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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Volt, A modern American restaurant

The entrance to Volt
 Volt in the small town of Frederick, Maryland is the flagship restaurant of Bryan Voltaggio, the eldest of two culinary brothers who are rapidly gaining reputations as leading lights in the rapidly improving American dining world.
The two brothers made the final three of season six of 'Top Chef', an American cookery competition for professional chefs who are at the top of their game, there are no competitors in the show who are purely there to 'make good telly' by screwing up, this is a serious show.
Chef Voltaggio snr also has a family style restaurant and a sandwich shop ( more Fortnum and Mason than pret a manger), also in Frederick, his adopted home town.
Bryan and his sibling Michael also wrote one of the most exciting cookery books of the last few years - VOLT:ink. (ink is Michael's LA restaurant)
Having made plans to visit Virginia, Washington and New York on my #bennettontour trip to the states, I was overjoyed to discover that Frederick was only a short drive from where I was to spend the majority of my trip, Leesburg VA. With the restaurant only accepting bookings one month prior to the date of dining, I set my sister with the task of making the reservation, as she lives in the same time zone and it was far easier for her to arrange. Having made the reservation, time dragged until my journey began despite being hugely busy at work - 80 hour weeks were standard - and it certainly fed my appetite and enthusiasm to try out the famous 'table 21', where Bryan and his team treat guests to a 21 course tour of tastes, textures and unusual preparations.
I should point out that this booking was also a celebration meal, as the main reason for the trip was to commemorate my birthday, so when we arrived I wanted to order some champagne for a toast or two, but my sister and her husband were reluctant, so we didn't. Feeling a bit upset that no one wanted to celebrate with me, I followed our waiter to the table, which is essentially a long bar overlooking the main kitchen, and sat down. Within moments of being seated, the Maitre d' brought me a bottle of champagne and a card, explaining that a 'Mr Barron' ( my best mate) had arranged a little surprise for me. Obviously everyone else had been in on it, but I genuinely had no clue. I wasn't shocked that it had been arranged, just that I hadn't seen it coming or anticipated it. As an extra touch, Bryan himself came over to introduce himself and to congratulate me, telling me he had seen on twitter that I was going to be dining at Volt, and how pleased he was that we had chosen to spend my birthday with him. It was a lovely gesture, and certainly made it special.
Birthday greetings from a friend
 
Caviar dip and chips


 With a start like that, the food needed to be pretty special to keep the standard up, and it certainly delivered. With prime seats overlooking the larder section we were able to see dishes being created without ruining the surprise element of the tasting menu. As I mentioned, this was a 21 course menu, so I'm not going to go into lengthy descriptions of all the dishes, as that would make for a huge, lengthy blog post, but hopefully the images will do the talking and give a sense of what went on.
The 'chips and dip' course was a lovely start to the meal, equal measures of richness, sweetness and salinity. good technical dish with a light 'quaver' like cheese crisp and delicate sour cream espuma.


Celeriac macaron, foie gras mousse, orange
Great tasting single bite item, crisp earthy macaron filled with a warm foie gras mousse and sprinkled with fresh orange zest powder.

Fake oyster

Salsify spherification, oyster leaf, sea salt, olive oil and vinegar powder recreating the oyster perfectly, and served in their 'shell' dish to be eaten just like the real thing. stunning.
Celery soup,pickled vegetables
Impressive celery soup poured over sweet pickled vegetables, celery salt, verjus gel and celery vinegar gel. pure flavours and again fantastic technique.
Blue crab, avocado. yuzu, soy, wasabi
Sadly not the best photo, but this was one of the standout dishes for me. perfectly seasoned crab served as a spring roll, yuzu dressing and a soy air adding umami and a sweet sourness. The avocado mousse was fresh and earthy and although you cant really see it in the photo, tiny spheres of wasabi caviar lifted the whole dish to sublime, giving heat and an unusual texture. could have eaten this again and again.
Beets, goats cheese, coffee, orange
Another highlight, this took the combination of beetroot and goats cheese we all know, to new heights. didn't think anyone could put up a better beetroot dish than the one Simon gave me at the Elephant in Torquay, but this was amazing.The coffee and orange harmonising with the beetroot so well.


