Monday, June 24, 2013

RANGE Food Review

Pizza with pork sausage, smoked mozzarella and rapini

Top Chef alum Bryan Voltaggio has returned to the nation's capital with a bang, opening RANGE at Chevy Chase Pavilion last December. The 14,000 square foot marvel anchors a fully renovated Pavilion, and has already become the place to dine in Friendship Heights. I stopped by for an early lunch today, and came away for the most part wowed and impressed.

The WOW factor is evident the moment you step inside: Voltaggio & his fellow investors have obviously put a lot of thought and effort into every inch of the place. I find it a lot more inviting than his ├╝ber-successful (and even more impressive) VOLT in Frederick, Maryland. They've managed to strike a good balance between comfort and style... No intimidation factor, but you'll definitely feel special.

Mango house soda

The special comes from a remarkable staff that goes above and beyond to make your experience one you won't soon forget. I was offered a table, or a seat chefside in the "middle of the action." I played it safe and chose a spot along the long, swooping window with an impressive view of the Pavilion below; but I'd love to come back during a dinner rush to spy the busy kitchen staff performing their magic.

Skillet corn bread with bacon marmalade

I ordered two bakery starters... RANGE's famous Skillet corn bread with bacon marmalade and Cheddar-jalapeno biscuits with pepper jelly (each a steal at just $4.) I could easily order nothing but bread... It's that good. Trouble is, it's a lot to eat for just one person. The corn bread was cooked perfectly (I'm buying a small cast iron skillet tomorrow) and the bacon chip marmalade was salty and sweet. It crumbles quite a bit however, making it tricky to apply the marmalade: You're probably better off, eating it with a spoon.

On the other hand, I can't rave enough about those biscuits. Not too light, nor heavy, this trio of deliciousness screams with flavor. Ditto for the pepper jelly which absolutely needs to finds its way into my pantry pronto. I can only pray that they carry them for take away at the soon-to-launch Lunchbox downstairs. RANGE offers a variety of house sodas for $3, and I wrestled over grapefruit and mango. I chose the latter, but couldn't taste any mango flavor to speak of. It's still refreshing, but I'll try something different next time.

Cheddar-jalapeno biscuits with pepper jelly

The only glaring negative came with the arrival of my $14 pizza with pork sausage, smoked mozzarella and rapini. Not the quality mind you, but the timing. Not five minutes had passed since my breads arrived, and while I'm a quick eater when pressed... I couldn't help but feel disappointed. What's the protocol in this situation? I'd feel foolish sending it back, but I needed at least 10 more minutes to rush through my bread. Not good.

The other drawback to being served everything at once, is I didn't have time to ease into a beautiful looking pizza. The crust was perfect, and a little bit chewy. The cheese was to die for, and the giant chunks of sausage delectable. I find rapini to be a little bitter for my taste, and it appeared to be bunched together in the center. Other than that, it was very nice; although a little tricky to eat with a knife and fork. RANGE is casual to a point, but not enough to eat pizza with your hands.

Assortment of desserts

By the time I finished the second of four slices of pizza, I was ready to throw in the towel (maybe I overdid it with the bread?) My server Nick offered to box up the remaining pizza and corn bread (those biscuits were already long gone.) I regretted not having room for dessert so I asked Nick to box up a white chocolate bark ($2) espresso macadamia fudge brownie ($3) and two chocolates ($3 each... coconut, brazil nut and raspberry caramel) for later.

My bill came to $39.60 + a $10.40 tip for exemplary service. $50 is a lot for a solo lunch out; but the desserts were a one-time deal. Speaking of... When I got back to work, I opened my box and was disappointed to find two tiny pieces of candy, a decorated brownie on its side and a piece of bark with some of the brownie's frosting on top. I can live with the confections, but I can't understand why anyone would pay $3 for what amounts to half a piece of Godiva or (shudder) Russell Stover. Stick with RANGE's sinful sweets for seven and eight dollars instead (vanilla pine nut donuts & meyer lemon custard sound terrific.)

I find the true measure of a restaurant to be whether or not I'd come back, and RANGE is the kind of place you can't wait to return to. I'll be sure not to dine alone next time out, avoid the chocolate (sorry guys) and take in the full atmosphere of a buzzing hotspot on a Friday or Saturday night. Finally, a place worth dressing up for in Friendship Heights.