For my birthday, my parents took me out to dinner at Michael Voltaggio’s new restaurant, Ink! Voltaggio is one of the winners from TV’s Top Chef, and he’s generally very well regarded in the food scene (or, at least the foodies that I trust, namely Jonathon Gold and my celebrity-chef aficionado friend, R.A.), having a reputation for his ingenious combination of flavors and solid techniques. After acting as head chef for the Langham hotel’s The Dining Room in Pasadena (which, I sadly was unable to try during his stint, but I hear it was amazing), Ink is his solo-venture to the Angeleno food scene.
The main restaurant itself is a pretty unassuming affair with minimalist decor. On the same block around the corner, Voltaggio also has an equally unassuming sandwich shop, Ink Sack, which I’ve yet to try.
Instead of going for the tasting menu, we decided to opt for variety instead. In total, we ordered 8 dishes, no drinks, no dessert.
The foie gras, the only item from the tasting menu that was available a la carte. It’s served with waffle cone crackers, smoked maple (that was marshmallowy in texture and appearance), and hot sauce. For some reason, I wasn’t really feeling this one, though my dad liked it a lot. If you’re going for potted meat, I prefer Fig’s chicken liver parfait with fig jam over this.
By far my favorite dish of the evening: crab with charred avocado, whipped fish sauce, and mushroom chicharrons. I can’t stop singing the praises of this dish. The smoothness of the avocado with smoky scent and smell of seafood from the crab, enhanced with the saltiness of the fish sauce that was light because it was foam, and the buttery, crispy chicharron—the entire construction of this was perfection.
The tuna with dashi sponge, pear chunks, soy yuzu (which I’m assuming was the salty paste spread on the bottom), sesame crackers, and greens and radishes. This one was a very playful dish, manifesting the core ingredients of ponzu sauce in solid, individual forms. Taken together, they taste the same as tuna in ponzu, but visually, the separate look is very clever and nice to look at. It was probably just as tasty as what you’d order at a Japanese restaurant, but tons of fun to eat, too.
The spaghetti with giant squid and squash. That dark swath is hazelnut pesto, and it’s topped off by fish foam. My parents both really liked this dish, but I felt the separation of the elements sort of did this one a disservice. The pesto was a little bitter, and the foam overwhelming salty, I never got a good balance with the pasta.
Lightly fried octopus on a bed of ink-shell pasta, with baby fennel and pimenton. On the other hand, I liked this one a lot. I liked the savory, solid flavor of the octopus with the slightly salty shells with squid ink. But my parents found it bland, so I guess there’s no accounting for my taste :P
My apologies, I got up from the table and my family started demolishing it in my absence. This was the lamb shoulder & quarters, with tongue, vadouvan, and dollops of Greek yogurt and mint leaves. From what I did manage to sample, it was amazingly delicious. It was very tender meat, the saltiness was completely overwhelmed by the yogurt, and just really tasty.
MV’s take on poutine! He fried up chickpeas into sticks, got some yogurt “curds,” and served it all on a bed of lamb ragu gravy. Frankly, I’m a big fan of that crazy Canadian dish, and this sounded healthier than the original. I really, really wanted to like this dish more than I did, but I was too overwhelmed by the salty ragu and the creamy yogurt, I almost didn’t taste the chickpea. Still tasty, though, and wouldn’t stop me from ordering it next time ;)
Wagyu beef, with carrots and horseradish tofu, and crispy rice crackers. My mom and brother devoured this, because it’s not all that different from a Korean dish called gal-bi jjim. It means that the meat is super tender and bursting with marinated flavor. It was good, but I really liked it more with the horseradish, so we differ there.
Overall, I could see how Voltaggio’s reputation came about and I think it’s warranted. I perhaps wasn’t as “wow’d” as often as I expected to be, but every dish was remarkably solid while still being incredibly inventive. It’s definitely a dining experience for more adventurous people, and I had a lot of fun as well as going home with a full belly (though you might still be hungry if you’re a big eater - portions are small). It’s perhaps too expensive to go unless there’s a special occasion (our total with tip was around $170), but if you do want a memorable, “hip” experience, I would not hesitate to recommend it. :)