Pop quiz, hot shot: you’re at dinner, sitting at a table, celebrating your anniversary, and someone puts this glass bowl in front of you.
Do you: (a) Admire this beautiful display as a table decoration or do you (b) Eat it? The answer, it turns out, is both.
Red Medicine is a restaurant with a hostile reputation. In 2010, they booted the L.A. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila out the door after taking her picture and exposing her formerly anonymous face to the world. More recently, they Tweeted the names of no-shows and became the subject of a national news controversy. Needless to say, I was slightly nervous going there.
Still, I’d heard terrific things about the food. Andrew Zimmern raved about it on his blog. My friends Nick and Jason said it was one of their favorite restaurants in L.A. And our anniversary is usually a chance to splurge on a really nice meal; last year it was ink., this year it could’ve been many places: Alma. Hinoki and The Bird. Another place everyone’s talking and Tweeting about.
But Red Medicine was on my mind and I cautiously made a reservation. I checked in with Craig many times leading up to it, terrified he’d want to cancel at the last minute and we’d be publicly shamed. But he shared my curiosity about the place and on Monday night we showed up. It was almost empty.
Parking was slightly tricky (though the host kindly let us park in the employee lot when I called to ask about where to go) but, after that, our entire experience was pleasant and positive. The waitress was warm and engaging. She told us all servers have to take a quiz before working there so they grow comfortable describing the dishes. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it.
We ordered the tasting menu which is an absolute bargain at $65 a pop. The first course came out looking like this:
If you had to guess what that was, I don’t think you’d come anywhere close. That’s because it’s: Dutch White Asparagus, gently poached in a broth of bread and butter, with black sesame paste, almond milk, dried meringue of onion and sake lees, blossoms and “flowers of the moment.”
Did you catch all that? Who knows what any of that is but I will say this: it tasted splendiferous. Each bite was full of surprise, excitement, wonder, texture, with sweet, salty, savory flavors.
Same for the next course which you saw at the top of this post and I’ll show you again here.
That’s Wild Brook Trout Roe hidden beneath crushed buddha’s hand with a chilled rice pudding made from koshihikari rice, late-season quince, crunchy sweet rice, coastal grasses and succulents. Succulents! We have succulents on our windowsill at home; I’ve never once thought about eating them. But after eating this dish, which was truly unlike anything I’ve experienced before, I’m going to reconsider. They were so crunchy and juicy and a surprising vegetal foil to the creamy rice pudding and trout roe at the bottom. Here’s a look down after digging in a bit:
I loved every bite.
…obviously is Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast seasoned with an emulsion made from its shell and liver, wrapped in crystal lettuce and grilled over Japanese charcoal, fermented garlic paste, passion fruit juice thickened with egg yolks, mushrooms, tubers, spicy leaves and herbs.
I don’t even have the words to describe that one. So let’s move on to the next dish…
That’s Toasted Grains and Cereals stewed in brown butter and lime juice, caramelized mushroom pudding made with black beer, roasted hazelnuts with dark English malt, Kelley’s egg yolk, shaved trumpet mushrooms, a rich, aromatic duck broth infused with Chinese tea leaves smoked over pine branches.
Here’s what I’ll say about that one: if you took the most flavorful things in the world, blended them in a blender then extracted that flavor with a centrifuge, it couldn’t have more flavor than this dish had. There was so much going in I needed shock therapy to get over it. It’s the edible equivalent of “go big or go home.”
Our final savory course…
…was Lamb’s Shoulder, slow-roasted with Sequoia redwood shoots, ripe and unripe mango, yellow roots, preserved mustard seeds, puffed soymilk skin, wild yarrow leaves.
I should point out here that this tasting menu was unique in that we didn’t get individual portions; these were all portions that we shared. Which worked out quite nicely because it was the perfect amount of food. Neither of us were hungry by the time we got to dessert.
And check this baby out:
That’s shaved ice of frozen birch sap with sour red currant berries and jelly, creme chiboust flavored with jasmine flowers, crispy rice crackers, orange blossom bubbles and roasted almond praline.
Dessert doesn’t get much more fun than this. Each bite was a little adventure; sometimes you got a spoonful of bubbles that tasted like orange air, other times you got a spoonful of prailine and red currant berries. Here’s a sense of what we found as we dug in:
Dinner at Red Medicine, clearly, is a wildly engaging experience. It had the inventiveness of our meal at El Bulli but with a greater sense of abundance. Instead of a few tiny morsels of head-scratching food, there were platers and glass bowlfuls of strange, alluring concoctions most of us wouldn’t even think edible.
It’s a meal I’ll be thinking about for a long time.