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Volt, Table 21: A Return Visit

  • Joe H Oct 15, 2009 10:30 PM

Tonight we left the Tysons Corner area and deadheaded straight into a gridlocked morass of traffic crunched on the Beltway, travelling into Maryland, inch by inch. Forty five minutes to travel six miles, all with rain pelting on our windshield with the defroster cranked up to clear the windows. At some point traffic opened up and we began to cruise north on 270, our speedometer approaching 30 mph. North of Shady Grove it shot up to 50 and in Germantown we cruised north at 65. Almost ninety minutes after leaving Tysons we were rolling down North Market street in Frederick for a return dinner at Volt's Table 21.

Despite the rain, the jumble of cars and the heat from the windshield' defroster, not to mention 90 minutes for a trip that normally would take 45, Volt's Table 21 waited for us. My wife and I were first here for our anniversary in early July: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635227 Almost from the minute we left then we had wanted to return. Then it had been one of the best dining experiences we'd had in the D. C. area, believing that it rivalled Komi, MiniBar, Enzo's Table 21, Eve's Tasting Room and CityZen. A second trip seemed to be necessary to confirm what we had experienced then.

Tonight was that second trip. Given the rain, the wind and the traffic it had to be even better than what we found in early July.

And it was. Volt's Table 21-again-was an incredible experience. Four + hours and 21 courses later we waddled out, sated and smiling, believing that it was more than worth even the worst driving experience to Frederick. In fact we were lucky that it was ONLY Frederick that we had to drive to for this. It could have been Washington, VA or Chilhowie.

While a number of courses were different from what I described in the link above this was an extraordinary evening and dining adventure. On this visit we found a great sommelier, Neil Dundee, who rivals the D. C. area's best. His wine list includes a number of values along with cult wines such a K Vintners "The Boy" Grenache from Walla Walla. Along with Chef Bryan and several other staff he was instrumental in cementing my belief that Volt's Table 21 is the best overall dining experience in the D. C. area. Again, seated literally in the middle of Volt's kitchen, this is a unique evening totally different from anything else available in the area. Some might even suggest (and I would agree) that this is a better overall dining experience than even the Chef's Table (with its $400 suppliment) at The Inn at Little Washington.

A great evening that I had hope those reading this can explore and enjoy. We are indeed fortunate that Bryan Voltaggio has introduced Frederick to Volt and enthusiasts like ourselves to Table 21. The only possible way to improve this remarkable experience would be, one day, to create a similar experience in D. C. In the meantime Frederick is not as far as it seems. Even when it is raining.

Volt. Table 21. A return visit worthy of even another.

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  1. JoeH-- My biggest issue with my Table21 experience was that it was a bit too rushed. How did you manage to get them to slow it down to last 4 hours? I'd have loved that.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Pool Boy

      They do two seatings on weekends, so that might have something to do with being rushed. We ate in just over 2 hours, but we were fine with that pace.

      1. re: Ericandblueboy

        That was not an issue with our experience. There was only one seating on the Friday we went, and we were the only 2 people there, even (believe it or not). So, I was a little puzzled by the pacing.

    2. We have reservations for Table 21 in December (we made them 3 months out!) and your review continues to get me excited for it.

      Is Chef Bryan in the kitchen every day? Is he directly involved in the preparation of the Table 21 courses?

      1 Reply
      1. re: bluepig1

        We arrived at 7:15 and were seated immediately. The first course was probably served at 7:30 or so with the last course served around 10:15. Then coffee. We got into an extended discussion with the Chef and sommolier about wine (the K Vintner's wines and shiraz in particular). It was about 11:15 or 11:20 when we left.

        As far as I know he is there everyday and yes, he personally served a number of the dishes. I must also note that where you sit is probably not more than five feet or so to where the plating is done. This is part of the enormous attraction of the experience for me. It is not just that his food is imaginative and delicious (phenominal tuna tartare and "banana split"-both a "Great Dish" for me) but the physical location of the four seats is extraordinary. There is a table in the kitchen in other restaurants. Here you are virtually in the middle of the kitchen.

