Volt: Frederick's Electric Addition
** 1/2 (out of four)
Sound Check: 73 decibels (must speak with raised voice)
Volt exhibits all the signs of a luxury American restaurant circa 2008.
Choice of house-filtered flat or sparkling water? Check.
Creativity at the bar? Take your pick from classic or "current" cocktails.
Frequent shout-outs to the restaurant's growers, farmers and ingredients? "We have our coffee roasted for us here in Frederick," a server informs us.
The option of leaving dinner in the hands of a stranger? The five- and seven-course chef's tasting menus take care of that.
Cute tray of desserts to soften the bill? Hello, house-made chocolates.
Sense of whimsy? Just look at the servers' feet. The waiters are wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers with their jackets.
Volt will come as no surprise to anyone who knows its chef, Bryan Voltaggio, a protege of a celebrity chef in Manhattan (Charlie Palmer) and veteran of some well-known restaurants (Aureole in New York, Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington). Ever since his final year at the Culinary Institute of America in 1999, when he was required to build a restaurant in theory, Voltaggio says, "I always knew I'd end up" in Frederick. The chef was born there. He met his wife there. And now, at age 32 and with the help of a co-owner, he's feeding its denizens and area chowhounds in a 19th-century mansion that serves as a grand backdrop to one of the most interesting restaurants in the state.
Go early to enjoy two of Volt's many pleasures: a cocktail and the lounge. In late August, that meant muddled cherries and peaches in bourbon, a.k.a. "XXX Roy Rogers." A big champagne tub on the counter of the shimmering, glass-topped bar puts customers in a festive mood, and the low sofas and tables suggest the taste of a particularly stylish host.
There are two ways to dine at Volt: in the 38-seat main dining room or in the kitchen, at one of four tables giving patrons a close-up view of their meal being assembled. I can report only on the former, a space that is on the austere side, its walls bare except for white paint, a band of mirror and a large window up front. Diversions come by way of the customers (there's lots of plate trading here) and the servers, who play the role of food curators. Seemingly everything has a pedigree, and no pedigree is left unacknowledged. "The butter is from Vermont," one of them tells us. "The bread is topped with sea salt from the English Channel," she says, adding that the bacon-rosemary brioche and sesame-sprinkled rolls are also baked in-house.