Growing up in Los Angeles, I was exposed to Mexican food at a very early age and in result, I have been eating Mexican food almost all of my life. This by no means makes me an expert, but it does speak to my love and respect for the cuisine. So naturally, when I heard that Rick Bayless, culinary god of traditional Mexican cuisine, helped develop the menu for Red-O, I was terribly excited. Despite the rumors I've heard about the restaurant's Hollywood wanna-be pretentious staff, especially the restaurant "bouncer," I was still determined to give this "restaurant-club" a try.
Upon my arrival, I immediately noticed the big man with a list. Expected. After I gave him my reservation time and name, the door was opened for me without any problems. Nice. The restaurant was inviting with plenty of light coming in through the open spaces. With a modern Mexican style, I felt like I was transported from the busy streets of L.A. to a cozy, sophisticated restaurant by the coast.
I spotted one of my dining companions at the bar already on her first drink. She recommended the sangria, but I opted for the mojito and our other friend chose the market margarita, my second choice.
market margarita, fresh cucumber & honeydew melon muddled with agave nectar, Arette blanco tequila, lemon & lime juices
The market margarita had the perfect balance of sweet and sour. The acidity from the lemon and lime juices were nicely balanced out by the sweetness of the melon and agave nectar. Fabulous drink. Very refreshing.
My drink was your standard mojito. Strong, but good. But, next time I'm definitely going for the market margarita or any one of the other cocktails. C'mon, you gotta live a little.
We started off with some chips and guacamole. The guacamole was just average for me. I've definitely had better, but I did like their salsa verde. But, I usually love salsa verde.
Alaskan halibut ceviche, cilantro-serrano chimichurri, cucumber, avocado
Since our reservations were at 6 p.m. I thought there would be plenty of lighting for me to take pictures. Boy, was I wrong. By the time the food came out, it was about 8 p.m. and all the "mood" lighting started to come on. Anyway, onto the food... The halibut ceviche, which a lot of people mistakenly as the guacamole, was just okay for me. Even though I enjoyed the cucumber, the dish was lacking the acid I love in ceviche. Also, I couldn't really taste the halibut. I wanted more citrus and more fish.
Mazatlan blue shrimp ceviche, mango, red onion, chipotle chile
I really enjoyed the shirmp ceviche more than the halibut. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the sweetness from the mango balanced out the acid in this dish. The plantain chips were a great touch and overall, just a bright and delicious dish.
slow-cooked Sonoma duck taquito, tomato-arbol chile sauce, arugula
Next up were the beloved taquitos but with a twist. The duck had amazing flavor and did not get lost in all the sauce. The arugula on top was nice to cut the fatty duck and add another textural element. One of my favorites of the night.
fresh corn & goat cheese tamales, roasted poblano pepper, corn husk
Another favorite, if not, my most favorite dish of the night was the corn and goat cheese tamales. The tangy goat cheese was fantastic with the corn tamale. When eaten with the salsa verde, there was a nice mix of creamy goat cheese with the heat from the peppers. A highly recommended dish.
beef short rib tamales, chipotle chiles, corn husk
We also ordered the beef short rib tamales that left a minimal impression. It was spicy, but other than that the flavors were average. While they were familiar flavors, it was neither unique nor memorable. I'd just stick with the goat cheese tamales.
shredded Creekstone beef short rib sopes, roasted tomato chile sauce
Next, we have the sopes. I started with the beef short rib sope and unfortunately, this was another miss. The sope was too salty for me and there wasn't anything exciting about them.
Gleason Ranch pork belly sopes, black beans, salsa negra, sesame
The pork belly sopes fared much better. Even though the pork belly was a bit dry, the flavors were there. There was just enough heat from the black salsa to take away from the sweetness of the pork. Still, a little too salty for my taste.
bacon tomato quesos fundido, serrano chile, cilantro, tequila
Queso fundido in English means "melted cheese" and can have varying accompaniments depending on what you like. In this case, we opted for the bacon and tomato queso fundido. I mean, who doesn't love bacon and cheese? The bacon, tomato and cheese come together in a magical arrangement of salty and sweet and when spread on a tortilla, you know you're going to have a fundido time (haha.. I couldn't resist!).
spicy catfish tacos, guacamole, beans, served with housemade tortillas
The heat from the catfish was nice, but I found the catfish to be dry. But, when eaten with the tortilla, salsa, guacamole and beans, it was a very tasty bite. The refried beans alone were fantastic and is what really finally won me over with this dish.
Our final savory course of the night was the ribeye marinated in green chiles. The meat was nicely seasoned and cooked medium rare just the way I like it. And you can guess my excitement to see the tamales as a side dish. I could barely fit in a couple bites of the steak, but I sure had enough room for the tamales.
Veracruz-Style Buñuelos, salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlúa chocolate sauce
Even though my dining companions and I were uncomfortably full by this point, we couldn't say no to at least one dessert. Our waitress recommended the bunuelos, which are Spanish style fritters. Accompanied with one of my favorite ice cream flavors, salted caramel, and a chocolate sauce, these are a must-get item off the dessert menu. But, the wonderful cinnamon flavor of the fritters alone should have you sold.
I honestly cannot say that I am huge fan of Red-O. While there were some great dishes (corn tamales, duck taquitos), there were more dishes that I felt to be just average. While I enjoyed the flavors in the sauces and marinades even when it was too salty, there were quite a few times when the meat was too dry or tough. I believe execution was strongly lacking in many of the dishes.
Would I come back? Probably, but next time I'll be sure to stick to my favorites and have an extra glass of water handy.
After we finished our meal, my friend and I visited the ladies room and ran into Julianne Hough of Dancing with the Stars. It turns out she was dining at Red-O with her new man, Ryan Seacrest. While we waiting for our car at the valet stand, the paparazzi were waiting their money shot of the new couple. One of my dining companions commented how she used to do exactly this when she was an intern for US Weekly. A nice trip down memory lane.
We headed to Street by Susan Feniger to meet up with some of our other colleagues and possibly talk to Chef Susan Feniger about participating in PbP's Annual Tasting Benefit. While the majority of us were full, one of my colleagues ordered Chef Susan's infamous Kaya Toast - the dish that got her eliminated from Top Chef Masters. Curious about the most popular dish on the menu, I had a bite and was in heaven! This sandwich was simple, yet so satisfying. It was sweet and savory. It was delicious. I loved it for what it was - simple street food done really well.
While there were no paparazzi at Street, we did get to speak to Chef Susan, who is a celebrity in my eyes. Unfortunately, she could not commit to this year's event due to prior events with other non profit organizations. But she did express immense interest in participating next year so, please keep an eye out for that!
8155 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Street by Susan Feniger
742 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036