This post originally appeared in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of her favorite food and restaurant stories — both on and off Eater — each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.
I was off most of last week, spending my time seeking indoor activities for an energetic child in the middle of an LA heatwave, so I’m not caught up on my Eater or food media reading. BUT I did take some time (4.5 hours) to dine at Vespertine, the most interesting restaurant opening of the past few years. So today I have a special edition Notes From the Road newsletter for you:
A quick and dirty backstory: Vespertine is an expensive tasting menu restaurant taking up the entirety of an otherworldly, rust-colored, twisted waffle-shaped building in Culver City, Los Angeles. Its chef Jordan Kahn earnestly positioned it as an over-the-top, one-of-a-kind, futuristic experience. Press materials claimed the restaurant was “from a time that is yet to be,” and “a place of shadows and whispers.” The chefs wear goth/space-age mock turtleneck aprons; specially commissioned ambient music pulsates in the various dining spaces; and dishes arrive in black matte vessels. Kahn’s aim is to make a dining experience unlike any other.
A side note on expectations: Before I dined at Vespertine, I told a food world acquaintance that many coworkers were flying to town to try it. She skeptically wondered if we were hoping to watch a train wreck. First off, few people spend that much money or time hoping to be disappointed. Moreover, we love exciting restaurants! It’s a relief for something ambitious to open. Even better if it’s straight-up bizarre.
I didn’t set my expectations so high that I was bound to be disappointed, but I went in wanting to love it, hoping the restaurant would live up to its promise of being different in a meaningful way.
Was it worth the time and expense? The beginning portion of the meal — when diners spend about an hour on the serene rooftop looking out upon Los Angeles, eating truly delicious small bites out of rough, angular black vessels while drinking vermouth — and the final wind down in the garden were worth the expense. I would disagree with the Hollywood Reporter columnist who said the restaurant meal doesn’t bring joy. I felt real joy on that rooftop, eating that food, looking out upon that city. I would love to do it again.
The three-hour stretch between those two experiences in a somewhat claustrophobic, ‘90s-futuristic dining room — that I could have done without. That’s when I could actually feel the time passing, when I wondered when dessert would finally come, when I started to get annoyed at the glassware sticking to the acrylic table and the lack of through line connecting the dishes.
As far as the nitty gritty of which dishes were good and which were not — I’ll let the pros like Bill Addison and Besha Rodelll and Jonathan Gold give the rundown there. Kahn is wonderfully playful with colors and textures and plating, but some dishes are hard to finish, even as others evoke an audible “wow.”
Who should go? Trophy hunters, Kahn fans, and food writers who can afford or expense the meal should go. The rest of you could find better ways to eat in Los Angeles (may I suggest these places?) and better tasting menus to eat elsewhere.
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