Location: 3599 Hayden Ave, Culver City, CA 90232. (323) 320-4023
Date: March 21, 2018
Cuisine: Modern Nordic Art Food?
Rating: Excellent experience
Vespertine is a very unusual confluence of all sorts of artsy weirdness. It’s helmed by Jordan Kahn formerly of Red Medicine and currently of Destroyer across the street. I’ve long been fond of Jordan’s unique culinary style.
First of all, we have the bizarre building which seemingly was built (like much of this section of Culver City) without purpose and is now is host to the restaurant — only! I had an office across the street for 2 years as well, back when I founded Flektor.
In the back yard, so to speak, is this gigantic steel cactus tower. Yes, everyone needs an expensive cactus tower.And there are kooky modern gardens.
This one we even use for our final course (but more on that later).
The attractive but perhaps impractical bar area on the ground floor doesn’t seem to have much (any?) use and we just hung out here for 2 minutes waiting for our party to assemble and then headed upstairs.
The open roof deck (which feels like inside) is a sort of lounge floor where the meal began.
Everything is very “moody” with the scent of fir trees and soft spa music. In fact it’s sort of like “spa the meal”. Or maybe “gallery the meal.”
No menu was provided and the food is abstract, so my descriptions will be vague. This “dip” consisted of some hummus like whip covered in leaves. Photography was a serious challenge her as things were SO DARK, lit only by candlelight, and there was no flash allowed. Or tripod (in the dining room) or camera clicks or beeps!!!A kind of dried vegetable/fruit matter of sorts — actually dried kelp if I remember correctly — hung on our tree and weused it to dip into the dip. Odd as this was, it tasted rather lovely.
And a brown thing covered by a white soft thing in vague leaf shapes. No recall. Interesting textures. Tasted good too.
Now we moved on down to the cool dining room, nearly temple-like in its silence — except for the spacey spa music and the sound of wooden spoons scraping on expensive stoneware plates.
Pairing with this food was a challenge so we leaned toward champagne.
Erick brought: 1976 Drappier Champagne Carte d’Or Brut. 95 points. Rustic, PN character to this recently disgorged champagne. Nose of carrots, beetrots, raisins. A bit of damp basement as well, but this evidently comes from the aging. Leathery feel in the mouth, raisins as well. Very good and certainly with character, but lacking in elegance or precision. Though, has nice complexity.
I brought: NV Krug Champagne Brut Rosé. BH 94. Medium rosé hue. A cool, restrained and highly complex nose that is not especially fruity displays a moderate yeast character along with slightly exotic aromas of mandarin orange and Asian tea, all wrapped in an enveloping array of beguiling rose petal scents. There is very good richness with a relatively firm supporting mousse that adds to the impression of richness to the superbly complex and highly textured flavors, indeed one could aptly describe this as more wine that Champagne. As such this is indeed a sumptuous Krug rosé that is difficult to resist already though it should reward extended keeping if desired. As I noted in the original 750 ml review, that while I am not always wowed by the Krug Rosé, this latest incarnation in magnum is strikingly good.
Savory rice pudding with flowers and trout roe. Actually tasted great. Mix of creamy and crunchy texture. Jordan LOVES these “shadowy” bowls where you can barely see the food. Serious photographic challenge in a room with very little light, no flash, no tripod, no shutter noises. I had to use the single tiny spotlight over our table and some creative positioning to even get a glimpse of the dish. And you can tell from my minimalist descriptions that the verbal brief conveyance of the contents of the dishes does not return to my consciousness when looking at the photos. My mind thinks of this as the “creamy white one with yellow.”
Kale & crab — maybe. Served in a Lucio Fontana style container, this creamy mix reveals the truth that Jordan likes black and white — with the occasional splotch of color. There was kale (maybe) and crab definitely. It was actually quite good but had a dusty (dehydrated?) texture and the leaves tickled my throat.Wine wise, we progressed to Larry’s 1992 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Landonne. 94 points. Lovely soft tannins, beautifully structured and very well made in a so called “lesser” vintage. Short to medium length.
Overall, this was a great experience and very interesting. Quirky though. The building was amazing and the staff was very friendly. But there were a lot of rules. No this, no that. No noise (Jordan likes it quite so you can here his repetitive spa music very clearly). The no shutter/beep thing is a little harsh. The spoons scraping on stoneware plates was far louder than the shutter. Even the (difficult to locate) soap in the bathroom had the same scent.
In fact, everything was scented. Smells like spa. Sounds like spa. Looks like art.
For something so visual and aesthetic, it was very difficult to photograph — or even see you food. Everything was hidden. Hidden by darkness. Hidden by shadowy deep containers. Hidden by flowers or leaves. You can see that my descriptions were vague as they give you no menu to remember them by.
The tastes were actually very good. Central in these dishes is textural and temperature contrast and play. They do taste good, but they have a very interesting textural quality — much like complex salad. So many leaves and flowers in fact that you feel like a bunny rabbit. Fibre content was excellent. But seriously, they did mostly taste very good. Subtle flavors, but harmonious. If you are a narrow eater though the “I can’t tell what I’m eating” or “this doesn’t look or feel like it tastes” factor might put you off. Not me. I enjoyed that.
Jordan has moved on a bit from his Elfin dining period to an even more conceptual space where while still covered in flowers and leaves things look less naturalistic and more mannered.
Completely unique. An experience. They can’t possibly be making money but they CARE really deeply. Despite the odd modernism, it did not come off as cold at all because the passion was very clear. The chef was there as a presence both in person and in the food and they were all very friendly. A few less rules maybe though.