Let us address the spaceship in the docking port here — not everybody is going to be ecstatic that we are naming Vespertine the best restaurant in Los Angeles. The entire experience at Vespertine, from the lack of right angles in the dining room, to the throbbing four-note soundtrack, to the overwhelming abstraction of the food, to the stunning cost of dinner, is going to drive many of you insane. Yet looked at as an artwork, where the architect Eric Owen Moss, the ceramicist Ryota Aoki and the musicians in the post-rock band This Will Destroy You are as vital to the experience as the chef, Vespertine is in its way perfect.
Jordan Kahn really doesn’t want you to know what you’re eating; the idea is to keep you off guard, whether he has stuck a gel of beets and Concord grapes to the bottom of a plate like a wad of gum, wrapped mango in sunflower blossoms and wedged it into a crack in a monolith, or disguised a pounded flatfish fillet as the empty bottom of a bowl. With the possible exception of a dish of roast turkey wrapped in pickled rhubarb, there may be nothing you immediately recognize as food. When you are presented a course consisting of chickpea-size baby turnips, chewy rice dumplings and powder-blackened balls of ripe banana, all the same size, the relationship among them is for you to decide. Most great cooking is about deliciousness. Kahn’s is about the intersection of perception and space.