Range. 5335 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 201, Washington, DC. Opened in December. 2012.
On a serene Sunday evening in April, My Favorite American and I strolled into Friendship Heights, a Washington neighborhood awash with the glitzy showrooms of Bulgari, Gucci, Cartier and Jimmy Choo. Taking up most of the second floor a once-struggling mall, the Chevy Chase Pavilion, is a restaurant called Range. Range is a widely hyped, four-month-old, $10 million, 300-seat, 14,000-square-foot, stone and steel monument to exotic consumption.
It was 7 p.m. The woman in black said we could have a table at 9:30. “It’s his birthday,” MFA told her. True, and the woman’s own birthday was imminent, so we bonded. She led us off to Siberia, to a remote yet spacious counter beyond the tables. Our seats faced a corner of a wide open kitchen where synchronized teams of young cooks in sneakers and white uniforms, some with white skullcaps and dazzling tattoos, roast, bake, sauté and dress seafood and meat. “This restaurant has a lot going for it,” said one authority, a woman day-tripper from New Jersey who sat down beside us.
Range is the triumph of 36-year-old, Top Chef finalist Bryan Voltaggio (older brother of Top Chef Michael Voltaggio). Bryan first won acclaim with his South Beach-inspired Volt restaurant in his hometown of Frederick, Md., 50 miles northwest of Washington. Range marks Voltaggio's leap from the provinces into the continental arena of splashy dining. He has learned the knack of masters like Wolfgang Puck for surprising ingredients and their veneration of local produce.
Back at our counter, a waiter appeared at our shoulders. He was cradling a bottle of Champagne in a white linen towel. “For your birthday,” he said. He popped the cork and poured two coupes as we settled in for an hour-and-a-half of mesmerizing theater. To start, MFA ordered the menu’s Little Gem lettuce sprinkled with blue cheese and applewood-cured bacon. I ordered the generous three-ounce terrine of creamy foie gras, which came with a teaspoon of apple compote and two slices of toast and two of brioche. (Even numbers because Range promotes sharing.) Like all other plates, the portions were sensible.
For an entrée, I asked for halibut. A cook placed a thick, four or five-ounce slice of halibut in a skillet and slid it into an oven. Removing it, he tipped the skillet to let juices pool and to spoon them over the fish. Next, with a watchmaker’s eagle-sharp concentration, he aligned the halibut atop a bed of asparagus risotto and placed six or maybe eight morels and as many asparagus tips around the risotto. MFA ordered striped bass embellished with hazelnuts and sorghum. Her fish, like mine, was soft as a baby’s cheek.
We don’t do desserts, but we buckled at Range. Its menu of ice cream and sorbet listed salted caramel, espresso, cinnamon peppercorn, rhubarb, Granny Smith apple and Tahitian vanilla yoghurt—each for $3 or any three for $8. We choose the caramel. It came in a small ceramic bowl nestled on granules of dark chocolate. Set into the scoop was an oblong wafer of chocolate. The white script on it said, “Happy Birthday.”
Okay, we were seduced. But Range’s prices, in view of what you get, are hardly out of line with Friendship Heights’s trendy chains, like P.F. Chang’s, Capitol Grille, Clyde’s and Maggiano’s. My halibut was $28 and MFA’s bass, $19. The foie gras was $21. My glass of a 2011 Argentine Pinot Noir was $14. Our bill before the tip came to $110.
For all that, Range might become easier to like than to love. With the digitized precision of its service, it could risk seeming formulaic like the chains, if more innovative. With its clanging and edgy décor and a relentless din from its tables, Range can project the air of an industrial assembly line as much as the essence of intrepid cuisine that it indeed is. Already, for its fun, flavors and fireworks, MFA said, “We hit the jackpot.”
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.