Trendy and chic, Red O | Restaurant by Rick Bayless stands as one of the coolest places we have dined in recent months. The bar area, which we passed through on our way to the dining room, was hip and clean, some place I could imagine us returning to sit & enjoy a night out. The indoor seating area is actually and indoor/outdoor hybrid; you’d hardly know you were outdoors! We were sitting, in the “outdoor” area, though there was no hint of sidewalk dining. I can only describe the decor as “hip and cool” though there was nothing chilly about being out in the evening air thanks to the well placed heaters & ceiling curtains.
We were meeting old friends for dinner, and shortly after being seated, the guacamole, chips and two salsas arrived at the table. I have to admit, it’s not your normal overflowing basket of chips, so my first thought was how are the four of us supposed to share this little plate of chips?! Easily enough – these aren’t chips to stuff in your face, they are meant to be savored. If I had to guess, I’d say these chips were made on site. The guacamole was fresh tasting, with delicate cilantro, onions and chopped sun dried tomato, and most importantly not tainted by too much (or too little!) salt. I tried the red salsa (a subtle heat with a hint of roasted garlic) but shied away from the green. My experience is that most tomatillo salsas have some sort of cream element to them, so I generally stay away from those unless the server explicitly explains the ingredients. Quite frankly, I wasn’t in the mood to interview the server on every element of the evening, so I have to go on the opinions of Friand who said that it was also very delicious.
Cocktail time! The extensive drink menu of tequila drinks (right facing page of the menu) and not-tequila (left facing page) is mouthwatering and maybe a bit overwhelming if you go in not sure what you’ll be in the mood for. My suggestion? Always ask the server what his/her favorite drink is and go from there. Last night, we were told that the “seasonal” drink of the night was the “Prickly Pear Mojito” which is not listed on the menu. What can I say about this beautiful purple mojito? It was: Fan.Tas.Tic.
Friand took a chance with the “Alacran” though he was warned it would be spicy. No problem! I took a quick taste of this bad ass looking drink, and WOW! Just enough kick to remind you there is pepper involved, but not so much that you’d shy away from a 2nd sip. Definitely a drink to go down slowly, it complimented the guacamole perfectly. The drinks feel a bit pricey (at $14 each) but what the heck: it’s part of the fun!
Before opening the menu, I mentioned to our server (I’m sorry I cannot remember his name…) that I am vegan, and what can I expect? He immediately pointed to 4 items on the menu that were or could be made vegan: “Tostaditas” Heirloom Tomato Escabeche (remove the Jack cheese), The Red O Salad (vegan as-is), Roasted Garlic Mushroom Tacos (remove queso fresco) and the McGrath Farm Roasted Vegetables Suizas (remove the Jack and replace the tomatillo sauce with red sauce). An observation I need to share is that all the vegetarian dishes did not incorporate cheese, so to remove the cheese didn’t mean disassembling an entire taco: it amounted to removing a garnish.
I opted for the enchiladas, which were great! Not the over-stuffed, rice heavy, enchiladas of lesser priced restaurants, these were no-nonsense and delicate. The soft corn tortillas were filled with large bites of zucchini, mushroom, carrot and onion. The red sauce was smoky and dark, and again, not over done so that the enchiladas were swimming on the plate. The black beans? Beans are the bricks that pave a direct pathway to my heart. These beans were al dente and perfect, not sloshing around in starch from over cooking or even the red sauce (kudos to the chef who kept the sauce away from my beans!). I could go back there, hang out in the bar, and just ask for a big bowl of beans to go with my purple mojito.
Bring on the dessert! Light quickly fading, I snapped a picture before actually diving in to the dessert. This must be a first for The Valley Vegan: a photo of a dessert before I eat 2/3 of it! What I received was a trio of strawberry, lemon and chocolate sorbets. 4 cookies accompanied the dish, but not vegan, so Friand reaped that benefit on my behalf. The coconut chocolate wedge that sits atop the strawberry was the clear winner.
In fact, the weakest part of the dish was the lemon – a little disappointing compared to the strawberry and chocolate. The chocolate sorbet was so creamy, I actually questioned whether or not it was made without dairy! Nope, no dairy there. Truly a sorbet. And if I could just have a pint of the chocolate brought to the table with a giant spoon (oh, go ahead and sprinkle some shredded coconut on top of it) I’d be in heaven…
The interesting part of the evening is that we spent nearly 3 1/2 hours at our table and never once were we encouraged to order more drinks or coffee nor was it suggested we move to the bar or patio. We were left alone, probably at a loss for the establishment, although we didn’t necessarily stay that long on purpose. Good conversation with old friends goes on and on unchecked until someone yawns and another looks at their watch and says, “oh my gosh! It’s past 10pm!”
Big thanks to our server for providing me with so many suggestions. Great job Red O for your inclusion of interesting veg*n options on your menu and for training your staff to treat veg*ns like paying customers instead of nuisances. Red O | Restaurant gets an enthusiastic 5 sprouts. Looking for fun night out with your significant other or a group of friends, I would highly recommend checking this place out!
RED O | RESTAURANT
Mexican Cuisine by Rick Bayless
8155 MELROSE AVENUE
LOS ANGELES, CA 90046