November 12, 2013


Mr. Tall and I took a weekend trip to Los Angeles a couple months ago for the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. While in LA, we tried a few new spots, including Michael Volttagio's ink. I am an unabashedly big fan of Top Chef, so I was really looking forward to trying the sixth season winner's restaurant. Mr. Tall made an online reservation, which they accept 14 days in advance and easy enough to do--just make sure you do make it 2 weeks in advance because they get booked quickly.

ink. offers small dishes--good for sharing--and the menu changes regularly and has about 20+ items at any given night (from $10 to $30 each). Mr. Tall and I ordered quite a few dishes, so let's get to them!

Corn, housemade "Doritos," nori and green onion. Definitely a unique way to start our meal; the corn porridge was sweet (seasonal at the time), and the "Doritos" were were unlike tortilla chip--they were more airy and more like really thin chicharrones. Not my favorite dish of the evening but interesting and playful. 

La Quercia Berkshire ham (reminiscent of proscuitto), beets (paper-thin slices), yogurt (underneath the sheets of beets), and nutmeg oil. This dish was a little odd looking, but I enjoyed the combination of beets and yogurt. However, those ingredients did not seem to belong on the same plate as the Berkshire ham, which was great on its own.

Lollipop kale, creme fraiche, togarashi, topped with crispy pig ears. The dish arrived with the kale and creme fraiche on the bottom, and fresh kale juice poured on top of the mixture table-side. I love kale as much as the next LA hipster, but the kale juice overwhelmed all the other flavors, and made the whole thing taste too green and grassy. But those pig ears were good. Perfectly crispy fried goodness. I would snack of them anytime. 

The most surprising (in a good way) dish of the night were these egg yolk "gnocchi" with mushroom brown butter, and hen of the woods mushroom (and the tiniest croutons in the world). The "gnocchi" were simply made from egg yolks and nothing else. I generally dislike egg yolks (I know, I'm weird), but I would happily eat these "gnocchi" again. The impressive technique and earthy flavors of this dish won me over.

It seems like the "it" ingredient on menus this year is octopus. ink. serves their charred-grilled with ink shells, young fennel, and pimenton. I liked this dish; I really wanted to love it, but I thought the flavors and seasonings were too muted for my taste. Still, one of the better plates of the night.

Mr. Tall and I decided to order one last savory dish of beef tartare with hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, horseradish, and rye chips. Gorgeous presentation--the picture from my iPhone does not do it justice--and the tartare had a great texture. Much like their other dishes, the flavors seemed subdued, and all I remembered tasting were the rye chips.

The best dish, by far, was the dessert! Mountain yam ice cream, caramelized white chocolate, popcorn, and coconut. The ice cream and caramelized white chocolate were a revelation. I had no idea what mountain yam is supposed to taste like, but it reminded me of a very mild sweet potato. The ice cream was super smooth and creamy but not too sweet, and the caramelized white chocolate should be the only way to eat white chocolate. The "popcorn," a cross between a meringue and a biscotti, added just the right amount of crunch. The dish was as beautiful to eat as it was to look at, but definitely not too pretty to eat! 

The restaurant was very spacious and had minimalist, natural decor. The service was attentive and pleasant. Unfortunately, Michael Voltaggio was not in the kitchen that evening, so I did not get to see him in all his tattooed glory. Valet parking is available, but Mr. Tall and I were able to find street parking about a block away. Overall, ink. was worth trying with a group of friends for a more special occasion. The restaurant is reflective of Chef Voltaggio's impeccable technique and gastromic vision, but the food just did not live up to the hype and my expectations. (ink.'s sister sandwich shop ink.sack is right next door, and it is definitely a more affordable and delicious option.) We did have a fun celebrity sighting: Johnny Galecki (aka Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory) was dining with his girlfriend and friends. More culinary adventures in LA and San Diego to come!


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