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.
Still, I tried this: “Tequila. jalapeno, passion fruit, agave, lime.” It was good, spicy, and somewhat of an attack on the palette.
And this “Scotch. toasted coconut, ginger, lime, cardamon.”
The space is sleek, cold, and very loud. It even still has a sushi bar.
They had both a tasting and ala carte menu. We ordered from both, supplementing the tasting meal with… well pretty much a whole extra meal.
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.
“foie gras, waffle, smoked maple, hot sauce.” But this was wonderful. I love foie in this kind of mouse-like texture profile. It went amazingly with the smoked maple.
Here is the tasting menu for tonight. This had to be done for the whole table and the portions, while individually smaller, resulted in considerably more per dish per person.
Boca is one of my new favorite wines, a total insider’s wine from Northern Piedmonte. 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara. It shimmers on the palate with layers of fruit, mineral, and herbs.
“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.
“morels, egg yolk gnocchi, mushroom hay, sorrel.” This was a great mushroom dish and paired perfectly with the Boca’s earthy tones. The gnocchi had an interesting texture, like circus peanuts.
“black bass, fava bean guacamole, puffed corn tortilla.” Mostly, this was just fish. Good fish, but not as exciting as some of the other dishes.
Glee star Matthew Morrison across the way.
“milk-fed veal, asparagus, curds and whey of buttermilk.” Pretty tasty.
“poutine, chickpea fries, yogurt curds, lamb neck gravy.” This was amazing, but ridiculously rich. Again with the circus peanut texture, but I was digging it.
“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.
“yuzu curd. rhubarb, matcha, jasmine, chamomile.” This was the weakest dessert, but it was still wonderful.
“apple, caramel, burnt wood ice cream.” This one was amazing. Unexpected interplay of textures and flavors.
“chocolate, ice cream, spiced tofu, sesame cake.” Also excellent. Notice the similarity
“greek yogurt, strawberry, japanese peach, coconut.” This also was great. Like strawberries and cream with a wonderful granite. Or maybe like a perfected Hawaiian shave ice?
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.
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