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The One-Night L.A. Getaway


An Epicurean Adventure to Culver City and The Culver Hotel 

If you’re lucky enough to get a seat at n/naka (recent dishes shown below right) or Vespertine (its red facade at right), get a room at the nearby Culver Hotel (above), home to high tea, a classic breakfast buffet, and late-night lounge (below center). | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The culinary gravity of Los Angeles pulls more powerfully than any city on the planet right now, and indulging in a full evening of edible entertainment makes the perfect excuse for a one-night getaway. My most recent foray was to the celebrated kaiseki house n/naka, which was just awarded two coveted Michelin stars.

That made Culver City my destination, which revealed the historic Culver Hotel (9400 Culver Blvd.; [310] 558-9400; culverhotel.com) as the best place to stash my ride and rest my head. Most famous as the place where all the real-life munchkins stayed — and partied like crazy — while filming The Wizard of Oz, the hotel was built by Harry Culver in 1924 and instantly became a hub for the surrounding movie-making community. After ownership stints by Charlie Chaplin and John Wayne, The Culver fell into disrepair by the 1980s and was nearly demolished.

Photo: Matt KettmannChesterfield Lobby

But the shine, as well as landmark status, came back in 2007, when hotelier Maya Mallick refurbished the 46 guest rooms and reinvigorated the food and drink offerings, which run from traditional tea to late-night DJ sessions in the upstairs speakeasy. It’s become a hot spot for special events and also hosts a regular series of craft and wellness workshops, such as sound healing on September 23 and floral design on October 23.

The lobby bar was starting to bustle when I checked in, as a guitarist and violinist prepared to unleash their renditions of “Only Fools Rush In,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “One Love.” Bartenders shook and stirred a steady stream of orders, particularly for the Ruby Slipper 2.0, with hibiscus-infused vodka, sparkling wine, and fresh raspberries.

I wandered a few blocks down the street to meet a friend for cocktails at Margot (8820 Washington Blvd.; [310] 643-5853; margot.la), one of the many eateries in Platform, a modernist architectural statement-meets-outdoor mall. We sipped on fennel-laced negronis as the sunset lit up vivid flower petal portraits on the wall and beautiful people seated at the alabaster bar.

I arrived at n/naka (3455 Overland Ave.; [310] 836-6252; n-naka.com) in time for my 9 p.m. reservation, and I settled in for three hours of kaiseki education. This style of Japanese food follows a formula of sorts originally set out by monks, aiming to capture each ingredient in its most perfect light, so menus change daily.

Chef Niki Nakayama elevates the tradition to ridiculously meticulous levels, even tracking customers so that no one ever gets the same dish twice. Words fail to convey how her seemingly effortless expertise flows casually into each of the nearly two dozen dishes, all paired with classic wines and sakes chosen by sommelier Jeffry Undiarto (who may share some of his diminutive Japanese cigarettes post-dinner if you ask nicely). Among shellfish and raw fish and pickled vegetables adorned with tiny flowers, I experienced the best bite of beef I’ve ever had in my life, and the best spindle of truffled pasta as well.

My morning sustenance came via The Culver’s generous buffet, and I finished my trip by driving by the wacky frame of Vespertine — reportedly the most brilliantly bizarre eating experience anywhere, located in the architect’s dreamscape known as the Hayden Tract — and then checking out the Culver City Stairs. The hotspot for joggers and walkers rises to the top of the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, where wildflower blooms provide stark relief to the surrounding concrete jungle. From the overlook, Los Angeles sprawls out in all of its metropolitan glory, a traffic-snarled headquarters for delicious creativity that thrives like never before.

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