"You can't film in the car.”
"Oh. How about recording audio?”
"No. Not that either.”
Like a petulant teenager, I reply with silence, sliding my phone into my purse on the floorboard and fastening my seatbelt.
"This can be violent. Ready?”
I look over skeptically at Johnny Kanavas, chief instructor at the Porsche Experience Center in Carson.
But as he maneuvers our Porsche GT3 from the parking area to the acceleration straight, I brace myself, grasping onto the car door and console, extending my legs out straight against the edge of the floorboard. My efforts have little impact.
In a matter of seconds, my stomach is in my throat as we speed more than 100 miles per hour toward a curve so sharp I'm certain we'll go rolling like a marble on a schoolyard. I find myself laughing involuntarily and I can’t stop, even after we survive that first turn. My body lurches from one side of my seat to the other with every bend of the track. Kanavas narrates his speed and technique as he handles the car, but he may as well be speaking German.
When I exit the Porsche five minutes later, I can’t wipe the smile from my face nor keep from hugging Kanavas.
“Please tell me that other people have reacted this way.”
Kanavas smiles back at me. “You wouldn’t be the first.”
After an experience as fast and furious as that, a cocktail is in order — and a hearty meal, if you can stomach it. Both can be had right above the track at Restaurant 917, which opened last December. The kitchen is helmed by Matt Lee, who earned his stripes most recently at the Getty (where he was executive chef) and, before that, Saddle Peak Lodge. Like both of those venues, Restaurant 917 offers a bit more than your average date-night or power-lunch spot. In this case, it’s an unobstructed view of a 53-acre playground for Porsche fanatics.
“At first, some people thought that [the restaurant] was exclusive, but we’re open to the public,” Lee told me after lunch that day. “You can come enjoy the cars zipping around below, have a great meal with a great view. If you’re local, you don’t have to drive to L.A. for L.A.-style food.”
Lee is a local himself — he grew up in Torrance, and is proud to be bringing high-class fare to the South Bay. Much of the produce used in his Asian-leaning menu is picked up at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and seafood — the chef’s preferred protein — comes from Santa Monica Seafood.
In composition, Lee’s dishes manage to be both sleek and playful, like the fleet of cars outside. A meal might begin, for example, with pretzel rolls parked alongside pats of butter shaped like Porsche Carreras. A salad of lime-infused heirloom tomatoes and burrata arrived topped with delicate purple pansies, as did a giant Tomahawk pork chop (it’s funny how edible flowers can make a hunk of meat appear almost dainty). Lee’s Thai curry clams in a tom kah broth are notable, too.
Depending on the time of day, the 917 experience will be different. At lunch, visitors are privy to action on the track below: “it’s kind of like dining with a movie,” Lee says. During dinner hours, though, the track is closed.
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Keep in mind that riding in a Porsche yourself will cost extra. A demo lap with an expert driver like Kanavas can be booked at set times for $120. Other experiences are longer and are priced higher but include a driving coach, a theory or skill session and time behind the wheel (with your instructor in the passenger seat).
There are cars on display in the center's main showroom, and a branded retail shop, where you can pick up Porsche paper clips, watches and clothes. With all of these components, it’s hard to categorize the place (perhaps that’s why the website dubs it a “theme park for grown-ups”).
“I feel like people think it’s a little crazy at first, but once you get here, you go for a drive, and you come in and have lunch, it works out perfectly,” Lee said.
19800 S. Main St., Carson; (310) 527-0917, restaurant917.com.