Volt Restaurant's Identity Crisis

Chef Brian Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant
Chef Brian Voltaggio of Volt Restaurant

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.

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Dec 10, 2010 at 12:58 AM joe

Before you wrote this article, you probably should have read the menu descriptions one more time. In addition read all the menu items and you will see the theme is not Asian and has no asian feel. Finally, before you write an article, CHECK YOUR FACTS! The fact your name is attached to this article and represented the word 'georgetown' is ludicrous. You have no clue on dining, food, and/ or the themes of such aspects and furthermore you should not be commenting on them let alone writing about them in a publication.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 12:37 PM Monkfish

What aspects of this review are factually inaccurate, exactly? Why should the author be chastised for eating a springroll of raw tuna, or black forbidden rice, while noting the obvious nod to asian cusine that these foods represent. There are elements of regional slow food, asian cuisine, french, catalan gastronomy, just to name a few, on Chef Voltaggio's menues. Volt's food is not decidedly any one cuisine and I think that is a bit of what the author is trying to get at here. While this provides for a varied menu and some exciting combinations, the overall experience can be quite muddled. Having dined at Volt a few times, I think this write-up echos my take on the food as well. Some dishes are fantastic, and some just miss for whatever reason. While it is certainly 'good' and perhaps quite shy of 'great,' I will return to Volt again in the future to see what influences the chef decides to play with next. I, just like Ms. Mcmahon, can remain entitled to my opinion of the experience and still be a fan the place.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 2:14 PM Debra McMahon

To Joe

What is your issue? To insinuate that Georgetowners are only interested in Georgetown restaurants is ludicrous. I found this review interesting, helpful, and accurate in describing Volt as an uptown avant garde restaurant that is located in what we townies consider to be the country. It is very good, but not what you might expect and that is the writer's point.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 2:42 PM Dtrotter

I love the Asian thing going on at Volt. The sliding panels in the bathrooms are straight out of Japanese tea houses. I think they should embrace it more! Overall, a solid review of a restaurant that draws its inspiration from many places.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 3:19 PM Laura Miller

I am planning to try Volt and find this review to be well written, thoughtful, and useful in its point of view. Many people from the city, myself included, often have a certain experience in mind when when we travel afield to a restaurant in what we consider to be the country. Unless forwarned, we don't expect avant garde food and modern decor.

This review is great because it tells Georgetown and DC area readers to expect a sophisticated, modern, city-like restaurant, not one with a local farm to table menu or relaxed country atmosphere.

The writer makes a helpful point while praising the food. Joe's comments seem unwarranted and overcritical.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 3:24 PM Debra Brylawski

I agree with Monkfish and Miller. This is a helpful review.

It looks to me like Joe works at Volt and is being too sensitive about specifics of the menu while missing the writer's point.

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Jan 27, 2011 at 3:26 PM Debra Brylawski

I liked this review and agree with Miller and monkfish. I think Joe is being too sensitive about the menu and is missing the writer's point.

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Jan 28, 2011 at 10:28 AM DCSBT

Relax Joe! I agree with Monkfish and Laura - I don't think the author was trying to chastise as much as to mull over mood and ambiance that Volt provides. I thought her descriptions of the food, by the way, were great! I could go for a smoky Manhattan right now, personally :)

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