photo credit: Meteora
There’s strange and then there’s Meteora—a mysterious, prehistoric-themed restaurant in Hancock Park that feels like dinner theater held out in the wilderness.
If you've ever wished Rainforest Cafe was more emo, Meteora might actually provide an entertaining experience. The jungle-inspired dining room is filled with lush foliage stretching up toward giant skylights. The menu is made up of imaginative fine dining food that doesn’t exist elsewhere in LA. And every half-hour, a server will saunter around the room with a bowl of burning incense like a monk in a monastery.
Given the heavy-handed aesthetics on display, it’s no surprise that this place comes from the team behind Vespertine—an over-the-top tasting menu restaurant that didn’t deliver on its lofty promises. The same people also run Destroyer, a zen-feeling, order-at-the-counter daytime spot that we’re huge fans of. Meteora seems like a natural middle ground between the two: an upscale sit-down restaurant with an experimental a la carte menu. Unfortunately, this cavernous concept on Melrose is more unsettling than any movie Jordan Peele has ever made.
Similar to Vespertine, Meteora actually looks pretty cool when you first walk in. The entrance is essentially a giant bird’s nest made of spiraling branches swallowing two huge glass doors. Curved banquettes and cushioned wicker chairs give the room the relaxed feel of a club VIP section. Palo santo smoke fills the air and bass-driven ambient music bumps from the speakers like a pulse. But once you’ve settled into your table and the food begins to arrive, all of that energy turns to disappointment. As much as we admire restaurants trying new things, it’s hard to appreciate the uniqueness of Meteora when you’ll likely end up spending over $100 per person for bland, pretentious dishes without enough flavor to back up their creativity.
Meteora’s elaborate menu is divided into four short sections: vegetables, grains, meats, and seafood. All of the dishes are meant to share, and involve seasonal ingredients like grilled bigfin squid with crunchy jicama and heirloom stone fruits wrapped in cured duck breast. The menu descriptions are poetic and vague, making it virtually impossible to wrap your head around what each one is supposed to be. And the rehearsed monologues that servers give to accompany them aren't so helpful either—ultimately we ended up rubbernecking at our neighbor’s table in hopes they knew something we didn’t.
Every dish was both unexpected and underseasoned. An avocado pie, served with strawberries and “leaves of the moment,” is basically a grilled fruit salad on a tostada with oily dressing. Tender bluefin squid, presented in a milky broth like ceviche, is overshadowed by tasteless chunks of jicama and oversized squid ink crackers. The wildflower porridge bread, served with a flavorless milk curd spread, is dense. A platter of chewy grilled morels served on a leaf with overripe plantains was the final lifeless straw for us. Despite the obvious efforts to pair and present unusual ingredients like art, none of the food here actually tastes good.
The cocktail list, which reads like the lovechild of a medieval apothecary and an Abbot Kinney juice bar, isn't much better. Most of the creations are just overpriced herbal tonics, and since they don’t stock any spirits behind the bar, you can’t even order a pour of something strong to help you cope with the overcomplicated food.
As unique and otherworldly as the setting of Meteora is, the actual restaurant part of the experience is underwhelming. It doesn’t feel like a thought-provoking reimagining of modern dining, or even just a place that offers an interesting meal for special occasions. It’s more like a bad dream, jungle excursion, and frustrating dining experience rolled into one.
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As an aperitif, a server will bring over a “gift” of tepache washed in pineapple wine, which is basically a cup of bittersweet kombucha—we recommend you savor it, because this will be the most flavorful portion of the entire meal.
Leaves & Stones
This dish offers three different finger foods you can mix and match—soft cheese wrapped in duck ham, lettuce cups, and grilled peaches. The sweet and savory combinations sound interesting, but the mild flavors of each element had little to no impact on our taste buds. We’d order this as a light appetizer if we absolutely had to eat here again.
Picture a baked tortilla in the shape of a bowl filled with leafy greens and topped with a whole avocado—that’s Meteora’s avocado pie. It tastes like a glorified fruit salad, which would be fine if it wasn’t $32. They tease you with a side of bone marrow vinaigrette that tastes about as complex as off-brand olive oil.
Something like an experimental ceviche, this dish is a scoop and slurp situation. Each chunk of “quickly grilled” squid is chopped with chilis, placed in a bowl filled with jicama, and soaked in a broth made from macadamia nut milk. Our problem is that the mildly sweet squid is rendered tasteless by all of the other components, resulting in what is essentially a $32 bowl of slightly spicy jicama cereal. Skip it or you’ll wish you did.