Wednesday, February 15, 2012


ink. is the Los Angeles-based brainchild of Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the Voltaggios. And if you've been following this blog for a while, you've probably already gleaned that bit of information from my 2011 Thanksgiving post.

On Top Chef, I loved both of the Voltaggio brothers' playful and focused approaches to flavors and textures, but never had the chance to try Michael Voltaggio's food at The Dining Room at the Langham Hotel and never had a way to justify a flight to Frederick, MD just to try Bryan Voltaggio's food at VOLT. When I first heard of Michael Voltaggio's new restaurant venture, I followed its development like a puppy follows treats.

After numerous opening date changes and several trips to LA that didn't coincide with the actual restaurant opening, I finally got a chance last November to sit down and eat to my heart's content. And let me tell you--he did not disappoint.

Note: I think I was too excited to take decent, non-blurry photos. Sorry for the quality, but hopefully they still capture at least a little bit of how delicious these dishes were. Also, it was kind of dark in there.

Naturally, the night started off with some drinks. I was particularly excited about the cocktail list because I recognized that a mixologist from The Tasting Kitchen was behind the bar. Unfortunately, the only drink that really struck a chord with the table was the Scotch with lemon, ginger, clover honey, and angostura bitters. Balanced, flavorful, and refreshing.

First up was the Kale. The crispy kale lost all of its natural bitterness with some well-timed roasting. The nutty toasted pumpkin seeds found its way into every bite. The bubbles of burrata were generous and silky. Chunks of Asian pear flanked the sides of this mountain of kale and added some tender sweetness.

At the base of this mountain was a layer of pumpkin butter, solidifying the nuttiness of each bite. A yuzu dressing brightened up the entire dish, ensuring the portion wasn't too sweet, creamy, or nutty. Definitely one of my favorites.

The Bigeye Tuna was a beautiful interpretation of a Hawaiian poke and a balanced Italian crudo. The tuna was rich, the grapefruit was refreshing, the soy gel was perfectly potent, the rye croutons brought the texture and flavor of a bold crostini, and the parsnip-sesame cream married the acidity of the dish with its light saltiness. A really great dish with a clear point of view.

The Beef Tartare was like no other I've had. The precisely shaped rectangle of mouthwatering beef acted as a base for a punchy blizzard of horseradish snow. The small crimson red stones of puréed pickled red onion contributed just enough acidity, and several tender stumps of hearts of palm topped with a balanced sea bean chimichurri added some beautiful notes to the dish.

The next dish was one of the more deceptive dishes of the night. The Lamb Neck acted as a hearty base for chickpea fritters. Chickpea fritters? Yup, those thick, carrot-like sticks are chickpea fritters. Crispy exterior and smooth, hummus-like interior. The lamb stew, tart yogurt curds, and bright chive purée effectively transformed the dish into--as the menu suggested--a well-balanced, chickpea poutine. By far one of the more filling dishes of the night.

The only dish that the table couldn't finish was the Brussel Sprouts with crispy pig ears, house-cured lardo, and apples. The brussel sprouts were almost too burnt and the apple didn't carry enough tartness to balance out the heaviness of the ears and lardo. Good for one bite, but passable after the second.

The Hot Mushroom Cereal was another one of my favorites. Steel cut oats, duck tongue, duck egg, and matsutake and hon shimeji mushrooms. Appreciate the intoxicating aroma and mix.

I loved the marriage of the earthiness of the clean and flavorful matsutake and hon shimeji mushrooms with the comforting steel cut oats. The oozy duck egg and appropriate melt-on-your-tongue duck tongues added just the right amount of fat and salt. Hot mushroom cereal for breakfast every day of my life? Yes, please.

The Spaghetti was clean and refreshing, but unfortunately lacked flavor. The noodles themselves were made of giant squid, which is a great low-carb alternative to pasta, but the whole dish was missing salt and umami. The hazelnut-ink pesto fell off the slick noodle too easily, which made it difficult to appreciate the full effect of the sauce. The dish could have also used some more punch from the piment d'espelette and the zucchini could have had more of a presence. I loved the concept, but I hope this dish has been redeveloped to maximize its flavor potential.

