Restaurant perfection is rare. Often, the starters may be excellent, but the mains are mundane. Maybe the food is really good but the service is cold and rushed. Dishes show creative ideas but fail to come together cohesively. And even the very best places can have an off night.
Our recent dinner at Range, the sprawling and ambitious new restaurant from Bryan Voltaggio (Volt, Family Meal, Lunchbox, Top Chef) was about the best meal we’ve had in quite a long time, a remarkable accomplishment when you consider that on paper Range looks like a sketchy proposition.
To start, it’s located in a shopping mall, specifically the newly renovated Chevy Chase Pavilion in Friendship Heights. When you think of culinary mastery, “mall food” isn’t what usually comes to mind. But consider that Per Se, generally regarded as one of New York’s top five restaurants, is also similarly situated in a shopping center. Dismiss Range for this at your peril.
Additionally, the menu at Range has such, well, range, that you’d assume its various parts couldn’t possibly deliver a consistent experience. Seven kitchen stations throughout the 14,000 square-foot are responsible for a menu that includes raw bar, bakery items, charcuterie, pasta, wood oven (including pizza), wood grill, roasted dishes, starch and vegetable sides and desserts, plus there’s a “candy counter,” retail space, cigar lounge and full bar with a massive wine list. Whew. That must certainly keep Chef de Cuisine Matt Hill and Pasty Chef John Miele busy. We couldn’t possibly have sampled from all those elements during our visit, but we gave it our best shot and came away pleased with every single thing we ordered. Seriously.
Because the menu is so broad, diners can fashion their meal in many ways. You could make a seafood dinner from the raw bar and grilled fish selections. Or treat Range like an Italian trattoria and stick to the pasta and pizza selections (something I may do in a future visit). Chart an adventurous course of beef marrow, veal heart and sweetbreads. The menu can be intimidating, but the staff is ready to advise in ordering wisely. “I’ll make sure you neither under or over order,” assured our server and she helpfully guided our selections, which were Range-as-steakhouse with a southern bent.
All of the dishes, even the mains, are designed to be shared, and the menu is completely a la carte. So, for example, the perfectly grilled ribeye steak with roasted garlic and a topping of mushrooms doesn’t come with sides unless you order them. We chose the “everything” mashed potatoes, a buttery puree that tastes like a sour cream and onion potato chip in the best possible way, and glistening fried Brussels sprouts, which came with a sprinkle of crispy shallots. The tender, pink pork was also a success, served with orange segments.
The bakery starters were the first sign we were in for something special. Although we considered ordering the bread basket—a combination of all six available items—our server wisely steered us towards her two favorites: corn bread with bacon marmalade and cheddar-chive biscuits with pepper jelly. Both were excellent but the star of this combo was the bacon marmalade, a smoky-sweet concoction that’s so good I almost pocketed the little leftover bit. Even the sommelier got excited about it when he saw we ordered it.
Speaking of the sommelier, Wine Director Keith Goldston steered us toward a remarkable bottle of BV Vineyards Tapestry cabernet sauvignon with just a few questions to assess our preferences. The lengthy wine list is cleverly divided with rock star references (light white are like “skinny Elvis” whereas the bold chardonnays are like “fat Elvis”). Although I could have perused the list and made my own selection, when there is a Master Sommelier as nice and down-to-earth as Goldston, I was happy to just go with his expert recommendation.
Service in general at Range was excellent. Our aforementioned server was attentive, warm and informative. Finished plates were whisked away efficiently and water glasses were filled at just the right time. The check came promptly, but we were assured in calm tones that we could take our time. There is an energy to the service, but I never felt like I was being rushed through the meal.
From the start, we were able to take our time in deciding what to order while savoring our cocktails. I had the rather irreverent Vegan Sacrifice, composed of scotch, ginger, cayenne and “meat ice” made from veal consommé. It’s a fitting start, given Range’s meat focus (non-seafood-eating vegetarians would not make out well here, although there are some options, particularly among the pizza, roasted dishes and sides). The rum-based Playground Meltdown has the most amazing coffee liqueur, which Beverage Director Owen Thompson told me is Bittermens New Orleans coffee liqueur.
The end of our meal was as good as its start, finishing with a tart lemon custard and spicy mango sorbet with white chocolate plus a few pieces of smoked cashew and chocolate brittle from the candy counter.
Range’s expansive space is bright and minimal. The white walls display no art and the many interior windows and horizontal lines give off a sleek, modern vibe. It’s a contrast to the warm, homey feel you get from Volt. That's not to say Range is cold, far from it. Rather its warmth radiates instead from the remarkable food and attentive staff. About the only bad thing I could say about the place is that the water in bathroom was freezing cold. A rather minor complaint, considering how sublime everything else was.
Range, 5335 Wisconsin Avenue NW (Inside Chevy Chase Pavilion, second floor), Washington, D.C. (Friendship Heights). (202) 803-8020. Reservations: Open Table.