When chef Jordan Kahn’s first restaurant Red Medicine was A Thing, I was lucky to have a close friend who was a chef there. In an effort to expand my toddler-esque palate, chef Ari Kolender (now of Hayden fame) and I had a special arrangement…
He’d send out food, instructing the servers to rebel against their training and not tell me anything about the dish. Then I’d have to at least try EVERYTHING that came out.
Because I never knew what I was actually putting in my mouth, I would come up with my own names for Red Medicine’s menu items. I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to find out that the “Awesome BBQ Balls” were actually beef cheek. (I still think “Awesome BBQ Balls” sounds more appetizing.) But my favorite special name for one of Red Medicine’s menu items was the “Science Salad”…
I’d sit at a table next to the open kitchen and watch as Jordan would construct his worlds of salad — using both his tongs and architectural skills. Then, once the salad was perfectly constructed and dropped at our table, I’d mix all the ingredients together, and it magically turned into both the salad AND the dressing. It was a culinary science experiment that delighted me with its beauty, creativity, and taste. Basically the Science Salad blew my mind.
After leaving Vespertine that night, I realized what Jordan has done…
He created Science Salad in restaurant form!
It’s not just the interesting food paired with the surprisingly un-pretentious service. It’s not just the fun of exploring various floors of a building while you have dinner. (Much to my delight it’s called “The Waffle Building!”) Or the ambient music from This Will Destroy You that drones on through your four-hour meal. Or the fact that the bathroom has dry soap flakes (which I haven’t seen since grade school!). Or the artisan-crafted food vessels that were so cool, but sometimes an embarrassing challenging to interact with. Or that you’ll discover that Bougainvillea flowers are edible, and burnt onions make for great cookies. Or being surprised when Jordan himself greats you as well as drops off some dishes for you. Or the fact that you’ll get to bring the experience home with you in the form of a smell (wildflowers, trees, and rotting wood? Maybe it’s more the scent of their infused waters?).
It’s ALL of those things that, once their mixed together, magically makes your dinner at Vespertine one of the coolest culinary experiences you’ll ever have in your life.
Would I recommend you go to Vespertine for the food?
Not exactly. Especially if it means that it would put you into financial hardship. Only a few dishes out of the 22 courses made me do my happy food dance in my seat. (I’m looking at you, mango slice monolith, avocado strawberry butter cream and flowers, and the raspberry spiky things in sorrel yogurt.) In fact, if you want to have a meal where every dish was as gorgeous as it’s tasty, you can easily go to Destroyer — Jordan’s much more accessible restaurant (both financially and conceptually).
Or, as my co-diner explained when asked “So, how was it?”:
As an experience it was outstanding. Ambitious and not safe. I can see why everyone labels it as pretentious, but interestingly we had an opposite experience where all the interactions were lovely — down to earth and pitch perfect. Food-wise I’ve had more consistent, and more tasty overall menus…
If this kind of experience is your jam I would say it’s a must-try.
So if you can scrounge up the cash and have a serious desire to immerse yourself in a culinary art installation (science restaurant!) — or you just have to try the shocking new #1 on Jonathan Gold’s list — then there’ll be a heated concrete bench and a champagne glass of birch water waiting for you outside of the Waffle Building.
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