They should have kept with tock, pretty irresponsible of them not too. Sounds like a shit show.
I hesitate getting too pissed at any restaurant/bar for their opening because at the end of the day, they’re doing all of this to try to stay in business and pay their people in the face of essentially zero help from the government. But at this point, it’s really not acceptable for a business to just claim ignorance on relatively easy best practices for line distancing (tape/chalk/arrows etc.)
I had debated whether to try for this or the Ugly Drum Mozza pop-up and opted to take the chance on the Cubano (Vespertine was closer, bigger space, easier parking, and more enticing picture in the IG. Also I just had a pastrami sandwich from Del Rey Deli the other day but had not enjoyed a Cubano in a while). It was a bit before 12:30 when I drove by and I kept on driving once I saw the line and how much more closely packed it was toward the tail. Delicious cheesesteak from Victor Jr,'s served as lunch today instead.
Not pissed, just disappointed. It seems like it’s a very hard thing for businesses and people in general to tell others that they’re doing something wrong i.e.
wearing their masks under their noses, not being 6ft apart, etc. it’s super uncomfortable to confront someone and tell them to keep distance or to wear their mask properly, but the other option is to let people decide for themselves and then this kind of situation happens where it becomes a free for all. Almost anywhere I go now whether it be to pick up my take out, the market, or a gas station, it’s like over half the people I see are either completely ignorant and STILL don’t understand how a virus works, or they simply stopped caring and only put the mask around their necks to satisfy the “requirement”.
On another note, I’m sure the cubanos were delicious
Lots of other great Cubanos all over town, from places also worth supporting during these times.
They deleted my comment on IG when I called them out how irresponsible it is to not use a reservation system
I got canceled lol
Good that you voiced your concern.
I checked in here with the hope that at least one person had posted about the sandwich itself. Ah well. I WAS planning on going for their encore hours today but if the line situation is really that bad (both for safety and length considerations) then I need to rethink this. I love sammis in general and am curious how well his version fares.
I have to say, this cubano was pretty damn good. The lines have been very long though (I basically waited for friends to get to the front of the line before I rolled out of bed and headed over…but I did buy their lunch). The frico crust and skirt is a really nice textural contrast touch (and the entire sandwich is nicely plancha’d).
It’s hard to regulate that line once it goes beyond the parking lot, but they did a good job once folks reached the parking lot entrance. That’s all I can say about that issue. Also, more people need to wear masks.
How was the bread? For me, a cubano is judged based upon the right bread.
I assume it was a pan cubano, but could’ve been a bolillo or even a ciabatta.
VESPERTINE - MIDSUMMER
The following menu is a celebration of the Summer harvest. Through a combined effort with some of our favorite organic and biodynamic growers, each recipe will highlight the versatility, flavors, textures, and vast range of deliciousness of the plant kingdom.
For the carnivores, we have included a supplementary meat option which we feel best compliments the menu.
Wildflower Focaccia with Avocado
Sweet Corn Hush Puppies
Caramelized Lettuce Gratin
English Pea Gnudi
Heirloom Tomato Pie
Salt-Baked Celery Root
Fragrant Melon and Melon Seed Custard
Sunchoke Sticky Toffee Pudding
Smoked Prime Beef Ribs (Supplement)
Vespertine (To-Go): Cuba
Vespertine is one of those places that from the early marketing and hype (like that “interpretive dance / pseudo-music video” that Chef-Owner Jordan Kahn released prior to its opening), to many of the early FTC reports back on the place (especially @PorkyBelly’s excellent report, above), made us never want to go here. The thought of dropping $500 (+ tax & tip) and suffer for “art” for 4+ hours really didn’t seem all that appealing.
With COVID-19 hitting, Vespertine’s pivot to far more accessible To-Go meals with different themes made things sound far more appealing. The French Laundry tribute seemed wonderful (but we missed out on that), and then recently, Chef Kahn did a tribute to his grandparents and specifically his grandmother’s cooking (Cuba). The idea and basis of this theme was heartening, so we finally decided to give Vespertine To-Go a try.
In an interesting touch, each diner is given a QR Code to scan in, which then allows them to access a full digital pamphlet with slides talking about each dish, and heating instructions via your phone.
