If you believe that article you once read about a make-your-own-kimchi class, no one wants to buy actual things anymore. We all want to go on hot air balloon rides or travel to Greenland or try out that nude ziplining experience that probably isn’t a thing, but maybe should be. And if you’re willing to spend $700 on dinner at a restaurant inside a Santa Monica food court, Dialogue is one of the most interesting eating experiences you can have in Los Angeles.
Dialogue doesn’t immediately seem like a dinner you want to be dropping multiple car payments on. After booking online (and paying for your meal upfront), you’ll be emailed a set of instructions for arrival. Once you figure out how to make it through the food court and into the restaurant, you’ll find a tiny and not particularly good-looking space, and wonder if maybe you should have just gotten a table at a regular fancy restaurant and called it a day.
But soon after sitting down, it becomes clear that Dialogue isn’t a boring corporate “concept” or experimental art project pretending to be a restaurant. Most everything about this place is fantastic and, oddly for a place with a 21-course tasting menu, not at all pretentious. If you sit at the counter, the chef will likely be the one serving you, and both he and the rest of the staff are extremely friendly. Sure, they sometimes use rehearsed lines and practiced jokes, but you get the sense it’s because they genuinely want you to have a great time.
The food here is interesting and experimental, but still approachable. More importantly, it tastes phenomenal. All 21 courses feel connected - we ate a papaya salad with burnt lettuce that tasted like peanut, and a few courses later had a steak dish covered in burnt onion sauce with a burnt onion terrine. Later, they dropped off a chocolate bar and a grown-up version of a fruit roll-up, to make sure we didn’t get bored 10 courses in. There’s a lot of thinking behind each course, but everything still tastes like food, not an idea. And because each course is only one or two bites, you don’t leave feeling terrible - or needing a burger pitstop on the way home. It’s the perfect amount of food.
Speaking of the way home, you should plan to find a designated driver for your evening. Dialogue takes their wine just as seriously as their food, and the pairing is a key part of getting the full experience. We had a white wine that was turned into a rosé with a blackberry vinegar that linked it to the short rib we were eating, and a plum sake that inspired a dish, rather than the other way around. Don’t want to drink 10 different types of wine? You should also know there’s a shorter, less-costly version you can opt into on the night of your reservation (or a pricer reserve option, if that’s how you roll).
At Dialogue, there are are no magic tricks that turn solids into liquids or courses set to specific Metallica songs - and that’s because this place doesn’t need any of that. The exciting part of a meal here is that you’ll end up eating and drinking in ways you haven’t before. And that’s an experience we think is better than most things.
Dialogue’s menu changes completely with each season, so we can’t really tell you what to order. Also, you have no choice in your ordering. Mostly, you should simply expect to eat things you would not expect, like king crab and popcorn or caviar and peanut butter. You can also expect something different from the usual light to heavy to dessert flow. Our second course was a very sweet roasted banana tea, our last savory course was a tiny tomato salad, and the final dessert was a sugar-coated carrot. And in case you missed it above - know that you should do some type of wine pairing.