Location: 8360 Melrose Ave. Ste 107. Los Angeles, CA 90069. (323) 651-5866
Date: May 5, 2012
Rating: Very tasty, hard to pigeonhole
I’ve wanted to go to chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink since I first heard of it last fall. One glance at a few photos of the food told me it was the kind of place I like. But the midtown location and the difficulty of getting reviews — not to mention my busy dining schedule and broken arm — delayed maters considerably. But then Foodie Club member Ryan’s birthday rolled around…
The location is that of the former Hamusaku east (a decent high end sushi place I used to eat at all the time in Westwood). Even planning a week ahead, we had to take a 9:45pm reservation (on a Thursday) and wait nearly half an hour to sit.
The cocktail menu. Like most modern LA joints Ink employs some serious mixology. Being a wine nut and pseudo-pro sommelier (I recently got my Italian specialization, working on Burgundy) I’m not really that knowledgeable about cocktails.
I brought this Brunello to from my cellar to start. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a fresh, vibrant offering bursting with dark cherries, violets, underbrush, minerals and sweet toasted oak on a medium-bodied frame. The wine reveals terrific balance in an energetic, focused style, with firm yet ripe tannins. The finish is long, clean and refreshing. This is a gorgeous effort from Loacker. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2019.”
“crab, charred avocado, whipped fish sauce, mushroom chicharron.” While these dishes were hard to split four ways, they sure did taste good. Like Red Medicine (which has a similar presentation), it’s a little hard to get all the flavors in the mouth at once. I liked the sweetness of the crab with the avocado and the fish sauce. The chicharron made me think a little too much of pork rinds.
“carrots, coconut ice, cardamom soil, pea tendril mojo.” This was a surprising and amazing dish. The vegies are what they are, but that white dusty stuff is basically nitro-frozen Tom Yum Goong! It melted in the mouth and really made all the produce spectacular.
“spaghetti, giant squid, squash, hazelnut pesto.” The noodles under there are actually made from squid. This was tasty too, with a bit of an uni type vibe without any uni. The pesto itself made the dish.
“beef tartare, hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, horseradish, rye.” I was a little disappointed in this dish. It sounded great, and there was nothing off, but the beef itself didn’t really pop the way it does with truly great steak tartare.
“east coast halibut, caesar tempura, melon, espelette.” The individual components of this dish were great, but the whole thing didn’t mesh fully. The tempura is actually balls of caesar dressing, and they were great. The melon was fantastic and good with the fish, but it overwhelmed and him the subtle halibut.
“lamb shoulder, lamb’s quarters, tongue, vadouvan, yogurt.” Also very good, and very rich. We probably over ordered, but we still managed to kill it. The fact that the vegetables are tempura fried perhaps threw us over the edge.
Overall, Ink was pretty spectacular. Not every dish worked, but it’s very modern and experimental in a good way. The interplay of textures and flavors — not to mention the “dust and ball” style plating — reminds me of Red Medicine when it first opened (before the even more experimental Elfin period). Despite the very similar look, the flavors at Ink remain much more grounded in American modern and a sort of gastro-pub sensibility. Still, the textural experimentation alone puts it at a very high level. Roberto Cortez has a similar kind of modern too, although his preps are more sophisticated and his palette more subtle and balanced – but that’s beyond restaurant food.
With this kind of uniqueness, it’s no wonder Ink is doing well. It also seems Voltaggio mixes up the menu frequently, so I’ll be back soon — provided I can score a convenient reservation.