LA has finally elevated itself into a world-class dining city with a surge of great restaurants. The most progressive and experimental restaurant currently in the USA is Vespertine, an experience far beyond food alone. People either tend to hate it or love it, but it is no doubt one of the most talked about experiences in North America.
Opened in July 2018, at 3599 Hayden Avenue in Culver City.
You know you are in for something exciting and extraordinary the moment you pull up to this architecturally stunning, ultra-modern structure. The restaurant takes up the entire building, although it only seats 22 guests. It was designed by architect Eric Owen Moss. Each level of the building is dedicated to various guest functions of your meal. Your journey begins the moment you pull up and are greeted by a man at the entrance. You first begin outside in the garden, on concrete but heated seats. The garden is curved, with small grassy hills and pathways. You hear some soft eery humming background music, which continues throughout the night. Here you start with a glass of grand rose champagne. He then takes in one group at a time to the restaurant to give you a personal, intimate and perfectly choreographed start. We were then escorted up a set of stairs to the rooftop of the building, where you can see for miles. On the way up, we briefly stop at the gleaming kitchen to meet wunderkind, Chef/Owner Jordan Kahn, who has cooked in some pretty prestigious kitchens like Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Chicago ‘s three-star Alinea (a personal favourite). We began with a gorgeous and delicious cocktail. Sitting in front of us was a branch of a tree, with what looked like pieces of bark draped over the branches. But guess what? This was our first appetizer. Our most beautiful dish came next, served with a black round box, it opened to reveal a colorful array of flowers. These were attached to some sort of cracker. We learned that the chef focused his ingredients foraged from nearby forest and shores. This sounded like something they do at Noma in Copenhagen. After another appetizer, we walked down a set of stairs to the dining room, a futuristic space featuring custom built steel banquettes, surrounded by translucent acrylic tabletops. Grey is the predominant colour, and the staff dress in black outfits, reminiscent of cult members or from another planet. They also move or drift, in an almost hypnotic dance from table to table in a blank, cold way. Especially the sommelier who wouldn’t crack a smile, or wait for me to take a picture. All the while, the same 4 cords of music play throughout the evening. Before it was calming, strange and beautiful, now, as the evening progressed, it begins to grate on the nerves.
There is no doubt that the chef is a genius. The dishes are innovative and creative. However, after about 5 courses in, it begins to become monotonous. How much bark, earthiness, twigs and leaves are you willing to endure? There is a huge emphasis on using natural ingredients.
Several hours and 18 courses later, the food seems repetitive, the service soulless. It is all very science fiction. But it is also visually beautiful and unique, magical and transformative. Everything you eat is not what it seems. One dish came, which was all black, and looked like charcoal or moon rocks. It was just a dish but hidden underneath the dish, if you dug down was a hidden scallop.
They offer wine pairings but don’t tell you the prices beforehand. I was not a fan of the natural and fermented wines. Do I want to drink juice from a redwood tree, no. The saké was one tasting I enjoyed, the others I endured.
You start your dessert courses in the restaurant and then move to the garden again. This time they provide blankets along with the heated seats. We enjoyed the preserved walnuts, mulberries and blackberries, that looked like they were on steroids.
This must be what it felt like in caveman times, when most of your diet consisted of green leafy things and berries.
This experience doesn’t come cheap. It was $250 a person before wine. You can only prebook and score a table on Tock.
Was my meal on the right or wrong side of crazy? For me a little of both. My husband said it was three hours he can’t get back. One thing is for sure, a meal at Vespertine is completely out of the ordinary. And it was just awarded 2 Michelin stars within one year of opening. That is quite the accomplishment!
Recommended for a true foodie who is not afraid to dine outside the box.