Red O

By Jill Weinlein, 10/27/2011

is Oh so Delicious


After walking through the dramatic front door, I joined a group of ladies in a beautiful booth inside the trendy mexican restaurant, Red O. Our server informed us that we were sitting in the Jessica Simpson’s booth. When she comes to Red O, she always requests this booth. It’s very comfortable with thick cushions and oversized pillows.

Slightly sweet fresh corn and goat cheese tamales have a kick in flavor with the roasted Poblano chilies. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

We were encouraged to open the white leather cocktail menu and order one of the unique Red O libations. Mixologist Steven Calabro grows most of the herbs and spices in his own personal garden. He creates his own syrups and infuses all of his organic produce into his spirits.

With over 116 types of tequila, they offer some amazing margaritas. I tasted the Market Margarita with muddled fresh cucumber, honeydew melon, Espolon Blanco tequila, fresh lemon and lime juice served on the rocks. The ambrosia-like cocktail was delicious!

I’ve heard such good things about celebrity chef Rick Bayless. President Obama used to frequent his three unique Chicago restaurants and fans know Bayless from his highly rated PBS show, “Mexico-One Plate at a Time.” Foodies collect all of his six cookbooks to learn how to prepare authentic Mexican food.

Executive Chef Armando Martinez. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

In 2009, Bayless became the esteemed winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” He won with his magnificent Oaxacan Negro Mole. That was one of the reasons I was at Red O, to try this award-winning dish.

Since Bayless was in Chicago, our meals were prepared by the talented Executive Chef Armando Martinez. He stopped by our table and shared with us how he became a chef at Red O.

At the age of 18, Martinez, from South Pasadena, enrolled into the Southern California School of Culinary Arts. “My mom wasn’t much of a cook, so when I took my first class, I was amazed with the food the school prepared,” he said. After 15 years of cooking experience in various restaurants in Los Angeles, including downtown’s The Water Grill, Martinez had the opportunity to meet Bayless and work at his new Red O. “I first started as a sous-chef, however after five months, the Executive Chef left and I filled his spot,” Martinez said. “It’s the first time I was able to create and prepare food from my heritage.”

Martinez texts and emails Bayless at least once a day. “In the evening, I come home from the restaurant and plan the next day’s menu. I have a big chalkboard in my house. Like an artist with a paint brush, I plan out my next creative special dish and then email Bayless to get his feedback,” Martinez said.

Every Wednesday, Martinez goes to the Santa Monica Farmers Market to find the freshest ingredients for his recipes. “Mexican food at the Red O is truly Mexican food,” Martinez said.

To accompany our cocktails we ordered the classic and chunky avocado guacamole with warm tortilla chips. Next arrived a smooth yellow fin tuna ceviche with a cilantro-Serrano velvety green sauce, cucumber and avocado splashed with fresh lime juice. Both were heavenly.

We really enjoyed biting into wonderful grilled Mazatlan blue shrimp tostaditas with roasted garlic Mojo and avocado on crisp white Jicama shells.

Still eager to try a few more items before the lamb Oaxacan Mole Negro, we enjoyed the golden bite-size fried corn masa with shredded all-natural braised angus beef short ribs, roasted tomato-green chile sauce and aged anejo cheese. It’s best if you swirl the corn masa around the sauce and eat it in two bites.

One of my favorite dishes was the fresh corn and goat cheese tamales steamed in corn husks. They were slightly sweet and had a little kick with the roasted Poblano chilies.

The steak and Heirloom tomato salad is very pretty with colorful tomatoes, honey manila mango, wood-grilled scallions resting below grilled skirt steak and lightly dressed with a guajillo chile dressing.

When the Oaxacan Mole Negro appeared, I speared a piece of lamb with a chunk of smoked butternut squash tamale soaking in the beautiful Negro mole sauce. This dish lives up to its reputation.

Before leaving, I toured the relaxing tequila lounge and walked through the glass tequila tunnel with bottles of rare, unique and premium tequilas on view. In the main bar area are two black leather swing chairs. It’s first come-first serve to sway in one of these sexy chairs.

After my tour, I sat back down at Simpson’s table to a beautifully designed plate of creamy goat cheese cheesecake with a Mexican “root beer” sarsaparilla sauce topped with caramel popcorn, prepared by Pastry Chef Joanne Ponvanit. She also made freshly baked churros with a dark chocolate and Kahlua dipping sauce. Her dolce leche crepes with Meyer lemon mousse and fig ice cream with Mexican cinnamon were a magnificent ending to an award-winning Mexican dining adventure.

Parking valet is your best bet in this area. There is an $8 service fee, but the handsome valets in adorable porkpie hats are worth paying to escape a parking ticket. $$-$$$ 8155 Melrose Ave. (323)655-5009.


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