      2. We went to Volt for the first time about 3 weeks ago. We ate in the main dining room because we were celebrating a friend's birthday and I knew that the Chef's Dining Room would be way too adventurous for her, let alone Table 21! I understand that Table 21 is a mind-blowing experience. I'm curious, however, about the Chef's Dining Room. Has anyone ever dined there? What were your impressions, not only of the food but of the room itself? I'm asking because I walked by it on my way to the restroom and the room seemed a bit stark and cold; I could be wrong, though, as I only had a brief glimpse, not wanting to stand and stare.

        1 Reply
        1. re: foodtrip

          We ate in the Chef's dining room last month. It's a small room, about 4-5 tables if I recall correctly. We had a direct view of the chefs, and could see Table 21 to the right. While the room is white, I didn't have the impression of it being cold or stark.

          We absolutely loved the food and presentation. The service was top notch. The only quibble would be with portion sizes; very small, as were the matching wine pours. I didn't expect to leave a six-course meal hungry! While we knew the tasting menu would present smaller samples, we didn't expect them to be quite so small! Next time, we'll try the main dining room.

        2. Two brothers, a good friend, and I were lucky enough to make it to Table 21 this past Saturday (after making a reservation over a month ago) and were completely blown away. Every single word of praise for this place is spot on. Our experience in every aspect was extremely memorable from the sommelier, to the service, to the wine list, and most importantly, to the food.

          I found myself rooting very hard for Bryan on Top Chef, but after a visit to Table 21, the show is a moot point. He could be sent home this week and it wouldn’t matter. He, as well as his restaurant, are going to gain critical acclaim not just in the New York/Philly/Baltimore/DC stretch of the east coast, but across the country. I’m already excited to be able to say that I’ve eaten at Table 21.

          8 Replies
          1. re: gregb

            Does Table 21 have a private bathroom so one is spared sharing too much information as with the transgendered post-modern unprivate one the regular public has to use? What's up with that, did they have historical building restrictions so they couldn't privatize? The issue goes beyond the shared adjacent washing areas seen in other abusively trendy places.

            1. re: chowsearch

              Transgendered bathrooms? Are you sure you were at Volt? I've been there twice and there are two bathrooms separate for men and women.

              Went to Table 21 this past August and really enjoyed it. Was wondering if they still have the very succulent beef tenderloin - and if it is still being plated on a very large plate? The beef I had was so tasty but took so long to plate such a huge plate (the depth of the table) that the corn puree started to develop a skin under the heat lamps. Hope that's been rectified.

              1. re: onocoffee

                The separate bathrooms have separate doors, and separate washing areas. At least when I was there earlier this year, the washing areas were separated visually in part but not at all for sound. The area in the mens room that customarily gets privacy was not very private and very close to the audibly-conjoined washing area in a way calculated to be jolting. The overall wash-up experience could be predictably perceived by many as less than pleasant and without an overall feeling of owner concern for customer comfort. Some may think this arrogant, some may feel it trendy, few will find it private.

                1. re: chowsearch

                  Maybe I'm not as sensitive as you but I agree that the partition between the two separate bathrooms isn't floor-to-ceiling. But does that put me off? Or does that lessen my privacy while using the facilities? I did not think so. Nor did I feel somehow invaded because of it.

                  While I didn't think the setup was meant to be "jolting," I did think that the interior design of the bathroom was incongruent with the rest of the space. The dining rooms tended towards a richer, luxurious environment and the bathrooms went towards ultra-modern.

                  1. re: onocoffee

                    Our party of six had an endless discussion about this very topic during our visit!

                    While it was not as intrusive as the communal bathroom of "Ally McBeal," as noted above, it really did seem to be completely out of character with the rest of the restaurant.

                    But then again, so are the brown Converse hightops, so I guess they really are trying to make a statement. I just don't know what it means...

            2. re: gregb

              I called last week and Table 21 is now booked for all Friday and Saturday nights up until July of 2010....I reserved July 23rd. I guess the notoriety coming from Bryan's success on Top Chef is really driving up demand.....good for Bryan, but bad for us that want to experience his wonderful food.

              1. re: ChrisVA

                Oh my God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! July of 2010? Still, we loved this experience and returned three months after our first visit. It really is one of the great dining adventures anywhere.

