Boy are you in for a treat today. I've reached back into my brain for my restaurant review drawer and pried it open just for your reading pleasure. That's right...I've written up Red O, the first restaurant (or shall I say palace) outside of Chicago to serve Rick Bayless' groundbreaking Mexican cuisine.
The culinaire extraordinaire by way of Chi-town has gotten big, so big that he took down his contenders one by one on Bravo TV's "Top Chef Masters." It was readily apparent after two episodes that he would have no trouble doing so; kind of unfair but so much fun to watch. He talks soothingly slow and with pure intelligence--he is the only chef I know who can break down his ingredients and assign them to an element in the periodic table. My husband likes to think of him as a mad scientist-turned-gourmet chef.
Although not the owner, after the victory, I guess he figured it was time to dry his wings and fly over to La La Land to devise the menu and train the staff at the highly anticipated restaurant. Honestly, I really expected more because, after all, his name is on the towering, red neon sign. But after dining at the restaurant that was once home to Muse and Chocolat last night and a heavenly experience at Hatfield's last week, I'm pretty disappointed.
Maybe its because I've been born and raised in L.A. where it's a sin not to spend your teen years and twenties eating off roach coaches, on sidewalks and in hole-in-the-wall loterias that all serve up amazing Mexican food. Or maybe it's because the decor and overall feel departs from Rick Bayless' charming, homey demeanor and instead resembles Javier's in Orange County to the point where I almost thought I was magically transported to Laguna for the night. With linen upholstered booths, cobble stone floors, white Cape Cod trussed ceilings and a glass tunnel displaying tequila bottles galore, the behemoth space doesn't offer that authentic vibe felt at Frontera Grill, a timeless establishment that pays homage to Dias De Los Muertos; the one you learned about in elementary school with sugar skulls, glowing candles, black and white heritage photos and pink...lots of pink.
Instead, it's impersonal and a spider web for scenesters who look like they have absolutely no clue about the legacy behind Rick Bayless. The place is beyond flashy and this group eats it up (that's about all they eat). They smile, sip margaritas and watch as the valet parkers run back and forth in straw fedoras and the waitstaff meanders in matching red suede pumas. And the price they pay for their dinner and a show, a lot. Be prepared to throw down approximately $85 per person for ungenerous portions and food that comes at you like hot cakes.
However, I will say there are a few redeeming qualities. If you do like to be swept up in West Hollywood's hoopla, you'll love it--everyone's pretty and dressed to impress. In addition, the enchilada suizas are divine and boast tomatillo sauce at its finest, one with just the right amount of acidity to please your palate and prepare it for the perfectly cooked black beans that come on the side. Shrimp taquitos are a good starter and the freshly made guacamole is a must as it arrives at the perfect temperature and is embellished with the slight sweetness of sundried tomatoes. And finally, if you do have to wait for a few minutes or are in the mood for dining at the bar, the restaurant has two, including a tequila lounge in the back which is surprisingly quiet and airy, allowing you to choose from a list of simple yet defining cocktails and take in the view of Melrose Avenue and the comedy goers across the street.
The moral is, if you're homesick and looking for some Chicago lovin' you won't find it here. Instead, you'll find an expensive trip to Las Ventanas in Cabo or a themed restaurant in Vegas...Rick is nowhere to be seen. I miss him, so I guess I'll have to keep watching re-runs of "Top Chef Masters" or pay my brother a visit to the Windy City. For more information and reservations, go to www.redorestaurant.com.
Now of course this is my opinion and you should definitely experience it for yourself. With that said, here are some fun pieces to wear to dinner at Red O. Shop the looks from top to bottom: American Apparel's Tank Dress; Ash's Tyler Denim Wedge Booties; Jenny Bird's Navajo Crest Necklace; Rebecca Minkoff's Easy Rider Date Clutch.