11 April 2011

The Most Epic Day Ever

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What started out as typical plans to hang out and watch the UFC on PPV turned into one of the most awesome days I've had in a long, long time. Not any one experience, mind you, but the day as a whole. What did we do, you may be wondering? Well, if that picture doesn't give you any hints, click through to read all about our day o' fun.

After much conversing and strategizing the plan was thus: 1. Hit up $25 prix fixe lunch at Volt Restaurant in Frederick. 2. Consume massive quantities of beer at Mount Airy Inn. 3. Play the shit out of some Final Fantasy 3 on my SNES. 4. Order the UFC... maybe. I challenge you to come up with a better way to spend a Saturday.

I got an early start, as I'm usually prone to do. I hit up Jiffy Lube on my way out to Frederick for an oil change then stopped by Andy Nelson's in Cockeysville to get some sauce for my barbecue and some wings for the late night munchies I wisely anticipated we would be consumed by. I got C's place around noon and we made our way into downtown Frederick in shiny new jet black 2010 F-150 STX. Yeah, that's how we roll. Unfortunately the ridiculous size of the goddamned thing had us rolling all the way up to top level of the parking garage just to find a space big enough. That's why my next automobile is going to be a Mini Cooper.

Our lunch res wasn't until 2pm so we decided to hit up Brewer's Alley for a few brews beforehand. This is a nifty little brew pub similar to DuClaw. They serve typical pub grub and have big shiny beer tanks displayed behind glass for all to see. We ordered their sampler which featured 6 current brews on tap.

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The beers on rotation today were the Trinity Stout, 1634 Ale, Nut Brown Ale, IPA, Kolsch, and a Wiezen. The clear favorite for both of us was the Trinity which was served on nitro. My second, surprisingly, was the wiezen followed by the nut brown ale, 1634, IPA, and last the Kolsch because, lets face it, Kolschs are about as interesting as bug collections. The Trinity reminded me of Kona's Pipeline Porter, but better. Where Pipeline finishes nice and smooth and one-note, the Trinity has a nice hoppy bitter bite at the end similar to Resurrection.

The time was upon us so we quickly paid our tab and made our way down Market Street to Volt. We actually almost walked past it because it's housed in the Houck Mansion which was built in the early 1890s.

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Upon entering we were quickly seated in a corner of the room immediately to the right. I was surprised as the interior of the space looked nothing like what I was expecting, having a much fancier feel with all things dressed in creamy white goodness.

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Even the fancy light fixtures:

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Our lunch began with a cylindrical tin of housemade breadsticks dusted with sea salt and fennel pollen. I was semi-disappointed we weren’t given a more intriguing amuse bouche, nonetheless I really liked them, elevated slightly by the faint licorice flavor imparted by the pollen.

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When we were asked to choose our first course I inquired about the Shitake Veloute with pinenut sabayon, chili oil, opal basil, having no idea what a veloute is. The waiter described it as a soup made entirely out of mushrooms topped with the sabayon (I didn’t bother asking what a sabayon was, I just smiled and nodded.) That was all I needed to hear, I went for that while my dining buddy C went for the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with jasmine rice, chili oil, petite cilantro, and wasabi whitefish roe (a $7 supplement.)

After ordering our first course we were presented with the bread service. Our options were a sea salt dusted French roll, a buttermilk biscuit, and a rosemary kalamata olive roll. My first choice was the kalamata olive roll, which was the right choice.

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It was slightly moist and spongey, with a very thin outer slightly caramelized crust. It tasted strongly of olive and rosemary and only proved to be that much better when slathered with their creamy just above room-temperature butter.

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This was the table favorite of the three. The biscuit was fine, and the French roll proved to be very useful a little later in the meal.

I’d been forewarned by a trusted source that the lunch portions at Volt left something to be desired, but all worries flew right out the door as my hulking bowl of soup was placed in front of me.

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I loved the presentation and use of color, a plated piece of art to be sure. The presentation of the tartare was no slouch either.

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While visual appeal is all well and good, I’ve always thought that expression about eating with our eyes was a bunch of crap. I eat with my mouth, and so do all of you. Luckily this soup tasted quite delicious indeed. In my notes I described it as a cracked out Cream of Mushroom, and in essence that’s exactly what it was. The flavor of the shitake shined through, but the show-stopper was the pinenut sabayon. It had this fantastic sharp butteriness to it that cut the veloute. The opal basil also really impressed me having an earthiness to it that I’d never experienced in basil. The chili oil added a subtle smokiness, no detectable heat, but rounded out the bite.

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The tartare was fresh and the roe was poppy crunch and an adequate salt level. My favorite component was the pungent basil oil drizzled over the plate, bright and fresh.
And now we’ve come to the part of the show when I quote myself directly from my voice memo! Yay, I know you all love this. This is when the meal got serious.

“Alright so I just about fucking popped wood. The French roll with sea salt and a little house butter dipped in the soup… The creaminess of the butter elevated the already creamy sabayon to an almost ethereal level and the little crunch from the crystal of sea salt crusted on the roll just took me to Cloud Nine”

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Yeah, alright, so maybe when taking notes I tend to exaggerate a bit, but that bite was fucking great. I applied this idea to the rosemary kalamata olive roll, but unfortunately the strong flavor of olives overpowered the subtleties of the soup. It was worth a shot.

