My love affair with Bryan Voltaggio began when he appeared with his brother on “Top Chef.” His creative and playful take on food always impressed me and more importantly it always looked delicious.
Back when Range opened, I wrote a well deserved, glowing review. When Aggio (5335 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.) came online in February, I was excited to see what Chef Voltaggio would create. This Italian-themed restaurant-within-a-restaurant concept inside of Range is an exciting development and I was no doubt was hoping to be blown away.
After rumors on Twitter (many started by the Voltaggio team), Aggio opened within the walls of Range on Valentine’s Day, killing two birds with one precisely thrown stone. Voltaggio now has a place to serve Italian and the ability to make use of some underutilized space within the expansiveness of Range. The Range kitchen was built to handle multiple concepts, so the 82-seat addition would not stress the operation nor does it seem to be creating any undue stress on the staff of either restaurant. Aggio is truly a gem with dark wood, perfectly dimmed lighting and more of a refined atmosphere compared to Range, with which it complements rather than competes.
After numerous attempts to carve out a night in my schedule to enjoy Aggio, I finally had time on a Saturday late in the evening. We were seated with the wine list and told that our waiter would be with us momentarily. Unfortunately, as seemed to be the issue throughout the night, it took a bit of time for our waiter to appear. While we waited we perused the wine menu but were slightly unsure of what to order since we had not yet been presented with what was on the dinner menu.
However, in case of wine emergency, have no fear; Master Sommelier Kathy Morgan is on the staff at Aggio to help you decide what wine will be the ideal complement to your meal. Morgan became the 105th Master Sommelier in North America and the 19th woman to earn this rare distinction in 2010. There are actually two Master Sommeliers on site with Morgan and Master Sommelier Keith Goldston at Range, which is a tremendous rarity, but it guarantees you that any wine recommendations are likely to be outstanding.
After several moments, our waiter appeared with our dinner menus and some fennel pollen breadsticks. There were two ways to dine that evening; you could either order al la carte or choose the entire tasting menu. Our 9 p.m. reservation made it difficult for us to choose the tasting menu, so we decided to order a few different items each off the a la carte options. I chose the tuna with castelvetrano olives and a blood orange sugo, the lamb ragu with whole wheat lumache and oak-smoked pecorino, and the beef cheeks with saphron and bone marrow. My companion selected the crab minestrone with blue crab, the meatballs braised in ragu pomodoro and the Berkshire pork. As expected these were not your traditional Italian dishes, instead a Voltaggio incarnation where the ingredients and names are familiar but the resulting dish is a creative and unexpected delight.
Once we placed our orders the waiter returned with an amuse bouche of savory funnel cake fried to perfection with a pungent bite of pecorino. We were then presented with a warm focaccia with whipped mortadella and fluffy ricotta. The breads were almost enough to spoil our appetites but I managed to find room for my fresh tuna that melted into an explosion of fresh citrus flavor with each bite. Equally delectable was the crab minestrone. The lamb ragu was a hearty and delicious dish that I devoured in seconds and the meatballs, which were the largest of the plates, were so moist and tender that even though I was beginning to feel full I kept finding myself with a forkful of meatball and perfectly al dente noodles approaching my mouth. The beef cheeks were perfection and the pork presented two ways was moist and flavorful.
Not a single dish was a disappointment. They were beautifully prepared and presented and bursting with flavor. Aggio is not just an extension of Range but an entirely new and self-reliant establishment that would be successful with or without its counterpart. I knew that the chef of my dreams would impress me with his dishes and that my love affair with Bryan Voltaggio would continue. I left Aggio fully satiated and with a smile on my face.