Sunday, May 30, 2010

Red No

K. and I headed to Melrose last night to check out Red O, a new restaurant consulted by Rick Bayless.  Rick Bayless designed the menu and helped train the chefs, but has no ongoing relationship with the restaurant (despite his name being prominently displayed on the sign).  I was very excited to try his food; I really enjoyed his work on Top Chef Masters last year, which he won, plus he just seems like a nice guy.  The restaurant has only been open to the public since Wednesday, so less than a week, so I should caveat my review with that fact.  I would only expect the restaurant to improve in terms of food and service over the next few weeks.

First off, the space is quite lovely.  The restaurant is nice and airy with very high ceilings and drapes and modern decor.  We started out by ordering the Mojito Mexicano made with tequila and the Market Margarita, made with cucumber and honeydew.  It took quite awhile for our drinks to arrive and honestly, they weren't great.  The flavors just weren't very bold; it was rather watery and uninteresting.  This is probably sacrilege, but I enjoyed my pink Taco margarita that I had earlier in the afternoon more.  Needless to say, we did not order any more cocktails and switched to wine; I had a glass of the Trapiche Malbec, which was fine, and also took forever to arrive.

For starters, we ordered the Gleason Ranch Pork Belly sopes, served in cute little corn masa cups, the chicken tamale with yellow mole, and the woodland mushrooms queso fundido.  The pork belly was a nice little bite, I particularly enjoyed the sauce that it came on.  I really liked the woodland mushrooms queso fundido because you can't really go wrong with melted cheese and nice smoky mushrooms.  It was served with corn tortillas which were great: very thin and light and complemented the cheese and mushrooms well.  The chicken tamale was ok; the mole was quite mild.  The dish definitely needed the pickled onions that came on top for real flavor.

For our main course, we ordered the Cochinita Pibil: tortilla-fed, Gleason Ranch suckling pig, achiote-marinated & slow-roasted in banana leaves, black beans, pickled red onions, roasted habanero salsa, and the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo: wood-grilled Mazatlan Blue shrimp with slow-roasted garlic, wood grilled knob onions, Veracruz-style white rice with sweet plantains.  Honestly, the descriptions of both dishes sounded a lot better than they actually tasted.  I expected to really be wowed by the flavors, but they weren't a revelation to me.  The suckling pig was good, but nothing special.  It came in cubes and had the texture of pulled pork.  It tasted like regular braised pulled pork, similar to what you mind find at a BBQ restaurant or a Chinese restaurant.  The shrimp was also good, but nothing special; none of the flavors were particularly memorable.  I did not feel like Red O was much better than the regular Mexican places we go to: Monte Alban or Talpa in West L.A.  I understand that regional Mexican cooking is very different from one place to another and it's a little like comparing apples and oranges, but I prefer the two West L.A. places, especially at half the price.  We skipped dessert; the couple next to us ordered the Mexican beignets which they said was ok, but nothing special.  We were definitely a little disappointed in the meal, especially with rather high expectations.  It's always nice to have a night out on the town, but we'll be trying other places next time.

Apologies for the blurry pictures; I still haven't worked out how to use the DSLR discreetly in low light settings.
Chicken Tamale on top, Pork Belly sopes on the bottom
Woodland Mushrooms Queso Fundido
Cochinita Pibil
Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo
Red O Restaurant
8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90046
(323) 655-5009

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