This meal was organised by my Xtreme Foodie friend Jeff Merrihue during my short visit to LA. For a well-travelled diner like him to say “Vespertine is a very unusual dining experience that you can’t miss if you are in LA”, I knew that I would regret it if I missed this opportunity- especially since I had no further plans to visit here in the near future.
The man behind it all is Chef Jordan Kahn. He has worked in the culinary business all of his life, being the youngest chef to work in Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. In an interview with Design Milk, Kahn explains the connection between the architecture of Eric Owen Moss (who designed the restaurant’s conceptual structure) and Vespertine’s dining experience as integral. Therefore, I think it’s important to explain the experience as it was not only about food, but also about the building itself.
The experience is weird in a fun way…The first thing you see is the big building, and the whole building is just the restaurant. We arrived in the evening just as the sun was setting, the hues reflecting onto the brown steel structure. The ground floor is like a zen garden, with soothing relaxation music playing and a mist of floral aroma coming out from the grass; it felt like the entrance to a spa. This is the reception area where we had a drink while the staff gave a brief explanation of the experience ahead. Once it was our turn, they guided us into the building, through the ground floor bar area, then into a lift all the way up to the top floor.
The lift doors opened to reveal the floor of the open kitchen where the chef was there to greet us; give us a brief intro of himself. You could also basically see the kitchen team here. With a high ceiling and an equally tall window with a view, it seemed an incredible place to work. Then on the left, they pointed us to a door to the exterior of the building which had stairs to go further up (the white exterior stairs shown in the building photo) and where you could look back down to the zen garden where we came in and have a beautiful panoramic view of the skyline. Just don’t look down if you have acrophobia.
Finally we arrived at the top floor of this structure, which was a big candle-lit lounge with sofas. Again, there was a floor-to-ceiling window, and a great 360 view. This is where they served the amuse bouche section of the meal before they guided us back down a few floors to the dining area where we spent the rest of the evening. From the setting, the kitchen,and the serviceware, it won’t take you long to realise the chef’s favourite colour must be black. I haven’t even talked about the food, and yet you can tell the experience was already unique.
The serviceware used here is custom-made to suit the food- all in black of course. The amuse bouche was served on a set of funky mini sculptures. One dish was a cup-shaped utensil that split vertically to reveal black currant cookies decorated with colourful edible flowers. Another was arranged so that kelp crisps stood inside a giant black ring that rested precariously on its edges. Such eye-striking and interactive sets of pre-meal snacks really made the food come alive.
This dark and mysterious theme continued throughout the night. Just to name a few more: a huge black stone sphere with a disk of green ice on top covering fava bean, kiwi and spruce underneath; a surface of glossy black sand which was actually scallop and bone marrow; and for the main course, the staff brought out a bed of juniper leaves covering a whole quail carcass with its legs sticking out before carving out a piece of breast and plating it inside a ring of black trumpet and flower to resemble a theme of animal sacrifice. Chef Jordan is really pushing the boundaries of form over function. The unusual style of food presentation continued throughout dessert with blobs of caramelised milk presented like many tiny clouds floating inside the bowl. What a crazy place this was!
Vespertine is a contemporary art museum for Chef Jordan’s “food art” show. The quality of the food is as remarkable as their looks. Every ingredient was precisely cooked with many imaginative combinations. It is definitely a meal full of surprises. After a 5-hour experience, I have to agree with my friend Jeffery that this is an extraordinary experience, a meal that I will never forget. I have never seen this style of food anywhere, and you can’t find it elsewhere.