Monday, September 15, 2008

Volt -- Oh Yeah Ba-By!

That's right; I finally got to visit Volt, and not just once, but twice! Now I know that Volt is in an interesting spot -- it's definitely going for high-end fancy-schmancy gourmet food, and for some folks, well, they're not quite sure if Volt is really living up to (or going to live up to) the hype.

Me? I've been nervous to give this new downtown Frederick eatery a try. It could be that I had high hopes and have heard mixed reviews. It could also be that I'm not so fancy-schmancy myself (though I adore extraordinary food in just about any environment) and have never quite gotten used to really posh service. Per Se? A fantasy, but I think I would be shaking in my boots before going in. I mean, this seems a bit unreasonable, don't you think? After all, it's just food, right? But is it?

Let's get one thing out of the way. Volt is good. I mean, really, really good. I mean, great. Seriously. If you're looking for a slam here, you're not going to find it. I like Volt. A lot. I think you should try it, regardless of budget (I have some ideas on that, just keep reading). But as I get started here, let me recap my visits for you.

Visit #1 - Drinks with a new friend somewhere else downtown (worst Lemon Drop ever BTW), then she drops that she'd like to pop into the bar at Volt. I was not dressed in a way that I considered Volt-appropriate and as mentioned before, I was apprehensive. I've read the blog; I know what some of you think (plus it seems like EVERY person I know has asked me my opinion of the place), I don't have tons of extra cash floating around. Regardless, she wanted to go, so off we went.

We hit the bar mid-week (I must get myself an orange leather couch!). It wasn't crowded and truthfully, we got some special treatment. The chef recognized my friend from some recent time they had spent together discussing all things foodie and started sending out some bonuses, which is always a plus. A tasting of 4 different items artfully arranging on tasting spoons, then tuna tartare (I am a sucker for raw fish). We each ordered a specialty cocktail and an item off the bar menu, plus they brought around rolls (SWEET CHRISTMAS--GET THE BACON ROSEMARY BRIOCHE!!!). We finished with a hazelnut chocolate dessert that knocked my socks off and a melon soupesque dessert dish. Bottom line -- a ton of food we didn't order, all excellent, plus a few dishes we did order, equally good. But let's be honest here -- you and I aren't going to get hooked up the way that we did that night. Portion size has been a major sticking point with folks and with what we spent (not very much in the grand scheme of things), I was stuffed. I was wondering what it would be like to go on my own without the hook-ups. So I did.

Fast forward -- Visit #2. Lunch this past Friday to celebrate my birthday (still accepting gifts btw :). That's right -- Volt does lunch. I was lucky enough to go with a couple of the delightful women that I work with and, having just visited Volt and taken the 2-minute tour, I knew that the kitchen was the place to eat. In the kitchen, you are in the heart of the restaurant. The staff is young and professional, and remarkably quiet. It's fun to be in the thick of things. Plus, tasting menus are available during lunch, and during the week too, so we were in luck.

We made our reservation and settled in at the Chef's table in the kitchen (there are 4 4-tops) with my dining partners enjoying the kitchen view. Now, if I had any clue how to use my fancy new camera phone (I'll trade a dozen cookies to anyone who can help me figure the darn thing out-for real!!), I'd fill this blog with photos of the fabulous meal we enjoyed. Unfortunately, I can cook a lot better than I can operate electronica, so my words will have to suffice.

