The place //
Ink n Ivy
The order //
Spicy fried oysters & grilled scallops
I love complexity when it comes to food. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, or to suggest that there’s merit in food that’s hard to understand. I just mean that, while simple dishes have a purity and way of highlighting the flavors of its ingredients, complex dishes can elevate those individual flavors. There’s a swirl of flavorful context, a logical rise and ebb that gives additional dimension to make each ingredient more than it could be on its own.
On the other hand, there’s complicated food. To me, complicated food is like complex food in that there is a lot going on. But instead of the structure and logic that allows flavors to shine, complication is chaos. There’s a lot going on, and it’s going on all at the same time.
You see that distinction between complexity and complication in Ink n Ivy’s menu: an extensive array of appetizers, soups, salads, steaks, seafood, pasta, sandwiches and more. As a philosophy, the menu points to the idea that More Is Better. It’s a philosophy that seems to seep into individual dishes.
Take, for instance, my appetizer: oysters fried in a Cajun-seasoned breading, served atop black bean pesto with roasted tomato salsa, along with two dollops of cilantro cream, each marked with a little spoonful of salmon pearls (which is a euphemism for salmon roe, I guess). I also had a little ramekin of ginger jalapeno dressing on the side.
The oysters by themselves were generously sized and perfectly fried. But there’s the rest of the dish, and therein lies the problem. To start, the Cajun seasoning brings a bit of heat. Then there’s the black bean pesto and the roasted tomato salsa, both of which have a hefty earthiness to them. And then, off to the side, there’s a light, fresh cilantro cream and the salmon pearls, which burst with a sweet tang when you bite into them. Somewhere in the mix, there’s also that ginger jalapeno dressing. All in all, it’s too much. There are so many flavors competing in each bite and within the dish as a whole. The oysters — as well prepared as they are — get lost in the mix.
The same story continues with the grilled scallops, which were plated atop wilted chives and baby spinach. The scallops were delightful. Each bite of the plump, beautifully seared meat was tender, buttery and sweet — no sign of overcooking.
But then, I started taking bites of the wilted chives and baby spinach. In theory, they sound like a great addition to the dish: fresh greenery that complements the delicate scallops. Instead, since the chives and spinach are actually wilted on a grill, I got a mouthful of smokiness. Again, by itself, the smokiness of grilled vegetables can be wonderful, but on the same plate as mild scallops, the smokiness tended to overwhelm.
And therein lies the challenge. More is not necessarily better. Simply throwing more and bigger flavors into the mix is likely to result in a chaotic, muddled mess. Granted, Ink n Ivy will only have been open a couple of weeks at press time, so there’s room for improvement and growth. And the flashes of promise from the scallops and oysters show that it’s worth a second chance.
+ Ink n Ivy is newly opened, and its freshness shows. There’s a lively, funky interior with an upstairs bar and dining room.
+ There are tons of options on the menu. You’d be hard-pressed not to find something that interests you.
+ The oysters and scallops were generously sized and well prepared.
– There was too much going on. Flavors competed with, rather than complemented, each other. That’s really the biggest frustration — the excellent oysters and scallops get lost in that cacophony, and you wind up with a flash of good marred by clutter.
Ink n Ivy
21 E. Coffee St., Greenville
Spicy fried oysters, $12; grilled scallops, $19