Michael Voltaggio’s ink. He of Top Chef fame, 100,000 plus Twitter followers and legion of rabid fans. Perhaps you’ve ventured out yourself to sample from his innovative small plates menu and curated cocktail list if you’re lucky enough to snag one of the hardest reservations in town.
The Monster did something he’s rarely if ever done before. He waited a beat to dive into the inky waters. This is what he found…
A loud, hip space devoid of many reminders of the previous, failed restaurant, Hamasaku. The sushi bar remains for the much anticipated omakase experience Voltaggio is planning. It’s pretty people who look equally as enamored with the food as themselves and their di rigueur scarves and hip couture outfits with chunky black glasses and too tight jackets.
The menu is small and meant for sharing though that turns out to be better in theory than in practice.
The Monster starts off the evening with the bigeye tuna, with parsnip-sesame cream, grapefruit, soy gel. The dish is a bit saltier than The Monster’s taste from the soy and there’s not too much here you can’t get elsewhere though the fish is undoubtedly fresh as can be. This isn’t a dish that showcases Voltaggio’s knack for expert plating and daring and inventive flavor combinations.
Young carrots with coffee-cardamom soil, carrot curry, coconut milk ice comes out next and it’s a visually stunning plate presentation. Salty and sweet, crunchy and fluffy, hot and cold. Marvelous. While haute cuisine, it’s also accessible and whimsical.
The kale salad with burrata, Asian pear, pumpkin seeds, yuzu takes the mundane and turns it on its head. Cold, sweet pear is the natural foil to the kale’s earthiness while the pumpkin seeds add a delectable crunch.
Perhaps the first three courses (which come within moments of each other) should be looked at as the appetizers (the menu does not demarcate as such) because the lag between these three dishes and the next is a letdown.
Spaghetti, giant squid, squash, hazelnut-ink pesto, piment d’espellette might be inventive given the finely diced ribbons of squid substituting for noodles but the pesto/ink is watery and the dish doesn’t have the punch it needs because of it. It’s a valiant effort but a miss nonetheless.
Loved the charred avocado, dungeness crab, whipped fish sauce, mushroom cracker but wish the dish were served warmer than the presentation. Voltaggio displays his mastery of temperature in the young carrot offering so perhaps this dish waited a beat too long before being served.
Octopus with cream of dehydrated potato, black olive oil and lemon is just a touch overcooked but still the flavors sing. The creamy porridge beneath, the crunch of the potatoes, the zing of the lemon.
The seabass with shishito peppers, kelp pasta, fennel, and saffron-mussel brothis wholly pedestrian. The first dish where the assembled ingredients are less than the whole.
Between the seabass and the Jidori chicken with waffles, smoked maple and hot sauce there is another, almost insufferable wait. The deconstructed chicken and waffles are tasty, though perhaps “waffle” is misleading given a wafer is substituted for the fluffy waffle. The two bites of chicken are small and fatty. Overall, great flavor but worth the wait? No. Worth the cost? No.
And then another lag for dessert. Despite assurances from our friendly waiter the arrival of dishes lag. Is the kitchen unable to accommodate the omnipresent crush of patrons? Given the restaurants desire to turn tables The Monster’s meal is a clinic in fits and starts.
The chocolate in various textures, coffee sabayon, pears is rich, delicious, creamy. The peanut butter, milk chocolate, coconut proves to be a thick log nicely paired with velvety ice cream.
All in all this is a meal that isn’t quite equal to either the hype (how could it be?) or the price tag. Inventive cuisine such as Voltaggio’s often is beauty in the eye of the beholder and the highs truly are spectacular. Unfortunately, too many dishes disappoint and the lag between being served ultimately proves jarring. That being said, The Monster will be back to give Voltaggio’s cooking another go.
Why go? You could get in.
Monster rating 3½/5 Monsters
8360 Melrose Avenue, Suite 107
Los Angeles, CA 90069