Last week’s date night was a special one. I’ve explained that I’m a fan of Michael Voltaggio’s. I made reservations weeks ago (because that’s what you have to do to get in) for his new restaurant on Melrose Blvd, Ink. All week long I was buzzing with excitement. Will they be snotty there (I hate that)? Will Mr. Voltaggio himself be on the line cooking? Will I hob nob with the celebs? Thursday couldn’t arrive soon enough.
Anticipating that Ink would be a bit edgy, like Voltaggio himself, I kept my outfit to the theme. I rocked leopard print jeans, tuxedo blazer, skin hugging silk cami, a Dior bag that I picked up last year with some Vegas winnings, green glass statement ring, and heel-less suede Mary Janes from that crazy shoe artist, Jeffrey Campbell . (How do you walk in heel-less shoes you ask? Very carefully). Here’s a peek at the outfit.
As for Ink, first I’ll tell you this is a place to see and be seen. We walked in at 6:30 on the nose and were seated right away. The restaurant’s interior and exterior are gray gray gray, waiters wear gray aprons (which makes them seem more approachable and not snobby at all, thankfully), flatware sits atop gray rocks, food is served on gray dishes. I think Mr. Volt has a favorite color.
I happily spotted the man himself on the line from the peekaboo window to the kitchen. (Incidentally, I hear if you dine earlier you’ll have a better shot of seeing him on the line as he tends to leave before the end of the dinner shift). Not wanting to miss the action, I took the seat facing the kitchen, while Big N faced the restaurant. He tells me that he spotted lots of celebs: Ashlee Simpson, Jon Favreau, Martin Scorcese, and Jamie Lynn Spears, to name a few, though I’ll have to take his word for it because he only told me who he spotted after they left (maybe he didn’t want me to embarrass him with my rubber neck). That’s my husband for you. But I forgave him as soon as the food started arriving. [A couple sitting next to us (the man was a character actor I haven’t yet been able to identify by name), saw me eyeing the expensive bottle of Burgundy he brought with envy and poured us a glass. Actors are nice.]
Ink focuses on small plates with molecular gastronomy flair. The menu contains just 16 of them (which change with the seasons), ranging between $9 and $23, and are arranged from lightest to heaviest and served in the order they appear. We ordered 7 between us, which was plenty.
Starting us off was the charred avocado, sliced thin and wrapped around sweet Dungeness crab and charred with a brulee torch. It was accompanied by whipped cream flavored with fish sauce, crispy mushroom crackers, and caramelized maitake mushrooms. Not a bad start to the evening. The crackers complemented the creamy avocado and the crab was delicate and fresh.
The next dish was probably my favorite of the evening: young carrots with their roots, rolled in coffee-cardamom “soil” and dipped in a spicy coconut curry sauce, all sitting on top of nitrogen frozen coconut milk ice. The dish was beautifully presented and arrived at the table still smoking like dry ice. The carrots were perfectly al dente and the flavors were surprising yet not too far-fetched.
Next was Big N’s favorite, so much so that he actually ordered another plate of it for his dessert so he wouldn’t have to share it with me. This was the beef tartare, finely chopped raw beef with hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, cheesy crackers, and nitrogen frozen horseradish. The combination of flavors in this dish truly leaves no room to debate Mr. Voltaggio’s brilliance. The goal was to get a little bit of each of the elements in every bite to fully appreciate what a party the combination created in my mouth.
Next was the lamb neck, served with chickpea poutine (little chickpea sausage thingees), yogurt curds, and chive puree. This dish slightly missed with me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the side elements, but the lamb itself was a little sweet and too sticky, as if it was overreduced in the sauce.
The sea bass (not pictured), with shishito peppers, kelp pasta, fennel, and saffron-mussel broth, was nearly flawfless, and of course perfectly cooked. Followed by the pork cheeks, with charcoal oil, a single long “macaroni” stuffed with what I believe was fontina cheese, and sauteed leeks with crispy leek roots. Again, the sides of this dish were perfect, but the pork cheeks were a little gamey and not all that exciting.
For dessert, while Big N was enjoying his second helping of tartare, I ordered the apple. Anybody who saw Voltaggio’s season of Top Chef knows the man can put together a dessert, and this one paired classic apples, caramel, and walnuts in an exciting and amazing way. The apples were simply uncooked balls of Granny Smith, with a generous helping of creme caramel topped with a vanilla (coconut?) sabayon, apple gelees, and walnut crumble. Heavenly.
Though two of our seven dishes weren’t my favorite, overall Ink delivered. I would have been more disappointed with my experience if every dish was perfect. I actually appreciate that Ink takes risks, while realizing that not every dish will please every palate. It makes me want to return when the menu changes with the seasons so I can try more of Mr. Voltaggio’s new haute American cuisine.
Note- if you decide to go, a friend went to Ink the same week I did and highly recommends the Octopus, a dish we didn’t order this time around.
Ink is uber trendy at the moment, so be prepared to plan ahead. You have the best shot of getting a reservation nearly a month in advance, which is a good thing right now because I hear that starting in January Ink will be featuring a chef’s tasting menu for about $70 per person, plus $45 extra for wine pairings. I can never resist a good tasting menu.