Los Angeles is no stranger to audacious, shock your grandma culture. Home to Hollywood where movie magic is the scene, the Michelin Guide has returned to The City of Angels after nearly a decade of being absent.
We were excited to see the newly minted starred restaurants announced on June 3rd, 2019. It was timely for us as we had planned a Malibu visit later on that month. Out of the newly 25 starred restaurants, none received 3 stars, but 6 were awarded 2 stars.
We decided to make reservations at Vespertine Restaurant in Culver City, L.A. They are one of the 6 that received 2 stars. We heard Chef Kahn was a food architect inspired to disrupt the dining scene in outrageous ways. So we thought, “this sounds like fun!”
Chef Kahn’s approach to food is a morphing sphere. “We are craving authenticity. I think that people always link food and authenticity with being culturally specific, is this an authentic Italian dish? What I’m looking at is the authenticity of the self, of the person who is putting this thing together. Hopefully, I think one of the reasons why we are successful with our guests is because when they leave, they have this sense of knowing us.” – Chef Kahn
On June 25th’19 we arrived to an unusual building that is known to be “L.A.’s Spaceship.” They take you through multiple experiences and you never just stay in one place. In this post, dine with us as we go through:
- The Garden
- The Lounge
- The Formal Dining Room
- The Dislikes
- The Highlights
- After Dinner Tea
- How to make a reservation
It didn’t look like a spaceship to us. however, more of a Wizard’s Tower maybe? It’s definitely some sort of Sci-Fi architecture. Technically, it’s called “The Waffle” from the creators that built it.
We were a few minutes early and they sat us in the garden. While we waited, they burned some frankincense to start the mood. The Garden is very beautiful and well kempt.
The garden layout is clever as it is designed to provide some privacy for each station.
The stone seats are heated which is nice for those chilly Cali coast nights. We admired the bamboo garden and its design for about 15 minutes before they were ready to seat us.
We were relieved that we did not have to climb all those stairs, rather to an elevator. Our first stop was to the kitchen where the Chef Jordan Kahn warmly greeted us. This was unique in itself as Michelin chefs rarely greet nor meet their guests.
Our second stop was to the lounge area. We really liked this place. It was super modern with chic furniture to just chill. Here, they began the dining experience with some pre-game treats.
The tasting starters included some exotic teas and pretty zero proof drinks, followed by hanging kelp, savory cookie, and milk bread. The passion flower drink was so refreshing and they pick the flowers fresh from their gardens.
The lounge is where the guest is first introduced to the custom made molds that the Chef will use throughout the dinner experience. It comes closed and then you open it to see the floral treat inside. It’s called “Savory Cookie with Black Currant,” and you eat it like a taco.
The Dining Room
We would have loved to stay in the lounge but after our savory delights, we were moved to the formal dining area. This is where you will find the more peculiar meets madness Chef creations.
The formal dining area has a much different vibe than the lounge. It’s less dark with bright lighting and the tables are all see through glass rather than wood. It kinda felt like sitting in a science lab attraction.
Honestly, until this day we’re not quite sure of what we ate. It’s even more difficult to describe. Aesthetically, it’s like you’re eating architecture. There’s so much creativity in design itself. Taste wise, the flavors are like eating in an alchemist’s kitchen.
The Salicornia Pork Fat Egg Yolk dish was presented in yet another customized mold. It looks rather futuristic and the taste reminded me of something a fairy or gnome would eat in a forest.
Yes, the food provokes weird thoughts.
Not really sure all of the textures and flavors worked well together, but it is certain the passion to break boundaries was present.
What we didn’t like…
We did NOT enjoy everything. It’s pretty difficult to mess up lobster in my opinion, but the taste of the Lobster Quince Red Orach was strange in texture and seasoning.
It was presented in a leaf that became mushy in your hand which did not help balance the texture of the chewy lobster. The seasoning tasted unusual and of an Asian influence, which I generally enjoy. This however, was much more exotic and I couldn’t get over the textures.
I also couldn’t get over the Aged Squab Juniper Black Trumpet Dish presentation. Although the flavor was really good, I didn’t care for the presentation of the bird feet lollipops. It was a little depressing.
They first presented the whole bird at the table.
Then they carve it for you to be presented 2 ways. The first is the Squab Lollipops with broth which tasted good but I don’t like how it looks.
The second way is the sliced breast with the Black Trumpets. Now we did like the Squab this way.
The desserts were a little disappointing. I like vegetables, but not really for desserts. When I think of ending a meal, it’s usually not with peas and carrots. The plating was fun and thought provoking, I just wish it was as delicious.
Peas were not needed in this Snap Peas Hardy Kiwi Lemongrass dessert. The custard and kiwi gelatanous top was great as is without the distraction of the peas.
