"The night cauliflower was sexy"

I didn’t meet Bryan Voltaggio.*

A little context is necessary, I think…

My family is blessed with several excellent home chefs, including my husband, Rob, and my brother, Michael (his Thai pizza rocks my world). We love trying new restaurants as well, so as a result, we’re big fans of the television program, “Top Chef.” (And, Michael and I love to boast about how we ate at Jax Fish House before Hosea Rosenberg won season five.)

When Michael learned that I would be in Baltimore on business this week, with just one night free, he and his girlfriend, Sarah, magically got us reservations at Volt, the restaurant of Bryan Voltaggio, the runner-up to season six’s winner (his brother, Michael). I rooted for Bryan during the season, as his food looked amazing and his frequent musings about missing his family were so endearing.

We left for Volt from my conference at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, about 50 miles away. We hit ridiculous traffic (on a Saturday night!), had to stop for gas in the middle of nowhere, and drove way too fast to make it to the restaurant. Suffice it say, my brother could compete quite well in the Indy 500.

The restaurant is located in a mansion, built in the 1890s by six sisters of a wealthy, local financier. It’s really lovely: the turn of the century architecture of the exterior is balanced against a striking modern interior.

Our table was located in the front room, next to the window, overlooking North Market Street. We were attended to by a gracious group of staffers, including our waitress, whose name I am sorry to say I did not get, but who provided excellent meal recommendations and who was both enthusiastic and just, well, happy; by TJ, the junior sommelier who was a verve for wine that was fun to observe; and by a host of others who delivered our selections efficiently and whose sneakers showed a bit of personality and a nice counter point to their stylish gray and brown outfits (yup, the wait staff and kitchen runners wore sneakers; we spied several Chuck Taylors).

My meal kicked off with a cocktail, my beloved French 75, and we later enjoyed a bottle of white from Santa Barbara, a blend that I cannot recall but that we all enjoyed. But the star of the show was the food, and boy, did we eat! I could go on and on and on, so let me focus with some bullets:

  • We started off with bread sticks, baked by the kitchen, and highlighted with sea salt and fennel.
  • “Compliments of the chef,” we were told was our amuse bouche, beef tartar, and as I asked Rob this morning, are you sitting down? I ate it. (OK, only a little bit, but I did.) And, it was good.
  • The bread featured a choice of little muffins/rolls, and mine had bacon! (Bacon + bread + butter = happiness)

And, then, we moved onto the courses. Volt’s menu (the one online is not the same as what we had last night but gives you a good sense of the challenge before us–what to chose??!!) is structured as a tasting menu, with four courses, and they encourage you to order all four courses together at the beginning of the night. We each selected something different and shared, shared, shared. Here’s a summary:

  • First course: Sarah had tuna tartar (which I tried for the first time—hello! why have I forsaken thee?), Michael had a potato and scallop chowder (divine!), and I had the ravioli (it can only be described as a food orgasm).
  • Second course: Sarah had pork belly (surprisingly good–“pork belly” just doesn’t sound appetizing–but that should not be shocking since it’s related to our dear friend, bacon), Michael had a beet and goat cheese salad (yum, yum, yum), and I had the Arctic char (more, please!).
  • Main entree: Sarah had the beef (wow, even, me, the non-beef eater loved it), Michael had the bass (the weakest note of the evening; it was good, but more like a single than a home run), and I had the sturgeon.

I have the break from the bullets to talk about the sturgeon. The one listed on the online menu is the not the same as what I had. My dish was…well, it made it”the night cauliflower was sexy.” The fish was served on a bed of lentils and cauliflower of different colors, and it was gorgeous to look at and gorgeous to eat. Sort of like of my personal George Clooney. I took pictures with my phone, but they are terrible and will only diminish what was a perfect dish.

  • Dessert: Sarah had the dulce de leche white chocolate goat cheese cake (every word in that description makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?), Michael had the meyer lemon cake (sort of like your mom’s lemon bar but gourmet style), and I had the “textures of chocolate” (you guessed it: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate). We also had the pleasure of enjoying a special orange and mint semi-freddo, in recognition of my birthday (this dinner was Michael’s gift to me for my 2009 birthday), replete with a candle. But the best part was the special “compliments of the chef” dessert that includes highlights of all of the desserts on the menu and featured all sort of culinary techniques that I can’t begin to capture here. Let’s just say that any meal with five desserts is the meal for me.

I almost forgot another exciting element of the meal: foam! If you watch “Top Chef,” you know that the contestants are always adding foam to their dishes. I had never had foam before, and it interesting and fun to eat. Another culinary first for me!

While, in the end, we didn’t get to meet Volt’s famous chef, there’s really no way to explain just how much fun I had on my “Top Chef” adventure. The company was really what made the evening special, but the perfect meal was something quite memorable indeed.

* For some background, I recommend reading up on season six of “Top Chef” or monitoring the James Beard Awards, to be announced tomorrow.

One Response
  1. March 23, 2010