Range, Bryan Voltaggio's fourth restaurant, is a triumph of style in harmony with substance. Dinner at Range, which will last for hours but feel like minutes, is wall-to-wall pleasure, from the first hand-crafted cocktail to the last bonbon from the in-house chocolatier.
There's a lot going on, and Range is as big as its name. The restaurant, open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, occupies the top level of the newly renovated retail atrium inside the Chevy Chase Pavilion. There are 14,000 square feet of it, but it's laid out sinuously and seductively, so you never feel overwhelmed or lost in a crowd.
The glass-fronted main dining room, which includes the entrance bar and open kitchen, wraps itself into a horseshoe shape overlooking the atrium. The space is airy, comfortable and chic. You feel smart and handsome in the chairs, and the tables are big. Even at its most frenetic, when Range is full — it seats about 275 in all — there's the feeling of being in good hands.
The staff at Range is sure-footed, impeccably informed and downright useful. They need to be. Range is serving one of those staggering menus that's broken down, by genre or cooking style, into seemingly infinite categories and sub-categories.
Your waiter will tell you to use the left side of the menu for exploration and sharing — salumeria, cheese, raw bar. The right side is for commitment. That's where Range lists entree-sized servings of its specialty, which is meat. There's also fowl, game, and seafood. (And a vegetarian can show up and nibble around the menu's edges.) But meat is Range's message, and it's delivered with enthusiasm, clarity and imagination.
For bold eaters, Range has tasty bits like pork cheeks, beef marrow bones, beef hearts and veal sweetbreads. For the more timid, there is pork loin, a lamb rack and a New York strip. If you show up with a group of six, you can order up and tear into your very own $62 beef shin, meant for sharing.
A grilled hanging tender (elsewhere known as a hanger steak) served rare is beautiful and beefy. And you're tempted to call it "honest," but then you'd be undervaluing the importance of cutting, seasoning, searing and grilling, and how pretty the beef looks dressed with ringlets of charred shallots.
There were things we ordered from the left side because we wanted to see them. They're not essential, but you'll see how committed Range to making its raw bar and salumeria offerings interesting and eye-appealing. You could live without the Bakers Basket and Spreads, a gathering of breads and biscuits, but you'll love the bacon marmalade on skillet corn bread and pepper jelly on cheddar-jalapeno biscuits.
Still, next time, I'd start with one of the salads or pasta.
There was a lovely little plate of fennel, arugula and shaved Parmesan, an ideal little appetite arouser, and a hearty tagliatelle tossed with a beef stroganoff.
But if the kimchi linguine is around, pounce on it. Order it twice. The fermented, sharp essence of kimchi is built into the pasta itself, a bit of wizardry. Then the pasta is tossed with a few perfectly grilled sea scallops, garnished with peppery nasturtium leaves and glorified with uni, both in foam form as a butter-like, emulsified sliver. Wow.
And from there, yes, it's a march through Range's world of meat, which in the middle of spring included fascinations like a whole rabbit roulade and a cunning lamb tasting trio — sausage, glazed shoulder and loin wrapped in rosemary and garlic-flavored cap meat — served with chickpea fritters and a gently torched tzatziki sauce.
You'll be full — the good kind of full, not stuffed — but you'll be glad you talked yourself into the Meyer lemon custard, served on cardamom-scented shortbread with blood orange sorbet and a passion fruit semifreddo.
And you'll be defenseless when the cart comes by with domed arrangements of chocolates and confections.
Order coffee just to see how sexy the cream-and-sugar set is. Even get a dessert cocktail, like the Blazed Abbott, a flaming gin-based concoction.
It's theater. And Range produces a lot of theatrics. It veers on Vegas. And theater, in a restaurant, at least one as big as the outdoors, theater is necessary. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of meat and alcohol.
There is no dress code at Range. And no attitude. Reservations are hard, but not impossible, to come by. We took an early, early reservation on a Saturday night. That was exactly the right thing to do. We ate and drank and ate for hours — we never felt rushed — and when dinner was done, by 9 p.m. or so, we still had hours to let it all sink in.
Rating: Four and a half stars