Restaurant: Vespertine [1, 2, 3]
Location: 3599 Hayden Ave, Culver City, CA 90232. (323) 320-4023
Date: September 11, 2020
Cuisine: Modern chef’s take on Japanese
Rating: Top flight takeout
Boy it’s been a long time since I made a food post. Sigh, quarantine life. I still haven’t been in a restaurant since March 11, 2020. Total record for my life as I’m sure that from my birth 4-5 weeks was the record (during summer camp in the early 80s!). Now, that being said I have been cooking up a storm but they aren’t elaborate enough to write up unless I start cooking posts. And we’ve had some good takeout but the pictures are usually ugly. But this particular dinner was a bit different and photoed fairly well.
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 generally been fond of Jordan’s unique culinary style. Since the pandemic started he’s been doing “out of the box” fancy takeout meals, and this one has a Japanese theme.
Above is the building where the restaurant is located, but I wasn’t there, Erick picked up the food and we ate elsewhere socially distanced.
The instructions and menu were irritatingly available only online and referenced via QR code — true this saves on paper — but it did require me to squint at them on my phone all night.
Japanese style hand towels!
And a nice chopstick box.
Paul brought: 2011 Domaine Matrot Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières. VM 94+. One of the brighter wines in the range, the 2011 Meursault Les Perrières bristles with pure energy and pedigree. White flowers, crushed rocks, white peaches and graphite all take shape in the glass. Elements of razor-sharp minerality support the vivid, crystalline finish. Today, the Perrières is pretty buttoned up, but it should open up with further time in bottle.
agavin: clean and nice
The menu for the night.
Along with reheating instructions. The problem here is that while these would work okay for a couple sharing the meal by themselves it doesn’t work so great with a couple of us social distanced (in far corners of the patio not physically interacting). There is no easy way to get it heated so we just dealt with the luke-warm temp.
From my cellar: 2011 Joseph Drouhin Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières. JG 94+. The 2011 Meursault “Perrières” from Maison Joseph Drouhin is also outstanding, offering up a deep and very classic bouquet of apple, passion fruit, iodine, hazelnuts, chalky minerality and vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied, crisp and very minerally in personality, with a rock solid core, excellent focus and balance and a very long, pure and laser-like finish. This is a stunning example of Perrières, and like the Laguiche Morgeot, it will only need a handful of years in the cellar to start drinking at its peak.
Setup for the tofu dish.
Fresh silken Tofu “Kingugoshi”. Fresh silken tofu made to order. Inspired by Tousuiro, served with a variety of Shojin Ryori accompaniments.
This was one of the less successful dishes. The tofu itself had a very nice texture but a slightly bitter taste, probably from the base used to set the tofu (sometimes ash or calcium sulfate). The vegetables were better, with that definite Japanese vegetable taste and some good textures.
It should be noted that the dish shown here, and all the dishes, were intended for two people to split. We gluttons got a “pair” each because even if we had wanted to share it would have been unsafe and complicated.
Vegetables to top the tofu with.
A salt that’s probably basically natural MSG.
Erick brought: 2007 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes. JG 95. The Sauzet parcel in Combettes were planted in 1950, and these old vines have produced a magical wine in this great vintage. In fact, premier cru Puligny simply does not get any better than this! The bouquet is a beautiful and classic mélange of lemon oil, peach apple, crystalline minerality of enormous complexity, spring flowers and a gentle framing of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and very pure and racy, with a rock solid core, brilliant focus and balance and a very, very, very long and racy finish. Pure liquid beauty.
agavin: sadly a bit advanced
Handmade Soba “Hourai.” Cold buckwheat noodles cooked and chilled to order. Served with traditional accompaniments inspired by Honke Owariya.
What’s most likely a dashi (and shiyo) broth.
This dish was much more successful than the tofu. Pretty excellent anyway. And it was cold, so the lack of heating didn’t matter. Basically it’s just good soba. Maybe not as good as at a top flight soba spot, but very impressive for a non-Japanese chef.
