Voltaggio’s new restaurant combines interesting tastes

Don’t let all the gray hues at ink. fool you. Despite the painted brick, the chalkboards and the steel tabletops, your meal will be far more varied and colorful, as seen in ink.’s famous turnip dish, which also includes coffee-cardamom soil, frozen yogurt “snow” and sliced radishes.

Eat your greens · Many of Voltaggio’s dishes include unlikely combinations, such as the popular seaweed mashed potatoes. - Bernard Leed | Daily Trojan


It’s indicative of Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio’s ambition. The food does the talking, and a lot of it.

The turnip dish is served like a salad in a simple bowl — experimental on paper but presented approachably. And the flavors, as patrons will realize from the first succulent, charred turnip, are far from intimidating.

The first entirely successful dish is spaghetti with squid and hazelnut pesto. It’s served over a small bed of squash and topped with a wafer-like cracker. This is the flavorful, textural fusion that Voltaggio’s Top Chef judges would praise effusively. It will be a delight for diners to finally taste cooking that formerly existed only on their TV screens.

Voltaggio’s octopus tastes more like sausage than seafood and is placed on a buttered popcorn puree. The puree’s creaminess separates it texturally from actual popcorn, but makes it every bit as flavorful and also a more worthy companion to the chewy octopus. Also served with sweet piquillo peppers, the octopus is the least interesting element on the plate. But these familiar flavors in such an unusual combination will simultaneously comfort and intrigue diners.

Other dishes like quail with a beet jus suffer from “too-muchness” — the dish is dominated by vinegar foam that couldn’t even be mellowed by a side of banana.

For what it’s worth, the quail is cooked to perfection — a slight chew while not tasting too gamey.

Veal cheek is served with salt-baked carrots. Sweet red curry and pasty rice on the side nearly ruins the dish. But for those defenseless against a perfectly cooked carrot, the dish will satisfy nonetheless. The mouth-watering tenderness of the veal cheek is the dish’s other saving grace.

Most dishes are like the quail and the veal cheek: delicious in parts but just shy of greatness. With neighbors like acclaimed Melrose mainstays Lucques and Comme Ça, ink. might have to work a little harder to compete.

What separates this restaurant in general is its balanced concept.

Though ink.’s food isn’t exceptional, it succeeds where few other “experimental” restaurants do. Voltaggio’s food makes patrons question the limits of their palette without pomp or forcefulness. In this sense, the restaurant is quietly sophisticated and intelligent.

The portions are small but not tapas-sized, which is to say they are simultaneously satisfying and fairly priced. Most dishes run around $14, and the food is unusual enough that it’s worth the price of a few plates. One would be hard pressed to find these combinations anywhere else in Los Angeles.

As communicative as the flavors might be, the wait staff is less so. One of the many servers will explain the complex components of dishes (such as the frozen-yogurt “snow”), but too often you’ll still be left wondering what’s in your dish.  Mediocre service is a common pitfall of new restaurants, but since ink. executes so well in other areas, this is especially noticeable.

Fortunately, ink.’s meals end on a strong note. The dishes that work perfectly are, surprisingly, its desserts.

Ink.’s apple crème caramel is impressive from the moment it arrives. Ordered hesitantly at the insistence of the bartender, who also recommended some bland seaweed mashed potatoes, the dessert presented can hardly be described as a crème caramel at all.

With the apple playing the star of the plate and a smoky crumble sprinkled throughout, the dessert takes one’s taste buds into a wonderfully savory place. The apples taste freshly cut, not like something extracted from a pie, providing a crispness that lightens the dessert where it could feel heavy — finally, a dish that achieves Voltaggio’s quest for balance between the experimental and the comforting.

The dessert tastes like fall, but you’ll want to eat it any time of year.

In the end, ink. is just shy of perfection, but Voltaggio’s quirky concoctions and the superb desserts make it a restaurant well worth a try.