The word restaurant seems inadequate to describe Vespertine, a 22-seat fine-dining establishment in Culver City, the Los Angeles County community known for its movie lots and TV studios. Although it fulfills the same function as any food hall (customers come hungry, depart full), the intensity with which the experience has been choreographed – from the architecture to the avant-garde menu – almost deserves its own category.
“It all starts with the building,” says chef/owner Jordan Kahn, who likens walking through Vespertine to experiencing a movie, with “a beginning, a middle and an end – and a few turns in between.” Kahn means that literally: As conceived by architect Eric Owen Moss, who has worked in Culver City for the past three decades, the steel-and-glass exoskeleton that wraps the four-storey building twists and swells as it rises from the garden at its base, a Noguchi-esque space dotted with concrete paths and benches amid grassy hillocks.
Inside, each level provides a dedicated setting for various guest functions. The airy lobby is a welcoming station – vacant save for a functional art piece called The Table and an elevator to the kitchen on the third floor, from which guests are escorted up a set of stairs to the rooftop terrace for preprandial drinks.
Between the lobby and the kitchen is the second-floor dining room, a futuristic space featuring custom-built steel banquettes surrounding CNC-milled translucent-acrylic tabletops. Grey is the predominant tone, providing a neutral backdrop for Kahn’s cutting-edge food.
What is perhaps most striking about the building is the fact that it wasn’t intended to be a restaurant. Since the late 1980s, when he first started working with developers Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith, Moss has been using this part of Culver City (a former manufacturing area called Hayden Tract) as a testing ground for his architectural experiments. The Smiths own much of the surrounding land and Vespertine is the latest of nearly two dozen structures Moss has installed there.
“The building was conceived as a conference centre,” Moss recalls. “But then Jordan discovered it, and it has taken on a narrative all its own.”
What Else is Going On in Culver City?
Eric Owen Moss’s idiosyncratic buildings are one reason to visit the L.A. County enclave. Here are three more.
Located near the Metro Expo Line’s Culver City Station, Platform is a cluster of design, food and fashion outlets in a group of low-rise buildings linked by lush urban gardens; merchants include Tom Dixon and Pure Cycles.
A gallery dedicated to experimental art (Plastic Oceans, by the Iranian-born artist-activists Icy and Sot, is shown here), Thinkspace usually runs two concurrent solo shows every month in its side-by-side rooms.
3 Helms Bakery District
A redeveloped former bread-making complex, Helms Bakery District now deals in designer furniture as well as focaccia. Brands with showrooms there include Vitra (pictured), Louis Poulsen and Carl Hansen & Søn.