Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 2/21/11
This was my first time having President’s Day off since beginning my professional career (damn public accounting), and similar to Veteran’s Day, I wanted to make it count by hitting a lunch spot that I normally would not be able to. Enter Red Medicine, a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant that is undoubtedly more (in)famous for its treatment of the LA Times food critic than for its food. However, the food reviews I’ve read have generally been very positive from those who still opted to give the restaurant a try. While I did not like how that situation was handled, it didn’t stop me from paying a visit.
The lunch menu is much simpler than the dinner menu, more closely resembling the restaurant’s lounge menu. However, it still presented a number of interesting options and had a full dessert menu (a must here).
We started with iced oolong tea and iced Vietnamese coffee; both made in-house and both pretty good.
CRISPY SPRING ROLL squash, fennel, caramelized onion, tamarind
I really liked the delicate crispiness of these rolls and the differing textures within them. I could see how one could find the butternut squash, caramelized onions and tamarind sauce to be too sweet, but I didn’t mind.
CHICKEN DUMPLINGS caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, confitures
These weren’t so much dumplings as they were chicken meatballs. I didn’t have a problem with that, as they were delicious – very moist and flavorful. Looking at the interior, it looked like white meat, so I’m not sure how these were so moist (well, pork fat helps). Accompaniments included fried shallots, lime, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and lettuce for added flavor and playfulness. One problem, though, was that the lettuce wasn’t large enough to cover the circumference of the ‘dumplings.’
BÚN CHÀ wagyu beef, chilled rice vermicelli, herbs, lettuce, peanuts, nuoc cham
The server called the beef here “A5 wagyu,” which I’m pretty skeptical about. I liked the multitude of textures; the peanuts, bean sprouts and pickled vegetables gave each bite some chew, while the skirt steak and fish sauce brought the bulk of the flavors. Cool and refreshing, this would be a popular dish in the summer.
BÁNH MÌ heritage chicken lemongrass, carrot pickle, coriander, kewpie mayonnaise, green chili, cucumber
I’ve heard much about this sandwich at Red Medicine, and this was definitely a solid variation. The baguette, from Bouchon, was toasty, warm and soft. I liked that the chicken was pounded flat, so that it could be laid perfectly in the sandwich; each bite had an equal amount of chicken. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this banh mi, but it’s not trying to be.
I couldn’t come here without trying some desserts. After all, chef Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and his coconut bavarois at Test Kitchen’s debut was probably one of the strongest I had in 2010.
COCONUT BAVAROIS coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory
This is the same dessert from Test Kitchen, with a couple of differences…nonetheless just as good. There are a number of flavors and textures involved; coffee, thai basil, peanut and coconut are the chief flavors, while the chicory and peanut croquant (like Reese’s peanut butter cup) add the textures. These all melded together so well. So good.
BITTER CHOCOLATE kecap manis, oats, parsnip, brown butter, soy milk sorbet
This was a new dessert to me, and also a good one. Kahn plays with textures very well, and we had some cookie crumble here which provided some bite. The chocolate was good as well, though this was somewhat overshadowed by our other dessert.
I was pleasantly surprised by this meal. I thought the strength was in the appetizers and desserts; the appetizers showed some different renditions of familiar dishes, while the desserts were imaginative, unique and delicious. I had no issues with the entrees at all, but they weren’t necessarily better than your go-to Vietnamese restaurant (which I’m sure is cheaper). Still, I am definitely planning a return visit…this time, for dinner.