could have the opportunity to taste such great food at such a young age (9 and 11).

Now, when I go to places like Volt, I always have hesitation since it is pretty famous with a celebrity chef in Bryan Voltaggio and so you're not sure if the draw is to the star power of the chef or the star power of the food.  In a lot of cases, these places also either take themselves to seriously or try way to hard.  So, when we first walked in and the staff was wearing Converse "chucks" with their ties and dress pants, I began to worry if I had made a good choice.  When they led us to our table, it dawned on us just how lucky we were that someone decided to cancel their reservation.    I, apparently, reserved the private dining room which is a  room with windows on all sides and rounded off on one end and was so appropriate and beautiful that my doubts about Volt had already dissipated.  The main dining room looked to be packed with tables and a bit cramped so we were thankful to have a room all to ourselves for our first experience here though it may have spoiled us forever.

We decided that all of us should go with the four-course tasting menu (even though they did have a kids' menu) and even though I linked the menu above, it changes constantly and you may have most of the items you find on the website but there also may be one or two changes.  So, the best thing about dining with your family is that the meal really becomes a family style meal even though each person is given their own individual portion.  This allowed for me to taste just about every dish that the table ordered. We were started off with an amuse bouche macaroon with a soft foie gras mousse center.  Right then, we knew we were in for a culinary experience.

For appetizers, we ordered four out of the five selections.  One of the quirky things about the restaurant is that the menu only lists the ingredients of the dishes but not how they are prepared.  So, the four dishes we ordered for the first course were listed like:


  • kampachi blood orange, nasturtium, ginger
  • venison horseradish, green apple, rye
  • jonah crab cucumber, green mango, coriander
  • beet walnuts, blue cheese, watercress, sherry vinaigrette
I ordered the kampachi which was sliced somewhat thinly and served raw with the nasturtium (a type of edible flower), fennel, and dried ginger with a drizzling of a blood orange reduction and some olive oil.  The fish was light, very fresh with some sweet notes.  It was balanced off by the crunch of the ginger and the acidity of the blood orange.  All in all, a great palate cleanser to start off the meal.  The venison was served as a tartare with a horseradish reduction and what looked like bread crumbs piled on top.  You would coat the tartare in the bread crumbs and run it through the reduction which provided a great bite of rich venison flavor, a good amount of crunch and the slight kick of the horseradish.  The Jonah crab was packed together with some corn and sat beside two reductions (green mango & cucumber).  It was yet again another refreshing bite with a choice of sweet dipping sauces.  The beets were a revelation.  They were marinated in sherry vinaigrette and sprinkled with goat cheese and watercress.  The sweetness of the beets really came through but were tempered enough by the vinaigrette.  The highlight of the dish was a beet sorbet in the middle of the dish which really emphasized the beet flavors with sweet creamy overtones.

For the second course we ordered:
  • ravioli black trumpet, celery root, goat cheese
  • turbot butternut squash, brussels sprouts, radish
  • foie gras ruby beets, blood orange, fennel
  • sweetbreads sunchoke, black kale, bacon
I wasn't able to get a bite of the ravioli but it looked very interesting especially with the foam on top and some sort of ash sprinkled on the side.  The turbot seemed like it was poached sitting on slices of radish, brussels sprouts and what I believe were toasted seeds from the butternut squash.  The liquid seemed to be a mixture of the poaching liquid and a butternut squash reduction.  The fish was tender and creamy almost while the seeds added a very interesting texture somewhat like crunchy oatmeal.  They served the foie gras as a mousse and it sat on a ruby beet sauce with slices of blood orange and fennel leaves on top.  Mixing the sweetness of the fruits and beets together gave it a nice blend of sweet and savory but the dish was really made complete when you spread everything on top of the accompanying slices of toasted hazelnut wheat bread which brought yet another level of savory sweetness to everything else.  I ordered the sweetbreads (which is the hypothalamus gland) and it was probably my favorite dish of the night, though that's a really tough call.  What I do know is that when I passed it down to share with my father, it never came back to me.  The sweetbreads were grilled to a golden brown and were meaty and rich with no aftertaste (which I've experienced before when I ordered sweetbreads).  They sat on a bed of black kale that had been sauteed and cooked with the bacon and finally the sunchokes were deep fried and came out almost like a potato wedge but much sweeter in flavor.  Overall, it was a rich and earthy dish that left me wishing for more.

