This review appears in The Washington Post’s 2019 Spring Dining Guide as No. 7 on a list of the year’s 10 best new restaurants.
(Not yet rated)
Two years in the making, this room with a view on the third floor of the sleek Conrad hotel reunites brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, sons of Maryland who became famous for competing against each other on the sixth season of “Top Chef.” (Michael won.) Their latest joint project is a mash note to the Chesapeake Bay and reveals the siblings’ playful nature. Expect crab, stuffed into a toasted brioche roll and garnished with crab-shaped plantain chips. But also cod, teetering on “ramen” fashioned from sliced cuttlefish and presented in a butter-kissed ginger broth. You’ll find lamb on the menu, but honestly, the heartier entree is a fist of steamed, dehydrated, roasted celery root with a length of heart of palm poking out. The whimsy looks like a veal shank but turns out to be vegan, right down to the intense-with-tomato reduction pooled around the centerpiece.
The most original Key lime pie around features coconut sorbet in a thin chocolate shell resting on a soft saucer of roasted peanuts blended with coconut and, underneath it all, citrus curd. The drinks are top-flight, the kitchen shows off a red Molteni stove, and floor-to-ceiling windows give diners a bird’s-eye view of CityCenterDC.
(Not yet rated)
Estuary: 950 New York Ave. NW. 202-844-5895. estuarydc.com.
Open: Breakfast and dinner daily, lunch weekdays, brunch weekends.
Prices: Dinner $24 to $62.
Sound check: 76 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The Top 10 new restaurants of 2019:
The following preview was originally published April 19, 2019.
Estuary marks a return engagement for the Voltaggio brothers
Chefs, brothers and sons of Maryland, Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are on familiar turf at Estuary, their recently launched seafood restaurant on the third floor of the sleek new Conrad hotel in the District.
“The Chesapeake is our backyard,” says Bryan Voltaggio, 43, best known for his work at the high-end Volt and the casual Family Meal, both in Frederick.
So there’s a new crab sandwich in town. The siblings’ version stands out for stuffing the creamy seafood inside split toasted brioche, brightening the top with purple ice plant flowers and garnishing the roll with adorable crab-shaped, crab-spiced plantain chips.
There’s another plate of fried calamari to consider, too. At Estuary, however, the featured attraction is stained black with squid ink and crisped with a combination of masa and potato starch. The dips include an aioli made zesty with chorizo fat.
Diners’ ongoing passion for ramen is expressed in an entree of cod. The silken fish — seasoned with benne seeds, lemon zest and nori powder — is displayed on nicely chewy “noodles” cut from cuttlefish and enoki mushrooms set in a soothing broth coaxed from fish bones. Fried enokis add a fine crunch.
Surprised by the above? Google alerts for the Voltaggios in the past year sent subscribers to stories about their closures (among them two Aggio restaurants) and financial woes. Recent meals at Estuary demonstrate that unfortunate headlines haven’t gotten in the way of the brothers’ ability to put on a good show. Estuary represents their second hotel and their third joint venture, following the fish sandwich shop STRFSH in Los Angeles, where Michael, 40, is based, and Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at MGM National Harbor in Maryland. (Michael plans to make regular appearances, according to his collaborator. “We want to be part of the D.C. restaurant scene,” says his brother.)
The dining room, paved with walnut floors, reminds patrons that good views don’t require monuments or water. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer pigeon’s-eye views of the luxe CityCenterDC. That splash of red in the open kitchen? It’s a custom-made Molteni stove — “my pride and joy,” says Bryan Voltaggio, whose former chef de cuisine at Volt, Dan Kennedy, assumes the same role at Estuary.
Mindful restaurants know to create ways to entice vegetarians, or even those of us who might want a break from meat now and then. There are several such lures at Estuary, the most fascinating of which appears to be veal shank framed with kale-colored rigatoni. But the haunch in the center of the plate is celery root that’s been steamed, dehydrated, roasted and glazed, with a “bone” made from heart of palm jutting out. The sauce, which takes two days to make and relies on tomato, mushrooms and cannellini beans (for starters), is an impressive vegan demi-glace; its best mop is a parkerhouse roll, provided you haven’t already dispatched an order with a spread determined to give butter competition: hello, whipped mortadella.
Like others dishes at Estuary, Key lime pie is more involved than you expect. Indeed, I figured it was the wrong dessert when the request was brought out. Since when does the classic confection sport coconut sorbet in a chocolate shell and a ring of crimson hyssop syrup? You have to poke around the bowl to find the lime curd. (Look under the “coconut” and a soft disk created from coconut milk and roasted peanuts.) Unusual? For sure. Easy to finish? That, too.
Dinner commences with one-bite croissants filled with tangy tomato jam (an upgrade on pepperoni rolls) and concludes with bonbons and a bill that might make you wish someone else was paying, especially if you’ve imbibed.
One thing is for sure: It’s good to have the boys back.