Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Table 21 @ Volt - 12/04/2011

228 N Market St
Frederick, MD 21701
(301) 696-8658

After placing first and second on Top Chef, the Voltaggio brothers have become veritable household names. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy Michael's cooking at a number of restaurants and consider him one of LA's most dynamic chefs. I've been equally curious about his older brother Bryan whose restaurant, Volt, is situated about an hour north of DC. Volt is known for its contemporary take on American cuisine and Table 21 elevates that food with even more modernist touches.

With only 8 seats available (up from 4 initially) the wait list for Table 21 is over a year long and the restaurant is already completely booked for 2012. I finally made it out there for a business trip and I immediately booked a seat in the main dining room. Through a confluence of miraculous events, I was able to secure a seat at Table 21. When I called to confirm my reservation the hostess informed me that someone had cancelled their reservation for Table 21 earlier that morning and I grabbed the spot without any hesitation.

Growing up in the Frederick area, Voltaggio found his passion for food early. After graduating from the CIA in New York he spent 10 years working within the Charlie Palmer restaurant group. Beginning in 1998, Bryan started at Palmer's flagship Aureole in New York working his way up to sous chef. In 2003 he returned to the DC area to serve as executive chef at the newly opened Charlie Palmer Steak. He remained there for four more years, becoming a partner in 2006, before the lure of owning his own restaurant finally lead him to strike out on his own and open Volt in July 2008. It seems Bryan has developed a taste for opening resturants, his lunch concept, Lunchbox, opened earlier today and he has a number of ambitious plans in the coming year including two new restaurants, North Market Kitchen in Frederick and and Range in Chevy Chase.

The restaurant is located in the Houck Mansion, an elegant 19th century brownstone that belies the contemporary cuisine created inside. The restaurant is split into various rooms with a private dining room, contemporary bar, and main dining room and 8 seat bar (Table 21) that overlook a gleaming display kitchen.

01: chips and dip - potato, barbeque, chive
The meal kicked off with a light snack of chips made from freeze dried lomo, a cured meat made from pork tenderloin. The chips are deliciously crisp and salty. Accompanying these slivers of meaty goodness is a "dip" of potato foamed augmented with a smoky barbeque sauce and tempered by a light dusting of chives. I think I've found my new favorite beer food.

02: beet macaroon - foie gras, cara cara orange
I don't normally care for beet but I absolutely loved the macaroons sugary airy crunch and the ensuing mouth filling richness from the foie gras center.

03: mock oyster - malt vinegar, oyster leaf, salsify
This was probably the most intriguing dish of the night; the ivory sphere starts off with a creamy sweetness but as the ingredients mix the flavor perfectly mimics the brine of a fresh oyster.

04: sashimi of fluke - blood orange, ginger, nasturtium, cucumber blossom, sea beans
This was one of my favorite courses of the night. Fluke is a lightly flavored fish therefore having the right accompaniments becomes critical. The fried flower petals(?) give the fish a heavy savory flavor while the cucumber, sea beans, and peppers add a countervailing vegetal freshness.

05: goat cheese ravioli - bartlett pear, cippolini onions, golden sage
Despite my affinity for meat, I have come to appreciate the well designed vegetarian dishes like this ravioli. The grassy tang of the goat cheese is immediately apparent but the delicate sweetness of the pear and onion temper the cheese's astringency making it easier to appreciate the overall savoriness of the dish.

06: clam chowder - mock root vegetable, parsley, dehydrated bacon
The first thing I noticed was the broth seemed to take on the flavor of whatever it was eaten with. My first mouthful tasted of smoke from the bacon but the next bite exuded earthy brine from the clams. Taken all together the soup really does emulate its namesake, a creamy brine tinged potage filled with hearty starchy goodness.

07: lobster - cauliflower mushroom, steel cut oats, kombu, fresh yeast
One of the other diners at the table dubbed this a lobster oatmeal and I couldn't agree more. The dish exudes a captivating aroma of melted butter with the sweetness of the shellfish coming through cleanly on the palate. The oats provide a hearty rusticity while the kombu masterfully tempers their grainy flavors leaving the lobster as the focal point for the dish.

08: halibut - butternut squash risotto, laughing bird farm shrimp, sea spear
In my experience, halibut can be a temperamental fish but no surprise the kitchen had its measure here. The fish has a beautiful golden crust and moist flaky texture. A lightly flavored fish, the halibut needed the bits of shrimp to counter the nuanced sweetness of the risotto while the succulent greens provided a rejuvenating lift on the finish.

09: cavatelli - broccoli variations, sheeps milk ricotta, preserved lemon
Yet another sublime vegetarian course, the plump meaty bite of the cavatelli makes the dish immensely satisfying and hearty, while the broccoli provides an explosively astringency herbacousness that is deftly balanced by the creaminess of the ricotta and the subtle undercurrent of citrus from the lemon.

