“We only want specific types of people to eat here. People that are open to new experiences, to new environments, to being in a new setting and eating new food.” – Craig Thornton
It’s not a restaurant. It’s an apartment in the Arts District, complete with a plethora of taxidermied animals (not the ones you sleep with). There is no reservation system. As a part of the mailing list which you sign up for on the website, you have the opportunity to receive emails about upcoming dinner slots. Then, you apply through email for a dinner seat (for yourself and a plus one). You then have the choice to write anything in the email to convince them to select you, then the crew will go through the applications and select ones that they feel are their target audience.
After appearing on Last Call with Carson Daly in September 2010, getting press coverage from The New Yorker, LA Weekly and LA Times, and even featuring in a popular food novel Anything That Moves, Wolvesmouth has exploded in popularity.
Despite hosting dinners since 2005, Wolvesmouth has remained one of the best kept secrets of the city. Each dinner has hundreds of applicants applying for the 10 seats (the other 10 are for the plus ones of the 10). Most people end up trying for almost a year. Most might feel angry, frustrated, or even left in the dark. “Oh, we’ve gotten plenty of hate mail before,” one of the crew assures me.
If you are one of the lucky ones, show up at the designated time at the designated location. You might see other individuals wandering around the block carrying bottles of wine or even just water (Wolvesmouth is bring-your-own-drink). Introduce yourself to each other (as their email instructs you to do). The front door soon opens and one of the crew will escort you upstairs.
As you enter the den, you will notice that this is just an apartment unit, albeit slightly modified to accommodate the large communal-style table sitting in the center.
Chef Thornton and his crew huddle around 4 stoves, working with perfect precision. This is a very standardly equipped kitchen (with only 4 stoves and 1 oven).
Finally, take your seat and the meal officially begins. A disclaimer, the food will probably be different every time you go, this is from my personal experience.
The first course, a medium-rare ribeye cap and beef tongue pelmeni, is accompanied by horseradish, strawberry, rhubarb, dill, beet and raw cabbage. The dish is artfully plated. A common theme throughout the meal, each dish seems to be a canvas that Chef Thornton paints on. It is somewhat astonishing to think that all of this has been prepared in a (fairly) standard apartment kitchen, with enough quantity to feed 20 people.
The next course, a halibut served with potato profiteroles, accompanied by green apples and a green hollandaise, is just as articulate. Every ingredient is carefully sourced, and Chef Thornton personally procures all ingredients from a variety of markets in LA (it is said that he spends approximately 35 hours sourcing ingredients per dinner). Along with his crew, Chef Thornton keeps a vigilant eye on the changing produce in the markets. He only utilizes only the best, which can lead to frequent last-minute changes to the menu.
Other courses, including a sous-vide cooked chicken thigh accompanied by crispy chicken and a coconut-basil-mint sauce, might look like they came straight from a fine dining restaurant. This may speak to Chef Thornton’s roots back from working at Bouchon Bistro in Las Vegas, where he worked under Thomas Keller, legendary chef of the French Laundry and Per Se (both 3-star Michelin restaurants).
At this point, it is also likely that a conversation about the dishes served are held and it is not uncommon for other top tier restaurants in the city to be brought up.
“Oh, you were at Trois Mec last week? I was at Petit Trois! I really loved that Croque Monsieur,” my neighbor exclaimed excitedly. A fervent conversation soon ensued between us about our favorite restaurants, as if we were talking about sports teams or our favorite artists.
Dining at Wolvesmouth is more of an experience than a meal. You become a part of a social experiment, where you come into an unfamiliar setting with unfamiliar people, and you eat whatever they feel like serving. At the end of the meal, red envelopes are passed around the table, where you pay whatever you feel the meal was worth (rumor has it the average is around $100). While it could be a hefty price tag (if you choose for it to be), Wolvesmouth is easily one of the most exotic food experiences available in Los Angeles and, if given the chance, I would not hesitate to return.