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REVIEW w/ pics: Creative Cooking at Chef Michael Voltaggio's restaurant, ink.

pleasurepalate | Oct 26, 2011 09:14 PM

The first time I ever experienced Chef Michael Voltaggio's food was at a Media Dinner at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena where he was the Chef de Cuisine of the now gone, Dining Room. This was around the time that he was part of the final four contestants still competing on Top Chef. Of course, he emerged triumphant and everyone waited with bated breath to see what this creative chef was going to do next.

While he did stay with the Langham for a few months after his win, flash forward a little over two years later, he is now the Chef/Owner of two eating establishments. One is a more casual sandwich eatery called ink.sack while his sit down restaurant simply goes by the name ink. with a period. I haven't made it to ink.sack yet, but I definitely enjoyed my meal at ink and it was worth every penny.

By the way, before I start talking about the food, there was a little element in the place setting that I really liked. When we sat down and were given our silverware, it came with a small rectangular magnetic block for our silverware to rest on. It was just a nice touch that I thought I'd mention.

My meal started with a homemade soda that comes in a variety of flavors. I went for Cucumber-Mint. When it arrived, I loved the use of fresh ingredients, but for some reason, it was extremely tart. After adding some water, that tartness was tamed, but man, my lips were puckering and I'm not even sure why? I don't recall reading that there was lemon or lime in this soda.

Soon after, a trio of dishes hit our table. The first one I tried was the Charred Avocado with hen of the woods, whipped fish sauce and mushroom chicarron. It was a bowl filled with interesting textures from the softness of the avocado to the slight firmness of the hen of the woods to the crunch of the mushroom chicharron. The whipped fish sauce seemed an odd ingredient, but its slight saltiness balanced well with the mild sweetness of the avocado.

Next was the Octopus and Hiramasa with romaine hearts and fried caesar dressing. The octopus was prepared in a beautiful mosaic beneath the other ingredients and while tender and delicious, what I couldn't get enough of was the fried caesar dressing. If I hadn't been sharing with 2 other people, I would have gobbled them all.

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Brussels Sprouts with fried pig ears, house-cured lardo and apple. The brussels sprouts were roasted to a caramelized perfection and the crunchy fried pig ears were a delight.

Our next two dishes were seafood items, with one of them being a Spaghetti, but not the spaghetti you'd usually expect. The noodles were made from a giant squid and also included squash, hazelnut-ink pesto and piment d’espelette. This was another favorite dish of mine. I loved the chewy texture of the squid noodles and the nutty-sweet-slightly smoky flavors of the dish as a whole.

The other seafood dish was the Sea Bass with cream of dehydrated potato, black olive oil, lemon and caper. I liked crispy fish skin along with the very creamy potato. The black olive, lemon and capers added nice punches of tart, citrusy and sharp flavors to the mild fish, giving it a vavoom!

Following the Squid Spagetti and the Sea Bass, we headed from sea to land starting with the Quail that came with beet juice, beets, sorrel salad and a banana polenta on the side. When it arrived, we were all struck by beautiful redness of the ingredients. At first, we weren't even sure where the quail was since it was surrounded by a mini beet barricade.

Eventually, we found our way and I have to say that beet juice goes perfectly with quail. Whole beets tend to be on the sweet side, but fresh beet juice is actually quite strong in flavor. With quail being more assertive in taste than let's say chicken, the beet juice was a perfect foil. By the way, the banana polenta was amazing. It was sweet, but not too sweet and wonderfully creamy.

Our other land creature was the Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with a charcoal crust, macaroni and cheese and leeks. The charcoal added a nice smokiness to the tender pork and the macaroni and cheese was both fun and delicious. It was fun because the cheese was inside a long pastry shell. I only wish that a side of that mac and cheese was on the menu just so I could have had more.

We were getting quite full, but managed two more savory dishes like the Seaweed Mashed Potatoes with Sea Beans. I'm a big seaweed fan and in the past year,I have come to really appreciate the salty sea beans. While I found the mashed potatoes to be a bit gummy, I still appreciated the seaweed flavors.

Our final savory dish of the night was my least favorite of the our entire meal and it was the Bay Scallops with lamb neck, chickpea poutine and yogurt curds. Individually, the ingredients were fine, but together, it didn't work for me. The scallops didn't have much flavor to them. Either that or the lamb was too overpowering. It's as if the scallops were there just for texture and nothing else. I also didn't find much flavor to the yogurt curds although I did like the chickpea poutine. A couple of bites was enough for me.

For dessert, our end of the table went for the Grapefruit Curd with avocado, cilantro sorbet and charred maple-lime. What a perfect ending to the meal. At first, I wasn't quite sure about the cilantro sorbet, but I really enjoyed it. It's pepperiness went well with the tart sweetness of the grapefruit and the maple-lime bits while the avocado rounded all the flavors.

Everyone else went for the Apple with crème caramel, burnt wood sabayon and walnut. I only had a small spoonful of the burnt wood sabayon. I didn't mind its smokiness, but I was very happy that we went the Grapefruit Curd route.

When all is said and done, I absolutely enjoyed my meal at ink. The food was not only creative, but delicious and while there were 1 or 2 dishes that didn't quite do it for me, they still created as much interest and discussion as the dishes that I did like. If you're going to go for it, go for broke and that's certainly what Chef Michael Voltaggio did. I'm definitely looking forward to many more meals at ink. and hopefully, I'll be paying a visit to ink.sack soon as well.

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

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8360 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90069

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