This year’s birthday dinner at Vespertine stirred up quite the reaction whenever I mentioned it. But probably my favorite response was watching my husband’s face as I read the official press materials, describing it as “a place of shadows and whispers.” Or my personal favorite line, “from a time that is yet to be.”
Kevin looked confused. But I continued — explaining it would be a 20+ course meal, consisting mostly of unidentifiable food, served on dinnerware that looked more at home on the Starship Enterprise than say, in Culver City. Plus, the entire wait staff wore frocks that resembled the wardrobe from The Handmaid’s Tale.
Like a good husband, Kevin agreed to go without too much resistance. And booked the reservation — paying a required upfront cost of $250 per person (not including drinks). Clearly, this isn’t a cheap date. But I didn’t view this as a typical dinner out. It’s more of a performance piece. To further stir the pot, I showed Kevin the restaurant’s official trailer — featuring a frail-looking woman, wandering through a post-apocalyptic world.
At this point, Kevin had a lot of questions. I honestly couldn’t keep up as he asked — “What is she doing?” “Why is she wearing a robe and walking so slowly?” “Has this girl ever eaten?” And, last but not least, “Is this going to be scary?” Honestly, I didn’t know! Oops, so much for my deep advanced research.
But what I did know is that Chef Jordan Kahn has quite an impressive resume — working at some of the country’s most notable restaurants including Chicago’s Michelin-starred Alinea and Thomas Keller’s Per Se (at 17-years-old, the youngest-ever to work in Keller’s kitchen). Plus, the great food critic Jonathan Gold ranked Vespertine as his no. 1 pick on his very last “101 Best Restaurants” list in Los Angeles.
So what is Vespertine really like? Follow us on our journey — that was at times mysterious but truly unique. And no, it isn’t scary at all. In fact, we both found it incredibly calming and oddly meditative. Yes, we know — that’s such a LA way of describing it. But exactly how it felt to us.
ARRIVAL: READY FOR OUR VESPERTINE TAKE OFF
The experience begins when you drive in — and witness the first of many frock-wearing staff at the complimentary valet. Kevin insisted on bringing his side bag (aka his man purse). I strongly recommend leaving all bags behind since the dinner is a “movable feast” — meaning, you’ll go from one space to the next. Also, I can’t tell you how many times he was asked if he wanted to check his bag! I think it was more of a security blanket — after all, we both had no idea what to expect. To kick it all off, we accepted their offer for a glass of Blanc de Blancs champagne in the garden. It isn’t included in the cost, but was our favorite drink of the night. And incredibly relaxing to sip in the gardens pumped with smoking incense.
ENTRY: MOVING INSIDE THE SPACESHIP
First thing first, the building that houses Vespertine is spectacular. Architect Eric Owen Moss designed several buildings on this stretch of Culver City. But none can compare to this building known as “The Waffle,” a wavy glass and steel structure that reminds me of Salvador Dali’s Melting Watch painting.
The building has also been described as a spaceship. The chef even went as far as telling GQ Magazine that the building is “a machine artifact from an extraterrestrial planet” and that it was “left here a billion years ago by a species that were moon worshippers,” and that the building “has its own gravity.” Whatever the case — we thought it was pretty cool!
Next, we found ourselves at the top of the spaceship (ergh, restaurant?) and sat down on the comfy lounge seats. We had a 7:15 PM reservation and the timing was perfect to watch the sunset through the glass walls and open-air roof. Little did we realize, part of our meal was already on the table. What looked like a tree branch centerpiece was the first dish!
The chef explained the seaweed was from Santa Barbara and could be dipped into the bowl of accompanying hummus with green leaves. Think of it as a fancier version of ‘chips and dip.’
We weren’t even 2 bites into the dip, when more staff surrounded us and served Douglas Fir tea along with an ‘aromatized’ wine with a big flower on top. I made sure to snap plenty of photos of the flower drink — several of my coworkers were most excited about this drink after investigating the restaurant on Instagram.
Several more dishes arrived, but ranking as the most unique for the night had to be the flower-covered cookie inside a dark dish that resembled a volcano.
Kevin couldn’t contain his excitement (they had him at the word, ‘cookie’). But how do you eat it? Before I could respond, the cookie fell from the vessel and smashed on the floor.
Kevin called upon the “5 second rule” and picked it up and ate it. Plus, he figured as fancy as a place as Vespertine, how dirty could the floors really be? Meanwhile, I pretended not to know him and sipped my flower drink!
This would mark the first of MANY flowers we’d eat tonight. The sun began to set and Kevin amused himself by playing with the light fixtures that resembled light sabers. He clearly was enjoying my birthday dinner as much as I was!
THE MAIN DINING ROOM: THE MAJOR FEAST
We entered the main dining room where we came across other diners. That night, they only had 20 total guests. But we learned that 38 people is the most they like to book in one night. Otherwise, it gets pretty hectic.
This is where we met the knowledgeable sommelier and ordered a full wine pairing (that included 12 drinks!) and a juice pairing. That way, we could sample everything.
Like most items at Vespertine, the water even had a lengthy backstory. Turns out, the chef traveled to Iceland and loved the water so much he re-created its taste. We’ve been to Iceland, and have to agree. The water is pretty darn tasty!
The napkins were another fun feature — replaced every time you left the table and wrapped up inside a box. With all this liquid, it felt like we were in the bathroom every 10 minutes. We easily blew through 20 napkins! I’m sure they loved us.
Each of the dishes were unique — but honestly, our favorite part was getting the backstory on each entree and trying to figure out how to eat it. Plus, when you have 20+ dishes, it’s tough to narrow it down. We pretty much enjoyed all of them. But we appreciated the spectacle of it the most — like the choreographed routine of the wait staff when delivering a dish. It was like a night out at the ballet!
We were having way too much fun. And loved chatting with the staff who could describe every aspect of the dish, right down to how it was cultivated/rubbed/picked. Soon we realized we were pretty much the last people inside. Where did the time go?
But it wasn’t over yet — they gave us both a vile of fragrance for whenever we wanted to transport ourselves back. Then, escorted us into the garden where we’d wrap up the night.
THAT’S A WRAP: INSIDE THE GARDEN
In total, we spent over 5.5 hours at Vespertine. As I joked with Kevin, luckily I make such fascinating dinner company. Otherwise, imagine how painful it would have been!
Before heading out, they served 3 more aperitifs, hot tea and sliced fruit. And just when I thought I couldn’t drink or eat anything else, the last frock-wearing waiter for the evening asked if we’d like to “revisit” anything else. We kindly passed. After all, we’ve returned to Earth — and felt about 10 pounds heavier. Maybe they were right after all — that Vespertine has no gravity inside. Now only if they could make that magic happen when I weigh myself next at the gym!