Restaurants, at their core, are love letters to experiences past and present. Some chefs pay homage to their childhood. Some offer hosannas to dining travels. And some find salvation in their own backyard.
The brothers Voltaggio, Bryan and Michael, fall into the latter category. The James Beard Award recipients and Top Chef finalists are sons of Maryland and the Chesapeake watershed. With Estuary, which opened this spring at the new Conrad Washington DC at CityCenterDC, the local boys reunite. Their farm-to-table ideal is richly elevated here. Instead of going through the motions of showcasing the Mid-Atlantic’s bounty (the shores of Cape Charles to the farmland of Frederick grace the menu’s cover), the siblings have opted to strike countless notes of culinary whimsy. Happiness abounds up and down the menu.
Caramel apple sangria, complete with a speculoos cookie, caps the tasting menu.
Hotel restaurants are tricky enterprises. They can occasionally feel like design afterthoughts or massive spaces that don’t distinguish themselves from the hulking square footage of meeting rooms and winding corridors. Not here. The 360-room Conrad is Hilton’s first luxury property in Washington, and when it was time to consider its dining area, interior architect Lauren Rottet never wavered from the sleek, minimalist template she created for the rest of the hotel—think deep cherry woods, undulating lines and neutral hues. The philosophy: Let the experiences and the food do the talking.
When exiting the elevator on the third floor of the property, it’s immediately apparent that a relaxed vibe reigns. Beige leather couches—adorned with silk pillows—take in the glittering lights of CityCenterDC and New York Avenue. A few feet away, groupings of cozy, high wingback chairs surround small, round tables for those who’d like to linger over a cocktail or small plates like cedar- plank scallops and Maryland crab rolls. A mammoth half-moon bar serves as an anchor to everything outside of the formal dining area.
Once inside Estuary, the 94-seat dining room is buzzy but not loud—a striking feat given the vaulted ceilings. An open kitchen with a custom Molteni range faces a marble 12-seat communal table, which amps up the fun factor. Most of the polished black-lacquered tables sit alongside floor-to-ceiling windows. (Estuary also boasts two private dining rooms; one seats 24, and the Willow Room seats 45.)
The bar menu includes the Zona Rosa
To relish the brothers’ reimagining of the Chesapeake region, the recently introduced five-course tasting menu with an equal number of wine pairings is the way to go. Clearly, the Voltaggios created these dishes to show off a little, and they deliver via chef de cuisine Dan Kennedy. Leading off is thinly sliced jicama—drizzled with blackberry powder and spritzed with lemon water for crispness—shrouding half an avocado that commingles with yellowfin tuna tartare. Bryan’s favorite wine on the planet—a pea-toned, earthy 2018 Gruner Veltliner Freiheit from Austria—pairs exceptionally well with the dish’s richness. Round two offers downright insouciance: a steaming bowl of cuttlefish, masking itself as ramen, amid a soft-boiled egg, truffles and miniature cauliflower. Spoon in the gooey goodness, savor, repeat. The dish, flanked by pecorino cheese, is a revelation.
East Coast flounder, brushed with a layer of tuna prosciutto and topped with charred cabbage and mustard leaves, begins the power courses. A tangy, bold dollop of romesco invites dipping and enlivens the fish’s white, flaky tenderness. The flounder is paired wonderfully with a glass of light and peppery 2016 Schiava blend St. Magdalener from Italy’s Josephus Mayr.
The humbly monikered beef and broccoli masks its audacity. Short rib—capped with a long stem of broccoli and puffed beef tendon—sits atop sunf lower-seed risotto. Each crimson chunk of the meat slices with buttery ease, lest we forget these fellas know how to artfully prepare steak.
Cleverly named caramel apple sangria—speculoos cookie and honey- crisp apple sangria with a salted caramel mousse base—rounds out the tasting parade. The chilly confection, paired with a sweet Blandy’s Madeira, is a reminder that, sometimes, what appears simple is divinely intricate. The Voltaggios, who have another hit on their hands, wouldn’t have it any other way.
The bar area is perfect for pre- or post-meal cocktails.