                1. re: Joe H

                  I am sure you could it sooner if you go during the week, but with the hour plus drive and then 3+ hours of eating I wouldn't want to have to go to work the next day.

            3. How far out did you make your reservation Joe?

              1 Reply
              1. re: sekelmaan

                About a month.

              2. Wow, I am constantly amazed at the accolades Volt gets. I WANT to love it, I really do, but two visits, ~$200/per person, and we left hungry. My travels are almost always built around food and wine, and I have been to MANY, MANY great restaurants all over the country, and Volt just misses the beat for me. There are good things about it, but the food isn't one of them! Mediocre, overpriced, silly food actually. Try Charlie Trotters in Chicago, same idea, but food, service, ambience (i.e., bathrooms) are all exceptional.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Jmethechef

                  Which dining room were you in? The main dining room, the chef's dining room or Table 21? There's quite a bit of difference among the 3 options.

                  1. re: Jmethechef

                    Your assessment mirrors my one experience with this place exactly. Volt is on my list of Things I Just Can't Appreciate, along with NASCAR and cake decorating as entertainment.

                    1. re: Jmethechef

                      I've not eaten at Volt's Table 21, but have had lunch in the main diningroom and loved it. IIRC, the restroom was odd though; It was very spartan and had some kind of accordion door to one of the stalls. That, the somewhat mechanical and not very friendly service, and long-winded explanation of some dishes (which I understand that some people appreciate, but I do not) were the only negatives in an overall excellent and impressive dining experience -- in my humble opinion, of course.

                      1. re: Jmethechef

                        I dunno if it's fair to compare it to Charlie Trotters (which is in Chicago mind you, this is the DC/Baltimore thread, at least compare it to something in Maryland), but I went to Table 21 Wednesday night and Id say probably 18 out of the 21 dishes were great, only one real clunker. We got white truffles and foie gras for no supplement, so it was definitely worth the money. Not saying I would go back anytime soon (it is an hour away), but I definitely enjoyed it overall.

                        1. re: Turkeybone

                          I would say that a comparison between Table 21 and Trotter's is a bit off since the approaches of both are quite different. Perhaps a more apt comparison would be between Alinea and Table 21 with similar approaches and similar number of courses. Or even Minibar in DC. Though I think T21 is quite dissimilar to all of them.

                          1. re: onocoffee

                            Enzo's Chef's Table at Teatro Goldoni.
                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581849

                            -----
                            Teatro Goldoni
                            1909 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20006

                            1. re: Joe H

                              Joe-- I looked at Teatro Goldoni website and didn't see mention of the Chef's Table. Is this something you need to call and request? If so how far out is their waitlist usually.

                              Thanks for the great posts by the way.

                              -----
                              Teatro Goldoni
                              1909 K St., NW, Washington, DC 20006

                              1. re: ChrisVA

                                Enzo's Chef's Table is similar to Table 21 at Volt, i.e. it is an entirely different experience from the regular dining room. It is $125 prix fixe for about 18 or so courses a number of which were extraordinarily delicious. Much of this was extremely imaginative also drawing on the Michelin starred Combal O near Turin in northern Italy which is THE cutting edge restaurant in all of Italy. The cigar box, the egg are simply phenominal, showstopping dishes. (I'm talking mouth dropping reactions to their presentation.) Whether this is "molecular" or (pick an adjective) I don't know. But it is a unique experience in its own way as Table 21 is in its.

                                Table 21 at Volt is a unique experience in part because of the setting-it is an adventure to literally sit in the middle of the kitchen. At Enzo's Chef's Table you sit at a private table adjacent to the kitchen where Enzo serves you himself. Unique in its own way, I believe this is the the best dining experience in D. C.

                                We return to Enzo's Chef's Table just before Christmas. I understand that he has a new menu with several new featured dishes. As it is, this is a dining experience that has received very little publicity in the D. C. area. I believe you can get in with a week or so notice now. You should go. But you must specify "Enzo's Chef's Table." You may prefer it to Table 21. At some point it will receive the publicity it deserves just as Table 21 now has received its own. We are extremely fortunate to have both of these available to us. For me, both are a step above Komi which I absolutely love.