For our next course, we ordered:
  • lobster black forbidden rice, coconut, madras curry
  • sturgeon jerusalem artichokes, maroon carrot, fennel
  • lamb cauliflower, chick pea, golden raisin
  • pork potatoes, baby turnips, hickory smoke
There seemed to be about 4 orders of the lobster on the table (my nieces can't get enough of lobster) and I had no trouble sampling all parts of it.  The lobster was butter poached and sat on a bed of black rice mixed with a hint of curry with a coconut reduction sauce.  If you wanted some kick, there was a good dose of curry sprinkled on some fennel on the side.  The lobster was a touch overcooked and a bit tough but the flavor was buttery rich and sweet and paired beautifully with the sweet stickiness of the rice and coconut.  I felt that the kick from the curry was needed to balance it out a touch but most at the table were content not to try it.  I ordered the sturgeon which was pan seared with a crisp coating on one of the edges.  There were pieces of sauteed sunchokes (jersualem artichokes) and carrot mixed in a broth made of the sturgeon's pan juices and butter.  They placed the sturgeon directly in the broth and while the sturgeon was flaky and had a great crispiness to it, the best part of the dish was the wonderful broth which was rich with a depth of flavor that was hard to fathom. The vegetables soaked up all these flavors and it added wonderfully to their natural sweetness.  I wish I could write more about the lamb but I only got one small bite before it was gone.  It was perfectly cooked to medium rare but I didn't get to mix it with the grilled cauliflower or any of the other ingredients on the plate.  The pork was smoked with baby turnips and placed beside two small beds of mashed potatoes.  The pork turned out juicy and soft with just a hint of smokiness (frankly I wanted more of that).  The mash was creamy and smooth with a rich reduction of what seemed to be juices from the pork mixed in.  The dish was wonderfully rich and a uplifted play on your classic pork chop and mashed potatoes.

Our final and dessert course consisted of:
  • banana black sesame, coconut, pineapple
  • chocolate marshmallow, caramel, peanut
  • apple cinnamon, rosemary, almond
My choice was the banana dessert which was composed of thin slices of pineapple, a creamy banana reduction and a black sesame sponge cake.  The cake was a surprise as it had a bit of kick in it from the sesame yet remained a bit sweet and light.  The slight tartness of the pineapple strips blended well with the cake and the banana reduction.  The chocolate seemed to be a big hit around the table and I took a bite.  There seemed to be several types of chocolate used which really added a depth of flavor.  However, it was too much chocolate for me which is just a preference on my part (I know! How is it possible that there's too much chocolate?).  The apple dessert consisted of a rosemary and almond cake with some pieces of caramelized apple and what looks like an apple sorbet.  I say "what looks like" since I can see it in the picture I took but there certainly wasn't any left when I went to try the dessert.  The cake had a liqueur flavor in it and I'm not a fan of liqueur in dessert but it was more subtle than overwhelming in this dessert.  I especially enjoyed the caramelized apple and the contrast of the rosemary in the cake.

After the dessert, they brought out a french vanilla & hazelnut semifreddo with a candle on top to celebrate my birthday.  Normally, I'm loathe to have any sort of public display like that for my birthday but the semifreddo was simply amazing.  It was rich, creamy and decadent and I would celebrate my birthday every day if I could have that every day.  I also washed down my meal with a PBR.  I have very fond memories of PBR and any restaurant that serves that beer already has a leg up in my book.  Too bad they didn't have tall boys.

To finish off the meal, we were served four small sweet bites:  a caramel corn macaroon, a bite of marshmallow, a raspberry gelee and a dark chocolate truffle.  Like the rest of the meal, these were all impeccably done and delicious and was the perfect way to end an amazing experience.  I also want to give a big nod to the service that we received.  I had read some reviews about Volt prior to our dinner and one stuck out in my mind saying something like "I have never met some many pretentious young people in one place" when referring to the staff at Volt.  I would completely disagree with that.  I wish I had gotten the names of our two primary servers because they made the experience much more enjoyable.  They were knowledgeable about the food, they were charismatic and entertaining; and they were kind enough to answer the hundreds of questions we had.  I wish I remembered their names because one of them was even kind enough to arrange for my nieces to meet the chef and have their pictures taken.  I would love to be able to thank them one day.

I don't think Volt is the neighborhood restaurant that I would go back to on a regular basis.  It is, however, a very worthy food experience that I would put at or near the top of my list of all-time meals.  It barely squeezed in on my bucket list but only because of the hype surrounding it and the proximity to where I live.  But, after having gone there, it should have been placed higher on the list simply because they make great food in a great setting with great service that if you have a chance to enjoy, you should take that opportunity every day and twice on Sundays.

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