Saturday, December 5, 2009

Table 21 at VOLT: 21 Courses of Voltaggio Goodness

by Erin and Xani

This is the post you've all been waiting for! For those of you who don't know (not sure how - both of us tweeted and Facebooked the crap out of this news), we scored a reservation at Table 21, the chef's table at VOLT. VOLT is Chef Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant in Frederick, MD, and as we all know, Bryan is one of the 3 finalists (and quite possible winner!) of Top Chef this season. What an exciting time to go to this restaurant!

Getting a rez at Table 21 is kind of difficult, especially these days as Chef Bryan's fame grows exponentially (we heard they are currently booked through October 2010). So, it was a huge surprise when friends Emily and Josh couldn't use their reservation and offered it to us - what amazing friends! We gratefully accepted and the excitement started to build...

Friday night was the big night. Neither of us ate very much during the day in preparation for the ridiculous meal that lay before us. We left plenty of time for the drive to Frederick so we wouldn't be rushed. Needless to say, we were excited!!

In front of VOLT! The lady who took our picture was like "Oh, you're actually eating in there??"

We arrived in adorable downtown Frederick and gave the hostess our name (well, Emily's name!). She coolly replied, "Table 21. Right this way." SO A-list. We were led into the kitchen and seated at the 4-person table tucked away in a corner, with a perfect view of the happenings of the kitchen, including Chef Bryan! He was working away, quietly directing his staff and plating dishes; he even presented several dishes to us throughout our meal!

There's the Chef! Second from the left.

Anyway, let's get to the FOOD, shall we?? This meal was 21 courses and took us approximately 3.25 hours to finish. Each course was beautifully presented and, since we didn't order any of these dishes and therefore didn't know what to expect, our server would describe each dish as it arrived, kinda like they do on Top Chef (or Iron Chef). Eek!

Course #1: Housemade ginger ale, absinthe foam, CO2

This cocktail was our first course. The homemade ginger ale with bourbon was served warm, and the absinthe whipped cream was served cold. The flavors surprisingly worked so well together, and the hot and cold together made it even more interesting. A great kick-off to the meal!

Course #2: Proscuitto chips, potato dip

The best chips and dip we ever had! The potato dip was more like a foam and had SO much potato flavor - this would be a theme in the coming courses. The "chips" were dehydrated pieces of salty, yummy Iberico ham that went so well with the potato dip.

Course #3: Tuna tartare, avocado, wasabi whitefish roe

This dish had a lot of wonderful flavors going on: tuna, avocado, spice, wasabi, tobiko, cilantro. Plus, it was texturally very delicate - everything was soft and went so well together. We were huge fans of this dish!

Course #4: Trio of macaroons

You Top Chef fans might recognize these macaroons! Chef Bryan made these on one of his earlier episodes (maybe the Bachelor/Bachelorette ep?) and they are as interesting as they sound. The white one was filled with guacamole with dehydrated corn on top. The green one was filled with caesar salad dressing (and the shell tasted like romaine) - we toasted to our wonderful mom as we ate this one since she is famous for her caesar salad. The last one was beet flavored outside with foie gras on the inside. Obviously anything with foie gras will trump - it was so good! The others were really good too - the outside was crunchy but then sort of melted, and the fillings were very flavorful.

Course #5: Shiitake, pine nut, chili oil, basil

For some reason, I cannot stop thinking about this dish! This was a creamy pine nut veloute with chili and basil, plus it had gelatin-encased pockets of maitaki mushroom soup! They were sort of like egg yolks but with a thicker outside-- they burst when you put them in your mouth. Again, everything tasted so much like itself - pine nuts, mushrooms, chili. Mmmm....

Course #6: Chicken wing presse, lobster noodle, coconut

Xani called this "the best chicken of her life." It was a crispy, pressed chicken wing (which as we all know has the most skin & fat: meat ratio, atop "lobster noodles" with celery pudding and coconut "air". Wow. The noodles were so interesting - they were essentially liquid that had been turned to gelatin and pressed out into noodles. While they did taste like seafood in the end, both of us had the initial impression that the noodles tasted like our mom's chicken soup! There was a strong celery flavor too, but I say that in a good way, for once!

