ink

I watch very little TV.  Of what I do watch, it’s about 45% food TV, 45% sports, and 10% other.  And I hate most of it, especially food tv.  Food network is horribly boring and compulsively watchable.  I suppose it’s sort of a love-to-hate thing, which maybe is why I like it so much.  Anyway, the best food show is not (obviously?) not made by food network; of course I speak of top chef. I’m in fact watching top chef right now.  Anyway,  the other day I had a chance to eat Ink, the new restaurant of season six’s winner Michael Voltaggio.  Season six is generally regarded as the best and most competitive season of top chef, and Voltaggio one of the best or the best winner of all the seasons, so this restaurant was highly anticipated.  Voltaggio is also what Jonathan Gold somewhat confusingly calls a “modernist” chef, meaning that he plays around with technology and different ways of cooking and presenting food (molecular gastronomy, etc).  In fact, reservations for the first month were sold out almost immediately, so now you have to book online 30 days in advance, finding the magic window after they open up the reservations and before it’s all booked (my roommate did this for us, kindly).

On to the restaurant: in a super fancy stretch on Melrose, but quite casual inside.  The decor was very dark, with ink ‘spots’ on the floor.  I think the idea is to make haute cuisine cheaper and more accessible for average people.  Like people who watch reality tv.  They were playing popular music.  The first song I noticed was “Blackbird,” so I thought for a second all the music was going to be black-themed, but that didn’t really hold up over the course of the evening.

Anyway, the food.  It was all small plates.  We had six things:

1. brussels sprouts, pig ears, house-cured lardo, apple

Sorry these pictures are kind of crappy.  The most distinctive thing about this eating experience is that the dishes were quite different when you ate all the components together.  In this dish all of the components were ok, but seemed to make a lot of sense when eaten at the same time, providing different and complimenting tastes and textures.  What really made this dish, for example, was the apple puree, which as at the bottom and sweet and went very well with the charred brussels sprouts and surprisingly good and crunchy pig ears.

2.charred avocado, hen of the woods, whipped fish sauce, mushroom chicharrón

Between the mushroom and fish sauce, this dish had a lot of umami flavor that went nicely with the creamy avocado.  There was a lot of fish sauce, which was ok with me because it was my favorite part; I’m not sure how they made a ‘whipped’ version of fish sauce.

3. skate wing, red pepper dashi, shishito peppers, kelp pasta, fennel

My favorite dish of the evening, despite the fact that I really did not like the red peper ‘dashi.’  The sweet red pepper taste was just too strong.  But I suppose it was only meant to coat the other elements, and as such the dish really worked.  The fish was cooked really well, and the kelp really did have the texture of pasta.  I think the kelp pasta was my most favorite thing at the restaurant by itself.

4. veal cheek, red curry, nante carrots baked in salt, fried and sticky rice

A very interesting dish whose quality was debated at our table of two.  Most of the debates centered around the carrots, which tasted nothing like carrots.  They had a generic ‘curry’ flavor.  As VH said, they were like curry made into a vegetable.  They were too salty for her, but I thought they were interesting.  Again I think they would’ve worked well with the other elements if you tried them all together, but we were too fascinated by these non-carrots to do that, somehow.  The veal was very tender and well cooked, though I think what really stood out for me was the ‘fried and sticky rice,’ which tasted like coconut and had the texture of puffed rice.

5. seaweed mashed potatoes

Good mashed potatoes, very simple, but not great.  I think I wouldn’t have ordered this in retrospect especially considering that we were sort of full by this point.

6. wagyu hanger steak, turnips, coffee-cardamom soil, mustard, vadouvan

 

I got this because I was interested in the coffee-cardamom “soil.”  J Gold had spoken about this in the context of another dish with turnips and radishes that is apparently no longer on the menu.  The steak was cooked very well and it was a nice dish, but also less exciting than the others.  I may have just been full or overstimulated by this point though.  There was a green gel at the bottom that was very interesting.  For some reason it really reminded me of eating sushi with a sweet soy-based sauce that you sometimes get.  But that’s just me.  Turns out it’s a gel made from parsnip greens.

 

Overall we liked the meal though it went very quickly.  I thought maybe there would be more “modernism,” and there was some: the carrot that was not a carrot, the gel, the whipped fish sauce, the kelp pasta.  But overall any fancy cooking techniques were subordinated to the overall quality of the food.  I also realized that this is a very particular kind of eating.  There’s a lot more, for lack of a better word, interpretation involved, trying to figure out how and if all the elements go together, with some of the elements being less conventional.  There is an aspect of artifice involved, which is not necessarily pretentious or anything, but very different than just having a plate of good or great food that you can eat in a somewhat indiscriminate manner.  In a way this sort of eating experience (ie, places like Ink) doesn’t really require or have anything to do with being hungry, and eating because you want to be not hungry.  I suppose this ‘disinterested’ quality is what makes culinary art, art?  But still seems unsatisfying in a way.

 

 

 

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3 Responses to ink

  1. Vicki says:

    biggest mystery of the night for me was that the whipped fish sauce was *white* (??)

  2. Pingback: lazy ox canteen « ducks & turtles

  3. Pingback: le comptoir « ducks & turtles

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