Quail's egg, hen of the woods, asparagus and ramps

Nice Autumnal flavours, the chicken flavoured foam helped bring the dish together. Good use of quality, fresh ingredients.
Goats cheese ravioli, oyster mushrooms, green garlic, sweetcorn
Very good. the garlic, mushrooms and cheese counterbalancing the sweetcorn perfectly, and great textures.
Arctic char, creme fraiche, huckleberries
Delicate dish, the gently waterbathed char perfectly cooked, creme fraiche powder giving a gentle citrus push and the semi dried berries offered sweetness and texture. very clever.
Sturgeon, fennel, fig, cipolini onions
wonderfully cooked fish again, this time caramelised after the waterbath treatment. A surprising depth of flavour from such a simply presented dish.
Maitake mushrooms, grains, seagreens
Nice, but very rich. Like a pearl barley risotto, with huge Parmesan and mushroom flavour, the fried mushrooms and poppadom-like wafer gave the flavours and textures of arancini, but my dining partners and I all found it slightly heavy and a large portion for the level of richness.


Salsify, country ham, apple, hazelnut

A confusing dish, but in a good way. Individual elements include several preparations of salsify, a nut emulsion dressing, caramelised compressed apple, and semi dried Parma style ham. Each on its own was lovely, but put them all together? Wowser. Incredible textures and a natural flavour combination I haven't tasted since Noma. Fascinating thought process must have gone into this dish.


Veal sweetbreads, bacon, fennel

Bryan at work


 So good, I had two! Perfect sweetbreads coated in a rich glaze, with crisp pancetta style bacon, roast baby fennel and fresh kale. perfect simplicity again.
 

 

Foie gras, rhubarb, strawberry, coconut
Foie gras mousse in the style of Wylie Dufresne's 'Knot Foie', where he ties it in a knot. Nice roast foie gras flavour paired with the tart rhubarb and sweet berry gel. very nice.


pork belly, cocoa, beans

Basically bacon and beans, but this was so much more. crisp but yielding pork belly sat on a white bean puree, beans cooked in a pork stock and a textured malt and cocoa soil.very moreish.

Rabbit, heirloom carrots
wow, wow, wow. four preparations of rabbit- confit flank coated in breadcrumbs, braised leg, loin wrapped in proscuitto and barely roasted rack. with heritage carrots and vinegar honeycomb. only the slightly bland and under seasoned flank stopped this being my favourite dish. The braised leg would make an incredible dish in its own right.

Loin of lamb, chickpeas, golden sultanas, pearl onion
Lovely meat, wonderfully cooked. possibly the 'lambiest' lamb jus I have ever tasted. Green pea puree, peeled peas, chickpea beignet and sultana puree. Only minor complaint was that it didn't need the maldon sea salt, with just tipped it the wrong side of seasoned.

Raspberry, shortbread, vanilla, basil


Raspberry sorbet and compressed berries, crushed cooked shortbread and nitro raw shortbread, sweet basil oil and delicate mousse. Perfect first sweet course.

Black sesame cake, blueberry, nitro frozen grapefruit curd
  
Black sesame cake, different angle


Nitro frozen citrus curd with a gooey centre, blueberry sorbet and compote and the sesame cake was the most fascinating flavour I ate that night. mint pesto gave freshness to this sensational pudding. phenomenal.


Chocolate, peanut, marshmallow

Petit fours


Amazing dessert to end on, Nitro frozen milk chocolate mousse, soft caramel, peanut butter and brioche ice cream and toasted marshmallow. Another great textured dish, and flavours which deserve to be together. 

Petit fours of milk chocolate truffle, lemon and thyme marshmallow, pineapple pate de fruits and cinnamon macaron were the perfect conclusion to our experience.
My signed copy of VOLT:ink
As a destination restaurant, which it clearly is as there is nothing like it within 50 miles at least, Volt is exceptional. The fact that Bryan Voltaggio has chosen to create this venue in the sleepy town of Frederick tells you a lot about him, he would rather live somewhere his kids can grow up and enjoy the small town life of the American dream, than in a bustling city where its all about the here and now, and the less than charming side of America.
In the brief time we spent with Bryan after dinner, he happily posed for photos, signed a book for me and seemed like the happiest guy in the world, who had it all- great restaurants, lovely family and all on his terms in a charming town.





Bryan Voltaggio and me
Some of the food we ate at Volt was simply presented, some intricate. Some familiar, some new and exciting. One thing was consistent. The quality. As it seems Maryland is unlikely to ever get its own edition of the famous Michelin guide, I can only guess where it would rate, but for me it was superior to many one star restaurants I have been to and certainly the equal of many of the two star ones.
Thank you chef Voltaggio, for an incredible birthday.