L.A.’s most eagerly anticipated restaurant opening of 2011 is ink., the inaugural restaurant from avant garde chef Michael Voltaggio, who worked as chef de cuisine of The Bazaar and executive chef of The Dining Room at The Langham before joining forces with fellow maverick Michael Ovitz in West Hollywood. On August 9, Chef Voltaggio assembled area media types at the former home of Hamasaku to learn more about his plans, which included an interim sandwich shop called ink. sack, located two doors down Melrose Avenue from ink., and a cookbook called VOLT ink., co-authored with Maryland based brother Bryan.
Voltaggio’s progressive, ever-changing menu features dishes that are “meant for sharing.” He compared ink.’s concept to a Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar, but said, “We’re not serving sushi, but we’re serving plates that are great to look at, and you can share them.” Instead of just prescribing a full tasting menu, Voltaggio said, “You can create your own tasting menu over here, but you can share and you can feel okay about it. It’s kind of like not putting rules on the guest experience, and letting the guest dictate the direction they want to go. Now that makes the guest happy. It doesn’t make me completely happy, since I still want to do tasting menus, so those eight seats [at the bar] will be the omakase. We’ll offer the tasting menu there, but we’ll only do 16 covers a night over there. It will tart two times a night, inspired obviously by my friend José Andrés. He does Minibar in Washington, D.C. Very similar to that, but not 30 courses, probably 10 or 12.” They also have a 10-seat private dining room with prix fixe menu options.
Why the name? Voltaggio said, “The word is short for incorporated, so it’s i-n-k-period. The reason for the k is that it’s permanent. We’re looking for this to be a permanent spot in Los Angeles.”
Cliff Fong, who primarily focuses on residential design and has a gallery down Melrose, met Voltaggio in 2009. He hosted a 14-course dinner for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa starring Nobu Matsuhisa and invited the city’s leading tastemakers. They reconnected on ink. With the space, Fong said, “We actually approached it with the idea of deconstruction in mind, as opposed to construction…We wanted it to be comfortable, of course, but also kind of humble and honest, maybe a place that would reflect the kind of artisanal approach that Michael takes to his cuisine…I was really thrilled that I could help him interpret that.”
Fong stripped away Hamasaku’s expensive Italian glass tiles and “elevated” finishes, which made it “difficult to concentrate on anything but the décor.” Instead, he said, “We kind of took what was here, purified it, and maybe just switched out a few values, so the space had a little bit more humility.” Fong added tiles painted to look like old brick, 12-inch beams crafted from Douglas fir, old butcher block tables, mismatched Midcentury chairs constructed from visqueen, and Christmas lights placed behind windows to make it look like passing cars. Ovitz, an avid art collector, contributed several paintings from his collection. Voltaggio emphasized, “We really don’t want it to feel too over-decorated or too overdone. It’s a gallery for food.”