From my cellar: 1996 Alain Hudelot-Noellat Clos Vougeot. JG 93+. I am a very big fan of the Clos Vougeot at Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat, which I find consistently to be one of the best examples in the Côte d’Or. The 1996 is a lovely example of the vintage that hails from the plus and buffered camp, with a lovely core of pure fruit fully carrying the structure of the vintage. The bouquet is deep, complex and quite sappy in its blend of plums, black cherries, woodsmoke, a touch of venison, coffee, a great base of soil and a stylish framing of vanillin oak. On the palate the wine is deep, full-bodied and impressively pure on the attack, with a fine core, ripe tannins and a long, focused and tangy finish. This is certainly approachable today, but in terms of complexity, it is still a tad on the primary side and a few more years of bottle age should be rewarded with even greater aromatic and flavor complexity. A lovely 1996.
agavin: pretty excellent.
Black Cod “Hitsumabushi”. Black cod grilled over Japanese Charcoal, charred and lacquered with kabayaki glaze. Prepared in the style of Atsuta Houraiken Honten.
The toppings and some green tea to turn it into tea rice later.
More or less assembled. This is basically like BBQ eel, but black cod. Now he did a good job, but it would’ve been much better with the eel. It was pretty good with cod, but a touch blander (aka less fatty). The sauce wasn’t as sweet as usual either.
Erick brought: 1996 Camille Giroud Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux. The nose is slightly fuller than the 2000 but stylistically similar. The palate has a little extra dimension, but there is an amazing family resemblance to the 2000 – amazing considering the different vintages and elevages. I’d say they need a similar time to maturity too. Would be a great buy.
Kurobuta “Tonkatsu.” Breaded Japanese cutlet with accompaniments. Prepared in the style of butagumi.
Some miso soup, tomatoes, tonkatsu sauce, ginger, and cabbage.
This was a good dish, but the batter was excellent, but it suffered from being too “cold” (reheating was hard). Additionally I wasn’t sure what to do with the cabbage as it normal tonkatsu places I always eat it with a vinegary dressing which wasn’t here. Actually love the stuff with the dressing.
Sashimi. Inspired by the preparations of Takayoshi Yamaguchi. This was very solid sashimi. Nothing complicated but very good.
Matcha Cream Puff. Crispy choux pastry filled with matcha cream. Inspired by the “yatsuhashi” cream puffs of Kiyomizu Kyoami. Very nice cream puffs. There was a very strong green tea note to the cream which was bracing but nice.
Fruit Sando. Japanese milk bread filled with whipped cream and fresh fruits. Inspired by the beautiful fruit sandos of Coffee Nikki. These are VERY Japanese, and I’ve had them and similar many times in Japan, but I can’t say that I love them. Like white bread with whipped cream and fruit. haha.
Taiyaki. A warm crispy waffle, shaped like a fish, filled with sweet vanilla custard. Inspired by the epic “Magikarp fluffy custard taiyaki”.
Actually kind excellent. Would have been better warm and fresh from the oven, but still good.
Our wine lineup.
Overall, we had a great evening. Great company, great wines, and great takeout.
Now in absolute terms the meal wasn’t totally epic by my standards, but it was one of the best “fancy takeouts” I’ve ever had. They really do a good job packaging it and things survived the transit and the considerable length of our leisurely evening quite well. Yeah, it would have been better there, but considering, it was about as good as you get. Trying to imagine how it would have been on site, and therefore forgiving temperature issues and the takeout plating (which is awesome for takeout plating) I’d say that some dishes would even there have some of the same issues, like the cod not being as “rich” as a great piece of Japanese BBQ eel. But it would have been even better. Still this was an incredible job for a non-Japanese chef stepping out of his comfort zone. Strongest savory dish was the soba which was excellent.
I do have a minor beef with the enforced “2 person” sizing as it only really works for close couples. These things as plated don’t split well. Given that we are huge eaters (at least Erick and I) it was okay to have 2 full meals each, but that’s not cheap.