September 20, 2013

Volt - Table 21

I wasn't quite sure how Justin was going to top last year's birthday (dinner at Rogue 24), but he managed to do just that.  He managed to not only score a reservation at Volt, but it was at the 8-person chef's table, Table 21.
Since we've watched Bryan Voltaggio on Top Chef, and the current season of Top Chef Masters, and having been to his other restaurants, Family Meal and Range, we knew we'd be in for a treat.  Table 21 gives you a front row seat to the kitchen.  It was surprisingly quiet too; no one yelling like Gordon Ramsey on Hell's Kitchen.  The kitchen was a well-oiled machine, everyone knowing their role, cooking and plating each dish with precision, and the occasional, "yes, chef."  It was also quite entertaining to watch billowing clouds of smoke/steam (I'm not sure which it is, technically) flow out of the kitchen as liquid nitrogen was poured over various ingredients too.

But let's get to the food!  The one thing I enjoy about these kinds of meals is not knowing what you're going to get until the dish is served.  We received a copy of the menu at the end of the meal, and it turned out that we ended up having smaller versions of almost every item on the a la carte menu, plus a few more.

We started with 4 "snacks" and a cocktail.  The cocktail was Voltaggio's take on the classic drink, an aviation, but it was frozen with the liquid nitrogen.  They recommended we let it sit and melt for a few minutes before tasting it.  I don't think I waited long enough though, because that first spoonful burned my tongue from how cold it was.  The snacks included a deviled egg, a poached oyster shooter, a gougere, and a lamb "blockette".  My favorite was the lamb, which had been formed into a perfect cube, lightly breaded, and topped with a smear of baba ghanoush.  In close 2nd was the deviled egg; rather than using the egg white, a celeriac macaron served as the vessel and added a nice crunch, while the caviar that topped the creamy yolk added a nice brininess and texture to the bite.  The first set of dishes was rounded out by a duo of tomatoes.  One side of the plate had heirloom tomato gazpacho with blue crab, and the other had a caprese salad with homemade burrata in place of mozzarella.  The freshness of the tomatoes was apparent.  

Next, we moved into slightly bigger dishes; about 2-3 bites each.  We started off with a tuna tartar served with an avocado cream, green apple, and drops of soy sauce.  I'd been watching one of the chefs plate this dish right in front of me, and it tasted as great as it looked!  We also had salt-crusted baked carrots, which despite the slight saltiness, still let the sweetness of the carrots shine through.  This was followed by summer beans with goat ricotta and a fava bean hummus.  The hummus was the star of the plate, for sure.  Next, we were served a sourdough linguini with clams and smoked potato.  The pasta had a subtle sourness to it that didn't overpower the taste of the clam.  To finish of the second round of plates, we each had half of a soft-shell crab.  It was lightly fried golden brown and perfectly crisp, and tamale was rich--a true Maryland classic. 

In keeping with the seafood theme, we sampled the calamari bolognese.  The cavatelli pasta were made with squid ink, and the sauce was made with calamari and miso.  It was outstanding, and offered an unusual, but delicious spin on a classic pasta dish.  This dish also won Chef Voltaggio the latest challenge on Top Chef Masters, to send him into the finale!  We then moved into some of the heartier, meat and seafood dishes.  First we tried monkfish with artichoke, fennel and stinging nettle.  It was cooked perfectly, resembling the texture of a lobster tail.  Next came a piece of rockfish served atop cabbage, chorizo, turnip, and peach.  The skin was nice and crisp, while the fish remained moist.  As for the meats, we were served braised pork cheek and jowl, some of my favorites parts of the pig, served with celeriac, fava beans and pearl onions.  The final savory dish was a piece of braised lamb neck served atop a barley risotto with sauteed kale.  At this point, I was struggling to find room in my stomach for the remaining food, but it was hard not to eat that barley risotto.

After all of those savory dishes, we still had four desserts to go.  To ease us into the sweets, we started with a cheese plate of goat bleu cheese and ricotta with rhubarb.  It was a great way to transition into dessert.  Next came a plate of milk & honey; goat's milk gelato, drizzled with honey and pieces of honeycomb.  This was my kind of dessert.  The sweetness of the honey was balanced out by the different textures and the richness of the gelato.  Some of the honeycomb was was crisped up while others were soaking up cream, creating an interplay of different textures as well.  Then came a dish of chocolate ice cream sitting on top of a homemade toasted marshmallow, adorned with frozen chocolate mousse, peanuts and caramel.  It was like an upscale frozen Snickers, times a million!  It was so rich and decadent.  Just when I thought we were done, they brought out their interpretation of a Dove bar; chocolate panna cotta with a thin chocolate shell.  I could only fit one small bite in my stomach, but that one bite was amazing.

Not only was it an inventive and delicious meal, but it was great to get a front row view of the kitchen.  If you ever have the chance to eat at Table 21, or any other chef's table/tasting menu experience, I would highly recommend it.  Watching everyone in the kitchen work in harmony to produce plate after plate of beautiful, delicious food is a sight to see.  I couldn't have asked for a more delicious birthday meal!


  1. Lucky you...Every morsel sounds delicious. I can't think of a better birthday celebration!!

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