Friday, October 09, 2009


Mr Minx and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary this week and since we are both fans of Top Chef, I thought it would be nice to venture out west and have a celebratory dinner at Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, Volt, in Frederick, Maryland.

Volt is located in the 8000 sq. ft. Houck Mansion, designed by J. A. Dempwolf in the early 1890s. The restored interior features high ceilings, dentille molding, and muted color schemes. Our dining room was painted a cool, crisp, white, with tables cloaked in white cloths. There was nothing to distract from the food.

We arrived a few minutes early for our reservation and as we pulled into the attached parking lot, we spotted Chef Voltaggio unloading some items from the back of a truck. He turned and treated us to his customary phlegmatic look, which gave me a chuckle. Once inside, we were led to a table near a window, shades drawn so we wouldn't have to look out onto the parked cars. Service was excellent - the first line of business was to move the table out from the wall so I didn't have to sit at an awkward angle. Cocktails came next - Mr Minx choosing a "New-Fashioned" and for me a mix of rum and house-made ginger ale. Another server brought house-made breadsticks to nibble as we perused the dinner menu. After we made our decisions, we were presented with an amuse of Halibut Escabeche.

Just a bite to tease the appetite, bits of fish that had been first marinated in an acid (vinegar, citrus juice) before cooking.

Before our appetizers arrived, we were given a crock of "European-style butter" and offered a choice of four roll-shaped breads. I tried the biscuit-style one and Mr Minx had the baguette. And then came our salads.

I had seen a beet tasting listed on the restaurant's online menu and was happy to see it on the current menu as well. Two kinds of baby beets (red and golden) were served with watercress and ethereal Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese mousse which was rather like eating goat cheese-flavored whipped cream. The red batons were called "beet mousse" but the texture was dry and crisp. I'm guessing the mousse had been piped into logs and put into a dehydrator. The end result was rather like a beet-flavored Cheez Doodle. A Beet Doodle, if you will. And yes, the two kinds of beets had very different flavors. The golden was more typical, with a sweet, rooty/metallic flavor. The red beets were milder and not sweet.

Mr Minx went for a salad of arugula and fennel with figs, toasted pine nuts, and bleu cheese, draped with a slice of proscuitto. The dressing had an interesting depth to it, tasting caramelized but not sweet. Although the elements were common to salads found at many restaurants, the balance of all the elements was perfect. Not too much fennel. Not too much bleu cheese. The figs provided a nice sweetness to offset the slightly salty proscuitto. A hearty and satisfying first course.

For our second course, we both chose the tempura fried sweetbreads "flavors 
 The stripes on the plate were flavored with meyer 

 and capers,
 and there was a little cluster of golden raisins to the side. For those who have never eaten sweetbreads, I would say they are quite delicious, tender-textured, like a delicate fish sausage perhaps. The flavor is bland, somewhat like the rest of the veal calf they come from; a swipe through the sauces did indeed evoke the flavors of veal piccata.

I had difficulty deciding on my entrée, so asked our waitress for guidance. She said she loved the way the restaurant cooked fish, and claimed they get an amazing sear. I took her advice and ordered the halibut with red quinoa and "squash variations." As you can see, the fish had a bodacious sear, indeed, giving a nice crisp counterpoint to the moist white flesh. The quinoa added additional texture, as did the squash in both raw and puréed form. The flavors were pure and bright and uncomplicated, particularly that of the red pepper purée.

Mr Minx's lamb loin with merguez sausage, beluga lentils, and eggplant was jazzed up with Middle Eastern flavors, with a bit of cumin detectable in the eggplant, and cinnamon on the meat. Apart from the one slightly undercooked bit of eggplant I tried, the dish was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Subtle is really the rule in Chef Voltaggio's kitchen.

Because I had noted, as I made the reservation, that we would be celebrating our anniversary at the restaurant, the kitchen sent out a congratulatory mint and orange semifreddo that we tucked into before I remembered to take a photo.

On to dessert.

I do not usually order chocolate desserts because there is always something else more interesting that catches my attention. This time, however, I was most intrigued by "Textures of Chocolate" with chocolate ice cream, white chocolate ganache, chocolate caramel, and chocolate tuiles. The snaky white bit is the white chocolate, but it was not ganache in the traditional truffle- or icing-like manner. It most likely had some gelling agent in it that gave it an interesting, well, gel-like texture. The ice cream was fantastic (I am not a fan of chocolate ice cream), and the intense dark crispy tuiles were my favorite part of the dessert.

Mr Minx had the goat cheese cheesecake with, I believe, a pomegranate sorbet (alas, I did not take notes), and squares of grape gelée. His tuile had rosemary in it. The cheesecake was incredibly dense and rich, like cheesecake yet not - no doubt there were some fancy food chemicals employed in its creation. The sorbet was incredibly tart and sharp, yet sweet, and cut the richness of the cake quite nicely.

As if dessert wasn't enough, our waitress then brought us mignardises in the form of mini ice cream sandwiches. We ate all of it and I was feeling some serious sweet overload when we were through. And finally, with the check came little lemon muffins to save for breakfast the next morning. Whew!

I had mentioned to our waitress early on that we were fans of Top Chef and of Chef Voltaggio in particular. She invited us to stay and watch the show with them, but we had to get back to Baltimore (it was only about 8pm). At one point, the chef came into the dining room to serve a table their soup, part of the six-course tasting menu that is normally served in the kitchen. When I lamented that we had not ordered anything that would bring him to our table, our sweet waitress offered to show me where the kitchen was - conveniently located in front of the ladies' room - so I could gawk a bit. I took my camera with me, but when I saw how busy the place was, I didn't offend anyone by taking photos.

Maybe next time.

228 North Market St
Frederick, MD
Volt on Urbanspoon