We really appreciated the little anecdotes and thoughts on each dish, as it gave more meaning to each course as we progressed through the evening.
A beautiful sentiment (above). We couldn’t wait to try the menu!
Croquetas de Jamon:
Not very fancy (not that it needs to be), these were quite tasty. After a brief reheating, the Croquetas de Jamon came out piping hot and with a sufficiently crispy exterior. The inside was a cheesy, melting, oozing filling of a lightly smoky Ham and Cheese.
Papas Rellenas with Picadillo:
This was fine. They were basically humble Potato Balls with some Marinated Minced Beef in the center. The Picadillo center was quite flavorful, nicely spiced, fragrant, surrounded by a lot of Potato and a lightly crisped exterior.
Ensalada de Aguacate:
Absolutely delicious! We’ve never had the Florida (or Green Skinned) Avocados that Chef Kahn uses for this dish, but they were indeed a lighter, yet still creamy, Avocado flavor, the herbal, aromatic Watercress, some Radishes and perfectly ripe Tomatoes and Vinaigrette all worked to make this the highlight of the meal!
Mariquitas Con Vinagreta:
As Chef Kahn notes, Mariquitas are thin strips of Fried Green Plantains, and traditionally tossed with some Mojo Vinaigrette (which is provided here as a Dipping Sauce instead).
They are addictive and tasty, like a lightly sweetened Potato Chip, but fruitier and the Mojo Vinaigrette adding some tart and saltiness makes it sing.
Definitely not the prettiest of foods, and probably the anti-thesis of what the original dine-in Vespertine was about, we appreciated it all the more because of that. This was humble, home-style cooking.
And the Maduros (Ripened Plantains) were delicious! The caramelized edges, the natural sweetness and creaminess were very appealing. However, it felt like this should’ve been an accompaniment to the main courses, not served individually as it was here. It was still quite tasty (and another highlight of the meal), but felt like it should’ve been a counterpoint to other savory items.
Yucca with Mojo:
At this point (and probably 2 courses earlier), we hit the wall: While it was nice exploring these various dishes of Cuban cuisine, the procession of dishes were simply way too many Carbs in a row. (From a Fried Starter to Potato Balls, to Avocado Salad (fat, but delicious), to Mariquitas (Fried Plantain Chips), to Fried Plantains, to now Yucca (Cassava Root), which tasted like thick, dryish Potato Wedges, it just felt like the procession of dishes was a bit off, as we were just full at this point.
The Yucca itself tasted like Potato Wedges, a bit less stodgy, but sort of dry, but the Mojo Criollo seasoning was wonderful: Sour Oranges and Garlic base, it awakened the palate a bit, but the generous portion of Yucca just overwhelmed.
The slow-cooked, popular Cuban dish of Shredded Beef was OK. It was on the sweeter side, the Shredded Beef was tender, but in terms of flavor, it reminded us of previous Ropa Vieja dishes we’ve tried over the years. It wasn’t bad at all, very solid, but there wasn’t anything that stood out as “next level / transformative Ropa Vieja”.
Arroz Blanco + Potaje de Frijoles Negros:
First, the Arroz Blanco (which means White Rice). The presentation on this humble staple seemed a bit excessive considering the final execution. The slide lists it as “Arroz Blanco”, which simply means “White Rice.”
Which is fine, even for this humble Carb, if it was standout in any way (and Rice can be executed to another level as seen by humble places like Wadatsumi, Kagura or Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior (all offering dishes with their phenomenally executed White Rice for $10 - $18 range). They just execute their Steamed Rice out of pride and excellence of cooking, not to show off.
For this Cuba menu at Vespertine, the White Rice was pretty average. Softish, zero distinct flavor, like an afterthought.
The Potaje de Frijoles Negros on the other hand…
Using freshly harvested Rancho Gordo Black Beans, Chef Kahn and his team create a toothsome, beautifully seasoned plate of slow-cooked Black Beans with Cachucha Chilies, and the end result is just a fantastic side of Black Beans.
Based on his grandmother’s Roasted Pork recipe, the Lechon Asado was another highlight: We reheated this for about 8 - 9 minutes (the instructions said 5 minutes or until warm), and it was perfect. Crispy, sizzling Roasted Pork Skin, tender chunks of mostly lean (but juicy) meat within.
