Given the level of restless energy that Michael Voltaggio can carry along with his chef’s whites, landscape of tattoos and the occasional Carl's Jr. burger, it’s maybe less surprising that he’s closing his lauded Melrose Avenue restaurant Ink than that he’s kept it open this long. Ink has been serving Voltaggio’s technique-driven, thoroughly progressive cuisine since September 2011; after this Sunday night’s dinner service, Voltaggio will close both his doors and his restaurant.
"I outgrew it,” said Voltaggio.
But the chef won’t wait long before opening a new door, which also shouldn’t be a surprise to those who have followed his quick-fire career. His new flagship restaurant, to be called Ink.well, will open about half a mile away, on La Cienega Boulevard, in the space that was previously the restaurant Hutchinson, and before that the Spanish Kitchen (and yes, Voltaggio is keeping the old neon sign).
“I’m shooting for two to three weeks,” said Voltaggio Wednesday on the time frame for Ink.well. “I’ve had the space for 10 days.” The chef is designing the new restaurant himself, which will combine elements from Ink with a new bar program — hence the name. “Ink.well refers to the bar experience,” said Voltaggio, “but also living well, being well. The word means a lot.”
The bar program, which Voltaggio had long wanted to add to his restaurant, will be orchestrated by Otello Tiano, who oversees Ink’s current cocktails.
The new restaurant will start with dinner service and then expand to lunch, with a menu that’s divided into sections — fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, poultry, seafood — and includes more casual dishes than diners who’ve become accustomed to Voltaggio’s modernist cooking might expect.
“If you want to come to the restaurant and have a steak and mashed potatoes you can do that,” said Voltaggio, who earlier this year added steaks to his Ink menu as an R&D extension of his East Coast steakhouse project (Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse) with his brother Bryan. And for the first time, Voltaggio will put burgers on his menu. “I’m trying to create my version of a perfect hamburger,” said the chef, who will have a section of the new, larger restaurant specifically for walk-in diners.
“I want to provide a restaurant that has food on the menu, good service, a good beverage system — and no rules,” said Voltaggio, who says that he’s not cooking for himself as much anymore, but rather “cooking for the guest” and creating more accessible food. “I don’t need to leave anyone out. I want to be an institution. Think about if Balthazar opened today; what would that look like?”
In the new world order of 2017, when fine dining chefs are running crab shacks and hot dog stands, it’s no longer surprising to imagine Voltaggio — winner of “Top Chef” and alum of Jose Andres’ the Bazaar — flipping burgers in a bustling brasserie. If anything, it’s oddly comforting.
“What’s wrong with a cheese plate? I think lots of menus were crafted from ego and not from feedback from the guest. And my ego’s been checked.”
Ink.well: 826 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.