10: red wattle pork belly - carolina gold rice porridge, whitmore farm hen egg, pork crackling
Our server described this as a deconstructed pork fried rice. Trying the pork on its own, I noticed the meat was tender enough to cut with a fork while the meat's powerful brine reminded me of Michael's pastrami pigeon. Mixing the porridge and egg together created a creamy melage to temper the belly's unabashed savoriness.

11: autumn garden - beets, balsamic, petite carrots, coffee soil
I've never had a bad gargouillou course that I didn't like and even the heavy use of beets in this course couldn't change that. The coffee soil was absolutely brilliant its prominent earthy bitterness providing the structure to manage the sweetness of the beets and carrots.

12: foie gras - macoun apple, quince, crystal lettuce, brioche
Of all the courses, I can't believe I forgot to photograph the foie gras. The disc of buttery liver is presented with a mix of accents, but the seductively rich foie stands on its own rendering the accompaniments completely unnecessary. I was happy just to smother chunks of the creamy liver and spread it on the airy mini-brioche.

13: pork loin - yellow corn grits, broccoli rabe, petite turnip
I've never cared much for pork loin, but this was exceptional. The meat exhibited a firm satisfying toothsomeness and an ever so slight savoriness. The clean flavor of the pork lent itself well to the multifaceted attack of the grits, rabe, and turnip.

14: lamb - cauliflower, crisp panise, smoked golden raisin
This was a rarefied piece of lamb; the meat was tender and succulent with almost no gaminess to speak of. Again the cauliflower and raisin provide contrasting sweet and bitter notes but it was the crisp savoriness of the panisse that I appreciated most.

15: pineland farms strip loin - chanterelle mushrooms, kohlrabi, cheddar, curly kale
The final savory was a cut of beef strip loin, its beautifully expressive beefy flavor pairs naturally with the chanterelle and lightly cheesy funk. The kale and kohlrabi provide a heavy bitter contrast but the powerful meatiness cuts right through.

16: monocacy ash - walnut crisp, minus 8 vinegar
Our cheese course consisted of a single soft ripened goat cheese from Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company, a local Maryland farm. The Monocacy Ash is a two layer cheese with a layer of edible ash separating the two. The cheese has a slightly chalky mouthfeel that was nicely balanced by the succulence of the fruit. The gamy tang of the cheese was more restrained that I expected with grassy and citrus notes on the finish.

17: coconut - lavender, vanilla
My second lapse of the night was our intermezzo. A coconut foam flash frozen with liquid nitrogen to create a soft creamy gelatto like dessert. The superb tropical essence of the coconut is heightened by equally emphatic floral and aromatic notes from the lavender and vanilla.

18: delicata squash - pear, blue cheese, walnut
This reminded me of a deconstructed carrot cake. The ripe sweetness of the squash pairs nicely with the impromptu "crust" formed by the buttery crumbs while the blue cheese adds a funky savory twist.

19: textures of chocolate
The final dessert was a Voltaggio staple. Featuring his signature flexible chocolate ganache, a chocolate ice cream, and cocoa powder the dish runs the gamut of flavors from creamy sweet to astringently bitter to go with the equally varied array of textures.

20:pumpkin buttered rum
Instead of a welcome cocktail, we were given a warm digestif dubbed "comfort in a glass" by our waiter. Hot liquid is poured over a pad of butter infused with spice, pumpkin, and brown sugar and the result is an aromatic spiced tea that exudes waves of warm soothing calmness; truly comfort in a glass.

21: chocolates, candies, and macaroons
To finish we have a set of four petit fours: pineapple pate de fruit, gingersnap, chocolate macaroon, and hazelnut truffle. Each diner was also given a gift box with seconds of all the mignardises. I hate to admit it but chocolate and candies make a shamefully good breakfast.

I was expecting an unparalleled dining experience and Table 21 delivered on all counts. Thoughtfully innovative flawless technique combined with both progressive flavors and familiar touches combine to create a meal that is at once whimsical and comfortable. Assuming you can secure one of the coveted seats at Table 21, the meal is well worth the trip and even if you cant plan your schedule 16 months in advance, the menu in the main dining room is still a nice consolation prize if you find yourself in the DC area.


sygyzy said...

Wow, talk about incredibly lucky. The meal looks great and I was surprised at the portion sizes. I loved how they kept the 21 theme throughout even to the bill.

Charlie Fu said...

killer deal at $121. I hope the Omakase at ink. is only that much... whenever that opens.

Epicuryan said...

Yeah I can't believe how lucky I was either. I remember having a bad day until I learned I got the reservation then I couldn't stop smiling.

I think Michael should try to beat his brother with a LOWER price but I somehow doubt that'll happen. Last I heard omakase was going to happen late December but I don't even want to guess how hard its gonna be to get a reservation.

Rodzilla said...

I can't believe that
-you got reservations shorts notice
-you forgot the foie and coconut :p
-it's still $121

this has to be one of the best tasting deals around.Did you get a chance to try lunchbox?