Change can be difficult, particularly as one ages. I have deep admiration for a friend, who at the age of 60 abandons his consulting business and enrolls in L’Academie de Cuisine. He plans to become a personal chef upon graduation. I truly am in awe of this bold move. I can think of no better place to dine with soon-to-be-chef M. and his wife, than the newly transformed Aggio.
Aggio is Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant-within-a-restaurant. Chef Voltaggio and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Miele are cooking up Italian specialties in a space carved out within the massive Range in Chevy Chase.
Range opened in December 2012. I dined there four times within its first months of opening, but haven’t returned since. This is partly due to burnout, and also because Range ultimately got lost in the shuffle of new restaurant openings that made their way to the top of my dining list.
Aggio is located in Range’s back room, an area that lacked character. I can’t wait to see whether a makeover breathes new life into the space. An early indicator of success is Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review, which awards Aggio three stars (excellent).
We are ushered to the newly-designed back room, and enthusiastically welcomed by every staff member we encounter. There is a palpable excitement in the air. The decor is dark and more sophisticated than the mother ship. In fact, there is little to connect the two restaurants, with the exception of a shared main entrance. But this is precisely what makes Aggio such an interesting endeavor.
The adventure begins with complimentary funnel cake sprinkled with parmesan cheese. It is an amusing amuse bouche. This is followed by delightful olive focaccia, accompanied by mortadella mousse and creamy whipped burrata with olive oil.
The list of antipasti and zuppe e insalata selections is particularly enticing, so we select four to share. Tuna with pistachio, castelvetrano olive, blood orange sugo, citrus pith, and black radish is refreshing and bright. Its breezy citrus notes make me eager for warmer weather.
Bagna cauda unites celeriac baked in aromatic salt, with hazelnut and chunks of marinated sardines. My dining companions deem the dish praise-worthy. I take a pass, as sardines and hazelnuts are on my list of least favorite ingredients.
I skip right over to the appealing ravioli filled with roasted artichokes, mint, and chili. This dish incorporates some of my favorite ingredients. I am compelled to sop up some of the liquid with bits of bread.
Chioggia beets with tonnato sauce, charred rosemary, pine nuts, mullet roe, and arugula is a well-crafted, smoky-flavored, complex composition.
Ultimately, I am grateful to have an appetite left to enjoy sweetly satisfying zepppole punctuated with mandarin fudge, pistachio, honey caramel, and ricotta gelato. We also eagerly devour delicate olive oil cake, with pistachio cream, cara cara orange sorbet, crispy pomegranate, and kumquats. Both desserts maintain the high bar that has been set for this meal.
Service at Aggio is noteworthy. While service issues at Range have been noted in a variety of forums, the staff at Aggio couldn’t be more attentive. Napkins are folded when you leave the table, water glasses are always kept filled. Staff are unobtrusive but ever present, which serves to enhance the experience. Our dinner is a leisurely one, and we appreciate that no one seems anxious to rush us out of the restaurant.
Kudos to Chef Bryan Voltaggio for expanding his range by creating Aggio. His action is proving to be a success, not unlike the one taken by my career-changing friend, who demonstrates that transformation at any stage is possible.
Tom Sietsema’s Washington Post review
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