Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Red-O: Oh Yes! or Oh no...?

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.

classic guacamole

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.

pollo con chile poblano cream

Now, moving onto the entress, we started off with the chicken. The meat was tough and a bit dry, which is a shame because the chile poblano cream was fantastic. It was full of flavor from the chiles and not overly seasoned. I would probabaly order this again, half hoping that the chicken would be tender.

Tinga Poblana, braised gleason ranch pork shoulder & belly, homemade chorizo, roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, roasted potatoes, avocado, queso fresco

The pork belly was a bit tough but flavor-wise, delicious. I really enjoyed the creamy avocado on top to balance out the saltiness from the chorizo and chipotle. The dish seemed too heavy for me, but it could also have been that it was my 9th course or so. Whew... Did I mention I was stuffed by this point?

Pescado Zarandeado, wood-grilled silver creek striped bass basted with achiote & red chile, three salsas, veracruz-style white rice with sweet plantains, arugula salad

Out of all the entrees, I would have to say this one was my favorite. The fish was moist (finally) and flaky - delicious. After you squeeze the lime all over the fish, the flavors are heightened by the acid. I also loved that this dish was accompanied by rice and arugula.

Carne Asada Brava, green chile-marinated creekstone natural ribeye, cooked over the coals, roasted salsa huevona, sweet corn tamales, grilled knob onions

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.

kaya toast

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!

Red O on Urbanspoon

Red O in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

8155 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 655-5009 

Street by Susan Feniger
742 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 203-0500


Daniel S. said...

Of all the pictures and descriptions, I have to admit the Kaya toast looks the best! I've had this at Street and it was so good that I spent all of the following morning trying to replicate it...with some success =). Will Susan Feniger be at PbP? I hope so!. The buñuelos look amazing and remind me of when I would make these at home--such a simple dessert. And too bad many of the dishes were salty, especially the sopes, but it looks like the pescado was a hit.

nelehelen said...

daniel, the kaya toast was probably the best! you'll have to share some of your kaya toast replications with the rest of us soon. unfortunately, susan fengier will not be at pbp, but i think she will be in next year. i hope YOU can make it to our event tho! :)

bagnatic said...

um, ryan seacrest is gay...isn't he?

the duck taquitos sound good but i'm not hearing enough good things about red-o. *shrugs* a bouncer....puleasse...

nelehelen said...

lol maybe this is a publicity stunt until he actually comes out of the closet??

Meghan said...

Helen, it looks like you really enjoyed Red-O! Rick Bayless definitely knows a thing or two about Mexican food.

If you're interested, he'll be talking with Charlie Rose tonight on Bloomberg Television about his experience cooking Mexican cuisine for the President of Mexico and President Obama at the White House. There's a clip of tonight's episode, including the Rick Bayless segment, posted on Facebook at: http://www.Facebook.com/BloombergTelevision

Again, great pictures of Red-O, it looks like you all had some great food.


Ravenous Couple said...

nice review on red-o, initially interested, but doesn't seem like a true bayless restaurant like the ones in chicago

nelehelen said...

meghan, thanks for the tip! i'll be sure to check out the episode.

hong & kim - i hope red-o doesn't really represent a TRUE bayless restaurant. concept was great, execution was seriously lacking.

Kung Food Panda said...

After recently dining at Frontera Grill, I'm not sure what the fuss was all about. While the food was good, it wasn't memorable or really worth the hype. I can't imagine Red O being any better than Bayless' flagship restaurant.

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