The perfectly executed Beef Short Rib with tamarind barbecue sauce was succulent and sweet. With each bite, the morsels of beef surrendered to the tooth. The tender turnips and crispy potato pirouettes were a successful nod to a traditional plate of steak and starch. If you're craving some beef, this isn't a bad option at all.

While the beef was delicious, I preferred the Berkshire Pork. The pork itself was nowhere near as tender as the beef, but its powerful flavor and its addictive charcoal crust made this dish much more dynamic. The crispy leeks were simultaneously sweet and bright and the trunk-sized tubes of rigatoni stuffed with a creamy cheese was another successful nod to an American standard--mac and cheese.

The beef and pork were the two clearest references to traditional American mains. The Sea Bass closed the dinner with a return to the refined, Asian-influenced, flavorful, focused, and creative food that Michael Voltaggio does best. Incidentally, the sea bass was one of my absolute favorites of the night. Actually, the sea bass had one of my favorite components of the night--kelp pasta. Pasta dough combined with wakame and mustard, rolled and haphazardly ripped apart like maltagliati. The dark green pasta looked like it came straight from the ocean, and the taste and texture accented the briny fennel-and-saffron mussel broth. The shishito peppers packed a well-controlled punch and of course, the buttery sea bass was perfect.

Our decision to get two desserts for our table of four quickly became an obvious decision to get all four desserts on the menu. First up was the Peanut Butter. The peanut butter took the form of a cigar, accompanied by intensely sweet and concentrated bananas, rich milk chocolate, and a healthy portion of a creamy, yet still light, sorbet. Tasty and not too sweet.

The Apple dessert was one of the more interesting desserts, with a crème caramel, burnt wood sabayon, and a sprinkle of walnuts. The apple was refreshing and tart, the sabayon was like a campfire custard, and the walnuts brought just a slight touch of nuttiness. The overall effect was like a heavily applewood-smoked, and almost savory, cream.

The Chocolate dessert was a balance of bitter and sweet. The coffee and spice crumble rounded out a thoughtful dose of chocolate and was a refreshing take on a classic combination. Again, tasty and not too sweet.

The absolute best dessert was the Grapefruit Curd with avocado cream, cilantro sorbet, and a charred maple-lime mallow. The grapefruit curd was like a delicately firm grapefruit parfait. Grapefruit and avocado is one of my absolute favorite combinations, and here, the mellowed out tartness of the grapefruit was perfect with the orbs of avocado cream. The mallow solidified the presence of acidity and sweetness, and the cilantro sorbet was refreshing, creamy, and simply addictive. The sorbet was so amazing that we asked the kitchen to snag us another scoop. The scoop came with a base of avocado cream, which was heaven.

We were one of the last few diners in the restaurant and were lucky enough to meet and speak with Michael Voltaggio. He even took the time to draw a goofy little picture in and sign a copy of the VOLT/ink. cookbook for my friend. When we mentioned we were the ones who requested the extra scoop of sorbet, he laughed and sportively told us he scooped it with his own two hands. My friends and I jokingly responded with some "oohs" and "ahhs." Except I wasn't joking.

Who's a fanboy? This guy.

Some say the restaurant's name may stem from Michael Voltaggio's affection for tattoo artistry, but I'd say the name comes from a certainty that you won't leave his restaurant with at least one new tattoo--in the shape of, say, a cilantro sorbet or kelp pasta--written on your heart. Period.

8360 Melrose Ave
Suite 107
Los Angeles, CA 90069
(323) 651-5866

GET: Kale; Bigeye Tuna; Beef Tartare; Hot Mushroom Cereal; Sea Bass; Grapefruit Curd (the menu changes pretty frequently, but if you see any of these or something close on the menu, get it).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...