Let me start by saying that my wife and I are not very experienced in some aspects of Japanese dining. Sure we know good ramen, sushi and steak; having experienced them in Tokyo, Kyoto, here at home and other places around the world. We found this meal to be fine (not anything special, but in these times of limited options decidedly different) but no where as good as the past two Vespertine experiences (FL being the best). That being said, in reading the comments above, I can very easily see how my experience with the Sashimi course (a style of cuisine I do know very well) may be how others felt about the other courses (i.e. that it was not very enjoyable). Nothing was bad, per se, but everything had a muted taste that our palettes didn’t hate, but may have lacked that deeply layered flavor that fine Japanese food has (my wife calls it fishy, but maybe essence of the sea may be more appropriate…again no expert here).
Net/net, bottom line, for our uneducated palettes the food was fine but nothing special and surely not worth the $700 price tag (including beer, champagne, premium sashimi and the steak). My biggest gripe was that the digital “playbook” was annoying as was the lack of instruction with respect to how to eat the food. I would suggest, not that anyone is asking, that they include a video of service (what the server would tell you as they set the plate in front of you) instead of/in addition to the whimsical/historical/stories in the presentation. Do I wish I had my money back? Kinda. The meal (including all the add-ons) was worth $400-$500 not the $700 paid. Was it enjoyable for two people who will take out but not dine in, yes; especially when combined with the “good feeling” of supporting local restaurants.
Now, if the courses of the meal that I did not have the education/experience to understand completely were as bad as the sashimi (slices were ham handed and served with no instruction as to saucing or accouterment), then the Yoshinoa comment above is probably accurate…
I’ve really enjoyed the TFL, Red Medicine and Cuba takeout menus at Vespertine, but I’m skipping this one 'cuz I don’t think Japanese cuisine is well suited for leftovers (except sukiyaki - makes a tasty bento).
Reading your review makes me wanna visit Otafuku for soba and Midoh and/or Kimukatsu for pork katsu. As for unagi, I’m gonna stick with the Binchotan-smoked Kagoshima frozen unagi ($32 - 39 depending on whether from Marukai, Nijiya or Mitsuwa). However, using fresh cod instead of unagi for hitsumabushi style sounds interesting and I might do a DIY.
Too bad Jordan Kahn didn’t consider a tie-in and simply use Meiji Tofu’s pudding-like kinugoshi tofu - now I want to drive to their flagship store in Gardena since FTCers have mentioned it being sold out at times at the local Japanese supermarkets. Robata Jinya used to have a tableside prep of fresh organic hot tofu, but not sure if they kept it on the menu (I’m still longing for the shrimp toast and annin almond tofu dessert Robata Jinya discontinued about 3 years ago).
That’s truly sad about Vespertine’s Japanese style desserts - the strawberry sando should’ve been wrapped in plastic to prevent the bread from drying (at some afternoon tea places they cover the tea sandwiches with a damp dish towel). I’d rather go to SomiSomi for fresh taiyaki filled with soft serve or custard; Yamazaki Bakery in Little Tokyo for “pudding a la mode” and get my green tea fix with matcha kit kat bars.
9/12/2020 Update: More alternatives to Vespertine’s Japan menu
Hi @CiaoBob Yes, just heat and serve, sprinkle some sansho, sprinkle torn or shredded nori on top of steamed white rice and top with unagi.
Matter of fact, I’m defrosting some unagi now for Sunday or Monday.
Pics of the brand I’m taking about are here in my post on JL’s Toku Unagi thread:
PS: @CiaoBob If you prefer sauce with your unagi, some local Japanese markets might sell “Kabayaki sauce,” but if you can’t find it just make it at home with 2 parts Mirin; 2 parts Soy Sauce; 1 part sugar. Here’s an article from the NHK station in Japan: https://www.nhk.or.jp/dwc/recipes/detail/171.html