Location: 3599 Hayden Ave, Culver City, CA 90232. (323) 320-4023
Date: September 17, 2019
Cuisine: Modern Nordic Art Food? Russian Haut Cuisine?
Rating: White Rabbit dishes were great, Vespertine ones weird
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. Tonight’s dinner is a combo dinner with Jordan hosting Vladimir Mukhin the chef from Russia’s most renowned restaurant: White Rabbit.
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 waited in at the beginning of the meal, and at the end for our final course (but more on that later).
The open roof deck (which feels like inside) is a sort of lounge floor where the meal began.
In the lounge, the tree was prepopulated with crispy dried somethings.
Maybe pineapple crisps.
And dark hand towels.
A welcome cocktail of hibiscus and stuff.
Mysterious treats called coco lardo. I’m not sure if it was lardo, or “like” lardo. It did taste coconuty. I think those things inside were Linden buds.
Sunflower with caviar and pine-nuts. The pine-nuts are under the caviar. This was delicious — because it was good caviar.
Mackerel, Celery, Malt, I think. This was bright flavored but not brightly lit (except when I took this photo with the cel phone light).
I do have to say that tonight, probably because Chef Vladimir Mukhin was “in charge” of the floor, they were lax on the “rules” and didn’t give us trouble about tripods or using the cel phone as a light. I didn’t go all the way to using the big flash, but last time we were here when they enforced “no shutter sound”, “no flash”, “no light” and “no tripod” it was damn hard to take any half decent photos at all. Much better this time.
The wine pairing was mandatory. This sucks as I don’t love wine pairings and this was typical. A bunch of cheap, off the beaten path wines that are more weird than good.
2007 Dr Hermann, Erdener Treppchen “6” Kabinett Riesling. This was probably the wine I liked best of the pairings. It’s not expensive though, maybe $20.
Russian Black Salt. To prepare a black salt you mix in equal proportions rye flour and white salt of coarser or fine grinding. The mixture is wrapped in a linen cloth and scorched in a Russian wood burning stove for 8 hours, using exclusively dry birch wood.
Prawn, aged plum, bone marrow. The black salt was sprinkled on top. These were nice, sweet and tangy.
Hoto, Yamadanishiki Daiginjo, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.
Markovnik and Scallops.
You break through the crunchy top for the delicious “meat” underneath.
2018 Onward Wines, Malvasia Petillant Natural, Suisun Valley.
Courgette, char roe, chicken fat, spruce.
The was very good. Bit of a pickled herring vibe.
Black bread. You could use it to sop up the delicious sauce.
2011, Brokenwood, Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia.
Salted milk mushrooms, green tomato, herbs. This dish was by Jordan Kahn and was his only fully successful dish of the night. Salty, light, and crunchy it was an excellent vegetable dish.
2011 Chateau Carbonnieux, Bordeaux.
Baked Cabbage and Caviar. This symbolizes Russia, in this case “the poor” of Russia in that boiled (or baked) cabbage is one of the main staple foods.
But with champagne butter sauce it then represents the “rich” of Russia (aka the Caviar and Champagne). It was actually a stupendous dish. The cabbage had great texture and in the rich buttery champagne/caviar sauce was scrumptious.
I can’t actually read the label.
Experimental Pumpkin, Guava, Madrone Bark. Another Jordan Kahn dish. I didn’t like it at all. I don’t love pumpkin and this was vaguely sweet, cloying, and had that soft obnoxious pumpkin texture. I didn’t even finish it
2017 Seabold Cellars, “Olson” Chardonnay, Monterey, California.
Black cod, radish, tangerine. Lovely fish dish.
2014 Ojai, “White Hawk Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Barbara Country.
Poor man’s Hermitage.
Fibers, Bracken Fern, Sacred Pepper, Aromatic Carnanel. Another Jordan Dish — like old rope — the beef version. Very over cooked beef stew/rope? Not so great.
Green Salad. This was the only failing Vladimir dish and I have a feeling it was Jordan making him do it. Supposed to be a “dessert” it was a weird sweet salad. Kind of gross, salad with a sweet flavor.
2003 Quinta do Crasto, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal.
In a mug.
Black Cap Berry, Meadowsweet. A Jordan dessert. Terrible. Just cloying with a weird root vegetable tone — not what you want in a dessert.
The wine lineup.
The attractive but perhaps impractical bar area on the ground floor was used for the penultimate course.
Birch Inner Barc, condensed milk. Not bad. Weird though and it had an augmented reality app that was supposed to do something. We couldn’t get it loaded though.
The post dinner “dessert” spread back out in the garden.
Caramelized Sunchoke Mushroom. These were tasty, pretty much like a “bearclaw” or “apple fritter.”
Sorrel Curd, Wintergreen. It was dipped in this “cream.” Under the red was a mild whipped cream like substance.
Zoom on the berries.
A weird book.
Sea Buckthorn Pearls.
It’s possible this was the Sorrel Curd, Wintergreen – hard to know with these things.
Cups for the tea.
Douglas Fir Tea — Vespertine loves pine and resin notes.
Two scents, one designed by each chef — lol — you get to take these home.
Overall, this was a great experience and very interesting. Quirky though. The building was amazing and the staff was very friendly. And fortunately Jordan’s oodle of rules was much more lax tonight — although there were still some.
Everything was still scented like douglas fir or something. 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 Vladimir dishes tonight were fabulous. All were great except for the sweet “salad.” The Jordan dishes were almost a complete bomb — only the “mushrooms” was good. The rest all had this cloying, sweet, root vegetable thing going that I didn’t like at all.
The meal was expensive though — yet ingredients were fairly plebeian for the most pair (excepting the caviar). The mandatory wine pairings sucked. Not worth the money and most of the wines weren’t that great. It’s some fairly hard food to pair — although the Vlad dishes easier than the Jordan ones. Those are almost impossible to pair.
So in conclusion, I’d love to try White Rabbit in Moscow, but the whole “chef team up meal” idea doesn’t seem to totally work. It should have just been White Rabbit food here in the Vespertine space.