This week, after a month-long hiatus, Jonathan Gold returns to review Vespertine, Jordan Kahn’s conceptual, experiential restaurant in Culver City’s Hayden Tract, which opened in early July. The review is very long, one of Gold’s longest in recent memory, and by the end of it, one’s not really sure if he liked it or not. But the piece reads like a classic, erudite take from The Goldster, who takes the time to place everything into context and painstakingly describe the food.
An inverted pottery arch holds a black hoop inside which another hoop fashioned of toasted kelp is glued with a salty yuzu cream that has the smack of party onion soup dip. A slab of cured mango, laminated with sunflower petals, fits into what looks like the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Jonathan Gold takes a moment to describe the truly unique setting (and the weird music):
The sun is setting. You can see the mountains behind Malibu, the Hollywood Hills, and the lights of downtown. A Metro train skitters across the skyline like something from the set of the Spike Jonze movie “Her.” It is time to go down into the dining room. The minimalist soundtrack, which all sounds like the part where the icebergs float by in a National Geographic film, has seared itself into your brain.
There isn’t much sense that Gold particularly enjoys eating the dishes, and sometimes he’s more overtly dismissive:
Once there are baby turnips the size of chickpeas, served with onion-powder blackened balls of banana, chewy rice dumplings and tiny flowers that looked as if they had escaped from a Watteau painting. The more you eat of the turnips, the more vinegary the dish becomes, until by the end you are practically coughing at the fumes.
By the end, he sums up the experience with this repartee:
Almost all good Los Angeles restaurants have a sense of place and time, fashioned from local produce, a sense of season and a nod to the diversity of the area. At Vespertine, you may as well be on Jupiter
Does Gold like Vespertine? Does he respect it? Does he abhor it? Does he think it’s actually worth the $1,000 price tag for two? It’s unclear, but he does say this, “By the end of the meal, you’re going to be pretty exhausted.”