It’s tough to take the time to explore a city when you’re as busy as the Voltaggio brothers. Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, best known for their cheftestant appearances on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and shows on the Food Network, ran successful restaurants in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles respectively, before pairing up for a trio of eateries in the nation’s capital. Their most recent is Estuary, serving up elevated flavors from their hometown of Chesapeake Bay at Conrad Washington, DC.
Conrad Magazine caught up with the James Beard-award winners to discuss their favorite ways to enjoy Washington, DC, when they’re out of the kitchen, a rarity for the brothers.
How do you spend your downtime when you have it?
Bryan Voltaggio: Unfortunately, for me, and I think it’s true for Michael too, when we’re in our own cities, it’s difficult for us to go out because we’re cooking. Michael and I are both from Maryland, from this area, so this is our backyard. I like to be outside. I try to take my family and ride on the canal a lot. I mean, the simpler things are fun.
Michael Voltaggio: My free time is spent on planes. I fly in, I work for like five solid days straight, and I fly back to LA. My downtime is spent with my family.
Washington, DC is known for its diverse neighborhoods. Where do you tend to go?
Bryan Voltaggio: There’s a lot to see. What I’m really excited about is The Wharf. It’s created this whole new neighborhood with the Anthem and the shows and concerts that they’re bringing and their long schedules. They have, like, 200 shows a year. It’s a great spot to go.
What are some of your favorite recommendations for people visiting DC for the first time or even locals looking for something unique and different?
Bryan Voltaggio: My list of restaurants to go and try in DC is huge. It’s bigger than probably LA and San Francisco. We have a lot of friends and a lot of colleagues who have really fantastic restaurants in the District.
Who’s impressing you in the kitchen these days?
Bryan Voltaggio: Jeremiah Langhorne at The Dabney is cooking some really delicious food. Very simple regional cuisine that has a lot of flavor. Fabio Trabocchi’s Del Mar is another great restaurant down at The Wharf. Cathal Armstrong with Kaliwa down at The Wharf has amazing Filipino food. And the team behind Pineapple and Pearls is also great. I’ve known Aaron Siverman for a long time.
Michael Voltaggio: I love the vibe of Maketto, which is Cambodian and Taiwanese. I’ve gone the last two times that I was home last. It’s chef-driven in the sense that the owners have communicated an experience they want to deliver, but it’s very guest-driven too. I love the retail aspect of it. I like the day parts, meaning that I love going there in the morning and grabbing a cold brew and then going back in the afternoon and having a beer and a couple small plates. That restaurant felt like it could be anywhere, but I was really happy to see it in DC. It’s amazing.
How would you describe DC’s food scene?
Bryan Voltaggio: We have an amazing food scene now and I think people need to celebrate that. When I came back here in 2003, DC was labeled as a steakhouse town, and we’d hit a threshold of steakhouses. There’s a lot more ethnic cuisines that have come in. The scene has changed. Whereas New York and San Francisco and LA and all of the major food cities are looked at as places where cooks want to become chefs, DC now has become one of those cities.
What excites you about DC these days?
Michael Voltaggio: Fine dining in DC and providing a good dining experience really excites me. DC has always been a serious food town. It’s as sophisticated culturally as it is politically and on par with any major city where there are a lot of creative people. DC is more diverse now than it’s ever been and I love that. I love coming home and seeing that it’s not just about the deals that are being made in the Capitol. It’s more. There’s a lot more things going on in DC than just politics.