Vespertine — Los Angeles (11/2019)


When Vespertine first opened, I was very interested in trying to dine there.  But, as I don’t get to Los Angeles that often, I put off making any arrangements for reservations.  As time went on, I had heard and read mixed things about the experience.  Recently, I decided to plan a trip to Southern California and found it easy enough to include a night in LA. This gave me the chance to try them out. They book through Tock with pre-paid reservations, and like many restaurants, do not make provisions for booking solo diners.  I’ve learned to ask, and I discovered that they were open to solo diners.  So, I selected a date and time and they sent me a link so that I could make the required pre-payment.  Ultimately, a friend decided to join me, so it was easy to add him to the reservation.

The restaurant occupies an entire 4-story building in an “artsy” area of Culver City.  As I knew that the experience including dining in various locations, including the roof, I selected an early-evening seating.  I hoped for a nice sunset view from the roof of what is sometimes called “The Waffle Building.”  When Michelin recently re-rated Los Angeles restaurants in their initial state-wide guide, they gave Vespertine two stars.

Upon arrival, we checked in with a staff person waiting outside in the parking lot/courtyard garden area.  We were checked in and shown to some stone-benches in a garden organized into several seating areas.  We were offered sparkling birch juice while we waited (we were early). 

We were taken inside through the first floor area (shown above) and directed into the elevetor destined for the 3rd floor.  We exited and were promptly greeted by the chef standing in front of the kitchen area.  He told us a little bit about the restaurant and the dining experience they attempt to create.  We were then led to some stairs that took us outside the building to go up to the semi-enclosed roof area.

This panorama shot was taken as we were seated.

We were offered birch juice when we were seated. 

We were then asked if we wanted either the alcoholic or non-alcoholic opening beverage.  We chose one of each.  The alcoholic one was an aromatized white wine that has been infused with the shoots of coastal redwood.  The other was similarly composed using a Gewürztraminer grape juice instead.

The first bite had already been sitting in front of us on the table.  We each had a tree branch on which Santa Barbara sea lettuce and Monterey giant kelp were hanging (in the form of crisps) and served with a chickpea dip (“chips and dip”).  The fermented chickpea was covered with the leaves of Silver Falls dichondra.

The next bite was a savory roasted yeast cookie brushed with black currant spread and garnished with wildflowers. This was inside this ceramic two-piece container.  We each took a half.

This bite started with caramelized milk bread wrapped in a “leather” of black garlic and brushed with smoked cheese.  On top were slices of king trumpet mushrooms.  There was a soft crunchiness and chewiness to the dish, with a savory and slightly sweet flavor.

After these snacks had been served, we were escorted down two floors to the main dining area.

For the full write-up, click here.

n/naka — Los Angeles (12/2016)


Chef Niki Nakayama and n/naka were the subject of the 3rd episode of the first season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table documentaries. They take reservations up to three months in advance according to current policy.  When I had made reservations, I thought it was a rolling 6-week advance with release on a Sunday.  In any event, I managed to secure a reservation for a Friday evening for two.  I was accompanied by a friend who lives in L.A.  The restaurant itself is located in a somewhat inconspicuous part of the city, in between Westwood and Culver City.

They offer two tasting menus:  regular and vegetarian.  We both went with the regular menu. And, unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my macro lens, so the photos are not as good as I wanted them to be.

For beverages, there was an ample selection of sake by the glass, and a nice selection of wines by the glass, appropriately with more whites than reds on the list.  I went with the Riesling.

The first presentation was mussel surrounded by mussel foam.  This was served with potato purée, a touch of shiso oil, crispy onions, crême fraiche, and white sturgeon caviar.  Finally, there was a garnish of nasturtium leaf and a viola petal.

The next presentation was quite elaborate.  There was snow crab, truffles, maitake mushroom tempura, fresh octopus curry, sea salted halibut with a little spice, and a pickled crab apple to finish up with at the end.

This course featured seared kampachi in a modern form of sashimi.  It was braised with fermented garlic oil and garnished with vegetables from the chef’s garden.  There were dots of red pepper gelée on the right and strokes of nori and beets purées.  Finally, there was a bit of ponzu to use for dipping as well.

For the full write-up, click here.

ink — Los Angeles (2/2014)


A search for molecular cuisine brought up ink.  The chef is Michael Voltaggio.  The menu is a list of small plates and the preparatory techniques are modern.  My reservation was for a Friday night.  It’s located on Melrose Ave. just a few blocks east of La Cienega Blvd., very close to West Hollywood.  The restaurant is large, with tables, booths, a counter and a bar.  The atmosphere is modern, hip, with a loud buzz of music and crowd noise, although it was not difficult to converse.           

The wine by the glass list offered a nice enough variety.  I spotted a rarity on it as they offered a sparkling Riesling as a choice. I went with that, as I thought it might be the optimal combination – kind of like champagne, but a Riesling, which has been my choice of late.  It ended up being just okay.

The server described the menu as lighter fare towards the top and heavier as one works down the list.  The suggestion is to have 2-3 selections per person.  I guess because everything is considered more like a small plate or something to share, there was no tasting menu.  This made it difficult for me to decide, as I wasn’t really sure how much food I would be getting. Yet, I wanted the opportunity to sample as many dishes as I could.

For the full write-up, click here.

Dinner Lab Event — Los Angeles (11/2013)


A few months ago, a friend sent me a link to an announcement that a dinner membership program called Dinner Lab was offering memberships in San Francisco and if I was already a member.  I had not heard of it before, so I checked out the website for more information.  It’s an outfit that is setting up in different cities where people can join and then be eligible to sign up for pop-up dinner events.  The annual membership fee seem reasonable, at least to try it out for one year.  And the cost of the meals, which included tax, gratuity and alcoholic beverages, seemed fair enough.  They also say that if you join, you can attend events in your home city or in any other city.  Moreover, the counter on the membership doesn’t start until you attend your first local event. After a couple of weeks, I decided to go ahead and join (the initial batch of memberships have since been all sold). 

I had forgotten that they post new events on Wednesdays.  I just happen to look early one Wednesday and an event was going to go on sale later that day that had a menu that looked interesting.  I asked a friend who lives in LA if he had any interest, and he agreed.  So when the time came to buy tickets (you can buy one or two), I was able to get tickets to my choice of seating (I chose the 2nd seating at 7:30).  The event sold out within an hour.

For the full write-up, click here.