CHOW Tour
Two CHOW editors on a caloric extravaganza exploring innovation, novelty, and deliciousness. rss
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Is Michael Voltaggio the Most Innovative Chef in Los Angeles?

The whole week we were in LA we were constantly told—by everyone from friends in the media to the chef-owners at Animal—that when it comes to innovation, Michael Voltaggio was at the head of the pack.

We checked out what he was cooking at the ultra-posh, country club-esque Langham in Pasadena with Eater LA editor Kat Odell as a guide. It was our last night in LA, and it turned out to be one of his last nights at the restaurant. We can kind of see why he's moving on. It seemed a funny marriage: an ultra-conservative dining room decked out in model ship dioramas in a lovely old luxury hotel with Voltaggio, a skinny, young, tat-sleeved Top Chef serving some of the most experimental and creative cooking we've seen on our trip.

Octopus

Vegetable flower pot

Truffle brioche

Dippin' Dots!

Rum baba

Mignardises

We often wonder if fine dining is going to slowly die out, since a lot of people in their 20s and 30s just don't find it fun or even comfortable to be fawned over per traditional fine-dining service or enjoy eating fussy, fancily plated food. But the food we had prepared by Voltaggio was surprising and fun. And it was good. Some of the most interesting bits of the meal:

–A gougère amuse-bouche stuffed with salty caviar cream, eaten with a bit of tomato gelée on a lollipop stick.

–Cubes of foie gras (shown at top)—the texture was almost like whipped cream—wrapped in a strawberry yuzu sauce, served with squares of arugula cake, dots of roe, and tiny wild strawberries.

–A vegetable dish that included a side of baby radishes and carrots served in a flowerpot with "dirt" made of coffee and cardamom. Instruction: Dip the vegetables into a side of nori butter, then into the "dirt," and then salt.

–A simple warm brioche that resembled a popover and was swirled with black truffle flecks.

–Smooth, tender octopus tentacles, served on a puree of "buttered popcorn" that tasted exactly like the stuff at movie theaters, served with something that looked like a fruit roll-up with holes punched out of it, made of piquillo peppers.

–A palate cleanser of artisanal "Dippin' Dots"–style sorbet, flavored with blackberry cola, that Odell told us is incredibly tedious to make: It involves dropping the fruit purée into liquid nitrogen drop by drop.

–Great desserts, made by the chef: a baba rum plate that tasted like a piña colada; a lavender pana cotta with passion fruit sorbet; carrot cake deconstructed in a jar that resembled a terrarium when brought to the table.

–A mignardise plate that included  passion fruit gelées wrapped up like little dime candies in edible wrappers, kinda like that Botan rice candy you can buy at Asian markets.

And despite being portrayed as hyper-competitive and rather arrogant on Top Chef, Voltaggio was very gracious and even seemed a little shy in person—which goes to show the power of television editing. He told us his next move is going to be something he is in total control of and owns—not surprising coming from a guy who made all the breads, the dinner, and the desserts. "Painting the walls, dealing with plumbing, I want those problems," he told us. We don’t expect to be seeing any model ships.