My friends each chose the three course menu (3 options available for each course - $28 plus a $15 add-on for wine) and I, piggy that I am, went with the 5 course chef's tasting menu ($45). I asked to sub out the listed dessert for the hazelnut fabulousness, and this was no problem at all (whew!). Here's what I had:
  • Shiitake Mushroom Soup (there's a fancier name, but wasn't listed on my menu)
  • Summer Creek Farm Heirloom Tomatoes (they peeled the tomatoes -- seriously, plus the tomato-basil meringue was, as my friend Sharon said, "Like biting into summer")
  • Yellow Corn Ravioli (Holy S%*@ -- that was the -- best -- dish -- E-V-E-R)
  • Marinated Hanger Steak (who knew you could candy a rutabaga?)
  • the aforementioned Hazelnut-Chocolate yumminess, plus I snagged a little Goat Cheese Cake

Mistake #1: Getting the accompanying wine tasting (a $20 add-on). Did the wines suck? No way. They were completely delicious and perfectly matched; a little too perfectly matched. I couldn't possibly drink all of the wine that was poured, and man, did I want to. But that whole thing about walking out of the restaurant on my own without stumbling and crashing down the steps kind of helped me keep it in check, for the most part. Besides, I was wearing cute shoes and how often do I get to do that in my line of work? Like, never.

Mistake #2: Not taking one more person so that I could eat all of the yummies off of her plate too.

I hate to be a know-it -all, but I was right. Really, really right. Our service was impeccable (though I agree that the uniforms just aren't as fab as they could be -- let's see some of that signature orange somewhere, pretty please?), our food was dreamy, the staff, especially Aaron, the sommelier, was charming. All we needed to do was just give them some time. That's it. Let them figure out how to work well together.

Here are a few hints to make the experience more accessible:

#1: Try the bar: The bar menu is lower priced and just as delicious. A cocktail and a dish off of that menu will set you back around $20, plus tax & tip. That's doable, right? Wear some fancy shoes while you're out why don't you.

#2: Try lunch: Volt isn't hopping yet for lunch, so service is especially good (I still can't speak to the nighttime -- sorry!) and very attentive, but not too much so. Our server was new to the whole fine-dining thing, but she answered our questions without hesitation and you could tell that she really likes it there and respects what they're doing. She's learning on the job, but doing well and gave us the info we wanted.

#3 If you're really on a budget, skip the wine pairing and go for one glass to accompany your main dish. I wouldn't normally do a wine tasting at lunch, but it was a special occasion and my goodness does the sommelier know his stuff (side note: I think I have a little wine crush on Aaron. He knows A LOT and is charming (did I say that before?) and a pleasure to speak with. He and his family are new to Frederick by the way, so give them a little local shout out so that they can really enjoy this town).

#4: Budget not an issue? There's only one way to fly my friends. Full-on tasting menu in the kitchen with wine pairings. That's it. Something truly special is there. In a few months, it will be even better, but that could just be because I love fall food and I can't wait to see what they come up with (butternut squash meringue instead of beet meringue?? Please???)

I have about a million other things that I could say about Volt, but I'll save them and let you take the floor with your comments. Just remember that these are real people who have put (cliche alert) their hearts and souls into this place -- they really care and want you to be happy; thrilled in fact. To say that they want you to swoon may not be an understatement. Chef Bryan Voltaggio is earnest and sincere -- he wants your meal to rock in pretty serious ways. This is a real foodie experience right here in downtown Frederick, so keep that in mind when you're choosing this restaurant. Relax, trust them, save your pennies (and dollars and Benjamins) and go to Volt. Be sure to let me know what you think.


Liz said...

Apparently we are fellow Virgos. We went to VOLT on Friday night for my birthday dinner.

Liz said...

I probably should have specified the post and not just the general website. And oh, by the way, Happy Birthday!!

Chef Christine said...

Rock on Liz! Did your box of cookies have cookies in it? Ours was empty when we got home (I was trying to share!) and we didn't receive the chocolates at lunch, though I did when we ate in the bar. Boy, were they good!

Liz said...

Yes, each box had 4 little cookies in it.

Chef Christine said...

Happy belated birthday to you too Liz! I found out the story on my missing cookies btw -- a few boxes were used as props for an upcoming review in the Wash Post magazine (1st Sund. in Oct.). So though it was empty, my box could someday be famous! Plus, super-bonus, I received a little box with some incredibly delicious cookies and a few gelees (raspberry I think). What a way to go! I think I'm a very lucky girl...