It’s often said that the hottest Los Angeles bars don’t have signs out front. But one of the best restaurants we’ve come across doesn’t even have a restaurant.
With pop-up eateries on the rise, more chefs are setting up shop without actual shops. Our newest favorite? The just-launched Vagrancy Project. This secret-ish L.A. supper club is helmed by young chef Miles Thompson, who manages to turn out best-thing-I-ever-ate-caliber meals within the bounds of his modest, cozy Hollywood Hills apartment. Seated at one long table, a dozen diners all ask each other, “How did you find out about this?”
Miles, who is sharp and contemplative beyond his 23 years, began cooking professionally when he was 15, but then took a detour into the world of acting. (You might recognize him from Miranda July’s movie, Me and You and Everyone We Know. We’ll let you YouTube it.)
Miles returned to his love of cooking by answering an ad for a position at Nobu Los Angeles, recalling that his interview involved a fair amount of finesse as a “bullshit artist.”
“That was my last great acting job,” he says, laughing.
He went on to be the lead line cook at Nobu Los Angeles, then moved to Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook’s highly acclaimed restaurant, Animal. Eventually he wound up as executive sous chef at Animal’s sister restaurant, Son of a Gun. But the tug of creating his own menu finally led him to launch Vagrancy Project as a supper club on February 11.
Equally down-home and elegant, the donation-based dining event serves up a tasting menu of small, meticulously arranged plates. The nine-course meal we devoured featured stunning produce, the city’s highest-quality meats and seafood, and vibrant flavors like citrus paired with habanero and yogurt. It’s been weeks, and we find ourselves daydreaming of those dishes daily. Simply put: one of the best meals of our lives. A few sample courses:
Yogurt + ceviche: dashi-braised octopus, Maryland white shrimp, Boston sweet shrimp, Hokkaido scallop dressed with Meyer lemon and lime juice, red onion, habanero. Garnished with Kochukaru (Korean chili) powder and oil, parsley and Meyer lemon.
Anago: Sea eel, pan-fried in clarified butter, served with an agnolotti of shrimp mousse, a shellfish nage, two raw Boston sweet shrimp and artichoke Barigoule. Garnished with a poached baby red onion.
Rabbit: A poached rabbit sausage cured with nutmeg, salt and shallot, served in a chicken liver beurre blanc made from fermented cider, rabbit stock, butter, shallot, tarragon vinegar, and finally mounted with chicken liver mousse. The sauce also featured golden raisins plumped in Jasmine tea brewed in Allagash White Ale. Garnished with Chinese mustard greens, verano radicchio, red frill mustard, rapini flowers and oven-dried broccoli.
Striped bass: Slow-roasted wild striped bass, served with a bone marrow Bordelaise gelee and concentrated Nantes carrots, braised celery, red wine-pickled shallots, raw celery leaves, raw shallots, carrot juice, carrot tops, and beets pickled in veal stock and tangerine juice. Garnished with thyme.
Pork: Pork belly cured for 36 hours, steamed and deep-fried for two different timings to yield different textures. Pea tendrils creamed with creme fraiche and tosazu (a sauce made of soy sauce, rice vinegar and bonito flakes) and Chardonnay-pickled radishes. Garnished with raw pea tendrils, toasted nori and pork cracklings.
Dessert: a whipped, deconstructed cheesecake that will haunt us with longing until we die.
Suggested donation for Thompson’s nine-course meals are $65; upcoming Los Angeles dates are March 16, 20, 23, 30 and 31.
What’s next for Miles? “Down the line, I’d like to open a restaurant called Cottage. I’d like it to be small: nice, homey and safe. Like a bed and breakfast you would find in Wine Country, but in Los Angeles.”
“But for now with the Vagrancy Project,” he says, “we’re searching for our home. We’re traveling from place to place with a dream.”
Would you shell out to go to a supper club in a chef’s home?