There is a lot of time to think. Dinner at Vespertine—it only serves dinner—runs between three and four hours and plods along to a melancholy soundtrack played at a barely discernable volume. The experience begins with a drink in the courtyard outside Vespertine’s curvaceous, burgundy dining room. Cold, concrete seats stud what might have been a Zen meditation garden if it weren’t for the twiggy foliage that sometimes smacks visitors in the face. From there, black-clad waiters lead the willing up to the restaurant’s rooftop, which looks like the fanciest airport lounge in Scandinavia. Playful beanbag chairs and flower-laden cocktails attempt with limited success to make the act of eating challenging appetizers—like pike roe–coated spinach stems and hardened Santa Barbara kelp—seem fun.
In dish after dish, Vespertine makes the case that eating is serious business. Chef (auteur?) Jordan Kahn puts rectangles of mango in stone monoliths and makes a broodingly bitter hazelnut carob bonbon. The design has the same effect. Unlike in most restaurants, architect Eric Owen Moss helped construct Vespertine’s interior furnishings (such as antique Dutch workbenches repurposed as cocktail tables) and dishware (a fire-clay cave is used as a vessel for caramelized lobster). The synergy of setting and sensory delights recalls the fully realized sets of Westworld and Her. “That’s unusual,” says Moss. “It’s talked about a lot in architecture as an ideal. If I did a house for you, we’d do the building, the stairs, the walls, the marble, and at some point you’d say, ‘Moss, get the hell out of here.’ You’d go and buy furniture and do various things.”