Well, I know the professional critics will not review a restaurant until at least three months after it opens, but hey I’m just a rank amateur, so what do I care. With all the anticipation I’m not inclined to wait more than three weeks. Also my brother and his wife were in town so it seemed a perfect occcasion to check out Volt this weekend. Doing a little research I learned that Volt is divided into several areas: a bar/lounge, the main dining room, a group area and the chef’s dining area. Besides overlooking the kitchen, the chef’s dining area is the only place where you can get the five or seven course tasting menu ( FYI you cannot order a la carte in this area). We decided to go large and managed to score a reservation at the chef’s dining area. The chefs dining area consists of four tables that overlook the kitchen. Beautiful tiled walls, soft indirect lighting and an impressive sculpture/light fixture made the area feel like the fine restaurant it is. The place settings were beautiful: big white china, with hefty, stylish flatware and best of all- the stemware was all Riedel, including the water glasses. Even more impressive: when you eat in the chef’s dining area nothing but a waist high counter separates you from the kitchen and staff. It takes guts to have up to 16 pairs of eyeballs on you as they cook. Watching the staff was amazing. The choreograph of a well-tuned kitchen was evident. They communicated mostly non-verbally and when they had to talk they did it in head-to-head hushed whispers. Above it all Chef Bryan Voltaggio supervised the whole process with an aquiline presence. I didn’t see him smile once the whole evening. The only clunker that I observed was that it still seemed like the wait staff was finding its way and there was some confusion with further explaining and switching of dishes.
The food is what I would call New American Cuisine. An eclectic mix of flavors and styles that combines ingredients in new ways. All of us opted for the five course vegetarian tasting menu ( if anyone in authority is reading this we would’ve gone for a seven course vegetarian menu like you have with the meat if it had been available) and the wine paring. Immediately we were given a series of three amuse-bouche that were not on the menu (throughout the night we were given small extras that were not on the menu: bread, extra pours and glasses of wine, an extra dessert, a chocolate plate at the end, and the ladies got sweet biscuits “for their morning coffee.”). They were stupendous. Two really stood out: A small demi-tasse of corn custard with chili oil and morel mushroom, and then a bite of compressed watermelon with vanilla sea salt. The comment was made that we could’ve just had a whole bowl of the corn, called it a night and been ecstatic. I agree. The first course was an English pea soup with carrot ravioli, and a pea shoot tempura. The soup was a vibrant green and tasted like dewy peas plucked straight from the garden. The only complaint was that I felt the soup was slightly too salty-(in fact the only complaints of the night were that we felt the kitchen was too heavy handed with the seasonings in the soup and in the eggplant (course #4)- too much pepper). The night proceeded in an unrushed and refined succession of delicious dishes. I am not going to give a blow by blow here, but each course was amazing: summer heirloom tomatoes made three ways, yellow corn ravioli, eggplant confit and a dessert titled: Chocolate and Hazelnut “pave” chocolate caramel, praline anglais and frozen hazelnut custard. To top it all off we ordered another dessert: the goat cheese cheesecake which was ethereal and goat cheesy and sweet (if that makes sense) all at the same time. Each course had a very good to excellent pairing with wine and some of the courses were quite difficult to match (I’m still not sold on the heirloon tomato- prosecco match, but it certainly wasn’t bad). The sommelier Aaron was always there to describe each pour and answer our questions about the wine. I’ll go into detail perhaps in a supplemental review (or perhaps do more research-yay!) but the cocktails were top notch as well.
Bottom line is that Volt lives up to and exceeds all the hype. I went there armored in cynicism, but instead we had an amazing three hour dining experience. Frederick is lucky to have this establishment here. The food, the atmosphere and the service was superb. There is nothing that comes close to rising to this level in Frederick and very few that rise to this level in whole the region. I could see this restaurant becoming Frederick’s answer to the Inn at Little Washington. My brother, who with his expense account has dined in places like Le Bernadin, Per Se and other fine dining establishments, agreed with this reviewer’s opinion. One thing worth mentioning: for although Bro may have brought his refined palate to dinner, alas he did not bring his expense account. Dinner was not cheap. For four of us with the tasting menus ($69 for the menu plus $35 for the wine each), wine parings, 5-6 cocktails, and an extra dessert plus coffee brought the tab with tip to $580. Now I was hesitant in mentioning this because of my concern that people will think Volt is an unaffordable luxury or a once in a lifetime special occasion place. Everyone’s tastes and budgets differ, but bear in mind that we went whole hog, so to speak. Looking at the a la carte menu I think that dinner for two, perhaps sharing an appetizer and dessert and having a wine or two by the glass would run you around $100-120. There is also a lunch menu and the lounge to consider.
Give it a try and as always your comments are welcome,