This tasted like real comfort food, and with a bit of the Black Beans and White Rice, it was satisfying. However, it tasted like a very good, familiar “Roast Pork” dish. Again, comforting, tasty, but nothing about it said, “Legendary.” Or “this is the Langer’s / Howlin’ Ray’s of Lechon Asado”.
But at this point, with all of the Carb courses earlier, we couldn’t finish this main course.
Flan de Leche:
Good, nice flavor, relatively silky and delicate. Not the best Flan we’ve ever had, but enjoyable.
Arroz con Leche:
The Rice Pudding was just OK. Not bad, but it tasted like a solidly executed Rice Pudding.
Pastelitos de Queso Y Guayaba:
The final Dessert was Chef Kahn’s Pastelitos de Queso Y Guayaba, or Guava & Cheese Pastries, which at this point one of our dear friends who joined us (socially distanced) to eat at home said, “It’s Chef Kahn’s version of Porto’s Bakery!”
Taking a bite:
It really was Upgraded Porto’s Bakery. But so much better!
These are delicate, flaky little Pastries with a beautiful Guava Jam filling and a light Cream Cheese, and we reheated these in the oven (even though the instructions said you could enjoy at room temperature). They were definitely much better than Porto’s and this is the kind of elevated / improved flavors we were hoping would be throughout the meal.
Vespertine (To-Go) Cuba Edition turned out to be a nice look at Chef Kahn’s Cuban heritage, an ode to his grandmother’s recipes. You pre-order and pay online, and drive up and open up your back window and the servers will drop off your order and you drive off (contactless).
We enjoyed reading the tasting notes and little anecdotes more than the meal itself though. The execution / elevated highlights were Avocado Salad, side of Black Beans and the Guava & Cream Cheese Pastry.
Those 3 were really executed at a better level than many places around town. The rest of the meal was solid / good, but tasted like what you’d expect Cuban cuisine to taste like (there was nothing mind-blowing about them). For ~$86 per person (including tax & automatic 20% tip), the QPR felt like it wasn’t totally there.
Still, we were glad to have tried Vespertine’s take on Cuba, and really loved the sentiment behind this tasting menu. While I want more courtroom sketches from @PorkyBelly, I also really like seeing Chef Kahn and the team making more accessible food. If there were a few more dishes that were executed to the elevated levels of the Ensalada de Aguacate and Potaje de Frijoles Negros, this would be a Must Order every time it was made available again. We’re hoping future themes turn out that way.
3599 Hayden Ave.
Culver City, CA 90232
Sounds like that rice could have benefited from the Versailles approach…mix the rice and beans together.
Thanks for sharing your dinner! I love a good fried plantain…it’s my favorite part of the meal sometimes.
AKA Moros y Christianos or Congri
That’s what we did. Those beans were a marvel.
Great pics and report.
Having spent many evenings and afternoons at Cuban ex-pat tables in Downey and Miami, I was impressed with Kahn’s meal. It’s not easy food to do right (outside of ones’s home) and that’s why there are shockingly few great Cuban restaurants - even in places with a lot of Cubans.
I loved the the Ropa Vieja as much, if not more, than the Lechon Asado. The sweetness and spicing were totally on-point.
Thanks @CiaoBob. I definitely defer to you and other Cuban cuisine experts on the flavoring of the Ropa Vieja compared to OG versions. We did enjoy Chef Kahn’s version, but we liked the Lechon Asado flavoring more. Good to know it’s similar to the versions you’ve had in Miami. Thanks.
Great report as usual @Chowseeker1999
The ropa vieja was the most memorable dish for me, but not initially — first round I thought “WTH, really long and stringy-looking pulled beef!“
However, before having it again as leftovers, I read through JK’s essay and then found out ropa vieja means “old clothes.” (Unfortunately, I don’t know much Spanish).
Not the first time to try this dish, but JK’s rendition with its super long strands of beef almost looked like bundles of fabric — with the “old clothes” context in mind, I enjoyed my ropa vieja beef leftovers a bit more. On the whole, I find JK’s cuisine highly contextual and oftentimes experiential.