Michael Voltaggio’s ink. opened just over a month ago on Melrose, and reservations are in high demand. I logged on to their website the day the reservation system went online, and was shocked that the restaurant was completely booked for 30 days out. So 30 days later, I finally had the chance to visit ink. this weekend, and it left me thinking – was it worth the wait?
Let my preface this by saying, I’ve been in love with Michael Voltaggio since, oh, Episode 1 of Top Chef Season 6. I’ve had a secret relationship in my mind with Michael for awhile now, and you might even catch me doodling MV + DL on my notebook. I was #3 in line to try ink.sack the day it opened, and even asked to take a shameless fan pic. It is for those reasons that it pains me to write this review, but I have to be completely honest…
Was ink. worth the 30 day wait? Two words: absolutely not. I have never been so disappointed by a meal in my life. While the meal was pricey, it’s not even as if I thought it wasn’t great “for the price.” It was actually one of the worst meals I’ve ever had, expensive or not. Sure, I came in having high expectations, but after waiting and dreaming for 30 days, wouldn’t you?
The menu is meant to be enjoyed family-style, and our waiter recommended we order 3 items each. With only two of us, we were able to try about 1/4 of the menu, but we went with our waiter’s recommendations hoping we’d hit the high notes.
First up was the kale salad, with burrata, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin preserves, and yuzu. The burrata was lovely – really creamy and decadent. But all of the other ingredients were hidden at the bottom of the bowl under the kale, and it was difficult to compose a balanced bite. Even with a bit of everything on the fork, the dish was just bland and unimpressive. I enjoy the kale salad at the Santa Monica Tender Greens by far.
Next we had the brussels sprouts, with pig ears, house-cured lardo, and apple. This was my favorite dish of the night. I love brussels sprouts, and the pig ears was a nice change-up from the standard bacon. But brussels sprouts alone will not bring me back, considering almost every restaurant in LA has them on the menu these days.
The third dish was a lamb neck “poutine”, where chickpeas actually made up the “fries” normally found in poutine. The lamb neck was very tender and juicy, but overall the dish was really rich, almost to the point where it became inedible. The yogurt curds (meant to represent cheese) were just over the top, and the chickpeas didn’t hold up in texture as a pile of fries in traditional poutine would.
Next up was the skate wing with red pepper dashi, shishito peppers, kelp pasta, and fennel. Again, this dish was just bland. I understand the nuances of subtle flavors, but there is a fine line between subtle and unseasoned. The dish could benefit from a bit more heat – even the peppers were pretty mild. And there was a slight off-putting flavor on the fish, a bitter taste that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
Our dinner was nearing an end and the sadness started to swoop in. The Berkshire Pork was next to arrive with macaroni and cheese, and leeks. Pork, mac n’ cheese, and leeks – 3 of my favorite ingredients. Yet, all fell flat. Again, the entire dish was bland and unsalted. I’m not a smoker! I’m usually sensitive to over-salting, but I’m telling you – it was weak! And mac n’ cheese – how can you eff it up? This version was a penne like noodle filled with cheese and sealed on each end. It lacked the creaminess that everyone loves in standard mac n’ cheese.
Finally, the veal cheek arrived, which our waiter assured us was one of the best items on the menu – not to be missed. The veal was accompanied with red curry, carrots, and sticky fried rice. The veal was very tender and fell apart easily, but believe it or not, the entire dish was bland again. I almost passed over this dish thinking the curry would just be to heavy and bold for my taste at the end of a huge meal, but that was not the case – I only tasted a faint coconut flavor. And again – the veal cheek had that same off-putting bitter flavor we tasted on the skate wing.
The waiter asked if we were interested in dessert, and we politely declined.
I will say the ambience is lovely – I love the modern design, yet the seating was still practical and surprisingly comfortable. The wine and cocktail list was impressive, and I discovered a new wine that I’d love to order again. The service was acceptable considering how busy they were, but the waiter did stop by to pour my date’s beer from the bottle into his glass, and completely overfilled it and spilled it all over the table. An honest rookie mistake – but the laughable part was when he said “oh, shit!” as he realized what was happening. Classy.
I woke up this morning feeling like I had been dumped by the love of my life last night. I’m still shocked and confused by what went wrong. I did a quick check of Yelp comments, and ironically several people noted their dishes were overly salty. Perhaps MV took this into consideration and went too far the other way?
Dear Michael, I still love you and will continue to dine at ink.sack.
I would love to hear other people’s opinions on their dining experiences in the comments below, and I am fully aware that my palate could be unique, or maybe the restaurant was just having an off night. But alas, I write the truth about what I taste and enjoy, and sadly, ink. was not worth the wait.
Photos via Funcrunch.com, Lady Ducayne Flickr, One More Bite, and Bart Nagle of LA Times.