After naming upstart alter-world dining phenomenon Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles last week, Jonathan Gold and the entire LA Times staff seem to be doing a bit of soul-searching. Or, rather, answer-seeking, as both Gold and Times food editor Amy Scattergood spent some ink questioning their own decision to anoint the restaurant, Vespertine’s greater place in the Los Angeles dining pantheon, and just what makes Jordan Kahn’s food so peculiar in the first place.
First up is Scattergood, who describes the waffle-edged Culver City restaurant as “silly ambitious.” That’s no joke, considering the amount of money and attention to detail that’s gone into the restaurant itself — though not everyone has been left smiling at the end. Scattergood digs into Kahn’s motivations for opening Vespertine, from his time spent as a teenager staging at The French Laundry to his seminal years at Alinea and, later, Red Medicine, and his background on the pastry side of the kitchen. It’s a pretty engrossing window into the presence of mind it takes to craft Vespertine, particularly when it doesn’t adhere to (almost) and notion of traditional restaurant expectation. She writes:
Fixating on the culinary mechanics of the seen and the invisible is something of a through line for the chef, the culmination of a series of obsessions. And this can seem either charming or maddening, ambitious or pretentious, too-serious or kind of silly — a nightly art installation or dinner. Expectations are funny things.
For his part, Gold took up the task of quelling any questions regarding his decision to make Vespertine the #1 restaurant in Los Angeles in a separate loose question and answer post. He says that Vespertine “is in its way perfect,” but admits that the restaurant could well fail people — a young Valley couple, for example — who show up expecting a contemporary fine dining space meant for joyous special occasions. He admits to liking the restaurant and his experience there, though he’s quick to add that having a good time (or his own opinion on the matter) is largely beside the point.
As for whether or not a restaurant just three months old deserves to be considered the single best restaurant in town? Gold says Vespertine is essentially perfect now in the execution of Kahn’s vision, and that the restaurant will always be sort of moving and morphing. There is no final form for Vespertine, nor has there ever been a true starting point for the ideas and concepts the place puts forward. In that way, as Kahn himself will say, Vespertine has always — and will always — simply be.