For our main course I went with the Freebird Farms Chicken Sausage with beluga lentils, baby carrot, oyster mushrooms, and roasted pearl onion. C went with the Rockfish with maroon carrot, black forbidden rice, watermelon radish, and soy air.

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While this dish was a stunning plate of food, it failed to deliver in a few areas, and ended up being my least favorite course of the meal. My two major complaints were the texture of the sausage, and the overpowering flavor of the sausage. Basically my complaint was the sausage. As you can see from this picture, the consistency was one step above pate.

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The casing slid off every time I tried to cut a piece. It was also very strongly seasoned, requiring most of the other components of the dish to bring it into somewhat of a balance. Also, both the lentils and the carrots were just a touch al dente for my taste. You can definitely prepare carrots that retain their crunch and still have a nice caramelized sweetness, I’ve accomplished as much in my own kitchen, but these were a hair above raw. The most pleasing bite for me was pairing the sausage with the earthy shrooms and the slightly bitter microgreens. My favorite single component of the dish was the perfectly roasted pearl onion, little multi-layered balls of caramelized joy they were.

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I tried one bite of the Rockfish and wasn’t too impressed, the rice being the strong point of the dish, reminiscent of a risotto. The Rockfish was perfectly cooked, but aside from that I felt it was bland and uninteresting.

Not to worry, C would have the last laugh as he ordered the better of our two desserts, that’s not to say mine was bad, it was quite good. C went with the other dessert I had my eye on Goat Cheese Cake with d’anjou pear, spiced vanilla ice cream, and a citrus tuille, so I selected the Honeycrisp Apple with mascarpone gelato, and more of that wonderful opal basil.

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This was definitely one of the best iterations of apple I’ve ever been served at a restaurant. Was it poached? I have no idea. It was tender, moist, and dense and not too sweet. The sugar cookie crumble added a nice little crunch and the mascarpone gelato was creamy and decadent, not to mention that it was served in the most perfectly shaped quenelle I’ve ever seen. Of the three sauces dotting the plate I especially loved the brown sugar molasses reduction. The opal basil came out of left field and tied it all together in a truly special combination of flavors.

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The goat cheese cake was great, with a great dense custardy texture. The tanginess was there, but subdued to a merely a hint. The spiced vanilla ice cream was about as good as vanilla ice cream can possibly get. We finished our meal with a French press of their house blend which was great, but not as good as my brother’s (I was going to link his website, but apparently it doesn't exist anymore. D'oh...)

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I prefer my coffee black, but on a whim I tried the cream they provided, well let’s just say the cream made me cream my pants. And, yes, that was another great quote from my voice memo. I was told that it consists of freshly made half and half of vitamin D milk, heavy cream, and it is steamed prior to being served.

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We were given two little baggies of housemade coffee cake along with our check, which were both ravenously devoured in our drunken stupor later that night. I remember it being pretty damn good, but I wished they had the addictive crumble topping of Drake’s.

The service couldn’t’ve been better at Volt. Our water was refilled after every sip, the bread service came by at least three times during our meal that I can remember, and we were checked on by what seemed like every host in the restaurant. The bottom line is (I feel like Ray Lewis when I say that) that this lunch is a steal for $25. If you’ve always wanted to check out Volt ever since Brian’s valiant effort on Top Chef, this would be a great way to do it. While Chef Voltaggio wasn’t in the kitchen during our lunch service, I can see that he has trained his staff extremely well. I’m eagerly anticipating our Table 21 reservations later this year.

If you assumed this lunch was the highlight of the day, you assumed wrongly. Lucky for you, you weren’t selecting the Holy Grail from numerous grails laid before you, because your flesh would’ve rotted off. After our lunch we actually hit up Brewer’s Alley for a full fledged pint of Trinity Stout. It wasn’t quite as good as when we sampled it before, possibly due to the fact that our palettes just got Eiffel Towered. Yeah that’s right, high-fiving and all.

Our next official destination was Mount Airy Inn in, you guessed it, Mount Airy. C went there a few weeks before and said they had an extensive beer selection and allowed patrons to customize their own beer flights. A-Giddy up. When I heard the name Mount Airy Inn I imagined an old rickety inn, which was not the case at all. This place was fresh and bright and sparkling with newness.

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Assailed with giddiness I immediately chose my first flight of beers (I won’t list the abv and where they’re brewed because you can read that for yourself in the picture. Love the Beck reference in the header): Heavy Seas Siren Noire, Stone Cali-Belgique, 21st Amendment Monk’s Blood, Flying Dog Schwartz, and since they were out of the Arcadia Starboard Stout on Nitro I allowed the bartender choose my last beer, which was Rogue’s Irish lager. C went with a bottle of Allagash White, and surprisingly after sampling it, I thought the Wiess at Brewer’s Alley was better. That’s borderline sacrilegious!

