…. and no, I’m not talking about cough syrup, so relax.
The medicine I speak of is no other than Red Medicine, a scene-y little Vietnamese-inspired restaurant on Wilshire Blvd in Beverly Hills. I’d heard about it because I’m one of those food geeks that peruses websites like eater.com for my weekly restaurants-to-visit list making sessions (I need a job), and noticed that the head chef was Thomas Keller prodigy Jordan Kahn. This kid joined the French Laundry team at just 17 years old, marking him the youngest chef ever to work in that famous kitchen. Know what I was doing at 17? Toilet papering my ex boyfriend’s car.
For those of you living in gourmet-food-starved caves, Thomas Keller is America’s Joel Robuchon, a culinary heavy-weight so respected, so worshipped, and so deftly skilled, he managed to render Anthony Bourdain speechless after a single perfect french fry. So whoever’s cooked under King Keller’s tutelage is most definitely going to be pretty fabulous.
Suffice to say, heading to Red Medicine, our expectations were wavering rather high. The restaurant itself is nicely unostentatious and unadorned with any glitz to speak of, especially for Beverly Hills standards, which suited us just fine. The only glitz in the room was the plethora of celebrities: I counted 2/3rds of the Dixie Chicks, one Chelsea Handler, and Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, not to mention a few girls wearing leggings as pants and huge designer bags that were apparently Somebodys, judging by the way they kept surveying the room to see if they’d been noticed yet. But how could I pay any of them mind with such a gorgeous cocktail menu in my face? Rye with ginger beer and pickled peaches, a Pimm’s Cup with celery, and even one described as, “like drinking the milk from a bowl of corn flakes, with bourbon”. See? I’m not the only one who puts bourbon in my cereal! I opted for the #43, gin and apricot brandy with lime, honey, and black tea. A little sweet, a little bitter, and going down faster than a paycheck at Barney’s.
The food menu was just as creative, divided up into cold, hot, large, and small, with things like heirloom rice porridge, ocean trout with sugar cane, and the how-dare-you-sounding Niman Ranch pork belly with a vinegar and malted barley glaze. We decided to start with the chicken dumplings, little fried balls of ground chicken and pork fat glazed with sugar and lemongrass and served with an array of condiments and butter lettuce leaves. They were about as juicy and sweet and succulent as they sound.
Next up, we had the soft rice paper and rock shrimp, all wrapped up with jackfruit and black garlic like a refreshing and pungent little package. The plating was beyond beautiful, each leaf and spring of herb meticulously placed, like each roll had been plucked fresh from the garden.
On we went to the soft shell crab, served fried with another accompaniment of lettuce for wrapping, garnished with another dousing of fresh herbs and served with a light and zesty chili sauce. Plus, don’t you know that wrapping something fried in a piece of lettuce totally cancels out the fat? Hooray for lies!
We also ordered the pork rillette, a really lovely little pot of pork pate with crispy chicken skin (damn geniuses), lychee and pistachio, and served with bits of bread to spread it on. I’m a sucker for a good pate, and this had a really great chewy shredded pork texture I just could not get enough of.
Our next course was the only dip in our journey along the red-lovin’ rainbow. A plate of duck liver mousse (yeah, yeah, I know it’s bad, I’m going to hell for ordering it, chain me to the pyre) sitting in a brown sprinkle of dust that looked like some sort of soil and dressed strangely with green strawberries, chicory, and croissant “toasts”. It was striking-looking, of course, but very weird, and too avant-garde for my silly little palate.
Our next plate was one of the highlights of the whole kit n’ kaboodle: a hunk of succulent pork shoulder with caramelized black vinegar, sitting atop a fine bed of dried almonds and served with pickled lily bulb shavings. Sounds odd, right? It was. And oh wow, did we love it.
Another wow of a dish was the hoisin-glazed lamb belly with apples and sunflower seeds, so tender and melt-in-your-mouth amazing, it could even woo a starlet into eating an entire plate by herself. Unless it was me, in which case, I could eat two.
Unfortunately, the only true miss in the entire evening was dessert. The dessert offerings are beautifully enticing and original, of course, with offerings like bitter chocolate with brown butter and soy milk sorbet and a decadent sweet Vietnamese coffee to wash it down. We opted for the caramelized profiteroles, expecting fluffy and tender little pillows of pastry filled with cream. Instead we got some stale little rocks with a too-sour cognac cream and a sprinkling of overpowering black sesame. Huh? Maybe we just ordered wrong, but I have a hard time believing that cuckoo’s nest would be to anyone’s taste, no matter how uneducated the palate. Dessert should be luscious and decadent, warranting a mid-day craving the next day that makes your mouth water at just the thought of eating it all over again, no?
In all, however, we will most definitely venture back. I’m all for creativity in a kitchen, and most of what we had was so wonderfully bizarre and off the map, I’m already wondering what the rest of the menu tastes like. That, to me, is the mark of a really exciting restaurant.
Lil Wayne was right, guys: cough syrup IS addictive!