Course #7: Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese ravioli, butternut squash

This was another dish that scored high high marks from us! This was an awesome goat cheese ravioli covered in a brown butter and butternut squash puree, topped with sage foam. Ridiculously good! The tang of the cheese cut through the richness of the squash and brown butter, and it was a great and unexpected addition to the classic combo of squash, sage, and brown butter.

Course #8: Scallop, lentils, cauliflower

While neither of us are huge scallop fans, we both enjoyed this dish. The scallop was perfectly seared and served with lentils and multi-colored cauliflowers. That's microplaned purple cauliflower on top!

Course #9: Sturgeon, ruby quinoa, black trumpet mushrooms, prosciutto nage

This was one of EP's favorite dishes. The sturgeon was firm and crispy on one side, and the ruby quinoa went so well with it and the mushrooms. There was a prosciutto nage (I just learned what "a la nage" meant here) which went well with the fish. Also on the plate, "variations on salsify", meaning several different preparations of salsify in the dish. The little white round on the side of the quinoa was cooked (baked, poached?), the white frill on the top was dried salsify (entangled with the black trumpet mushroom), salsify in the sauces, etc. Several of the dishes had variations on some ingredient. The scallop dish had variations on cauliflower.

Course #10: Sweetbreads, lemon, olive, caper

Now we're getting into the meats! This was a breaded and deep fried sweetbread served with a variety of delicious flavors: kalamata olive, meyer lemon, golden raisin. It was perfectly cooked and as one former Top Chef winner once put it, "it tastes like a really great chicken nugget."

Course #11: Slow-braised pork belly, calypso beans

This dish was interesting because the pork belly was rolled up (as you can see) and not too fatty. Also, there was some sort of cure on it that made it taste a little bit like corned beef. It wasn't a favorite of ours, but the crispy pancetta wheel alongside was A-okay.

Course #12: Hudson Valley duck liver, seckel pear, vanilla brioche, pistachio soil

This foie gras was very good: rich, fatty, buttery, and served with pear butter and pistachio alongside a sweet brioche (toasted, of course! and buttered!!). However, the foie didn't really taste like foie/liver - it tasted like butter. And while we love butter, it was a little disappointing not to get a stronger classic foie gras flavor out of this dish (especially since so many of the other things we'd eaten had tasted so strongly of themselves).

Course #13: Longenecket Farm rabbit, hernandez sweet potato, lavender

This dish had rabbit prepared 4 ways - wow! The first was a pancetta wrapped loin (that hot dog shaped piece in the pic), then a braised rack (you can see the tiny bones...sad), then a sous vide leg with bacon, and then a final piece prepared like a little schnitzel. They were all served with mashed sweet potatoes, super-yummy braised brussels sprouts, and some other sauces we can't remember. The sous vide leg was the best part - tender with a little bit of fat in the cut, with a lot of great rabbit flavor. Hoppity hop hop...

Course #14: Lamb, curry yogurt, cauliflower

This dish had a seared lamb loin with spinach, a curry yogurt, edamame, cauliflower, and "garlic transparency." The lamb was well-cooked, though it didn't have a very lamb-y flavor, which we would have liked. The spinach was very strongly flavored, as was the garlic transparency - SO garlicky! Poor Xani got it stuck to the top of her tongue, like one of those mint films for breath freshening. This was the opposite.

Course #15: Pineland Farm striploin, ratte potato, broccoli, dragon carrots

This beef dish was one of our favorites of the whole night! The meat was intensely seasoned on the outside and perfectly cooked through (as you can see), plus it had excellent potatoes, broccoli, and you see that thing that looks like an egg yolk? It's another one of those gelatin-encased sauces-- this time, carrot juice. This was an outstanding end to the meat portion of the evening.

Course #16: Cheese (Monocacy Gold), tarragon, orange gelato, balsamic

Cheese course! This was a great palate cleanser before we got into our dessert courses. Our dining companions were familiar with the Monocacy Gold cheese (from Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Co.) and schooled us on this great line of cheeses. The cheese was a soft and creamy goat cheese, almost like a brie. It was served with orange sorbet and a balsamic sauce.

