8360 Melrose Ave
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Dining date: 9/23/11 and 9/25/11
ink. is probably the most highly anticipated restaurant opening in LA this year. Since winning “Top Chef” season 6, Michael Voltaggio’s popularity has skyrocketed, and the city (and nation?) has been eagerly awaiting his next venture since leaving The Dining Room at the Langham more than a year ago. Outside of “Top Chef,” Voltaggio’s largely known in LA for being opening chef de cuisine of The Bazaar and being executive chef of The Dining Room at the Langham for a short period of time. While I left my sole meal at The Dining Room at the Langham a little disappointed, I’ve been able to try some of Voltaggio’s food at food festivals and pop-ups (which have left a more favorable impression).
Not surprisingly, reservations filled up quickly, with the first 30 days being fully booked within the first hour of availability. Opening night was September 21st, and this post is a compilation of both of my visits during opening weekend.
The menu is made up of around 20 items, all small plates meant for sharing. While the server recommended ordering 3-4 dishes per person, I found a party of four was the perfect size to try one of each.
hamachi parsnip cream, grapefruit, jalapeno, sesame
I enjoyed the raw hamachi, especially in tandem with the light citrus of the grapefruit. I was a little concerned that the heat of the jalapeno would overpower, but it was sliced so thin that the heat was present only for a moment. The sesame sponge provided an earthy, nutty flavor profile.
young turnips and radishes coffee-cardamom soil, vadouvan, frozen yogurt
I liked the texture from the “soil” here, but I didn’t find the coffee or cardamom flavors to be present. That may have been for the best, as the turnip and radish flavors were rather subdued as well. The frozen yogurt here was fun, looking kind of like snow on a plate.
blue prawns green papaya, finger lime, coconut
This was one of the stronger dishes of the night. The shrimp was cooked but served cool, sweet and plump. Loved the texture. The lime provided a welcome acidity, while the slivers of green papaya added a slight crunch too. I liked the coconut too, served in a light and airy sponge form.
dungeness crab toast, smoked mayo, house made hot sauce, avocado
These were essentially crab spring rolls filled with a lot of crab (love that!). I enjoyed the crisp exterior of the rolls, while the avocado (in two textures, a foam and a sphere) made a good balance with the smoky mayo.
corned beef tongue appenzeller cheese, red onion, pastrami oil, horseradish
This was a fun play on the corned beef sandwich. A paper-thin cracker took the place of the bread, while thin pieces of tender tongue brought the meatiness. I thought the cheese/horseradish sauce was actually very light and really brought everything together.
beef tartare horseradish, hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri
On visit #2, the corned beef sandwich morphed into this dish. I probably liked this iteration even better. The thin cracker was still present, while a light horseradish “cream” and beef tartare came into play here. I really liked the horseradish with the beef, as well as the small bursts of flavor with each bite of the hearts of palm.
bay scallops cream of dehydrated potato, potato skins, buttermilk-shellfish broth
Another hit here – I feel like bay scallops are so often overcooked (and never the focal point of the dish). Here, Voltaggio was able to get a nice sear on each scallop without overcooking, while the cream of potato added a warm, creamy potato flavor that worked very well. The small pieces of potato skin were key too, adding more potato flavor and a subtle texture. Visit #2 included bone marrow, but I had a hard time picking up that flavor. Still, perhaps my favorite dish.
sea bass lemon, caper, brown butter, romanesco, anchovy
The sea bass was cooked perfectly – crispy skin with moist, flaky flesh. The lemon and caper sauce was added with restraint, with just a salty citrus flavor coming through. The romanesco cauliflower ensured I was getting my vegetables.
seaweed mashed potatoes sea grass, sea beans
Fun! It tasted pretty much as it sounded, and the consistency was really smooth and rich. Loved the color too.
octopus buttered popcorn, piquillo pepper, spinach
The octopus was tender yet slightly chewy in a welcome way. The sweetness of the piquillo was nicely balanced by the spinach, though I’m not sure if I got any of the popcorn flavor in this dish.
black cod red pepper dashi, shishito peppers, kelp pasta
The black cod was really silky, almost slimy actually…but I liked it. A little bit of heat was provided in the dashi and shishito, while an interesting kelp pasta (what?) added some extra body, though not a ton of flavor.
