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What to Order at Estuary, the Voltaggio Bros’ Ode to the Chesapeake

Eater logo Eater 3/21/2019 Gabe Hiatt
a piece of food on a plate: A Maryland crab roll with crab-shaped plantain chips and ice plant. © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. A Maryland crab roll with crab-shaped plantain chips and ice plant.

New riffs on Maryland crab rolls, cod ramen, and lamb pastrami

After scouring Amazon and Etsy for every crab-shaped stencil they could find, brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio are ready to welcome the masses into their latest collaborative effort.

Estuary opens to the public on Friday inside modern, marble-lined digs on the third floor of Hilton’s new top-tier Conrad hotel in the CityCenterDC development (950 New York Avenue NW). Named for its devotion to Chesapeake seafood, the restaurant will lean heavily on the decades-long relationships Bryan Voltaggio has built with purveyors in the D.C. market. Guests of the hotel have been able to access the restaurant since March 10.

In typical style for the celebrity chefs from Frederick, Maryland, the menu is stocked with standards that have been re-engineered, repackaged, or otherwise tweaked. The idea for the crab-shaped plantain chips crawling up the Maryland crab roll ($12) wasn’t fully realized until hours of internet shopping yielded the right shape.

a piece of cake on a plate © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

Bryan Voltaggio thinks the crisps — machine-sliced, molded, fried, and dusted in crab spice — rival Utz for flavor. They add crunch to a cold crab salad that’s topped with ice plant, another aesthetic touch that carries a peppery, cucumber-like flavor.

The crab roll was one of the first ideas to come to mind for the siblings’ third joint restaurant — they opened Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at the MGM National Harbor near the end of 2016 and subsequently added a fast-casual sandwich shop, STRFSH, in Los Angeles.

Although he’s still traveling back and forth from California, Michael Voltaggio is adamant that he and his brother spent hours on the line together to personally polish each dish. With two chefs in the kitchen, he says, “you can accomplish twice as much or work half as hard.” He’s confident he and his brother are doing the former.

Both brothers say they appreciate developing recipes together because they don’t pull punches. They’re each other’s best editors.

“With Michael, if it sucks, it sucks,” Bryan Voltaggio says. “He’s going to tell me.”

Here’s a look at a handful of opening dishes from Estuary, followed by the opening menu:

a plate of food with broccoli: Estuary avocado confit © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary avocado confit
Avocado confit

Avocado confit

Michael Voltaggio’s brought the West Coast concept of cooking avocado in avocado oil, but Bryan Voltaggio introduced his brother to the fermented blackberry vinegar that makes up half of the deconstructed dressing. “When I tasted that blackberry vinegar, I had to do something with it immediately,” Michael Voltaggio says. The green fruit gets paired with young Romaine lettuce and sprinkled with blackberry powder and cilantro powder. ($14)

a plate of food on a table: Estuary fish sticks © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary fish sticks
Fish sticks made with puffer fish, banana peppers, and banana tartar sauce.

Fish sticks

A far cry from the freezer aisle variety, these puffer fish tails get fried and glazed with mirin and tamari. Banana peppers are salted and fermented overnight, and an unorthodox tartar sauce contains bananas for sweetness. ($11)

a plate of food on a table: Estuary sashimi © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary sashimi
Sashimi milanese made with Virginia fluke

Sashimi milanese

Raw Virginia fluke masquerades as a breaded cutlet with a cloak of crispy rice pearls. An “ocean ranch” is equal parts buttermilk dressing and dashi with the addition of kombu and bonito. Nori powder is responsible for the color. There are also dill pickles and wood sorrel leaves. ($17)

a bowl of food on a plate: Estuary cod © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary cod
Atlantic cod with cuttlefish and enoki mushroom noodles

Atlantic cod

Pan-roasted that gets sprinkled with house togarashi spice (benne seed, citrus zest, black sesame, nori powder, espelette pepper) is the centerpiece of this riff on ramen. Pressure-cooked, fried cod bones make up the base of a fish tonkotsu broth. Cuttlefish and enoki mushrooms play the role of noodles. Dehydrated, fried enokis are a crunchy topping alongside watercress. ($29)

a white plate topped with meat and vegetables: Estuary lamb pastrami © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary lamb pastrami
Lamb pastrami made with belly and loin.

Lamb pastrami

Bryan Voltaggio has been getting his lamb from the same Shenandoah farmer for 10 years. Here, belly and loin get sous vide and seared with pastrami spice. Charred leaves of fermented cabbage, “Russian dressing” romesco sauce, and cocoa-tinted lavash support the Reuben imitation. ($32)

a bowl of food on a plate: Estuary Smith Island cake © Rey Lopez/Eater D.C. Estuary Smith Island cake
Smith Island cake

Smith Island

Maryland’s traditional layer cake is stacked with corn crepes and chocolate and served with chocolate gravel, cereal granola, and strawberry-cream sorbet (don’t all it Nesquik).($10)

Estuary main menu by on Scribd

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