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Photo by Dylan + Jeni, courtesy of Voodoo Vin

Dish By DishLos Angeles

How Voodoo Vin Brings European Vibes to Virgil Village, in Five Dishes

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Voodoo Vin is a serious wine bar with a laid-back Silver Lake atmosphere. Inspired by easygoing wine cellars in Paris, the Virgil Village spot is owned by wife-and-husband team Natalie and Michael Hekmat and helmed by chef Travis Hayden. Together, they’re pairing Old World natural wines with a tight, seasonally-informed menu anchored by Hayden’s housemade charcuterie. Here, Hayden breaks down five dishes that showcase what Voodoo Vin is all about — and Natalie Hekmat tells us what to drink alongside them.

Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin
Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin

1. Mortadella with Seasonal Pickled Vegetables

Hayden is a first-time head chef, after honing his chops at Rustic Canyon under chef Andy Doubrava. There, he was largely focused on making charcuterie from scratch. “One of the most daunting things that I didn’t really have a chance to explore there was mortadella,” he says. “So this has kind of been my baby.” 

Hayden makes his mortadella not in the traditional Italian way — by adhering to specific ratios of pork and fat and sourcing ingredients from Italy — but in his own style, using locally procured goods. His pork comes from Peads & Barnetts farm, which sells at both the Santa Monica and Hollywood farmers markets. From the tiny, 20-square-foot kitchen, Hayden grinds the meat, seasons it (appropriately) with wine and pistachios, pipes it into its casing, and then cooks it in a water bath. The finished product is thinly sliced and served with pickled vegetables, depending on what’s in season. When we spoke it was preserved Cornito Rosso peppers from Weiser Family Farms; before that, it was sprouting cauliflower. 

Drink with: Hekmat recommends lambrusco, or another light skin-contact frizzante from Emilia-Romagna; or a crémant from Alsace or Jura in France. Another route for those uninterested in bubbles would be a full-bodied white. “You’re either cutting the richness with something that’s really bright and high acid or you’re going toward it with something that’s more round and creamy,” she says.

Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin
Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin

2. “Caesar” Beef Tartare

“I’m a bit of a Caesar fanatic,” Hayden says. “At my previous job, I made it for family meal every week for two years.” Here, he developed a beef tartare-inspired take on the classic by experimenting with what was in his larder. The dish contains many layers: aioli, anchovies, an aromatic vinegar made from pear and persimmon scraps, buttermilk from the housemade cultured butter for tang, and whey from ricotta for a cheesy flavor. Croutons from leftover bread come into play here too, and then the tartare is topped with Parmesan and cured egg yolk.

Drink with: With the Caesar tartare, Hekmat leans towards light reds or deep rosés. A red gamay or a pinot noir — something that’s light-bodied, fruity, and even a bit earthy — also pairs well with this dish. She especially likes easy-drinking Austrian reds. “It’s really nice to have something that brightens up your palate to even out the richness,” she says.

3. Cucumbers with Lovage Relish and Burrata

In this dish, Japanese cucumbers are tossed in an herb-heavy condiment of lovage, cilantro, and parsley. Breadcrumbs soaked in chile oil and coriander seed shells are added to the mix, and it’s topped with a dollop of Hayden’s housemade burrata. “It’s designed to be simple and refreshing,” he says.

Drink with: A rosé is, again, a light and juicy complement to the cucumbers, as is a “bright refreshing mineral white,” says Hekmat, such as a weissburgunder from Austria.

Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin
Photo by Liz Barclay, courtesy of Voodoo Vin

4. Tagliatelle with ‘nduja Bolognese

This is a personal dish for Hayden: ‘nduja was the first charcuterie he learned how to make and Bolognese was one of the first dishes he learned how to cook. When he was let go from Rustic Canyon during the lockdown, Hayden started a pasta delivery company called Cali Bolo, for which he made his own pasta from scratch. ‘Nduja is over 50% fat and laced with Calabrian chiles, which adds a lush and spicy layer to the Bolognese, served over handmade tagliatelle. 

Drink with: Hekmat suggests  a red that has the grip and acidity “to play with the spice” in the Bolognese. A sangiovese, a peppery pineau d’aunis from the Loire Valley, or a syrah from the Rhone are all solid choices. 

 

5. Ricotta Ice Cream with Meringue and Melon Granita

Hayden and the Hekmats took a recent trip to Paris for inspiration, where they had a mind-bending dish at the wine bar Le Dauphin: ice cream with blood orange granita and meringue. “It was my favorite bite of the whole trip,” Hayden says, and he knew he wanted to execute a version of it back home. He plans to keep the dish on the menu as long as possible, eventually swapping out the melon in the granita for another seasonal fruit.

Drink with: Hekmat is building a collection of eau de vies, many of which she says would complement this dessert nicely. She also recommends an off-dry Champagne or an effervescent, off-dry wine like those made by the French producer François Dhumes. “It’s a nice marriage to have something that has a bit of sweetness but is still bright and zippy,” she says. “Or you could with something more potent, like an eau de vie.”

 

Emily Wilson is a Los Angeles-based food writer from New York. She has contributed to Bon Appétit, Eater, TASTE, The Los Angeles Times, Punch, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.