Course #17: Dulce de leche, granny smith apple

Awww yeah, this dessert was our favorite of all of them! This was a super-rich and creamy cheesecake with granny smith apple sorbet and dulce de leche powder. The intensity of the flavor in the sorbet was unbelievable, and the dehydrated caramel turns to liquid in your mouth!Out of control good - we could have eaten many more of these little cheesecakes (er, maybe not at that point of the meal, but you know what we mean).

We ordered coffee and espresso during our dessert courses. I thought the little sugar lump holder looked like Tick Tock from "Return to Oz".

(Flying) pigs and coffee - BCD girls' favorites!

Course #18: Coconut, vanilla, lavender

This was a very interesting dish because it was all white - kind of trippy that way. The coconut sorbet was excellent and was sitting in a cup made of frozen coconut milk, which was very rich and fatty. Next to it was a lavender dust, and there was also a vanilla custard, both of which worked well with the coconut flavors.

Course #19: Chocolate peanut mousse, tonka bean

This was our final official dessert, which was a peanut butter brownie with a super crispy, crunchy crust on the bottom, which was surprising and a great texture contrast to the thick, rich brownie. There was also a tonka bean ice cream and a tuille cookie. The little green blob you see on brownie was "cilantro pudding"- but we didn't taste much cilantro.

Course #20: Ice cream sandwiches

Our last little bite of the evening: mini ice cream sandwiches! These were adorable and amazingly, we found room for them even after 19 previous courses. We were so impressed with how clean and beautiful these were, considering the one time we tried making ice cream sandwiches with cookies, they came out significantly less...beautiful.

Course #21: Muffin to take home

So classy they are at VOLT! Each of us got an orange-ginger muffin to take home to have for breakfast the next day.

We finally looked at the clock after the meal and it was almost midnight! We gathered our things as we struggled with whether we would bother Chef Bryan for a picture. We thought he might come over to talk with us at some point during the meal but he didn't. In the end we decided we would play it cool and not ask for a photo with him - sorry folks!

What a meal! We will both remember this for a very, very long time. Truly outstanding, surprising, delicious, and fun - thanks Chef Bryan and staff! Also thanks to Emily and Josh, and to our wonderful parents for giving us this dinner as our Hanukkah presents. So, you could say we didn't get 8 presents this year, we got 21!!

Good luck to Bryan as we head into the Top Chef finale part 2 - it's only fair to root for him now that we have tasted his food! Go Bryan!!


EP & X


  1. Everything looks great; how was the muffin the next day?

  2. BP- not great. nowhere near as good as the dishes the night before. it was one of the only disappointing parts of the meal.

  3. Thanks for the great write up! We had a great time meeting you and sharing this incredible experience, and the pictures bring it all back. I'm not sure I could even pick a favorite course from the evening, so many of them were so great. I agree that the muffin was not very special, although heated up and topped with a dollop of butter, it made a good accompaniment to breakfast!

  4. Looks amazing- Now I have to watch Top Chef this week!

  5. OMFG. I want to go sooo bad and now I have to sit at that table!!! Reminds me of Minibar!

  6. Wow, thanks for posting this! I love Top Chef and just learned about Table 21 last week. The pictures and descriptions of the food were so fun to read. The muffin was a nice idea; it's too bad it didn't taste very good. But it sounds like everything else was delicious!

  7. Awesome!! Liked the rabbit four ways! Had something like that at Blue Hill. You guys are so lucky! It's neat that you were in the kitchen! You should have said something to one of your waiters to see if you could meet Bryan. The WD-50 server hooked us up- I had no idea that I could meet Wylie at his restaurant!

  8. So fun! I used to live just two blocks from there in Frederick! And David (the bf) still lives there so we actually went to VOLT before the Top Chef session (read: buzz) started. And while we just had a "normal" dinner, it was fantastic.

    A couple notes on your post: 1. EP- you've always had, and always will have, the shiniest hair of anyone I know. 2. Was the hippidy hop really necessary after the rabbit dish. 3. I love how I can feel your excitement through your descriptions!

    This was so fun to read! Thanks!

  9. ::JEALOUS::

    i won't be able to hit up table 21 until may... but had the 6 course tasting menu last night and it was wonderful! we did get to meet the chef and lawd have mercy... i was quite starstruck!

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Bravo! well done, i am so jealous.......

  12. We went last night and it was amazing! thanks for the wonderful pics and descriptions. Reservations are now Spring 2011!!!

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