As the mercury rises, so do our senses and passion for ambience, spice, heat, and flavor. “Red O” and some of Los Angeles’ newest restaurants covering the more sophisticated side of Latin American cuisine fulfill those desires.
8155 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Sun-Thu 6p to 11p
Fri & Sat 5:30p to 12p
Sun 10:30a to 3p
There is high-end Mexican fare, and then there is the distinctive Mexico-by-way-of-Chicago cuisine defined by chef/author/television personality Rick Bayless. While he solidified his career on a national scale though his role in transforming Chicago from steakhouse central to an American culinary center, he brought that strong-shouldered approach to Los Angeles via his audacity to open “Red O” amid many upscale Mexican restaurants and dependable neighborhood taquerias.
So why does “Red O” work? It endeavors to be “Mexican” without anything we normally associate with familiar Mexican food. This is bolstered by hand-crafted libations by ace mixologist Steven Calabro as well as fresh-squeezed juices and seasonal “agua frescas.” Although the menu has guacamole and fresh tortilla chips, there is nary a weighty nacho platter or chimichanga in sight. There are salsas, but they bear Rick Bayless’ stamp—complex, refined, and visually appealing.
There is also not a sombrero, piñata, or multi-colored blanket to be found, either. The airy space devised by Los Angeles-based Gulla Jonsdottir (a Dodd-Mitchell Design alumnus who counts the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and Cabo Azul Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, on her resume), is more Pan-American rather than Mexican. Its use of woods and Moroccan accents evokes the look of design hotel lobbies and restaurants in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
As a menu and its execution over the first year determines if a restaurant will transition from trendy to classic, it appears Bayless’ concept and his hand-selected L.A. team are on the right track. While it is now established as one of West Hollywood’s go-to places for dates, business meals and, as of May 1, a sophisticated Sunday brunch spot, there is enough substance and style to merit return visits.
“Red O” dishes are substantial, but as one of my brunch companions described it, “bright and sunny.” Case in point: the ceviche with bold chunks of shrimp and calamari counterbalanced in a light, citrusy marinade and paper-thin plantain chips. Low-carb and reduced calorie diners will appreciate Bayless’ signature flavors bolstered with California farm-to-table fixings in the thoughtfully-prepared salads and vegetarian dishes.
The brunch menu allows Bayless’ kitchen to strut their stuff, especially with offbeat combinations of ingredients that make perfect sense once on your fork. Even if it is tempting to go with something you know is “can’t miss”—like tacos al carbon—don’t miss out on “Red O’s” Sunday bests: Huevos Rancheros Verdes offset with roasted green tomatillo sauce, fresh corn tortillas, black beans, fresh cheese, and watercress; Chilaquiles al Guajillo, done up “casserole” style with red guajillo chile sauce, aged Mexican cheese, and fried egg accented with tangy baby greens; Hot Cakes Indigenas topped with whipped goat cheese, organic agave syrup, and red chile-glazed Neuske’s applewood smoked bacon; and Huevos a la Mexicana, with chorizo, scrambled eggs, fresh garden tomatoes, and Serrano chiles.
“Red O” is also an inspired after-work spot, thanks to mixologist Calabro. The fruits of his approach blossom in the signature Red O Lemonade made with rare Chicago-bred Koval White Rye, the Red O Mojito, and the surprisingly quenching Asado Mary, reminiscent of a great Mexican “sangrita,” crafted with roasted red and yellow tomatoes, roasted garlic, white onions, and thyme.