The Washington Post food critic reviewed Volt in this past Sunday’s Magazine. The review was overall very positive and he gave it 2 1/2 stars (out of 4). The food reviews were very favorable, but they got dinged for service. Link is here.
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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,
In checking out their website, which has been updated since I last visited, I noticed that they now have their wine listed posted. You can take a look at it here. Really excited to see about 30 wines by the glass and a lot of half bottles. Half bottles are a real rarity in Frederick. They are a great way to have some wine and not worry about over consumption, although that is not as much of a concern with Maryland’s ‘merlot to go law’ these days. It’s also a fun way to try several different wines with your meal.
The list has a lot of breadth, spanning the globe. There is a lot of emphasis on French wines, and a nice selection of American and German wines as well. With this list everybody should be able to find something that tickles their fancy. A good vaiety of price points as well. Some of the highlights I saw were: a vintage prosecco by the glass, eight half bottles of sparkling wine ( a nice way to start a meal). As mentioned there is a wide range of prices. I saw some very exciting wines at reasonable prices. For example they have a 1999 Robert Mondavi Reserve. According to Wine Spectator this was a 94 point wine (made #12 on their top 100 wines of 2002). You can’t find this for less than $110 retail these days (and this is a restaurant) and they have it listed at $90 which is terrific. Its so reasonable that I am worried that it is a typo. (There are some mistakes I spotted in the list- Chateau Chass-Speen ?!?) If it is a typo please put a bottle aside for me at this price when I stop by as a thank you for finding it. Also the 1999 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine St Pierre (WS 93 pts.) has the potential to be a stunning value at $70 if it is still drinking well. (2008 is reportedly near the upper end of the drinking window for a 99 Cornas). Lots of other stuff although the selection of Italians is spare compared to France and Germany. 24 dessert wines by the bottle to finish off your meal.
Had lunch there (again) and I am too busy today to do a full post, but consistently the best Mexican food, actually TeX-Mex to be precise, in Frederick is without a doubt the Mexicali Cantina. I have tried La Paz, Casa Rico and Cacique and none of them are as good as Mexicali Cantina. The Cacique food is nearly identical to Mexicali Cantina (they are both owned by the same person) but Cacique is more expensive which is why MC gets the nod. As always I love your feedback- good or bad.
As the hype toward Volt’s opening (which I have to admit I am buying into) reaches a crescendo I saw a brief blurb today that Volt has selected Aaron Schifferle as their sommelier. According to that Mr. Schifferle was most recently sommelier and cellar master at the Inn at Little Washington. Impressive credentials. I look forward to seeing their wine list.
No mention of it a Volt’s blog. Although I am insanely jealous and would have loved to have been part of their “focus group” to help develop their wine list!
They have rotated the counter ninety degrees and put some decor on the walls. Sandwiches, soups and salads on the menu. Still have a case of sweets and bread for sale.
Most of you may not know that one of the first food critics and publisher of a best selling guide in 1935, Called Adventures in Good Eating was Duncan Hines. (yes that Duncan Hines- he ultimately sold the rights to use his name which ended up on Proctor & Gamble cake mixes). Anyway I came across a fantastic, in a bit non-PC, quote attributed to him:
“If the soup was as warm as the wine, if the wine was as old as the turkey, if the turkey had breasts like the maid, it would have been a fine dinner.” – Duncan Hines
I wish I could write something half as good as that some day.