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ink.

Each year, one of my college friends and I have a holiday tradition: I make/bring treats or alcohol, we pick up  our favorite indulgent fast foods (usually involving her fave KFC, McDonald’s and the like) and we exchange gifts amidst watching The Holiday. The film takes place primarily in LA, which makes us not feel too bad that our Christmas really isn’t that white. The tradition has morphed a bit since I’ve moved up to the Bay Area and our stomachs are less capable to handle copious amounts of fast food. This year, we continued the tradition at Top Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, ink.

It was my second time at ink, my first being in the small private room towards the back of the restaurant. I always feel a special sense of authenticity when seeing the celebrity owner-chef I admired a

To me, it feels like there’s a level of authenticity when seeing renowned owner-chefs in action in their restaurants’ kitchens. It’s as of they not only made that restaurant famous, but still put their dedication into it. I love seeing Nancy Silverton make her famous Nancy’s Chopped Salad at Pizzeria Mozza, Chris Cosentino in his signature black and white striped apron at Incanto, and that night we saw Michael Voltaggio at work in his kitchen at ink.

Like many new restaurants in Los Angeles, ink bears the concept of small tapas-style share plates. What I love most is the interesting pairing of food combinations in each dish, and the curious, fun plating. There were three of us, so we ordered seven dishes and got a good sampling of the menu.

IMG_7700Main course menu at ink. Plates are listed from light to heavy dishes

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My drink for the night, the chef’s favorite Islay Scotch

We began with drinks, mine this Islay Scotch, a smoky flavored drink containing my favorite citrus flavor: yuzu. ink was about unexpected pairings, and this traditional Japanese flavor with such an American style drink was definitely unique. Unlike most scotch drinks that came with many ice cubes, this had one giant ice cube that gradually melted as you sipped your drink, ensuring the perfect consistently (and temperature) for your drink all the way through. This concept was very reminiscent of the drinks I had a few months back at the famous Aviary in Chicago (more on Chicago another time).

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Little Gems (photo credit to my friend Sara): Creamy burrata with lettuce and anchovy crackers. I have never had a burrata this texture before: creamy, but also less stringy than usual. Served very cold, it was delicious. I also couldn’t get enough of these anchovy crackers which reminded me very much of Thai/Chinese breakfast foods.

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Hamachi: Fresh fish with fresh wasabi and the tartness of the green apples that cut through the milkiness of the fish perfectly. Very reminiscent of a ceviche with a clean, fresh taste.

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La Querica Berkshire Ham: When this dish arrived, I truly forgot what we ordered and thought, “I don’t recall dumplings on the menu.” It finally clicked and I can’t get enough of this plating: sheets of beets cloaking a yogurt sauce, paired with this delicious ham.

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Egg Yolk Gnocci: Favorite dish #1 of the night. I kept trying to figure out how in the world Voltaggio managed to get egg yolk into these pillowy gnocchi. I’m a sucker for egg yolk, so this dish, with the pairing of tasty sauce and mushroom, really hit the spot.

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Cereal: Favorite dish #2 consisted of more egg, this time fried, atop fried chicken skin and what was basically grits to create a glorified breakfast dish (get it, cereal?). My friend Qi and I couldn’t get enough of this dish and scraped every bit of it.

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Octopus: I love tako, so this dish was all parts welcoming to me. Served piping hot, the octopus was perfectly smoky and deliciously chewy paired with the fennel to cut through the creamy texture.

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Potato Charcoal: For me, this is the dish that drove me back to ink. The clever plating of the pot, presented with a charcoal grill that’s removed to reveal these curious little lumps next to silky delicious sour cream. To go along with the unexpected pairings, this dish is served with a spritzer of Chinese-style black vinegar, which seems to enhance the smokiness of the potatoes. I can’t help but smile every time i see this dish.

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Apple: For dessert, I ordered this deconstructed apple pie. Equal parts buttery (graham cracker pieces) tarty (the green apple balls) and creamy (that semi freddo shell atop), this was the perfect ending to the meal.

I much preferred ink to Animal, which is also growing in popularity for its small plates and “unusual” foods (pig ears, which are a childhood favorite of mine, are much raved there). Service was swift and the drink menu boasts twice as many pages as the food menu.

Looking forward to a year of good eating and hopefully lots of travels, and wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!

Eat: ink: 8360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA

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