The best parts of our maiden voyage to Range tonight were at the very beginning and then again at the end.
Just after being seated, our server asked if we'd like to speak with a sommelier so, of course, I nodded enthusiastically. Meredith Bearov, formerly of the Inn at Little Washington, came by and was wonderful. Not a bit of pretentiousness, so engaging and clearly as expert as one might expect given her Advanced Sommelier cert. She told us Kathy Morgan was a mentor and the "reason why [she] became a somm." She steered us toward a smooth, fruit-forward Oregon Pinot Noir from Bergstrom (2011 vintage; $64). I'm no wine expert but know a little and the Wilammette Valley is an area I do know fairly well having travelled there many times. I didn't know Bergstrom and we all very much enjoyed the wine, which evidently is one that was served by the glass at the Inn. It paired well with many of the varied dishes we had.
At the end of the meal, I ordered a Capp (they use Ceremony as their coffee/espresso provider, a Good Thing) with the dessert suggested by our server: a salt caramel pot de creme with chocolate ice cream. Delicious.
Walking around Range is impressive. There's so much to see between the meat locker, wine cases, chocolate shop, bakery, huge amount of kitchen space, counters and even a shop leveraging their partnership with Williams Sonoma. Maybe a bit too much going on but explained more below.
SPECIFIC DISH REACTIONS
Between meeting Meredith/uncorking the Bergstrom and finishing off that fantastic pot de creme, we were four so ordered maybe 12-14 different dishes.
Overriding themes for most were inconsistency and underseasoning without any really jumping out as memorable or eyebrow raising as a place like Range should prompt. More specifically, a few of the dishes we tried included:
- Andouille and Garlic Sausage served with a pear compote, mustard and some fruits ($22; $11 for 4 half-dollar sized slices of each of the two types). This dish, while fine, made me wonder what the charcuterie must have been like when Poivrot Farci was here. Both were mildly flavored without much difference between them.
- Bread Basket ($10). This included some country whole grain, cornbread and maybe one other type. Again, nothing wrong with it but the bread provided without charge by Le Diplomate puts this to shame.
- Beet Salad with Goat Cheese ($11). Again, good but fairly typical of many similar dishes served at many better restaurants.
- Hamachi with Hearts of Palm ($14). The fish was fresh but my issue here was with the pairing of the hearts with the yellowtail and the thickness of both. Fish sliced more thinly with a more delicate and more complementary partner might improve this.
- Kimchi Spaghetti ($16). I suspected this dish, cleverly described on menu, might disappoint and tried it because one of our friends ordered it. Sure enough, the pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente but the kimchi was nearly indiscernible. Maybe they reacted to JoshNE's feedback on the dish just above and over-reacted turning down the kimchi. Disappointing. The scallops that came alongside the pasta were seared nicely but seemed out of place on the dish. Odd composition.
- Lobster Mac ($18). Maybe one of the better dishes but, again, not distinctive in any way. Generous portion of well cooked lobster, al dente pasta and lighter on the cheese (or other?) sauce. Not bad. Good even.
- Pork Cheek Ravioli ($15). Like most of the dishes, this was fine but really lacked the savory quality and richness I expected. Served with nice chanterelles though.
- Pork Chop ($26). This dish was the most obviously overpriced simply because it was probably the most disappointing. Our server suggested this with enthusiasm so I ordered it based on that. He suggested medium rare for temp and I agreed to that too. It was at least medium and not medium rare. It came sliced with roughly half the slices moist and the other half dry. Underseasoned; very mild on flavor.
- Leg of Lamb ($24). This was cooked nicely as ordered (med rare) but also lacked flavor. Aside from the consistent underseasoning we perceived, this simply lacked the definitive lamb taste one would expect from good meat. No off taste at all. Just ordinary.
Service was good. Almost overly attentive at times. For example, my +1 didn't want to drink too much wine but we probably had 4 or 5 different staff try to refill her glass including one who did so twice despite being told twice. Not a big deal; just a slightly too-obvious emphasis on emptying a first bottle to sell a second.
A VENUE NOTE
No need to describe since so many have been and so many pages written on Range already. But maybe good to offer a reaction. The design and sheer scale of the place are impressive. Seats are elegant and comfortable. The long two sides of counter surrounding all the cooking stations are interesting. Just walking around is literally like a mini Newseum for food fans. But, as with the menu, maybe a bit too ambitious? Aside from the obviously huge expense of operating such a place, some of the design choices interfere a bit with functionality. None of these are big deals but, as example, the combination of back-weighted silverware and non-symetric and gently sloped plates looks cool but leads to falling forks. We had two at our table and I'd bet this happens a lot at Range. The restrooms, also impressive, are a bit counterintuitive. The sliding door. Unclear if there's a way to control temperature at the sink basin. Need to experiment with the soap dispenser to determine whether it senses motion (it doesn't). Again, none of this is a big deal and, big picture, the space is cool in an 'air and space museum' sort of way. I just wonder how much the expense of the build and operations adversely impacts the creeping menu pricing (see upthread) and decisions on ingredients, staffing and policies (e.g., parking).
IMHO, the food here is more accessible than at Volt since it's not molecular gastronomy based. But I think Range falls victim to what one might hypothesize about the overall concept: it may be too ambitious. With so much square footage, such an expansive and beautiful venue, so many food stations, huge kitchen and the dozens of staff needed to keep the place running, it must be very challenging to do any one thing exceptionally well and consistently. Maybe Range is a place I should have visited earlier when they had all the culinary all-stars leading the different lines who are now elsewhere. Just one visit so maybe another would change the impression but it seems an expensively developed concept that has settled into good-enough status with pricing not totally justified by the quality or portioning. Maybe that'll work over the long haul given the location in Friendship Heights close to Bethesda.