Between the quarantining, business closures, and diminished travel opportunities, the pandemic has been the lifestyle equivalent of the morning commute on the 405. But with the new relaxed CDC guidelines and perhaps an end in sight, it feels like the road is as open as it was when we were first told to stay home. And now it’s time to give it some gas and put the pedal to the metal. Literally.
The Porsche Experience Center is the ideal place to shift back into high gear. If you feel the need for speed, there’s no better way to rev your engine than getting into state-of-the-art Porsche and zipping through the Handling Circuit, which is exactly what I did this week.
VIP Experience Specialist Michele DeVoe toured me past showpiece racing Porsches in the lobby and out back to glimpse the most exhilarating parcel of the 53-acre grounds. “Feel the adrenaline,” she said.
DeVoe explained that this is a driver development course, not a mere racetrack. It’s a place to learn and practice valuable driving techniques. Don’t worry, they’re still practicing all the Covid safety protocols that we’ve become accustomed to, but if you’re vaxxed, you can feel supremely confident.
Pro driver and speed freak Jonathan Sugianto took me on a wilder ride than anything you’ll find at an amusement park — and without the massive crowds, the parking nightmare, and the mediocre dining. In fact, it’s the dining that I really want to write about here. Where else can you do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds and follow it with a signature brown butter-infused bourbon Old Fashioned? (And, pro tip, that’s probably the order you want to do that in.)
The Center’s Restaurant 917, named in honor of the historic Porsche that won the ‘71 Le Mans, pays homage itself to the legendary car race by incorporating elements reminiscent of the South of France, the region where General Manager Oliver Alexandre in fact hails from. Alexandre is the ultimate host, a case study in French hospitality. After uncorking a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, he guided me past the glamorous Champagne wall and mirrored bar, through the elegant dining room and into the most exclusive room on the grounds, a private boardroom overlooking the course.
In 2020, the restaurant opened in trackside cafe form as 917 (K)afe, and you’d be hardpressed to find a cooler location than Speedster Patio in a town that’s known its al fresco dining. My server, Hailey Szuh — you get their names when they’re that good — was like a chauffeur who knows every shortcut and every back alley in the city. Another name to jot down is pastry chef Eunbee Lee, whose desserts elicit a similar excitement to buckling into a Porsche.
But the star of the show — my metaphors are now mixing like cocktails — is Chef Matt Lee. You may know that name. He served in previous stints at The Getty Restaurant and Saddle Peak Lodge. He confesses that he likes a nice view.
His creative dishes are my idea of a nice view. His hamachi crudo could very well be on display at that museum where he previously worked. On the menu right now is a delicious eggplant schnitzel. Lee says he tries to add a Porsche inspiration into each dish, and schnitzel being a German favorite, it evokes a Bavarian Oktoberfest. It’s also a vegan entree, which the chef places on each menu.
Perhaps the most beloved item, however, is the 917K Burger. It’s eight ounces of American Wagyu topped with smoked cheddar, bacon jam, and green garlic aioli, and to make it even more indulgent, add on the blue cheese and avocado. Damn, now I’m ready for one right now. And I mean right now, like asking Jonathan to deliver it… that burger would still be hot, like as hot as the “berry mettalic” paint job on the Porsche that was zipping around the track.
And if you’re looking for something to do for dear old dad this Father’s Day weekend (June 19-20), treat him to all-you-can-eat brunch ($65 per person) from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The feast includes prime rib, snow crab, and oysters, among other delights. And give him back a little of his youth with a few demonstration laps.
Speed and feed. It sure as hell beats a necktie.
Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles is located at 19800 S. Main St., Carson, near the 405 and 110 freeways.
Dine & Drive at (K)afe 917 at
Porsche Experience Center