Washingtonians have long pined for local chef Bryan Voltaggio to open an urban outlet of his steadily growing restaurant empire in the D.C. area. In the three years since his Top Chef second-place finish, we’ve happily driven a scenic hour to his hometown of Frederick, Maryland, to feast on high-end cuisine at Volt and comfort food at Family Meal and Lunchbox. And now his cuisine is just a Metro ride away at his six-weeks-old Range by Bryan Voltaggio.
The venue and menu showcase Range’s specialized open kitchens (chocolate, rotisserie, bakery, raw bar, etc.) that produce small-plate dishes like seaweed focaccia with tuna confit and a Vegan Sacrifice cocktail, combining scotch and beef ice cubes. The enormous 14,000-square-foot space in Chevy Chase Pavilion offers traditional table dining or chef’s-table seating at each station, allowing for unique interaction with the cooks.
We recently did some interacting of our own with chef Voltaggio to get the inside scoop on why his new restaurant “has no limitations.”
How does Range keep up with its ambitious scope of so many specialties?
I had a lot of ideas that developed into Range. I had a concept for an emporium, all little kitchens that contribute to a restaurant, and each kitchen could act individually to develop its menu concentrations. The space is so huge, I realized that I could do things at Range that aren’t possible at Volt, like having my own bakery, because Volt’s smaller size limits what I can do.
How did you choose the specialties for your kitchens?
When it comes to specialty equipment, the big wood-burning oven is a testament to what Range is all about. I developed the oven to make roasted meats after I did a barbecue tour with my brother [Michael Voltaggio, Top Chef Season Six winner] and fell in love with wood smoke over a grill — the aroma, the flavor, the smoke, the char. It’s primal and just so different from a gas grill. We put in a grill and an oven. Then, we realized that pizza would be amazing in a wood oven, too. So, we built a kitchen that has a battery of equipment, and now we have these creative cooks who can be very progressive in how they use that equipment. There are no limitations to this restaurant. And we’ve just begun.
Are all of your dishes so equipment-intensive?
I’m really into making filled pastas, and I want people to see that some techniques don’t involve machines. With our ricotta ravioli, we just bury the cheese in semolina, and it forms a seamless shell. It’s making pasta without making pasta.
What’s your favorite dish at Range?
It’s tough to say because I don’t have a signature dish. I find myself being progressive as a cook, not cooking the same thing over and over. I can tell you that I’m most excited about our new salumeria, where we will age all of our own charcuterie.
And you’re making dishes for Civil Cigar Lounge right next door to Range — food with cigars?
We’re doing cool things specifically for Civil because the atmosphere of a cigar bar influences how people taste food. When I opened Charlie Palmer Steak in D.C. years ago, you could smoke cigars in restaurants, so I have some experience in that.
We love Range’s retail shop. How did that happen?
People always ask me questions about equipment — my favorite pans, whisk or oyster knife. So, I talked to Rich Harvey [president of Williams-Sonoma brand] and he agreed to help me curate a store. We’re already selling our housemade chocolates to go, and I’d love to expand the space to sell prepared foods, [have a] bakery and [do] charcuterie. Maybe we’ll even have a feature of the day, like great blueberries we got in from a local farmer, and we just buy all of their extras and sell to our customers.
Photos Courtesy of Range