Michael Voltaggio is LA's most avant-garde chef, and when it comes to "cooking" with liquid nitrogen, nobody in California does it better. Sugar snap peas arrive at the table smoldering. At first glance, they appear to be steaming hot. But when you pierce one of these peas with your fork and bring it to your lips, it delivers a shocking icy blast. Voltaggio is one of the few chefs who truly understands how to use molecular tricks like that without turning every dish into a repetitive one-trick-pony show. Nothing is ever quite what it seems, except when it is—and you won’t know which is which until you’ve ordered it. Beef tartare brings together hearts of palm and horseradish in ways that you wouldn’t normally imagine, whereas a dish of soft-shell crab plays it fairly straight. The chef likes to tease and sometimes challenge the palate with flavor combinations and slight of hand. Pork belly might seem at first as if it’s been slow-smoked over charcoal, but then you realize the smokey flavor is actually coming not from the meat itself but from the accompanying drizzle of oil. The menu might say "corn" but what actually shows up on the plate is a few strands of corn silk, curled into a beehive and fried to a crisp. See where this is going? It’s a riot of fun, and it is almost always stunningly delicious.
The wine list is meant to be just as challenging and thought-provoking as the kitchen menu. Often absent from the ever-changing list of wines by the glass are the ordinary suspects like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, forcing you to try instead a playful Nerello Mascalese from Sicily's Mt. Edna or a bright, fruit-driven Godello from southern Spain.
The restaurant’s interior is essentially a blank, monochromatic industrial canvas supported by a few rustic wooden beams and a hint or two of farmhouse kitsch, a nod to the chef’s ultra-modern cuisine that is genuinely rooted in seasonality and artisanal craftsmanship. The polished cement floors and bare hardwood tabletops don’t do your ears any favors. The result is a very sexy restaurant that is almost intolerably loud. This is a great place to bring a date with whom you want to share a special connection over great food but when conversation isn’t particularly essential.
Drink this: Ink has one of the best cocktail programs in LA. Drinks don’t have clever names, just great ingredients. Example: aged rum, vanilla, cream, orange flower water, soda.
Eat this: Lamb shoulder, cooked like pastrami, with dollops of yogurt and an exotic spice blend.
When to book: Reservations for primetime weekends are still pretty tough, but they always hold a few tables, as well as the bar seats, for last-minute walk-ins.
Conversation piece: Michael Voltaggio was the winner of Bravo's Top Chef Season 7, barely nudging out his brother, an equally well-regarded chef on the East Coast with whom he recently co-authored a cookbook.