By now, anyone deeply rooted in the LA dining landscape has heard about Vespertine, chef Jordan Kahn’s new experience in Culver City. We say "experience” because according to the pedigreed chef, who once worked under Thomas Keller at Per Se, Grant Achatz at Alinea and with Michael Mina at the now-defunct XIV, this is beyond a restaurant. “It is a place of cognitive dissonance that defies categorization, exploring a dimension of cuisine that is neither rooted in tradition nor culture — it is from a time that is yet to be, and a place that does not exist,” according to the official press release. “It is a spirit that exists between worlds. A place of shadows and whispers.”
Photo courtesy Vespertine
It goes without saying that Vespertine is difficult to describe. There is an avant-garde video, and an Instagram feed filled with mostly photos of the wavy Eric Owen Moss–designed Hayden Tract building and dark, moody photos of what we think is food. There’s praise on Yelp and other social media by the clearly moneyed few (this is expense account/trust fund dining to the nth degree) who got in early. And one very early critique from The Hollywood Reporter that initiated a cross-country conversation not so much about the restaurant itself, but when it’s appropriate to hand down any sort of criticism at all.
Whether you think this is all super-rad or eye-roll ridiculous, there’s a good chance you'll probably still want to go. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to know.
Getting in isn’t actually that difficult — but it will cost you
There are currently openings on most weeknights throughout August. The pre-paid reservation costs $250 per person, but remember tax, tip and drinks are added at the end of the meal. Opt for the whole shebang — dinner, wine pairings and tea service after — and you're in for more than $600 per person.
The building is very cool
When we first went to Destroyer, Kahn’s more casual daytime eatery on the same Hayden Tract block, we parked in front of this building during its construction. It’s eye-catching, for sure; a marvel of twisting steel and glass, both reflecting and retracting the blue sky. It commandeers respect, and yes, many Instagram photos.
If you're picky or antsy, this isn’t a restaurant for you
This is not à la carte dining; you can’t tell the chef you don’t eat gluten or soy. Kahn and company built an entire “experience” around the 18-plus courses of this menu, starting from the moment you walk in the door to the time you walk away from the garden. Everything is custom-made — the plates, the flatware, the lighting embedded in the tables, the uniforms — so it probably is a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
Expect to be experiencing all of this for at least five hours
Every inch of the night has been exactingly thought out, from the service to the goth-like uniforms to the soundtrack transitioning from the elevator through each course (it’s by Austin experimental rock band This Will Destroy You). Vision takes time, people. You enter on the ground floor and take an elevator to the second floor, where the chef and his team greet you, then you head to the roof for the first few snacks and sips, and then back down to the 22-seat dining room for the rest of the meal. Should you pay for the after-dinner tea (it’s $30 per person), you’ll head to the garden. Our advice: Try the early reservation if you have an important meeting in the morning.
You’ll probably eat things you’ve never heard of before
And familiar ingredients are presented in ways you’ve never seen. This is Kahn’s oeuvre, his signature. Some might remember his desserts, including the overwrought white chocolate cube at XIV or his terrarium dishes at Red Medicine. He’s not into simple; he's not even into making simple look complicated. It's his own thing. Balsam fir tips, sea kelp, white asparagus, sea urchin and even roast turkey have made their way onto the always-evolving menu. But the presentations are rather otherworldly. Case in point: The "biodynamic fruit" seen here.
Drinks are extra
Wine pairings are $150 per person, and the nonalcoholic beverage pairing of juices and such is $30, as is the after-dinner tea.
A few more things to keep in mind
While the menu is set, the chef will take requests for "specific allergies," so, like, if you'll die eating something. You get barely a description at each juncture of the meal, so it's best to know ahead of time (you can email firstname.lastname@example.org). No children under 12 are allowed, so keep those burgeoning foodies at home. Dress the part. You don't have to be Trent Reznor when you walk in, but no shorts, flip flops, etc. Keep in mind part of the meal is on the roof, so you'll need a jacket or cover on cooler nights. And absolutely NO photos allowed of the meal (although people are still getting away with it).