Fri 8 Mar 2013
We’ve been meaning to taste Bryan Voltaggio’s cooking for years now. Even before his turn on Top Chef, we were hearing rave reviews about the techniques and the ingredients on display at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland. But it’s just far enough from DC that we didn’t want to take on a tasting menu and then have to drive home after an evening of food and drink.
Although VOLT still holds a place on our “must visit” list, it has become much easier for Washingtonians to have a Voltaggio experience. His new restaurant, Range, is Metro accessible (Friendship Heights station on the Red Line) and serving up brunch, lunch and dinner throughout the week.
Earlier this week, Tom Sietsema published his three-star review of Range based on four impressive dinner visits. That kind of scrutiny can be tough on a restaurant, but we put them to a different kind of stress test: a Saturday brunch with a toddler in tow. Would their reputation for service and attention show through mid-day Saturday?
Find out after the jump.
Range is laid out as a series of open kitchen stations, each focusing on a different portion of the menu. We walked past the candy counter, the charcuterier, the grill and the wood oven before settling in at a table near the raw bar. It was a great introduction to the restaurant, and an impressive display as the various chefs went through the process of preparing their various dishes.
Our server was quick to greet us and explain that Range’s menu is best enjoyed as a series of small plates for the table to share, and she recommended three to four choices per person. Now I consider myself no stranger to small plates, but I have to admit the menu was a bit daunting. Maybe it was the sheer number of dishes, or their tight groupings on the page, but it was difficult to focus and find a series of plates that would form a cohesive meal.
Thankfully, Range is ready for indecisive people like me, as well. A three-course menu took the guesswork out of the process and allowed us to each enjoy an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. If Tom Sietsema’s experience encompassed the variety that is the true range of Range, we focused on a much more edited corner of the menu.
With two options each for first course and entrees, we went for one of each. The kale salad hit all the right notes, with the rich, tangy dressing drizzled across a chiffonade of kale that retained all the firm chew of the big leafy green. The alternate starter, a smoky pureed soup, was warm and comforting.
For our main courses, we had a choice between the hanging beef tender that has seen rave reviews all over the internets served with brussels sprouts and polenta and a filet of cod with farro and roasted beets. The Roseda beef was every bit as delicious as promised, and the kitchen turned it out at a perfect rare just the way we requested. The filet was tender and flaky, and the farro had that deliciously nutty chew that has made it my new favorite grain. We added a side of cauliflower tossed with golden raisins and za’atar spices, and we were glad we did.
Baby Spice was along for the ride, and she decided to put the wood oven to the test by trying a pizza made with mozarella, basil and roasted tomatoes. Not her most adventurous order ever, but it resulted in a flatbread with a nicely blistered crust and a nice balance between the sweetness of the tomatoes and the rich creaminess of the cheese. And at $12 for a pie big enough to share, the price was certainly right.
When our meal was ended – and before they brought the desserts that were included in our order – we were treated to a visit from the dessert cart. We saw pistachio financiers, blondies and cookies and all sorts of chocolates and other candies made fresh on site. It was an impressive display, but the prix fixe menu didn’t give us the opportunity to enjoy any of these little delights. Instead, we both received “chocolate,” a layered presentation of chocolate served with kettle corn-flavored ice cream. It was tasty, but too rich after a brunch that could have easily satisfied as a dinner.
Our experience with Range was not the one most diners will have – we didn’t hopscotch across the menu to sample from each of the different kitchens – but it gave us a great taste of what Chef Voltaggio and his massive team is doing at this new Friendship Heights dining destination. We’ll be back soon, and this time we’ll bring adventurous friends to help us seek out all of the best dishes Range has to offer.