Frederick, MD - John Hagan's
Because my dining companion had a friend who was lunching at VOLT today - that's where we ate. Architecturally, the modern build out of this historic building is extremely appealing. They've managed to make intimate interior spaces within what originally might have been an austere Victorian space, without compromising the integrity of the building itself.
We felt fortunate to be seated without reservations, but with the current economy perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised. They have held over their "Restaurant Week" pris fixe menu which is too good a bargain to pass up. Another sign, perhaps, of the slow economy, recently emphasized by the collapse of the "water park" development nearby.
Now to the food - which was really quite delightful. My favorite dish was the starter - local chevre ravioli in a sweet corn sauce with morel mushrooms and bitter orange. The only salvo was the foam/froth. These aerated essences have little taste and poorly serve most dishes aesthetically. After a couple bites, I pushed it aside to give better access to the ravioli and exquisite sauce (with lovely sidelights of fava beans).
Main course was skate w/ white asparagus and blue crab risotto, rhubarb confiture, and squirting of madagascar vanilla sauce. The skate was very nice - perfectly cooked - crispy ouside and moist inside. I'm still wondering about the white asparagus risotto. The taste was very pleasing, but the texture was confusing not quite risotto, not quite creamed asparagus. My conclusion - I liked it, especially with the addition of the rhubarb confit and a tad of the vanilla creme. All in all - a surpsingly successful dish.
The Lois Gruner Veltliner was a nice accompaniment to these dishes.
Finally, the coconut vacherin with coconut ice cream, cream and lavender powder. The presentation was absolutley lovely - a beautiful arrangements of shapes and textures all white! I'm a great fan of meringues and various other textures and this was a triumph. The lavender powder was almost "not there" which was perfect. Too much lavender can render a dish soap-like; this was not.
Though very enthisiastic and well-meaning, the service was a combination of a bit too formal and a bit too familiar. I really don't need to hear a rote recitation of the composition of each course as it is cooling in front of me (unless I ask) -- I already examined the menu, made my selection and ordered it. Also, tales of your high school friends' over indulgences are not appropriate (an easily made faux pas). Nonetheless, I liked our servers and appreciated their attentiveness and, especially, their familiarity with the dishes. Our waiter steered me away from a wine selection that I'm sure I would have regretted and sent clear signals of approval for the dishes I'd selected -- always reassuring.
Overall, I have to say a delicious meal in an enjoyable environment. The formality I will likely enjoy at return visits for dinner. I also plan to go back for the more casual Express Lunches in the bar.
Not where we planned to go, but very glad we did.