Recently, I rang in my 25th birthday and, to celebrate, my sweet boyfriend planned a lovely day chock-full of surprises. After a picture perfect day, I had high expectations for our surprise dinner spot, and the fella did not disappoint.
On season six of Top Chef, Michael Voltaggio not only took home the title but also (and, arguably, more importantly) captivated audiences with his bold, modernist sensibilities and even bolder attitude. ink., specializing in "modern L.A. cuisine," was Voltaggio's hotly anticipated follow-up to his win. Nearly two years after its opening, the Melrose restaurant continues to garner accolades, recently being crowned the Best New Restaurant in America by GQ and earning Voltaggio the title of Best New Chef from Food and Wine.
Justin and I had long been interested in the restaurant, but the stigma of small plates with big prices kept us away. With a birthday to celebrate, however, we cast aside concerns about frugality and finally headed to ink.
The dining room at ink. is a hip, minimalist space with butcher block tables, polished concrete floors and a dark gray wall color reminiscent of the restaurant's name-- a sleek counterpoint to the vibrant, imaginative plates for which Voltaggio is known.
The dark colors and low light also draw your eyes to the bright, open kitchen.
Before considering the dinner menu, we first concerned ourselves with the cocktail one, where drinks were named simply by the type of alcohol most prominently featured in their crafting.
I loved the combination of sweet and smoky flavors in my Tequila with sherry, pineapple, orgeat, lime and mole ($12.00).
Justin ordered a refreshing beer-infused cocktail with floral notes whose name escapes both of us.
With the booze situation under control, we moved onto dinner. Our server explained that dishes at the top of the page were the lightest and became progressively heavier as you worked your way down the menu. He suggested we order four to six dishes for the two of us and decide later if we wanted to order more-- a far cry from the obnoxious, pushy upselling and mandate to order everything all at once that we recently encountered at another popular restaurant.
First to arrive was the Charred Avocado, which was halved and nestled under a generous mound of Dungeness crab, bolstered with almond sponge and drizzled with smoked oil ($16.00). The dish spotlighted both ink.'s Californian and modernist aesthetics and served as a perfect introduction to Voltaggio's food and kick-off to our meal.
Next to hit the table was my favorite dish of the evening-- the Lollipop Kale, which was served in a bowl with crème fraiche and togarashi and topped with translucent ribbons of lardo and a jumble of shoestring slices of crispy pig ears ($14.00). Our server poured kale juice into the crème fraiche-togarashi combo and suggested that we mix everything up to create a "fancy Ranch dressing." Porky, creamy, salty and crunchy, this is one of my new favorite dishes in the city.
Next up was a mash of corn, nori and miso paired with oversized house made "Doritos" of the Cooler Ranch variety ($12.00). While not particularly photogenic, this high-class stoner food felt simultaneously comforting and imaginative and really hit the spot.
We then progressed to our meatier dishes. The Suckling Pig served with onions, mustard bavaroise, miso, chicharrones and green apple sauce ($26.00) was perfectly tender and elevated by just a touch of playfulness. Mustard Bavarian cream? My taste buds were baffled but intrigued.
Our final savory dish was the Beef Short Rib, which arrived in a pho broth, garnished with radish noodles and baby bok choy leaves and served with a side of shrimp chip-like puffed tendon ($30.00). The dish captured the distinct Vietnamese flavors that served as its inspiration but added a meaty, masculine touch.
We had no idea what to expect when we ordered a dessert described only as "Mountain Yam" but were delighted to receive a dessert just as well-conceived and whimsical as our earlier courses. The almost topographical-looking dessert featured mountain yam ice cream, caramelized white chocolate and dollops of whipped cream alternately topped with coconut sheets and biscotti-like "popcorn" ($11.00). This imaginative dessert was not at all what we expected but everything we wanted.
With exquisitely executed dishes (that were perfectly paced to boot) and attentive service, ink. exceeded our high expectations for my birthday dinner. Also, our preconceived notion that we'd leave still hungry but with significantly lighter wallets was completely misguided; we left full and felt that our experience more than justified our tab. In fact, ink. might just be one of my new favorite restaurants.
8360 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069