When I first heard that Bryan Voltaggio was opening Aggio in Baltimore, I was elated. The Top Chef runner-up's highly acclaimed Volt in Frederick has been on my restaurant bucket list for years, though at the time, I had yet to make the 45-minute pilgrimage to Frederick County. (I've since been to Volt and I can assure you, it's worth the trip.) Aggio was my chance to see what all the fuss was about.
My eagerness was only tempered when I learned the upscale Italian restaurant was opening in Power Plant Live (in the former space occupied by Tatu Asian Grill)—it seemed like an odd location. While branching out into the Baltimore market makes perfect sense for the Frederick native (who has been opening restaurants at warp speed, with seven Mid-Atlantic restaurants in seven years, including spots in Frederick; Ashburn, VA; and Washington, D.C., where he opened his first Aggio), why pick a place known more for its nightlife than fine dining?
If my most recent Saturday night visit is any indication, Power Plant Live!—with its ample parking and easy I-83 access—has not proven to be a problem.
Since its opening last June, I've visited Aggio several times, and it gets better and better—from the service (going from dismal to dedicated), to the portions (noticeably larger than on my first few visits), to the vibe (from a bit of a ghost town to a pleasant hubbub).
But let's talk about the food. Aggio is a foodie fantasy with creative compositions you won't find anywhere else in town. (It's hard to say whether this place should earn a Michelin star or a nod from the National Endowment for the Arts.) And while imaginative, the food is surprisingly unfussy.
Like many menus these days, the roster is seasonal, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and a nod to the Mid-Atlantic. With a kitchen assist from chef de cuisine Dan Izzo, who honed his skills at Mario Batali's highly acclaimed Del Posto in New York City, Voltaggio cleverly retools Boot Country classics. (A blissful burrata plus grilled Mission figs, Tiger figs poached in red-wine sauce, and slivers of prosciutto stand in for a traditional Caprese appetizer, for instance.)
Aggio is a foodie fantasy with creative compositions you won't find anywhere else in town.
The lineup includes almost two-dozen plates to pick from, in addition to two six-course tasting menus ($95, plus $65 with wine pairings), though if you're with a few friends, you can cover just as much ground by ordering a la carte.
While we settled on our selections, we indulged in the small and savory amuse-bouche "funnel cakes," dusted with Parmesan, followed by a just-out-of-the-oven olive focaccia served with whipped mortadella and a mound of ricotta drizzled with olive oil. Both were delicious, and we had to stop ourselves from asking for seconds.
To maximize our tasting options, our party of four shared a number of plates. Our favorites included the fork-tender charred octopus perfumed with agrumato (lemon oil), which rests on a bed of toasted fregola (basically, Italian couscous), and a novel kale and collards Caesar salad with fried Mid-Atlantic oyster "croutons," adding a nice element of brininess and crunch.
On the pasta front, we loved the reimagined take on a classic seafood and spaghetti dish. This version featured hand-rolled basil farfalle tossed with tender calamari, and flecked with clams cooked in a lusty lemon, saffron, white wine, and butter broth. Another great addition to the pasta program was a boundary-pushing preparation of chocolate tagliatelle and wild boar. The slightly bitter pasta, fashioned from unsweetened cocoa powder, was balanced by the sweetness of the meat. And the inclusion of orange zest added a surprising lift to an otherwise earthy entree.
We also eagerly tucked into a glorious fall-off-the bone pork osso buco blanketed by a pine nut gremolata, offsetting the deep richness of the pork. A plate of three fat sea scallops sautéed in a brown-butter-balsamic-sage sauce and nestled on top of a mound of sweet spaghetti squash, butternut squash purée, and roasted chestnuts was an exceptional choice, as well.
Given the newly ample portions, it's not easy to save room for dessert, but you should try. We enjoyed a deconstructed spumoni (one scoop each of chocolate, cherry, and pistachio gelato), while also eyeing an artful tiramisu (presented with a cloud of coffee foam).
While Voltaggio may have lost the Top Chef spot to his younger brother, Michael, he has quickly become one of the top chefs in Baltimore.