It’s a frustrating task finding a restaurant that delights on all levels of its being. The places I’ve been of late have fallen short on one aspect or another and I was starting to doubt whether I would ever find a restaurant I truly loved again. But as with all things in life you never know what’s around the corner, and in this instance it happened to be a shining light just around a corner on Melrose.
‘ink.’ is the kind of restaurant that all others should be modelled on. It just delivers, and keeps on delivering until the result is a symphony of perfection. This ship has been constructed with vast knowledge and understanding of the industry, it is run with impeccable tightness and it sails effortlessly through culinary seas.
The service is excellent, the standards top drawer; right down to the smallest detail, no stone is left unturned. Cutlery is cleared and replaced frequently as small dishes leave the kitchen at well-timed intervals. Plates arrive in a tailored order to suit your choices and they are not cleared until all the party have finished dining. The whole front of house team are involved in service; the hostess, servers, busboys/girls, the restaurant manager, they all engage and play little roles in what results in a very welcoming experience.
The restaurant appearance is very understated, it hasn’t got jaw-dropping style, but I’m sure that isn’t their intention. It is beautiful in its simplicity, the soft charcoal walls offset with french shutters and warm wood features. There’s a seamless class to the place, it sings subtle confidence.
Did I mention the food? It is outstanding. Well thought out, inventive and flawlessly executed. Small plates, perfect for sharing and a great way to sample a selection of the wonderful gastronomy. An unusual take on beef tartare kicked things off. It was rich, sweet, creamy, dancing with flavour. The hearts of palm added an interesting dimension and the horseradish powder amazed as it turned into a luxurious cream with added hit. The rye toast was astoundingly thin and crisp, the contrast to the dish was beautiful. I was unsure in the first mouthful, the dish looked like something out of Scarface, but with each mouthful it soon became “my little friend”.
beef tartare, hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, horseradish, rye
The ‘lollipop kale’ was a welcome adaptation of the mundane kale salads that sit on every Californian menu. It wasn’t the most complex of dishes but it was damn tasty. A fantastic textural contrast and simple flavour balance. The kale stalks still had a serious bite to them, delicate fried leaves brought a salty seaweed-esque dimension. Cut with smooth, sharp homemade creme fraiche and a mountain of crisp pigs’ ears, delicious. The unhealthiest salad I’ve ever had but that’s probably why it tasted so good.
lollipop kale, creme fraiche, pig ears, togarashi
The ‘egg yolk gnocchi’ was a complete revelation. It looked like perfect gnocchi but was more akin to omelette, each heavenly bite oozed with runny egg yolk centres. The hen of the wood mushrooms added a firm textural contrast and the woodsy flavour danced in perfect unison with the nutty mushroom brown butter. The dish was perfectly seasoned, and the flavour balance was spot on, it was rich yet light and incredibly moreish. An absolute triumph and one of the loveliest dishes I have ever eaten.
egg yolk gnocchi, mushroom brown butter, hen of the woods
The ‘octopus’ dish was highly rated by diners in reviews but for me it wasn’t one of my favourites. However there were definitely things of note. The actual octopus itself was cooked to absolute perfection, I have never eaten any kind of cephalopod with that kind of texture before. It was firm but soft and amazingly tender, an example of where a ‘sous-vide’ cooking technique comes into its own. The sauce was packed with sea flavour, great depth and it tied the whole dish together nicely. Another fine example of the chef’s grasp of gastronomy and skill in execution, even if it wasn’t to my taste.
octopus, ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton
A bit more theatrics were introduced with the unveiling of the ‘potato charcoal’. A steel grill was removed from a clay pot to reveal seven smouldering pieces of charcoal. It turns out they were actually blackened potatoes with a salt dusting that resembled ash. It’s always a pleasure to see a bit of fun on the plate and this was an inventive and welcomed touch to the menu. Simplicity in its essence but intelligent in its presentation and very tasty. Perfectly cooked, fluffy potato, with a punchy, smokey flavour, and the most delicate housemade sour cream to cool and balance. The Chinese black vinegar added an interesting dimension too. Who knew potatoes could be so exciting and warming to the soul.
potato charcoal, housemade sour cream, black vinegar
It couldn’t all be amazing could it? Well unfortunately the ‘beef cheeks’ dish fell a little short of the mark. It was fine, but nowhere near the calibre of what we had previously eaten. It could have sat pleasantly on any gastro menu in LA. It had some interesting touches, like the turnips which were masquerading as beef cheeks and the mass of crispy beef threads, but it lacked excitement.
beef cheeks, turnips, watercress, beef threads
By this point we were totally full and buzzed (the bar makes a fine cocktail) so we skipped dessert. In a way I’m glad there was no chance of putting a downer on the meal, something which has come to be quite a regular occurrence in LA when it comes to pastry. However I would have liked to see just how good this restaurant really is and if it could tick every single one of the boxes. Well there’s always next time, and there most certainly will be one.
ink. describes its food as “modern Los Angeles cuisine” and it couldn’t be a more appropriate entitlement. It’s a fine example of how things are developing in the culinary world out here in LA. There’s no gravitating towards any one style, just a fair representation of the city’s myriad of cultures. Execution to the highest standard, invention and taste only akin to the greatest palate, and a whole load of fun and smiles thrown in. Places like this will be the death of fine-dining in the consumer’s eyes. Fine-dining restaurants will still push the boundaries and test the skills of the greatest chefs for years to come, for there are no achievements more sought after than Michelin stars. However Michael Voltaggio and Cole Dickinson I applaud you for bringing this restaurant to us as a people’s restaurant, one I hope to be revisiting for many years to come.
8360 Melrose Ave.
+1 323 651 5866