Descriptions of Range, the latest creation from “Top Chef” alumnus Bryan Voltaggio, make the Chevy Chase Pavilion location sound more like an ocean liner than a restaurant. Three hundred seats! Thirty cooks! Nine food stations! Did you know Range also stocks two master sommeliers? The last detail is offered by one of the title holders, who proudly tells her customers the claim is shared only with the fabled French Laundry in Napa Valley.
Few restaurants have been as eagerly awaited as Range, the first foray into Washington by Voltaggio, whose three establishments in Frederick — Volt, Lunchboxand Family Meal — draw food enthusiasts from across the region. Part of the fuss stems from the chef’s celebrity and part of the attention is explained by the reality: Despite all the money and the stomachs in the area, Friendship Heights is poor when it comes to choice places to dine.
The big surprise after four dinners: The hype is justified. Range, backed by chef de cuisine Matt Hill from Charlie Palmer Steak, is a terrific restaurant much of the time. Its early problems with pacing appear to be solved, and while the setting overlooking several floors of office and retail space — including a 30-by-60-foot “synchronized LED wall” of changing art — suggest Las Vegas, this part of town could use the glitz.
The restaurant benefits from an exceptionally strong cast in the open kitchens, behind the bar and patrolling the floor. Skeptics might point to the fact I was recognized as a critic every visit, but even civilians I know tell me how swell the service is here. The dining room staff read their customers like books, magically appearing just as you need them and fully versed in Range’s scores of dishes.
The menu, no surprise, is long and varied. The left side of the script focuses on raw seafood, charcuterie, cheese, salads and pasta; the right column is devoted to pizza, grilled meats and fish, pan-roasted items and vegetable dishes.
The paths are strewn with delights. The bakery rolls out what might be the best bread basket in the city. Actually, it’s less a basket than a fashion show of carbs, a pageant that crowds the table with homey corn bread, jalapeño-spiked biscuits, rustic multigrain and on, staged with coordinating spreads including bacon marmalade, pepper jelly and whipped lardo. Crudos include ruby-red yellowfin tuna, folds of which are interspersed with green dots of avocado whipped with jalapeño and airy rice crackers: a tuna tartare of distinction. A chiffonade of kale, the current “it” green, plays the role traditionally filled by romaine in one of the best Caesar salads I’ve encountered in ages.
I’ve never met a pasta I didn’t dig here. Linguine with sea urchin and kimchi made by one of the cook’s moms? Sold! Scroll-shaped pasta flavored with rye, cocoa and pumpernickel — and with minced lamb’s tongue clinging — gets a light wash of braising liquid. There are also ravioli bursting with tangy goat cheese and draped with meaty ragu, a dish that manages to be both comforting and elegant.