Finished in Ferrari red with gleaming bronze trim, the custom Molteni range at Estuary stretches the length of the wide-open kitchen, standing out in contrast to a minimalist dining room featuring wall-to-wall windows, black and white tables, and tubular concrete pillars.
When the restaurant opens to the public today on the third floor of the new Conrad hotel in CityCenterDC, the showpiece range will have a magnetic effect on every eyeball in the vicinity, drawing attention on Bryan and Michael Voltaggio as the celebrity brothers team up to deliver modern Maryland seafood.
The pass, the long plating and expediting table in front of the range, is basically in the middle of the dining room. Michael Voltaggio says by integrating the front of the house and the back of the house, the kitchen can cut down on the time it takes to fix problems on the floor. And Hilton has to like the fact that food obsessives with sous vide machines at home can watch the headliners at work.
“We have people that are intrigued by what we do,” Michael Voltaggio says. “They actually come in with, ‘Oh we know how you cooked that octopus.’”
The Conrad is banking on bottling the magic of the siblings’ first collaboration, the well-received Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse in MGM National Harbor. Surprising, artfully composed dishes can be expected from the big-name brothers, both Top Chef finalists and regular guests on Food Network.
Nailing the opening could go a long way toward reversing a recent trend of closures. Bryan Voltaggio still operates Volt and Family Meal in Frederick, but last year he shut down Range and Lunchbox in Chevy Chase along with Aggio locations in Ashburn and Baltimore. In December, a Baltimore judge ruled that he and business partner Hilda Staples owed their landlord $3.1 million in unpaid rent and promissory notes from two shuttered restaurants. Michael Voltaggio closed Ink.Well in Los Angeles last year, too.
The brothers say they’re only focused on the project at hand, and they’re talking up a team of talented chefs that speaks to the strength of the food scene in D.C. right now. Chef de cuisine Dan Kennedy spent time working under Michael Voltaggio’s .ink and Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt.
“There are so many good cooks in D.C. now.” Michael Voltaggio says. “The restaurants there have produced a level of talent that rivals any city anywhere now. There is a community of young chefs there that are eager to do something, and it is inspiring to say the least.”
Voltaggio also draws inspiration from his brother, whom he considers his chef and his boss as much as his partner. That doesn’t mean, though, that Bryan Voltaggio doesn’t get on his nerves.
“Honestly, he’s too nice,” Michael Voltaggio says, then goes on to explain: “Bryan is hospitality. I don’t know if Bryan genuinely recognizes how talented he is and what he’s accomplished, and I think that him being as humble as he is is an amazing trait, but at the same time I need him to sit back and enjoy it a little bit, too, because he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve met in my life.”
Setting up inside an area that’s targeted at one-percenters — there’s a Tiffany & Co. on the first floor of the building — and is full of foot traffic could ensure a more secure foothold for the brothers.
The hotel was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Pritzker Prize-winning architecture firm that built the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the Beijing Olympics.
Interior architect Rottet Studio put in “leathered” walls made from a compound of marble from six countries. Before entering Estuary’s huge, circular bar, guest can peer up into an atrium bordered by a four-story chain-mail curtain that has a 14-foot diameter, color-changing pendant hanging from the ceiling.
Lounge seating by the bar includes black wingback chairs that abut gas-fired fireplaces and hanging tapestries. The main dining room has a 12-seat communal table that could be used for special tasting meals down the road. There’s another seating area around the corner that can be sectioned off for private parties, and a Blue Willow room that shows off a 12-panel art piece made of Blue Willow china.