                                -----
                                Komi
                                1509 17th St NW Ste 1, Washington, DC 20036

                        2. re: Jmethechef

                          We had dinner in the regular dining room and really enjoyed it. I wouldn't say it was a perfect meal but some of the dishes were great. In general I think I liked the first courses best and the desserts least. I certainly wasn't hungry after 4 dishes (plus amuses both before and after dinner).

                        3. I was with a party of 7 in Volt's main dining room Oct. 22. We all our "foodies" and tried several dishes each course. Most opinions were favorable and three of us will return to Table 21 at a later date. One overall complaint was having to order all four courses at one time. Many of us agreed that our choice of dessert should come after we have completed the meal. Only other real complaint was the butter was way too salty. Presentation and service was wonderfu.

                          1. Just for interest's sake I thought I'd let you know that table 21 is booked through next November. I never doubted your prediction about book now!, but I think Top Chef sped that up a lot. Wonder if it would have been busier if he won.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: sekelmaan

                              Wow, that's amazing. I made my reservation about 3 weeks ago and only have to wait until July.

                              1. re: sekelmaan

                                Booked weekends, or weekdays too?

                                1. re: DanielK

                                  I tried to change my reservation today which is in January, but there is no answer on the phone and the voicemail box is full. My guess is everyday, since I have a Thursday.

                                  1. re: sekelmaan

                                    Yeah, T21 is booked every day (exc. Mon & Tues, when they're closed) until then. My reservation is for a Friday, but I think that was just luck.

                                    1. re: JonParker

                                      Any luck getting a regular table? It might just be the holidays but when I plugged them into a few different dates on Opentable nothing came up there either.

                                      It's great for Bryan V, but I really wish I could eat there again!

                                    2. re: sekelmaan

                                      Yeah, their system is absolutely overloaded thanks to the show.

                                      We just had lunch there today in the main dining room and I have to say we were pretty impressed. The three course lunch with wine pairings at $35 is a steal. I found the service to be formal but not cold. The servers we had were perfectly capable of cracking a smile. We'll definitely go back, although lunch will probably continue to be our meal there. Worth the drive out from Baltimore.

                                      1. re: kukubura

                                        Really interesting comments about the length of time now required for a reservation. Reading back on my earlier thread about Table 21 there were nights when it sat empty because of no reservations. Now, with the television show and the resultant publicity, it is extremely popular.

                                        I was in L. A. yesterday and seriously considered going to Bazaar. Despite it's 400+ seats I decided not to (chooisng Osteria Mozza instead-a topic for the L. A. board) in part because I assumed it would be almost impossible to get in with Bryan's brother having won the show. Also, factor in the restaurant receiving four stars from the L. A. Times.

                                        Please note that Jose Andres IS EXPANDING MiniBar here. I don't know how many seats but it will be a much larger experience.

                                        Still, Volt's Table 21 and Enzo's Chef's Table (which is exactly at the point that Table 21 was at six months ago-i.e. nights with no reservations) are extraordinary experiences well worth seeking out. For anyone reading this, if you do not want to wait months and months I would strongly recommend your taking a serious look at Enzo's Chef's Table in Teatro Goldoni. I have written about it at length and there are recent posts and photos on another board.

                                        From the beginning I have believed Table 21 was the preferred experience because of literally sitting in the middle of the kitchen. But I have also believed and written that Enzo's Chef's Table is currently the single best dining experience in the D. C. area for what is served. I prefer it over Komi (same price) and MiniBar.

                                        For the moment (as at Table 21 last summer) there is very little wait.

                                        Sooner or later it is going to be discovered.

                                2. there is more of the volt brothers on youtube: http://www.slashfood.com/2009/12/29/v...

                                  1. Good grief, Table 21 is booked through February, 2011. There goes that idea...

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: ulterior epicure

                                      While it is a different experience Enzo's Chef's Table at Teatro Goldoni may actually be slightly better for what is on the plate. In its own way it equally extraordinary.

                                      1. re: Joe H

                                        Thanks Joe H. I'll keep that in my pocket as a possibility.

                                      2. re: ulterior epicure

                                        haha love it!