I am a so-called foodie. Jonathan Gold is my hero. The experience of dining out is a favorite activity. Yet none of my previous experiences prepared me for Vespertine in Culver City.
Our company, QCP of Norco, CA, had the privilege of working with Vespertine’s architect, Eric Owen Moss, to develop the precast water feature and the heated precast benches in the patio adjacent to the building. The project was top secret. We did not know the name nor the concept. We just heard it was exclusive and expensive.
Eric Owen Moss and the contractor, Howard/CDM were a great team and built an amazing structure that is unique and functional.
As the opening approached we learned more about the project. Jordan Kahn, formerly of Red Medicine, was the creative force behind the concept. We learned it was fixed menu with multiple courses. My interest was piqued. Our precast components looked awesome. I had to get reservations. I had to dine at this restaurant. How was the architecture going to be part of the dining the experience? I put my name on the website to be alerted as soon as they were taking reservations. And somehow, I ended up with a table for two on opening night!
My wife and I made the trek up the 405 and pulled into to the driveway and were greeted by name by the valet who directed us into the building. Once inside we were ushered into the elevator. At this point it was clear, we were about to experience something new. From the mood altering electronic music to the “monk meets Jedi” attire of the staff no detail was left unscripted. The elevator stopped at the middle level of the building where the kitchen was located. We were greeted by Chef Kahn himself who welcomed us and asked that we please refrain from taking any pictures. He humbly described his opening night butterflies, wished us well and we were scuttled up to the roof top patio for the start of our adventure.
A comfortable chair, blue skies and a juice drink with a large indigenous flower awaited. And then the courses started to come. 21 in all. Each small, but complex in flavor and plated like artwork. The first three, of which the ice plant was my favorite, were on the roof. Upon finishing the third course we were asked to follow one of our servers back downstairs to the main dining area.
The décor was stark and contemporary, but pleasant. You are presented with a box once settled. In the box is a napkin. If you step out to the restroom, you come back to a new box holding a new napkin. Servers, whose numbers equal guests, hover quietly moving gracefully around the room. Before each course you are given utensils uniquely paired to the upcoming dish. Each course is brought to the table and announced by the main ingredient such as Red Spinach or Endive. Please don’t think that Red Spinach was just Red Spinach. Most dishes had multiple ingredients with many flavors and each was presented beautifully in a series of unusual vessels that were every bit as much a point of conversation as the food. Much of what you are eating is a mystery as the dishes were often layered. At first I wanted to know details, but as the wine flowed, I started to let go and focus on the experience.
Ah, the wine. It’s just wine. No cocktail program. No endless list of micro brews. Just wine. Or juice if you are looking or something non-alcoholic. The wine list was short but solid. The sommelier was helpful and we settled into a bottle of Chardonnay not really knowing what was coming. Probably should have done one of the pairings.
As we got to the end of the savory dishes I wondered where I would find room for the last five courses which were promised to be sweet.
The first sweet course was a complete surprise. A combination of sweet, creamy and the unique flavor of sea urchin. As I write this article the flavor profile rings clear. More than any dish.
After the last plates were cleared we were asked to follow a server to the garden. My company’s concrete benches are placed in and around mounds of planted parcels. It was a beautiful night and great way to end the evening. We were given three flavors of digestives. None of them sat well with my pallet and I stuck with black coffee.
As our time came to end, our dining experience was closing in on three hours. You are going to want to block off your whole evening for your night at Vespertine.
As my wife and I sat cozily on the heated precast benches I reflected back upon the evening. Every minute of the last three and ½ hours had been perfectly orchestrated. Chef Kahn and his staff played to all five of our senses. And he challenged us as diners by exposing us to products that we had never thought to eat. The architecture was every bit as important as the food, which for me made the evening that much more special.