Volt Restaurant's Identity Crisis
On Volt’s homepage, Head Chef and former Top Chef contestant Bryan Voltaggio holds a golden rooster in front of a red barn in a deeply saturated atmosphere of rich primary colors. The slides turn through hundreds of pictures of the American countryside. Voltaggio wears a butcher’s apron and walks through a dimly lit barn. Yet it seems that the silo and cornfield glamour shots may be the only thing “country” about his restaurant. Walking into Volt, paneled with glass, fresh backlighting and swank white couches, it feels more like a hip Chinatown sushi bar than an agrarian outpost in Frederick, Maryland.
The dichotomy between the polished, farmland dining Volt projects and its ultramodern design left me not knowing quite what to expect. I left, after a very good meal, equally puzzled. The bill was reasonable and the food delicious, and yet I couldn’t escape a feeling of disappointment. It’s similar to a friend setting you up with a man she markets as down to earth, personable and easy to talk to—but when that man turns out to be a successful investment banker who pulls out your chair and has a slick line for every occasion, you come away from the date thinking not of the man you met, but the person you feel you’ve missed. I left Volt feeling the void of the restaurant they’d had me believing they were, even if the reality is more than satisfactory.
For starters, the restaurant has an irreconcilable Asian vibe. However, I quickly forgot this upon tasting my yellowfin tuna carpaccio appetizer, delicately folded into atranslucent wonton paper. Underneath the small roll of sweet, fresh fish was a stripe of avocado which had been mixed with honey and lemon, then extruded. It was topped with soy “air” and hot chili oil. The dish was sweet, fresh and creamy.
In between courses, the attentive waiter offered me complimentary champagne and a smooth, smoky Manhattan to my dining companion.
The Chef can be seen cooking on the “kitchen cam” on televisions placed throughout the restaurant. I watched him smoke something in a pot on the screen. An odd Orwellian feeling crept up. His image was everywhere. It is one thing to see flames rising from an open kitchen and catch the wafting aroma of reduction sauces and searing meats, while the chatter of chefs at work reverberates through the walls and sets the dining room humming. But watching Chef Voltaggio cooking alone on a muted television screen was serene, but almost eerie.
My entrée of Maine lobster with black forbidden rice and citrus vinaigrette was tender and perfectly cooked. The flavors were again fresh, and the vinaigrette cut the richness of the lobster nicely. Forbidden rice has a purplish kernel and is named such because, for a time, it was reserved to be eaten exclusively by the Emperor of China—it was actually outlawed for public consumption. Does it get more Far East than this?
I was enjoying my food and the atmosphere, but it felt like I wasn’t at Volt, wasn’t in Frederick. I was at a beautiful Asian-inspired Manhattan bistro twenty years in the future, watching my meal being prepared in a place out of sight.
I would go to Volt again. Absolutely. The food was thoughtful and it was nice to get out of the city for the day, even if dining in the restaurant felt like being in the heart of Midtown.
Volt feels a little bit like someone who isn’t sure who they are yet. While they may think it’s ugly to be a city slicker in a small town, the only thing worse is the city slicker who wears leather jackets with farm boots thinking they fit it. It would do Volt justice not to be what it imagines it should, but to just be itself.
Volt is located at 288 North Market Street Frederick, MD. www.VoltRestaurant.com for reservations.