The Black Raspberry Meadowsweet Black Carrot dessert was amusing to look at, but I don’t think the ingredients meshed well together. This does look like a Star Ship Enterprise type of dish.
What we liked….
A few dishes may have been a miss for us, but there were some that we enjoyed! In conjunction of liking everything during the lounge service, there were a few things that also stood out during dinner service.
The Kinmedai Wild Strawberry Bougainvillea is a fish dish that was pretty in pink underneath the bright leaves. I’ve never had this type of fish before, otherwise known as the “golden eye snapper.” The textures and sauce were exquisite in this dish.
The Scallop Bone Marrow Salted Plum dish was also excellent. Had no idea how to eat it when it was first presented, but it’s much easier than it looks. It’s delicious!
We were iffy about this particular dish. The Lamb Fat Overripe Plantain Magnolia was tasty but very rich. It was an over indulgence that maybe only half a portion would have done.
To go with our meal, we opted for the zero proof drink flights to pair with our tasting menu. There was a house made drink hand crafted for us about every other dish.
The drinks are made from teas, fruits, herbs, and spices. We enjoyed the drinks immensely with our tasting menu and thought they paired nicely with each dish.
After Dinner Tea in the Garden
As an option, you can upgrade your dinner experience back in the Garden. We thoroughly enjoyed the end of our experience with fine teas, fresh fruits, and crafted accomplishments.
The tea service included many delights to tickle your senses. The warm tea was calming and helped to aid in digestion. We liked how there were a lot of fresh fruits both exotic and familiar.
Inside of the tire looking molds is the Almond Cucumber Redwood. It was an icy treat and was unusually good. The fruits included:
- Caramelized Sunchoke Candy Cap,
- Biodynamic Mulberries
- Organic Cherries
Right before they escorted us to the Garden for the evening tea service, they gave us a vile of the frankenscense to take home. He is big into scent memory and wants each guest to remember their experience when they smell this.
Do we think this experience was absurd or avant-garde?
I would say both. Some will find it dreary, dark, and lifeless. Others will see it as exciting, audacious, and spiritual. We found it a confusing combination. Intentional by the Chef, I’m sure.
What I loved about it is how visceral the food could be. I recall both loving some of the dishes and hating others. In several cases, I had mixed emotions about a dish and still do today.
As many Michelin Restaurants that we have been to, this one by far pushes boundaries on conventional thinking about food. It’s not dressed up in pretty condiments and flowers. Chef Kahn actually morphs food into thought provoking shapes, forms, and flavors that we’ve never experienced before. Couple that with striking architecture, the restaurant is avant-garde to say the least.
Although we did not love every dish, we appreciated the Chef’s journey and vision to his eccentric approach to food. Some of the flavors and textures were odd or absurd even, but you can see and taste the ambition in every dish.
How to Make a Reservation
Vespertine Restaurant is located in Culver City, a greater part of Los Angeles, CA. Guests make reservations online through Tock and buy pre-paid tickets similar to a broadway show or concert. Plan for the meal to last at least 2.5 hours and 3 hours if you opt for the after-dinner tea.
Vespertine only offers their tasting experience which is a pre-set menu like most Michelin restaurants. You can note any allergies, but the menu will be Chef’s choice.
Here is the menu from our dining experience in the order they were received. We were served the first 3 items in the lounge, the next 10 dishes in the formal dining room, and the remaining 6 optional treats in the garden with our tea service.
The tasting menu is $260 pp plus tax and an additional 20% Service Charge, a common practice among Michelin pre-paid restaurants.
We opted for the optional Non-Alcoholic beverage package to pair with our dinner courses.
This was the optional zero-proof beverage package we purchased at $85 pp plus tax and service charge. They also have 2 alcoholic packages available. The full alcohol pairing is $200 pp and the lighter pairing is $125 pp plus tax and service charge.
We also opted for the tea service in the Garden after dinner.
You can add this option when purchasing your pe-paid tickets for an additional $30 pp plus tax and service charge.
With the tasting menu and added options, we pre-paid a total of $965 (tax and service charge included) for the full experience. Fortunately, we don’t drink alcohol so we always save a ton that way, but we sure love to eat!
Michelin dining is pretty pricey because it’s not just about the food, but the experience and journey the Chef creates for each one of their guests. The ingredients are the finest and sourced from rare parts of the world. Sometimes, the Chefs will grow the ingredients themselves.
A good rule of thumb to remember is the higher the Michelin Star rating, the higher the price per person. Here are the approximate prices you can expect from each rated Michelin Star.
Vespertine is a 2 Star Michelin Restaurant.
- 1 Star: $100-$200 pp
- 2 Star: $200-$300 pp
- 3 Star: $300+ pp
We have eaten at over 50 Michelin Restaurants from around the world. If you have questions on how to dine at these exclusive restaurants and what to expect, check out my post written from experience: