At Vespertine, chef Jordan Kahn’s new otherworldly Culver City restaurant, a meal for two with wine pairings and tea service costs around $1,200 — roughly as much as a pair of orchestra seats for Hamilton at the Pantages. But while both promise a once-in-a- lifetime experience, only Vespertine provides dinner and a show. Set in a dramatic glass-and-steel building by starchitect Eric Owen Moss, the 20-plus-course meal is a three-hour immersive escapade, complete with a musical score and platings that wouldn’t look out of place on pedestals at MOCA. Every detail—from the choreographer-trained servers, who glide like ballet dancers in monkish robes through the dining room, to the blackened ceramic dishes, which look as though they survived a forest fire—is part of an intense narrative created by Kahn.
Experiential dining, it seems, is the new fine dining. Instead of fussy white tablecloths and synchronized champagne pours, chefs are rewriting the rule book with personal interpretations of dining’s timeless theater. At Dialogue in Santa Monica, chef Dave Beran adds the occasional theatrical embellishment, like perfuming the room when a particular course is served. The James Beard Award winner, who arrived in L.A. via Chicago 15 months ago, wants to upend the intimidating aspects of fine dining. “You go to a three-star Michelin restaurant, and your first thought is, ‘Did I dress right? Should I touch anything?’”
Beran’s vision is for diners to be participants rather than just consumers. To that end, he opts for the counter-centric seating of restaurants like Trois Mec and Le Comptoir, with nearly half of Dialogue’s 18 chairs arranged at a walnut counter. Here Beran cooks and serves, making it easy to talk to the chef about how he spent nine months barrel-aging the burnt onion syrup that’s part of a Wagyu rib eye course on the opening tasting menu.
There are similar plans afoot at downtown’s forthcoming Simone by fellow Beard award winner Jessica Largey. She’ll be offering a chef ’s table tasting menu for six guests three nights a week. “It’s like if you were sitting at a dining table in my kitchen,” she says. “I want people to be able to ask me questions.”
If all goes as intended, the intimate dinner will play out like a live episode of Chef ’s Table, a full narrative unfolding in real time. But as with Vespertine, don’t expect the price to equal the cost of your Netflix subscription.