'Otherworldly' Restaurant Vespertine Named LA's Best

Its $250 tasting menu has perplexed and frustrated its way to the top of the list.

By Ethan L. Johns
October 25, 2017

Image: Vespertine/Instagram

You only need to take a peek at Vespertine’s website to get a sense for the restaurant that America’s critics are calling a purveyor of “otherworldly” and even “depressive” haute cuisine. From the mission statement (“Our intention is to explore the abstraction and interrelationships of materials and ideas, environment and context, of sound and dissonance”) to the artsy video featuring post-apocalyptic attire and dishes prepared with tweezers, it is apparent that this is not your grandma’s fine dining restaurant, to say the very least. The concept has seized the attention of the food world, rocketing it to the top spot of the Los Angeles Times’s list of the city’s 101 Best Restaurants, which was released on Monday.

Vespertine, which opened its doors in July, is the brainchild of chef Jordan Kahn. Kahn worked at the French Laundry and Alinea before opening his own restaurant, Red Medicine, in 2010. His new project is located in Culver City, and is housed in an Eric Owen Moss-designed building made of red steel, which is meant to draw comparisons to Mars. Droning music and unidentifiable dishes contribute to an experience that is new and lacking in any relationship to traditional cuisine. Since July, it has received mixed reviews from critics divided on the restaurant’s MO.

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In his description of one of Vespertine’s more curious dishes, New York Times critic Pete Wells summed up what it’s like to eat at the restaurant.

“Some courses were almost inviting,” he wrote. “Others seemed determined not to be eaten at all, like the C-curve of black wafer pressed into a C-curve of black ceramic. It wasn’t at all clear which part was supposed to go in my mouth. I gambled on the wafer, which was a crumbly savory cookie made from black currants and dried onions and brushed with black currant jam.”

Points of contention for critics include the restaurant’s hefty price tag—tickets for dinner cost $250 per person, tax and tip not included; drink pairings and other extras can bring a meal for two up to $1,000—and chef Kahn’s unbridled locks.

“The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane,” wrote Jonathan Gold, restaurant critic at the LA Times, who placed the restaurant in the paper’s number one slot. “Yet looked at as an artwork, [...] Vespertine is in its way perfect.”

Going to Vespertine may be like visiting a strange and foreign world, but, then again, those who can afford to eat there already inhabit one.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns