The Distinguished Gourmand: ink.

January 30, 2012
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Like everyone else with a history of eating disorders and a blog, sometimes I like to try the trendy new restaurants in town. Sure, I might not have a firm grip on the concept of fine dining, but that hasn’t stopped me from eating before. Only my crippling body issues have done that!

Ah, but I digress. I’m still so fascinated by this new thing in my life — this ability to go to any restaurant in any city and find something on the menu to eat. It still seems like just yesterday my diet consisted of bagels and Coca Cola. Or, if money allowed, a cheeseburger or plain cheese pizza. I’ve really matured, guys. At twenty-eight years old, I can now safely say I’m not eating solely out of vending machines. Even more impressive, no more do green or white colors on my plate cause a deathly pallor to overspread my face. Hell, I had a vegetable salad today with farro and cabbage. Men ten years ago would run away crying from any salad.

I can eat all the steaks and burgers and pasta I want, but trying to critique modern technique is so far out of my league it’s comical. Which is why this is a great opportunity for me to try to explain my meal at Michael Voltaggio’s hot new LA restaurant ink. last Friday night (yes, it’s spelled just like that: “ink.” with the lowercase I and the period). I don’t know what the fuck was going on, I just know what the menu said was in each dish and what it looked like. This is it guys, this is my time to shine, to show off my vocab, to render with impeccable precision the fancy cuisine of an expert young American chef.

My buxom little blonde dinner date and I had a 7pm Friday night reservation. On Thursday I received a call from the hostess at ink. informing me of their “15 minute” policy, whereby if you’re 15 minutes late for your reservation you lose your table and might have to wait for one to open. I shrugged it off, but then I checked on Yelp and read a number of angry stories about people showing up five or ten minutes late and losing their tables only to wait several hours before being seated. I didn’t so much race down Melrose as I did break-the-sound-barrier down Melrose. In spite of dense rush hour traffic we arrived ten minutes early and were seated promptly.

Our waitress, we both decided, was that rare kind of awkward-cute Jew who is probably crazy in bed. Her speech patterns and closed-off posture hinted that she might be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I’ve never been more turned on at a restaurant. I think my date and I agreed on a bottle of medium-bodied French white because the waitresses description of it nearly brought us to tears.

Anymore, at all these new restaurants, everything is small plates meant to be shared. At ink. the suggestion is that each person at the table order three plates. And perhaps for the first time ever, the recommendation turned out to be the exact right amount of food for two people. So we ordered our plates. Then the magic happens! It’s modern molecular cuisine! See that fork your using? It’s edible! Your napkin? Also edible — and made of foie gras! What’s that foam? Is it edible? No, don’t eat that. It’s a previous diner’s toothpaste residue. How about the candle wax? It’s flavored, right? Nope…it’s just candle wax. And now I’ve burnt my mouth.

Blondie and I started with the crab. It came stuffed into a charred roll of avocado (I guess it was a play on sushi?) book-ended by a whipped fish sauce foam (gross) and topped with mushroom chicharrons. It was decent, not exemplary. The avocado was nicely charred and the crab was pretty good. One embarrassing moment: unsure of the fish sauce foam, we waited until after the rest of the plate was empty to sample it. As soon as a server saw us forking little bits of foam into our mouths he raced over and whisked the plate away as if we’d been caught trying to eat a table decoration.

Next came the spaghetti, with squash and hazelnut pesto. A ha! But this was no ordinary spaghetti! At ink., anything is pastable! And in this case, the “noodles” were actually made of squid. The pesto sauce was really good but the salinity (that’s a nice way to say it tasted of the ocean, I think) of the squid overpowered it.

At the same time, we were served la quercia, which consisted of Berkshire ham, a poached egg, and salsify-maple cream. Better than the pasta, but very salty, this was one of the better dishes we shared. The egg was prepared perfectly and the ham was delicious. I think I liked it best because it was the dish that most closely resembled food I’ve willingly eaten before.

Next came the Brussels sprouts, which I also really liked. They were topped with crispy pigs ears, lardo and apple. As good as this was, the layer of pork fat sitting atop the vegetables looked used condoms in the bowl (see: image above). I couldn’t taste the apples, which is too bad, as it might have been a nice way to counter the richness of the dish.

Another extremely rich dish, the “poutine” — made of chickpea fries, yogurt curds and lamb neck gravy — was awesome. Of course I take dirty Jersey disco fries over this, but that doesn’t mean this iteration of poutine was by any means unpalatable. It was yummy. The lamb gravy was really dense, in a great-but-bordering-on-terrible way. You know what they say about too much of a good thing? I don’t. I think they say too much of a good thing could be a bad thing. Whatever the expression, the poutine was like that. Really good but nearly overkill.

As if the lamb neck gravy from the poutine wasn’t enough, our meal concluded with lamb shoulder, which came topped with snap peas, yogurt, and a vadouvan curry. Awesome! Succulent lamb, sweet peas, and the yogurt was fantastic. Having never tasted vadouvan curry (I hear it’s French!) I can’t accurately describe it’s flavor. If I had to venture a guess, I’d go with…Frenchy.

How would I rate the meal? Good, but not great. I suppose I was expecting greatness upon reading other reviews. I enjoyed the experience and the majority of the dishes, but some of the plates were seasoned with too heavy a hand. I thought modern/molecular food was supposed to show more restraint, but then again I’ve never looked into it so maybe everything is supposed to be rich and salty. This might help explain why I’m not Jonathan Gold yet.

The bill came to about $160 including tip, which…whatever, I don’t mind paying a lot of money for good food and a bottle of wine, but whenever I surpass the $100 mark on a meal for two people, I think subconsciously I’m longing for a life-altering event. And this was not that. The service was spectacular, the plates came out in good time, the wine was kept on ice for us and the amiable waitstaff were very attentive when it came to keeping our glasses full.

What else can I say about my night?

…Oh yeah! After we left the restaurant my date and I went shopping for a wedding dress (for her, not me!) and then we had a few beers at a local bar and took a bunch of drugs and went home with other people. CLASSIC!


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    No photos of your date or the waitress? You disappoint.

  2. […] never heard of Mei Lin (the other LA chef on that season) even though she was likely involved at ink. one of the few times I ate there. You’d better believe once she won that season, Chef Lin was […]

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