The SOMM Journal

August / September 2018

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Page 26 of 124

26 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2018 { restaurant retrospect } WHICHEVER GALAXY YOU'RE from, the universal consensus seems to be that Culver City newcomer Vespertine—which topped the late Jonathan Gold's "101 Best Restaurants in L.A." list last year—ranks among the most otherworldly dining experiences in existence. A small but vocal group of dissenters feel differently, how - ever, with some claiming it lacks soul and humanity with an atmosphere that skews toward science fiction. Even Gold stressed that Vespertine is not for everyone, and while I'm not a food critic, I'm here to respectfully and adamantly disagree. When my wife and I dined there earlier this year armed with certain expecta - tions after reading a slew of reviews, two things were clear. The first was that the "zombie-" or "alien-like" servers, as some critics have called them, were very much alive. And the second—perhaps where I'm most qualified to present an opinion—was that Vespertine offers one of the best pairing menus in the Los Angeles area. Yes, our strikingly beautiful server was wearing green, shimmering lipstick, and she and every other Vespertinian seemed to suddenly materialize as they presented food to the guests. If they were aliens, though, they were far more gracious than most earthlings: Every soft-spoken description came with a warm smile and sincere delivery. I even found myself taking the extended hand of a stranger a few times as we changed locales over the course of the evening. Another powerfully personal connection came from Chef Jordan Kahn himself. After greeting us with a gentle, welcoming handshake, he walked us through the impetus for his concept to help us understand what to expect from the expe - rience. He also handwrote a birthday card to my wife, and it's worth noting I didn't have to hire a xenologist to translate the thoughtful message. As awestruck as I was by the hospitality and the artful, exquisite cuisine, the pairings by Wine Director Terence Leavey completely stunned me. I strongly believe that in order to truly honor the connection between food and drink, you cannot rely on wine alone. Leavey adhered to this conviction while catering to the visual element as well: a difficult task he and his colleagues managed to achieve with flying colors. With a new drink arriving with each of the many courses, the beverage lineup included a Junmai Ginjo sake, sparkling redwood juice, a Belgian pale ale beer, and some truly incredible wine selections. The color similarity between the spot prawn dish and fermented hibiscus juice was striking, with the latter's floral tang complementing the charred, sweet nutty flavor of the prawn. My personal favorite pairing, a 1998 Rouge Bandol served with turbot, black trumpets, and strawberries, was likely the most I've ever seen a red wine respect the gentle flavors of a mild, white fish. Their shared red-berry and aged-mushroom qualities sealed the union. Accused too quickly of lacking soul, the restaurant managed to connect with mine on multiple levels as we dined and drank our way through the multi-storied venue. Maybe the naysayers should have opened their third eye a bit more. Ves - pertine isn't a spaceship: It's L.A.'s culinary cathedral. MAKING CONNECTIONS VIA THE VESPERTINE DINING EXPERIENCE story and photo by Jessie Birschbach A Higher Culinary Consciousness Spot prawn, roe, and claytonia paired with fermented hibiscus juice at Vespertine in Culver City, CA. "As awestruck as I was by the hospitality and the artful, exquisite cuisine, the pairings by Wine Director Terence Leavey completely stunned me."

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