I recently had a dining experience that definitely falls in my top ten of all time. Range by Bryan Voltaggio knocked my socks off when I was in DC last week.
When I lived in DC, I had always heard of Voltaggio’s restaurant Volt, but never got a chance to trek up to Frederick, MD to check it out. You have to make reservations a year in advance-it’s that popular (and I’m assuming THAT good, based on the loads of rave reviews).
However, Voltaggio recently opened a second restaurant, Range, in DC proper (just barely, if you walk across the street, you’re in Maryland) and I was able to check it out.
The restaurant is located inside the Chevy Chase Pavilion- essentially an enormous building that has office space, shops, a hotel, and restaurants- and I’m pretty sure that the restaurant doesn’t have any walls that are actually on the outside of the building. I really mean inside. However, the walls that set the boundaries of the restaurant are floor to ceiling glass. So, as you approach, you can see inside the entire restaurant, which is quite large.
(image from The President Wears Prada)
As I approached the front door, I was greeted by a host and hostess. I was dining solo, so I asked if I could just grab a seat at the bar. The host told me “Absolutely”, as he started to walk me in, “but if there isn’t any space there, I can seat you at the chef’s table.”
The chef’s table?
My ears perked up and my inner foodie started to jump up and down. I sheepishly asked, “Can I sit at the chef’s table, even if there is space at the bar?”
He cheerfully responded, “Of course” and proceeded to walk me straight up to the place where all the action was happening- a seat less than five feet from where chef John Miele was putting the finishing touches on every. single. plate.
Range has an open kitchen, which wraps around the inside of the restaurant like an L. There’s seating all along the edge, almost like a diner, but fancier. 😉 I was literally right next to the station where the wait staff picked up their plates from the chef to take to their tables. It was a bit busy at first, and several of the wait staff kindly asked if the seat was okay, and if I’d prefer to be down a few seats where it was quieter. I declined- it was so fun be (literally) in the middle of all the action.
The menu offered a ton of delicious sounding options. I kept watching the plates come out, sometimes asking what each dish was (yes, I was close enough that I could talk to the chef if he wasn’t too busy), and trying to narrow down my choices.
I knew I wanted the fried brussels sprouts, but I was so torn about my main dish. At the recommendation of my waiter, I went with the Carbonara special.
As I waited for my dinner, I had a goofy grin on my face as I watched plate after plate of delicious food go out to the hungry customers. Man, would I love to try it all! I snapped a few photos like a tourist, but the chef didn’t seem to mind- he was probably used to it.
I wish I wasn’t so shy/nervous, because I only exchanged a few words with the chef and his staff. Whenever I did, I got a detailed response, and if my questions bothered them, they never let on.
Soon, my food was up!
These were AH-MAZ-ING!
Chef putting the finishing touches on MY carbonara:
(Side note: So the dish is mostly prepared by one of the other cooks right behind him. When my pasta first was being plated, the chef turned around and watched. I’m not sure what happened, but the next thing I saw was the food being taken away, seemingly not up to standard. A few minutes later, I watched the cook replate a new serving of pasta which did pass muster.)
The final product:
A perfectly poached egg atop homemade pasta in a buttery sauce with sausage. Finished with some sliced pecorino and greens for garnish. (Sorry my description is not as appealing as the one that was in the menu. I wish I had captured it!)
And of course I couldn’t say no to dessert! I asked my waiter for his recommendations and he was partial to the meyer lemon dessert (unfortunately, I can’t find the dessert menu, so I can’t be more specific!) I wasn’t totally on board with that, so I mulled over the menu for a good bit longer. Another waiter, as he was waiting for his plates to come up, asked me which dessert I was thinking about getting. I confessed I wasn’t sure, and he recommended the caramel pot de creme. He completely sold me on it. The homemade almond cake, the roasted pear, the creamy caramel mousse, and the chocolate stout ice cream sounded outstanding, so I ordered it.
OMG. This was soooo incredible. And it looks like artwork, doesn’t it? The caramel creme was outstanding, and the almond cake was just moist enough. The ice cream definitely tasted like a stout, and was the perfect compliment!
And of course I couldn’t go home without getting some of their confections and chocolate to go, so after again grilling my waiter on his favorites, I ordered a few pieces of chocolate (mexican hot chocolate anyone?) and a few too many cookies/biscotti/krispy treats. #worthit
I had an absolutely wonderful experience at Range, and I would go back in a heartbeat. The staff was pleasant, attentive (but not overly attentive, which can get annoying), knowledgable, and very helpful. I loved the vibe and the open kitchen. Sitting right next to the chef was awesome, and it was totally a perfect spot for someone dining solo to sit, not to mention someone who loves food as much as I do! And it goes without saying that the food was dynamite. If you’re ever in the area, go check it out!