spaghetti giant squid, squash, hazelnut-ink pesto, piment d’espilette
Speaking of sea-inspired pastas, here was another one. More like a tagliatelle than spaghetti, the strands of giant squid were delicate and chewy. The hazelnut-ink pesto and piment d’espilette stepped in to add some depth, while there was something wonderfully crunchy at the bottom of the dish (not sure what it was).
quail charred orange and onion, sorrel salad
The quail was tender and very juicy, well-executed. Quite delicious and the onion and sorrel brought a balancing sweetness and earthiness. Visit #2 brought an interesting banana polenta. I liked it, but I’m not sure my sentiment was shared by the whole table.
Iberian pork saffron-pear, salsify, black olive oil
The pork was tender but not as moist as expected. The pears went well with the pork though, while fried salsify added a nice crispy texture.
veal cheek red curry, nante carrots baked in salt, fried sticky rice
The veal cheek was exceedingly tender and delicious. Very rich. A subtle curry flavor added some depth, and I enjoyed the fried sticky rice for its crispiness.
beef short rib sweet and sour mushrooms, mushroom chicharron, black garlic
The short rib was prepared well, leaving it quite tender and meaty. There was a very concentrated sauce that I thought somewhat overwhelmed the meat, though. On visit #2, one of the pieces of short rib was more gristle/tendon than meat, something I wasn’t a fan of.
Moving on from the savory dishes, four desserts were offered.
goat cheese ash, concord grape, arugula
The goat cheese was well-balanced by the bitterness of the arugula (in sponge form) and sweetness of the grape. Not being a huge fan of goat cheese, I found this pretty easy to eat…but I’m still far from a lover of the stuff.
grapefruit curd avocado, cilantro sorbet, charred maple-lime
Loved the cilantro sorbet here…it might’ve stolen the show. So refreshing and addicting. The grapefruit curd wasn’t too shabby either.
apple crème caramel, burnt wood sabayon, walnut
A number of components here, but I think each came through. Apple and caramel flavors were present in the crumble, while the burnt wood ice cream added an interesting smokiness. Kind of reminiscent of bacon. Weird, but I liked it.
chocolate coffee, spice
This playful dish came out with wisps of steam, likely from the application of some liquid nitrogen. Chocolate and coffee flavors were front and center in this one. The spices came through too, adding a savory element to the sweet dish.
Finally, drinks. I was able to try a number of cocktails throughout the meals.
aperol gin, cardamaro, orange
rum lime, house falernum
tequila serrano, lime, grapefruit, soda
mezcal lemon, ginger, clover honey, angostura bitters
scotch lemon, apple cider, egg white, cinnamon
My favorite was probably the tequila. It had a balanced amount of heat from the serrano and citrus from the lime and grapefruit. One that fell flat was the aperol, tasting like a watered down orange soda.
Coffee using Stumptown beans was also available, brewed at the table via chemex. The first night’s cup was quite good, but the water wasn’t hot enough on visit #2, yielding a fairly watered-down brew.
Both of my meals at ink. were strong efforts. Given the massive amount of hype, I feared that the food just wouldn’t be able to live up to it (similar to what happened at The Dining Room at the Langham). However, I think Voltaggio has created something that meets the lofty expectations. Sure there were some things I didn’t like as much, but the hits easily outnumbered them. I expect dishes to continue to be refined in time (I already saw some of it in 48 hours), making things even better. Overall the food was expectantly imaginative, interesting and most of all, quite delicious. While Voltaggio’s popularity will bring the customers in, the food is what will bring them back.
I thought the desserts stood up to the rest of the meal too, offering dishes that were creative and unique. I was especially interested in the fact that savory elements (cilantro, avocado, smoke, arugula) made their way into each dessert.
Lastly, service was pretty on-point for a first week. Plates came out at a good pace (almost too quick, even). On visit #1 we were seated promptly, but waited 45 minutes past the reservation time on visit #2 (apparently due to parties sticking around after paying). Less than ideal at 9:30pm on a Sunday night. However, the staff was most apologetic and comp’d us cocktails and desserts. A restaurant this popular didn’t need to give a shit, but it did.