How Architecture and Design Shaped Los Angeles’s Vespertine VOGUE

With hundreds of thousands of tasting menus served around the world, it’s challenging to entirely reinvent the multicourse dining experience today. Some restaurants focus on unsung ingredients plucked from the Amazon, others invent progressive cooking techniques. But Jordan Kahn of Los Angeles’s enigmatic Vespertine­­—a $250-per-person (tax and tip not included), 18 plus–course engagement—harnesses the power of forward-thinking design to help redefine the notion of a modern fine-dining restaurant.

Kahn, a Savannah, Georgia, native, first caught sight of 3599 Hayden Avenue in 2013 while avoiding traffic in Los Angeles’s Culver City. “I saw this crazy structure and I pulled over, and I was really kind of struck by it in a way that I had never been affected by architecture before,” the chef explains. He immediately became obsessed with the then unfinished, slumped, twisted tower built from steel and glass. Kahn later learned that visionary Los Angeles–based architect Eric Owen Moss, responsible for more than 40 projects in Culver City’s Hayden Tract area including office buildings Pterodactyl and (W)rapper, had masterminded the four-floor building’s aesthetic and pioneering design. What would later become Vespertine is an entirely wall-less structure held together with four independent columns, the look of which was based on a stack of papers Moss once had on his desk that someone accidentally knocked into, causing the papers to shift into a unique shape.

Vespertine’s exterior  Photo: Courtesy of Vespertine

Vespertine’s exterior

Photo: Courtesy of Vespertine

“The more I learned about it, the more I became fascinated with it as an object,” says Kahn, explaining that 3599 Hayden Avenue’s architectural composition had a major impact on the metamorphosis of his own cooking. As Kahn became more interested in architecture as a discipline, his plating aesthetic gradually began to shift from a more organic, Nordic-style look with an abundance of herbs to ingredient arrangement with pronounced definition. “I started really focusing on shapes,” he says, adding that the amount of detail and precision it takes to make a form really exact, beautiful, and sculptural is far more challenging than artfully arranging food.

To complement those shapes, Kahn relies on a range of service pieces—one of the most striking elements of a meal at Vespertine. While certain dishes are served in thin, delicate vessels designed by Japanese glaze master Ryota Aioki , Kahn also worked with local sculptor Rob Boldz to craft heavier, jet-black three-dimensional shapes thrown from a sculpting material called fire clay that, when cooked, resembles porous lava stone. Kahn serves his interpretation of white asparagus on a shimmering, thin-lipped, gray-black plate by Aioki that conveys the piece’s fragility, while layering his hirame with salted plum in one of Boldz’s dense black pieces so that the fish camouflages into the shallow bowl, leaving the diner uncertain where the animal ends and the ceramic begins.

These dishes pop against Vespertine’s monochromatic dark gray and white dining room, defined by circular and semicircular translucent acrylic tables and accompanying booths made from hot rolled steel, all designed by Moss. They seat two to four guests, for a total of 22. “The dining room is very small, so the seating had to be fixed because there is no room to move chairs in and out,” Kahn explains. The tables’ transparent nature helps the dining room feel more spacious. Though Kahn was initially against acrylic tables, Moss sold him on the idea, and the final outcome is a unique surface that’s warm to the touch, with a clear top and milled bottom “so you read the depth and transparency, but also the lights from overhead are captured in the milled bottom portion,” causing the tables to glow.

Jona Sees of now-defunct New York clothing line InAisce took charge of Vespertine’s napkins and uniforms. After sorting through hundreds of fabric samples, Kahn decided on a napkin textile dyed with charcoal and also made by hand on “an 800-year-old silk and linen loom from Japan,” he says. “It’s two-sided, but it’s not two different materials sewn together, it’s the way the material is made [that] makes it two-sided . . . one side is more absorbent, one side is more textured so you can actually wipe things off.”

Red Spinach  Photo: Jeff Elstone / Courtesy of Vespertine

Red Spinach

Photo: Jeff Elstone / Courtesy of Vespertine

Kahn goes on to explain that in picking fabrics for a hospitality project, two schools of thought exist. There are those who pick materials that age well, and those who choose materials that don’t age at all. In contrast to Vespertine’s pretty permanent structure of steel, glass, and concrete, Kahn chose the former for both napkins and uniforms, adding a touch of earthiness by using materials that will naturally wear with time.

For the servers’ uniforms, Kahn sought to create outfits that would appear minimalist but also earthy and flowy to contrast the dining room’s formality. He worked with Sees on black sleeveless tunics and short pants. While women show their ankles, men wear wool socks, and both don goatskin slippers, a soft leather Kahn picked to offset noise from hard shoe soles hitting the floor.

Jordan Kahn  Photo: Anne Fishbein / Courtesy of Vespertine

Jordan Kahn

Photo: Anne Fishbein / Courtesy of Vespertine

After a meal, and before exiting to Vespertine’s garden of overgrown sculpted dunes for plum eau de vie and barhi dates filled with triple cream, servers escort guests downstairs where they’re offered a small gift to take home. But don’t expect the usual muffin or vial of granola. Instead, Kahn has teamed up with perfumer Linda Sivrican of Los Angeles’s Capsule Parfumerie on a bespoke fragrance that’s slightly reminiscent of Le Labo’s hit Santal 33—but better.

“If you’re a fine dining restaurant, you need to have a takeaway,” Kahn says definitively. While a cookie or morning bun is a nice gesture, it’s fleeting. This signature Vespertine scent, which Kahn plans to change every year, is subtly imbued into every diner’s experience: from the aroma in Vespertine’s elevator to the bathroom’s soap to each diner’s napkin. “Scent triggers memory," Kahn explains. "So the idea is that it will transport you back to the experience.” In this way, along with its design details and carefully arranged food, Vespertine is really unforgettable.

Dinerware ceramic vessel by Match stoneware.

Match Stoneware