ink.sack – Little Bites of Overrated

31 Jul

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Top Chef hype – whatever. There’s probably a dozen ex-TC cheftestants and probably a million Food Network rejects in LA cooking weird foams and “____ three ways.” Usually attaching this kind of TV celebrity with a restaurant makes me want to avoid a place. But Ink.Sack tempted me because it’s little sandwiches with gourmet ingredients. How could this go wrong?

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Ink.Sack is a small storefront in the middle of the high-fashion boutiques of West Hollywood (the name brand Beverly Hills side, not the hipster LA side), a few doors down from Michael Voltaggio’s fancy-pants restaurant, Ink (oh, I get it – you have tattoos). There are just a few seats at a counter and a couple tables outside. Chalkboard menu, iced coffee from Handsome Roasters, “crab chips” made without any crab, menu printed on notebook paper, orders packed in black lunch sacks (oh, I get it) with your name written on them. It’s all very well curated (except for that weird thing with the crab chips), very hip.

It may sound like I’m trying to make fun of the place, but I found all this charming. At least it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm to try the sandwiches. So I had:

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The cold fried chicken sandwich. It’s made with house-made ranch cheese and some spice called “Grindo’s.” I was pretty excited about this, imagining some different take on the Bakesale Betty sandwich. But the ranch cheese was pretty underwhelming. It’s probably meant to be low-brow evocative, like Bryant Ng’s use of Kraft American cheese in Spice Table’s cheeseburger. But it just kind of adds some mild tangy creaminess, which may have been somewhat interesting except for the fact that many of the sandwiches suffer from too much mayo. Ugh.

If that weren’t enough, the spice is just kind of weird. We were splitting it (by the way, the sandwiches are very small. You should think of them as half sandwiches), and my friend didn’t take more than a couple bites. Oh, and the chicken is kind of whatevers – honestly, a little like Shake ‘n’ Bake except not as tasty.

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Here’s the pork bahn mi with chicharrones. This was close to being pretty good. The pork belly is sliced thinly but seasoned well. The pickled veggies are perfunctory – it could really use some cilantro and jalapeños, like a real bahn mi. The chicharrones are an interesting idea, but they don’t actually add that much and eventually get soggy. It tastes ok, but almost nothing like a real bahn mi. I know, it’s not meant to be a real bahn mi, like Mendocino Farms’ insult to Vietnam (I secretly like that sandwich, although I have to go through some focusing exercises to not think of bahn mis before I take a bite). But the quality of the pork saves it. It’s just a shame that this sandwich exists with the name bahn mi in the same town as the platonic ideal of bahn mi, Spice Table’s cold cut bahn mi.

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Speaking of messing with a country’s heritage, here’s the cubano: pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and of course mayo (can you spot the mayo in this picture?). Geez. It’s impossible to taste anything here past the condiments. And is it special mayo and mustard? I don’t know, but it sure tasted like French’s yellow mustard and Best Foods mayo. And not in a good way.

It’s become of the moment to use some low-brow, mass market, grocery store thing to accent a restaurant item. Roy Choi and Bryant Ng use American cheese in their burgers. Nickel Diner uses (spoiler alert!) Pop Rocks in their secret cupcake. Great, I love these things. But that’s because the rest of the food is made really well with great ingredients so that the janky item provides some surprise and counterpoint. Ink.Sack apparently didn’t get that memo.

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Sorry for the bite marks. This is the Jose Andres with Serrano ham, chorizo, and Manchego cheese. It’s meant to be a Spanish version of the Bay Cities Godmother, one of the greatest sandwiches of all time. It’s pretty good. The meats are high-quality and very tasty. It’s really salty and intense, but fine in such a small dose. It’s really a charcuterie plate pre-assembled for you. Nice.

Oh and I forgot to talk about the bread. Sandwiches are defined by how great the bread is. You can make a pretty decent sandwich out of great bread and Buddig sliced meats; but the reverse is not necessarily true. The bread at ink.sack is only OK. It’s not store-bought, but it’s not particularly interesting or tasty. Just kind of an average soft-sided roll.

Overall, there’s enough here that I wouldn’t be opposed to eating here again. Just avoid all the mayo and dial down the expectations. But I hate driving to West Hollywood, so I may never make the effort again. That’s fine. There’s seriously tons of better sandwiches all over the city – Spice Table, Cook’s Tortas, Bay Cities, Joan’s on Third.

Oh well. At least Top Chef Masters is back.

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