I am nervous writing this review simply because I want to make sure every word I hang on serves this restaurant justice. I decided to try my luck at walking into Ink last weekend without a reservation and was beyond happy when they seated me at the cold bar. People were already waiting in line at quarter to 6 on a Saturday, and once the doors opened the staff was promptly ready to seat us to our places. None of us ‘walk-ins’ were turned away nor were we judged for assuming they would have room for us.
From the entrance you can feel a heavy presence of the hot kitchen on the back left with an open kitchen concept that wraps into a cold station to the right. In front of it is the wine bar. All of the open seating is to the left directly in front of the open kitchen as it is quite a spectacle to watch the gastronomy. However, to the right where I was seated is much darker and quieter, which was perfect for me to think. The music is fun; a range of styles that are upbeat but easy to listen to. The whole feel of the place is energetic but not uncomfortable. Its the first time I can say that the tattoos on the staff even add to the flare but not in an intrusive way.
The menu is a list of absolutely different items, which makes no mathematical sense unless someone shows you that the first third are small plates, the second third are slightly larger, and the last third are main size dishes. The concept is sharing style, but can be designed for one – like for myself – with plenty of opportunity to try a few different things.
I ordered the cucumber salad which blew me away. A rustic salad with thickly and thinly chopped cucumber, browned onion, dill, and a flash-frozen yogourt dressing. The balls of frozen yogourt melt over time to become a clean fresh dressing for the salad. And while this is spectacular the flavor of the browned onion literally pops in your mouth with such a bold flavor.
I almost licked the bowl, and it was swept away, along with all the unused cutlery.
As I waited for the next dish, I watched around me and noticed that while the diners are pleasantly loud and assorted in all styles and ages, the staff is calm and ready. The chefs at the cold station were intricately placing each ingredient, knowing that there is a reason it is on the plate and it needs to play its part. Any sway from its set orientation or size would change the whole dish. I admired this talent and passion for quite some time.
The second plate i ordered was one of the signature dishes that has been on the Ink menu since they opened. An egg yolk gnocchi. I was not sure what to expect… wait thats a lie. I was expecting gnocchi. On the contrary, what I received was this divine bowl of gnocchi-shaped egg with egg whites cooked delicately around runny egg yolk, and surrounded by croutons, and mushrooms cooked in brown butter. The whole dish was such a play on textures.
Again, an empty bowl and my unused cutlery were swept away.
I sat in pure amazement, willing my stomach not to be full so that I could try more food. As I sat there I noticed one of the chefs, covered in ink, was presented a dish by a junior chef who admitted he had made some error in the dish he was preparing. This tattooed chef politely took the bowl from his junior, guided him what to do next, and without assisting him let him try again. I was very impressed. Not by the fact that he could have hid his anger from the diners but because he was legitimating leading without anger.
Okay on to the next dish. My very dear waitress spent some time with me to figure out what my best move was. But without a doubt in my mind I had to try the other signature dish (also on the menu since the restaurant’s inception) – the Bandzini. It is seabass with cauliflower. Let me explain as it was told to me.
The story goes that there is a traditional dish called Bandzini that is made in France and includes a sauce with a champagne. Chef Voltaggio supposedly likes his bubbly and was disappointed that the happy flavors and bubbles of champagne get lost in the sauce. So (and Im repeating the story that was told to me…) he made his own rendition of the sauce that includes grape juice, brown butter, and yeasts. Now, on the dish is two fillets of seabass, with a puree (of some sort) smeared on top and topped with a finely sliced and shallow fried cauliflower, with skinless grapes and sauce on the side. This puree, when eaten with the grapes, I kid you not, tastes like peanut butter and jelly. When the puree is eaten alone it tastes like a puree of foi gras. Butas it turns out the puree is pure cauliflower. Its stunning!
Last but not least I had to try, against by willpower, the mango rice dessert. Im not a dessert person but this one stood out against the more familiar desserts, so had to try it. You have a dark chocolate bowl, with a thin layer of sweetened sticky rice on the botton, a layer of real mango on top, a scoop of coconut sorbet, surrounded by a sea of whipped cream and salted coconut shavings. I am not even going to take the time to describe it further; you just need to try it. Im out of words.
I take a step back now and try to put my thoughts together on the whole experience and it is just that. It is a mouthful of gastronomy with profound flavors and combinations, precision, passion, art, and experience. You pay for it of course, and I know Im not writing anything on here that you havent already read before, but it is without a doubt the best food I have experienced on the western and eastern side of North America.
I will absolutely be coming back to Ink, hopefully many times over, but will make a point to visit all the Voltaggio restaurants before I make my return.