Heard of Range? Of course you have. The December debut of the latest dining attraction from Bryan Voltaggio of (all together now!) Volt restaurant and “Top Chef” fame was covered by the food mafia as though it were a presidential campaign.
Before this patron dropped by the second-floor, 300-seat newsmaker staffed with nearly 30 cooks in the Chevy Chase Pavilion, I knew to expect a frozen sphere of veal stock in my Scotch-rich Vegan Sacrifice cocktail and to see a design that included separate stages for baking, shellfish, charcuterie and pastrymaking plus a yet-to-open retail space with its own entrance.
If there was any doubt the public was eager for Range, Voltaggio’s first foray in the District, opening-night traffic put it to rest: Within eight minutes after reservations began being taken, at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, every seat was snapped up, says the empire builder who also counts Family Meal and Lunchbox in Frederick in his portfolio.
Get the bread basket. It costs $10 and threatens to ruin your appetite for anything else, but it also demonstrates Range’s baking acumen with a fragrant spread that includes ciabatta, pita, foccacia, cheddar-chive biscuits that would make a Southerner proud and a skillet of corn bread that is a touch too sweet but nevertheless easy to eat. Companions to the carbo-load run to hummus, smoked cream cheese, pepper jelly and tomato-ham jam made from stewed tomatoes and ham trimmings. On the subject of bread, local pizza maven Edan MacQuaid has been hired to stoke the wood fires at Range.
Voltaggio calls his fourth restaurant a “share plate environment.” Main courses and side dishes show up as they’re ready, as if they were tapas, from Range’s far-flung food stations. So four of us pick first at some fishy black cod, later at sliced beef heart dabbled with chimichurri, with an order of raisin-sweetened cauliflower serving as a bridge between the proteins. Now comes a plate of sliced grilled pork loin, tasty but late to the party. (When I talk to him later on the phone, Voltaggio says his staff is working on timing issues.)
Among the dishes that most catch my interest are lamb breast stuffed with zesty merguez sausage and served on buttery braised cabbage and Range’s super-buttery “everything” mashed potatoes that take their cue from “everything” bagels seasoned with poppy seeds, garlic and onion powders and such. I like the idea of rindswurst as part of the charcuterie program, although the all-beef sausage, made with emulsified heart, liver and tongue, could use more assertive seasoning. Oysters from the raw bar reveal good shucking.
The curved restaurant comes with floor-to-ceiling windows that take in the Embassy Suites on the other side of the pavilion. Members of my dinner party were briefly distracted by a game of “Jeopardy” playing on a flat-screen TV in the distance rather than by the dining room, its neutral shades intentional. Voltaggio, assisted by chef de cuisine Matt Hill, formerly of Charlie Palmer Steak, says he wants the focus to be on the food at Range, which seems to get updates by the day: Christmas Eve saw the arrival of Italian-made curing cabinets for meat.
Once the main courses are cleared, a cart of confections rolls up to the table. Trickle-down temptations born in luxury restaurants, the display of sweet somethings under glass cloches makes everyone at the table feel as though they are kids again. Some desserts look better than they taste, a discovery that repeats itself with the larger options. Since my maiden dinner, Voltaggio says he has reworked this weak link at Range, which found, among other charmless notions, a rice pudding that more closely resembled the Chinese gruel congee. I look forward to trying those and other enhancements — if I can get in again.
5335 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-803-8020.www.voltrange.com. Dinner entrees, $12 to $65.