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My favorites of the flight were the Siren Noire and the Monk’s Blood. The Siren Noire in both smell and taste was straight up Tootsie Roll… I’d never had a beer both smell and taste so much like chocolate. The crazy thing is, is that it’s not even billed as chocolate stout on the beer list. Um, can I get some beer with my milkshake? It may bring all the boys to the yard, but they’re all covered in vomit from quaffing this shit by the gallon. It was without question the chocolatiest beer I’ve ever had. C was so enamored with it he ordered a pint of it after he polished off his Allagash White:

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The Monk’s Blood I was all set up to dislike since a friend of mine said the only good beer 21st Amendment puts out is their Back In Black, which I heartily enjoy. Welp, he be wrong. It was smooth with notes of cherry and vanilla and just barely balanced with a strong hop presence and a nice 8.3% abv. American Belgian Strong Dark Ales are skyrocketing up my list of favorite beer styles. The Cali-Belgique showed potential with a very smooth piney flavor, but it ended on a bitter note that I felt was just a touch too strong. I’ve really been getting more and more into hoppy beers lately, but I stress that the beer must retain some sort of overall balance, and the C-B was just slightly too hop forward for my tastes. The Irish Lager and Schwartz beer failed to impress, no outstanding qualities detected.

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In anticipation of our upcoming trip to New Orleans I decided to order the Abita Strawberry Harvest. That Allagash glass was about 5 seconds away from coming home with me... But I'm not a klepto, I swear! Wow, first thing I have to mention is the smell of this beer, we both felt very strongly that it was disturbingly reminiscent of bile vomit. I mean, it just smelled wretched. After getting past the off-putting aroma I was pleased to find a light, fresh, crisp beer that thankfully tasted of real strawberries, not synthetic strawberry flavor. Images of drinking this on a screened in porch on a hot Summer’s day in the bayou danced in my head.

Phase One complete. Commence Phase Two. We headed over to the liquor store and picked up a sixer of Back in Black and a bomber of Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti and hauled ass back to C’s place for some sweet, sweet Final Fantasy 3(VI) action. No, not an emulator or a remake, we were playing it on my SNES on C’s gargantuan 62” Sony. I eagerly plugged everything in and flipped the power switch on. The epic intro started up, flames and pipe organs filled my heart with glee. Then, earth-shattering fear gripped my heart as I watched my SNES systematically devour all of my saved games. Every. Single. One. I gaped on in slack-jawed shock. What the hell just happened? I rebooted the system and luckily it allowed me to start a new game. All was not lost. With grit and determination we popped open a couple BiBs and started fresh.

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After four hours of the most epic gaming ever we took a break to feast on some Andy Nelson’s wings lightly coated in their amazing S. Carolina mustard-based sauce.

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It was as good, if not better than our entire meal at Volt. I drink that sauce straight out of the bottle when no one's around. Er, wait, no I don't... If I had to pick a favorite dish in the entire greater Baltimore area, it would have to be AN’s wings. We decided to end our evening with a hefty pour of the Oak Aged Yeti, but, unfortunately, I had déjà vu all over again and our full bellies simply couldn’t handle the thick and heavy brew.

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We waved our grease-smeared SNES controllers in surrender, we’d had enough. We made it all the way to the Ghost Train... Not too shabby for a night's work.

But goddamn, what an epic, epic day. I challenge you to come up with something better. Don’t bother, because it doesn’t get any better than this.

Andy Nelson's BBQ on Urbanspoon
Volt on Urbanspoon
Mount Airy Inn on Urbanspoon

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Ranhert said...

Ah what an epic day indeed. That spiced vanilla ice cream was simply the best ice cream I have ever had. It was as simple like vanilla but the spiced can not be described. It added depth and complexity. The depth of the ice cream actually overpowered the subtle cheese cake to the point that I did not combine the two in any bites other than the first.

Sorry not trying to butt in on the blog as Mr Micro described the day perfectly. To rate the entire day as one conglomerate for me I would say (all my experiences, I did enjoy my bites of Mr Micro's):

1) My Desert
2) Trinity Stout - Brewer's Alley
3) Final Fantasy 3
4) Andy Nelson's Wings on a good buzz ;)
5) Siren Noire

hmm so to recap that is Desert, Alcohol, Video Games, Wings, Alcohol ... sounds about right.

Jen said...

I've been wanting to try Volt. Thanks for the review! Have you ever heard of Crabtowne USA in Glen Burnie? I think you'd like it. Tons of old arcade games still at 25 cents a pop.

Mr. Micro said...

@Ranhert: It pains me to see FF3 not top your list. I guess you don't quite love that game just as much as I do. FF3 > Life.

@Jen: The name sounds familiar, but not much more than that. Sounds like Barcade, which I'll be going to on Saturday! Woot. I promise to take you there whenever we go up together :)

Andrew said...

"Um, can I get some beer with my milkshake? It may bring all the boys to the yard, but they’re all covered in vomit from quaffing this shit by the gallon."

Sir, I spit water all over my computer screen reading that... err maybe it was milk from my cereal bowl. Thank you for that!

Mr. Micro said...

@Andrew: You're quite welcome sir.

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