After a long pandemic pause, CityCenterDC’s polished seafood showpiece Estuary stages a comeback this week with remixed Chesapeake classics like caviar-and-oyster “tarts,” fluke-flanked ceviche, beer-battered clams, and smoked rockfish dip served in shells.
The modern, marble-adorned restaurant first debuted in early 2019 under the watch of celebrity chef brothers and Frederick, Maryland natives Bryan and Michael Voltaggio. Estuary in its original form, ripe with riffs on Maryland crab rolls, cod ramen, and lamb pastrami, was sidelined just a year later by the COVID-19 crisis (950 New York Avenue NW).
The Voltaggio brothers parted ways with Estuary to shift attention towards “multiple upcoming projects throughout the country,” per a March statement from Conrad on the reportedly amicable split.
The glassy, third-floor restaurant inside Hilton’s top-tier Conrad hotel reopens on Friday, March 25, with a continued devotion to the largest estuary in the world, the Chesapeake Bay, and revived partnerships with farmers, fishers, and purveyors mindful of maintaining its health.
At the helm of the newly retooled restaurant is chef de cuisine Ria Montes, who’s used to cooking for locavores. She most recently worked with an arsenal of Mid-Atlantic ingredients at the Line hotel’s A Rake’s Progress and its months-old No Goodbyes replacement under chef Opie Crooks.
At Estuary 2.0, Montes teams up with fellow No Goodbyes alum Sean Tew to cast a wider menu net across the lush local landscape, looping in the bay’s squiggly tributary entryways and surrounding watershed areas across a one-page list of starters, mains, and sides.
Dishes composed with help from the bountiful ecosystem are funneled into three sections of mains: “Flora” (plants and grains); “Fauna” (land animals), and “Brackish” (seafood).
An example of each category includes roasted quail ($27) foie dirty rice, cannellini beans, and natural jus; grilled butternut squash ($24) with farro salad, preserved lemon, salsa verde, and hot honey; and rockfish ($35) with middleneck clams, marinated roe, and baby root veggies. Lots of green shoots and edible flowers help brighten up the spring menu.
There’s also a rotating whole fried fish, joined by watercress, pea tendrils, red onions, radish, and caper-garlic vinaigrette, and slice of swordfish belly punched up with zesty kohlrabi slaw and fermented chili.
While there’s no use of Maryland blue crab (yet), other opening seafood selections swing from approachable (beer-battered clams) to luxe (an $85 order of caviar-topped oyster tarts). Meats also jump from a double brisket patty smash burger to a $90 bone-in ribeye from Roseda Farms.
The celebrity brothers maintain a joint local presence with their Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse, which turns six this fall in MGM National Harbor. During the pandemic, Top Chef’s three-time runner-up chef Bryan Voltaggio flipped his Frederick flagship, Volt, into a more relaxed venture called Thacher & Rye.
“We look forward to carrying on their tradition of culinary excellence at Estuary and hope to work together again in the future,” says Conrad’s general manager Laura Schofield, in a statement.
Estuary’s new beverage director, sommelier, and Watergate alum Nial Harris-Garcia leads a regional wine list and cocktail menu filled with local spirits and homemade bitters, sodas, and mixers. A “Drop the Beet” cocktail — a nod to the restaurant’s playlist created by Northeast nightclub Echostage — stars Green Hat gin made in the same quadrant, beet-infused Cynar, and Vermouth di Torino.
Estuary will operate daily 11:30 a.m. for lunch, with dinner served from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Weekend brunch will enter the mix later this spring. Reserve a seat online.