After scouring Amazon and Etsy for every crab-shaped stencil they could find, brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are ready to welcome the masses into their latest collaborative effort.
Estuary opens to the public on Friday inside modern, marble-lined digs on the third floor of Hilton’s new top-tier Conrad hotel in the CityCenterDC development (950 New York Avenue NW). Named for its devotion to Chesapeake seafood, the restaurant will lean heavily on the decades-long relationships Bryan Voltaggio (Volt, Family Meal) has built with purveyors in the D.C. market. Guests of the hotel have been able to access the restaurant since March 10.
In typical style for the celebrity chefs from Frederick, Maryland, the menu is stocked with standards that have been re-engineered, repackaged, or otherwise tweaked. The idea for the crab-shaped plantain chips crawling up the Maryland crab roll ($12) wasn’t fully realized until hours of internet shopping yielded the right shape.
Bryan Voltaggio thinks the crisps — machine-sliced, molded, fried, and dusted in crab spice — rival Utz for flavor. They add crunch to a cold crab salad that’s topped with ice plant, another aesthetic touch that carries a peppery, cucumber-like flavor.
The crab roll was one of the first ideas to come to mind for the siblings’ third joint restaurant — they opened Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at the MGM National Harbor near the end of 2016 and subsequently added a fast-casual sandwich shop, STRFSH, in Los Angeles.
Although he’s still traveling back and forth from California, Michael Voltaggio is adamant that he and his brother spent hours on the line together to personally polish each dish. With two chefs in the kitchen, he says, “you can accomplish twice as much or work half as hard.” He’s confident he and his brother are doing the former.
Both brothers say they appreciate developing recipes together because they don’t pull punches. They’re each other’s best editors.
“With Michael, if it sucks, it sucks,” Bryan Voltaggio says. “He’s going to tell me.”
Here’s a look at a handful of dishes from Estuary, followed by the opening menu:
Michael Voltaggio brought the West Coast concept of cooking avocado in avocado oil, but Bryan Voltaggio introduced his brother to the fermented blackberry vinegar that makes up half of the deconstructed dressing. “When I tasted that blackberry vinegar, I had to do something with it immediately,” Michael Voltaggio says. The green fruit gets paired with young Romaine lettuce and sprinkled with blackberry powder and cilantro powder. ($14)
A far cry from the freezer aisle variety, these puffer fish tails get fried and glazed with mirin and tamari. Banana peppers are salted and fermented overnight, and an unorthodox tartar sauce contains bananas for sweetness. ($11)
Raw Virginia fluke masquerades as a breaded cutlet with a cloak of crispy rice pearls. An “ocean ranch” is equal parts buttermilk dressing and dashi with the addition of kombu and bonito. Nori powder is responsible for the color. There are also dill pickles and wood sorrel leaves. ($17)
Pan-roasted fish that gets sprinkled with house togarashi spice (benne seed, citrus zest, black sesame, nori powder, espelette pepper) is the centerpiece of this riff on ramen. Pressure-cooked, fried cod bones make up the base of a fish tonkotsu broth. Cuttlefish and enoki mushrooms play the role of noodles. Dehydrated, fried enokis are a crunchy topping alongside watercress. ($29)
Bryan Voltaggio has been getting his lamb from the same Shenandoah farmer for 10 years. Here, belly and loin get sous vide and seared with pastrami spice. Charred leaves of fermented cabbage, “Russian dressing” romesco sauce, and cocoa-tinted lavash support the Reuben imitation. ($32)
Maryland’s traditional layer cake is stacked with corn crepes and chocolate and served with chocolate gravel, cereal granola, and strawberry-cream sorbet (don’t call it Nesquik).($10)
Estuary main menu by on Scribd