Having won Top Chef Season 6, it came as no surprise that Chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink restaurant in Los Angeles was a highly anticipated debut with food critics and fans around the country eagerly waiting. Not being familiar with MV’s run on Top Chef, I decided to visit Ink after much pressure from several Asian Fusion team members who were ardent fans of his. Upon entering Ink, I was rather surprised to see a more casual albeit still sophisticated dining room.
Given the hype and the prices that places Ink in a stratosphere below Gary Danko but above Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Moderne, I was expecting more of a white linen service. As my senses adjusted to reality, my eyes were drawn to the open kitchen that runs across an entire wall of the restaurant. Right in the center, MV was hard at work, his intensity easy to feel even from clear across the room. Watching him work with precision along with his staff, the décor of the restaurant began to make sense. He was focused, fast and passionate. The dark grey muted tones spotted with candlelight spoke clearly of masculinity at the helm, one that would surprise at every turn.
I ordered nearly half the menu that evening, profoundly curious as to what this young chef was capable of. Oysters Mignonette were served with firm oyster leaves with a touch of spice- incredibly fresh with that quintessential salty sea essence. Charred brussel sprouts were tender atop a bed of tangy apple infused sauce while the accompanying crispy pig ears provided an addictive contrasting texture.
One of the highlights of the evening was the Berkshire Ham with Manchego Biscuits and Almond Butter. The ham, which could easily be confused for prosciutto, melted on my tongue into a buttery consistency– diabolical to say the least. The accompanying Manchego biscuits were perfectly golden on the outside, crumbly and savory inside, pairing lusciously with the almond honey which is best described as the finest gourmet peanut butter on steroids.
The Hamachi dish began to show MV’s innovative brilliance- finely chopped with Yuzu infused cubed sponges, soy Yuzu droplets and pickled mini radish- homage to the strong Asian presence in California cuisine. The tangy Yuzu sponges were reminiscent of eating Ferran Adria’s cuisine, those puffy clouds of erotic culinary mouthgasms that are gone way too soon. A perfectly seared Halibut followed, with clean notes of grapefruit, a bold touch of sesame seed mayo and spicy accent to show off a brilliant piece of fish.
The piece de resistance came in the form of the Squid & Squash Spaghetti, a dish that reminded me of a Korean series called “Pasta” where the lead chef won the final competition with a similar dish. If there were one dish that made me want to drag MV to my home kitchen, this would be it. Delicately thin ribbons of squid, (finer than tagliatelle) and thin squash rest on pesto and ink sauce smeared against one side of the dish, begging to be swirled and slowly savored. The gentle texture of the squid spaghetti would turn even the staunchest of squid haters into converts, its silkiness melting together with a pronounced garlic presence. It was while biting into this orgasmic dish that I glanced up and locked eyes with MV, wondering if he could sense my newfound adoration for his culinary genius.
Like all fine things, the Squid Spaghetti was soon but a memory, giving way to the parade of decadent desserts. For those addicted to chocolate, the aptly named “Chocolate” dessert is a smorgasbord of cacao and hazelnut in the form of ice cream, pastry and crumbles, all in one explosive concoction. My personal favorite was the Yuzu Curd, yet another allusion to Asian influences. Like a gorgeous Japanese painting, this dessert was simple in presentation but complex in content. The citrusy curd’s texture was between a pudding and fine cheesecake, contrasting against thin Matcha wafers, sweet Jasmine rice and the sensual swath of dark green Matcha paste. The light tang and familiar bitter Matcha flavors were an exquisite end to a spectacular meal.
To this fellow chef and food writer, Michael Voltaggio’s unique and profound talent lies in his absolute fearlessness in seasoning each and every dish, particularly on the savory side. There is nothing more disappointing than to partake in a beautifully presented meal at a beautiful restaurant only to taste an otherwise talented chef’s fear and restricted passion in each bite. While MV Ink could fine tune its service to be less erratic and a tad more gracious, Chef Michael Voltaggio himself will no doubt outlast all the turbulence that comes with a new restaurant. MV’s electrifying presence in his food supersedes the need for overly fancy presentations or white linen service. Whether he is at Ink or any other food related endeavor, he has converted me into a staunch supporter who is most excited to witness his talents unleash over the coming years into ever greater creations.