By Tom Sietsema Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009
You can dine quite well on the modern American menu Bryan Voltaggio serves in his airy renovated manse in the heart of Frederick. But the most engaging way to explore the "Top Chef" contestant's range is to book Table 21, a four-seat counter that sits smack in the kitchen and allows patrons to watch their meal -- all 21 courses -- being created. Plan to spend some attention and some money on the event, which involves face time with Voltaggio and costs $121 for the food alone. But plan, too, for a lot of fun. Even jaded palates are likely to be seduced by a house-crafted, vodka-spiked creme soda; a twist on sushi that pairs tuna with jasmine rice foam and chives (filling in for nori); and fresh chickpeas turned into gnocchi and treated to seasonal mushrooms and a citrusy pesto. "How many more courses?" all four of us whisper when the umpteenth plate is set before us. Somehow, we rally for a rosy domino of grass-fed beef, its plate artfully detailed with dots of pureed chive, pureed red pepper and liquefied golden raisins. And we rally again for four mini-desserts, including a contemporary vision in white that celebrates coconut, lavender and vanilla. Not every morsel is wonderful: Beet macaroons filled with foie gras? No, thanks. Yet much is memorable. Thoughtfully, the chef can match his meaty menu, course for course, with one suitable for vegetarians. Yes, the kitchen gets a little warm, and no, it's not as noisy as you'd expect.