Award-Winning Vespertine Dazzles
Published Sunday, June 17, 2018 – 6:45 PM
By Laura Coleman
Slightly disconcerting, there’s something about dining at Vespertine that is unsettling to the point of heightening your senses. That the food is exceptional is secondary to the theatricality that surrounds the immersive hours-long experience.
A clever experiment by Chef Jordan Kahn, who just this month won the coveted Grand Prize design award from the Los Angeles Business Council, Vespertine celebrates its first anniversary next month inside the other worldly Eric Owen Moss-designed structure.
“The goal of the restaurant is to be this Fluxian source of ideas,” Kahn told Beverly Hills Style.
Like a symphony that is more about experience than the individual notes and instruments, Vespertine offers diners a thoughtfully curated evening of molecular gastronomy.
“People go to restaurants because of food. But food is not what stays in your memory,” noted Kahn, who began his career at The French Laundry. “You just remember the experience, the time you had. It’s really a complex art form.”
Named for a flower that blooms in the evening, Vespertine is very much a convergence of food, art, architecture and music in a world entirely crafted by Kahn.
“I found this building and everything clicked,” Kahn recounted of his initial foray into Culver City’s Hayden Tract area to escape typical L.A. traffic five years ago.
After returning that very evening around 3:30 a.m. and jumping the fence to explore the exterior of the distinct structure dubbed the Waffle, Kahn began returning nightly around 2:30 a.m. Eventually, he grew bold enough to remove the wood panels off the door and enter the multi-story architectural marvel that bore no resemblance to a typical restaurant.
“I couldn’t get it off my mind. I was really intrigued,” Kahn said of the building he spent four years tailoring to house Vespertine. “It’s this really powerful energy that’s hard to articulate.”
From the moment you approach the reticulated steel building, Vespertine invites diners to participate in an experience akin to theatre. Set in rhythm to an original atmospheric instrumental score composed by L.A.-based band This Will Destroy You, the evening begins with a welcome drink in a Bauhaus-type garden. Next, you are led through a gorgeous kitchen where Kahn personally greets you, explains his concept and essentially reads your “vibe” in anticipation of further personalizing the evening.
The first act enfolds on the building’s open air rooftop with spiced wine and cozy couch-like seating. A member of the sublime staff, attired in black garments made by Jona Sees, explains that the sculptural center piece on the low table illuminated by candles is actually a trio of seaweed “chips” artfully draped on a curved log. After more appetizers that likewise blur the distinction between food and art, such as a delicious biscuit of black currants and burnt onions, the journey continues in the main dining room downstairs, where more than a dozen different courses fully articulate the tasting menu-only concept.
Artfully plated on ceramics crafted by Ryota Aoki, many made from volcanic stone, an early course of snap peas fashioned into a large green shimmering jewel sets the stage for this second act, which includes an optional pairing of wines or juices. Perhaps the most curious dish is one that is served entirely hidden from view in its ceramic home, where the creamy rice pudding with crab is a total surprise.
Following a flight of desserts, the final act of Kahn’s sublime visual and culinary narrative returns you to the outdoor garden where you first began, this time with coffee, liqueurs and sweets. The smell of incense wafts from your own particular space in the maze-like concrete garden draped in foliage while you gaze with newfound understanding at the exoskeleton of oxidized metal in which you just indulged.