I have been on the road for most of October and November, traveling for work. Last week I spent three days in Los Angeles and was lucky to sneak in one dining out adventure in between meetings and events.
I was staying at The Standard in West Hollywood, which is just steps from Chateau Marmont, a huge celebrity hangout. I did not see anyone famous during my stay, though my eyes were peeled the entire time.
On the plane to LAX I did a little research on West Hollywood restaurants and was pumped to discover chef Michael Voltaggio's place, ink, was in the neighborhood. If that name sounds familiar to you, it may be because Voltaggio won Bravo's "Top Chef," against his older brother, Brian Voltaggio. It was a heated match up and so much fun to watch.
Ink is located on Melrose Avenue in the heart of West Hollywood. My coworker and I walked down from The Standard, about a 20 minute stroll. When we turned onto Melrose, the first thing I saw was the hot pink neon sign for Vivienne Westwood. Sigh, I love LA.
Ink has a cozy outdoor patio with chairs and about eight bar seats. I am sure on nights when it's packed, people congregate out there to wait for their tables.
There is a cow's head above the door (or perhaps it's a bull?), letting carnivores know - this place is for you.
Inside, the decor is simple. Gray paint, matching shutters, industrial-style light fixtures and a few pieces of strategically placed artwork.
We were seated at a two top facing the open window to the kitchen. Of course I had my eyes peeled for chef Voltaggio from the second we sat down. Unfortunately, our waitress let us know he was off for the night. Honestly, I probably would have freaked out if he was there, so maybe it was for the best. I am so not cool in those situations.
The ink menu is separated into three sections - starters, proteins and sides.
We also took a look at the cocktail menu, which is organized by the liquor that serves as the base of the drink. We went for the pisco (left) and the vodka (right).
The pisco drink was carrot, tequila, cocchi rosa, lemon and orange blossom water. It had such a vibrant color and was garnished with a single baby carrot.
After a few sips my friend said, "This is so different than what I was expecting. It tastes most strongly of carrot, but it's still very light."
I decided on the vodka drink (no surprise there), which was sencha, mint, cucumber, carpano bianco, salers aperitif and lime. All of the ingredients were super fresh and the drink perks you right up! This would taste extra delicious during a backyard BBQ or laying poolside.
Our waitress returned to ask if we had any questions on the menu, which we did. She knew the ingredients and preparation of every single dish on the menu as if she was cooking and plating them herself. With her guidance, we placed an order for six dishes to share.
We isolated our selections to the starters and sides because the proteins were not vegeterian-friendly. Despite that, I felt we had an exceptional meal.
The first item to arrive was the kale pasta with kale pesto, pecorino and pumpkin seeds. You can tell that the pasta and the pesto were swirled together right in this individual dish, not a huge vat and then scooped out into our bowl.
The pasta was an interesting shape and had ridges that were the perfect vessel for the pesto. The pumpkin seeds gave each bite a nice (and needed) crunch.
Next we tried the egg yolk gnocchi with French onion broth and tiny croutons. This gnocchi - inside and out - is made with nothing but egg yolk. When you first bite into it, you think it's cheese in the center. Nope - all egg!
This dish was incredible. The preparation is so inventive and the French onion soup flavors were dead on.
Our next dish, the street corn, was my coworker's favorite. Toward the end of the meal when someone tried to clear the plate, she wrapped her entire arm around the dish and pulled it toward her, stating, "I am still working on this. I will let you know if I am ready to give it up."
The street corn was served with two house made Cool Ranch Doritos and topped with cotija cheese. For me, the Cool Ranch Doritos were the highlight. My coworker would tell you this was the best rendition of street corn she's ever had - creamy and rich, almost like a Mexican version of grits.
We weren't sure what could top the three dishes we had already tasted, until the salt and charcoal potatoes arrived. They were served with house made sour cream and an eye dropper full of black vinegar. The server who presented them told us to cut open each potato and put one or two drops of the vinegar on the inside of the potato before eating it.
First of all, I love a DIY dish. The eye dropper is a really fun touch. The potatoes look a bit like chocolate donut holes (from the charcoal) but they have a great smoky flavor from the way they are cooked. When you drop a bit of vinegar and then dunk them in the sour cream, it creates one harmonious bite.
The next savory dish to arrive was the green beans with almond-shallot crumble, smoked tofu and fermented black beans. The beans were cooked expertly and the tofu had a butter-like texture. I love all the ingredients in this dish, but I found myself underwhelmed compared to the other items we'd tasted up to that point.
Our final dish from the starters and sides was the carolina gold rice, which is ink's take on mac and cheese. It is made with local milk and freeze-dried fiscalini cheddar cheese.
This dish isn't much to look at it (it looks a bit like porridge) but it tastes excellent. Super rich and creamy, just like a mac and cheese. If you had steak, this would be an ideal side.
For me, of the six dishes we sampled, I would rank them in the following order:
1. egg yolk gnocchi
2. street corn
3. salt and charcoal potatoes
4. carolina gold rice
5. kale pasta
6. green beans
When our waitress returned to ask if we'd like to see a dessert menu, we were already pretty stuffed. However, the options were all so special and interesting, we had to taste at least one.
We opted for the hazelnut dessert - a mix of hazelnut mousse, coconut ice cream, thai basil and peanut maple syrup. The server brings you the bowl of mousse and ice cream (which are encased in an orb) and then pours the syrup tableside.
The heat from the syrup cracks the orb and let's you dig into the center. I loved this moment of culinary theatrics!
I know I can be a hyperbolic person, but this was one of the best, most unique desserts I have ever tasted. It felt like the components shouldn't work together, but they really, really do. The peanut taste in the syrup is addicting and the thai basil helps cut through the richness of the ice cream and the hazelnut mousse.
I cannot say enough about how fantastic our meal was at ink. The dishes were inspired and inventive. The service was top notch and a week later I am still dreaming about that dessert.