The Vespertine experience: A peek into LA’s most mysterious restaurant

Outside Vespertine. Photos by Damon Seeley — friend and fellow dinner-attender.

When chef Jordan Kahn’s restaurant Red Medicine was A Thing, I was lucky to have a very close friend who was one of his chefs. In an effort to expand my toddler-esque palate, Ari Kolender (now of Hayden fame) would invite me to visit Red Medicine with a special arrangement: He would send out food for me to eat, instructing the servers to rebel against their training and not tell me anything about the dish, and I’d have to at least try EVERYTHING. In trade for my blind trust, he promised to never serve me anything with pork — the one thing I refuse to eat.

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, you’d mix all the ingredients together, 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 a Science Salad in restaurant form!

In order to keep the mystery in tact, we’ve blurred some of the photos we sneakily took. I couldn’t help it!!!!

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 around you 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? Or is it 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).

Vespertine’s “spikey things” dish.

Or, as my friend and co-diner Damon put it when he was 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.

Photo by Damon Seeley
Megan Finley Horowitz

I’m a part-time writer, editor, and full-time eater from Los Angeles. I live with my husband/travel partner and our senior chihuahua and grumpy-ass cat.


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