Red Medicine opened in a most inauspicious way when the restaurant not only booted LA Times restaurant reviewer S. Irene Virbila out after making her wait for a table but also then took a picture of her which spread like wildfire over the internet after they published it. Some threatened to boycott the restaurant while others found it nothing more than mildly amusing and looked past it.
The Monster checked it out at the time and had a good enough meal but didn’t feel the need to rush back. A recent visit has swayed him as the dinner on this night is a delicious and ingenious look at Vietnamese cooking and beyond.
What makes Red Medicine interesting is the combination of inventive (and often times wholly new) ingredients with unbelievable plate presentation. Whereas many places use beautiful plating to hide the fact that you’re not actually being fed much of anything and have the pleasure of doing so at phenomenally high prices, Red Medicine veers away from this and actually feeds you while wowing you with artistry.
The menu is divided into four sections: cold, hot, large format and small plates. The drink and wine list, while not comprehensive, offers enough interesting selections and spins on the familiar to be a nice compliment to your meal. Even the butter and bread offerings are beautiful and worthy of a picture. Attention to detail is lauded and Red Medicine has it down.
On this night we sample the heirloom rice porridge with egg yolks, hazelnuts, ginseng and echire butter. It’s not something The Monster would order if not for the waiter’s recommendation and it’s lovely. Almost akin to a risotto, it’s a smooth in the mouth and surprisingly complex in taste.
The soft shell crab with turmeric, beer, chili and garlic is a dish you wrap in bibb lettuce and eat much like a Chinese chicken cup. The Monster could easily order two of these and be happy.
The by now famed chicken dumplings with caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass and confitures are as advertised while the crispy spring rolls with Dungeness crab, lime, pea pods, fine herbs and chili are light and delicate and worth an order just as the sword fin squid with onion soubise, young carrots, salted black bean and elderflower also is as well.
The only misses (and this is in comparison to the meal as whole) are the duck which is served with caramelized endive, banana, toasted grains, brown butter and Chinese five spice. It lacks the pop of the other dishes and the duck itself gets lost. Likewise, the brussel sprouts with caramelized shallots, fish sauce and vermouth don’t totally work. While The Monster can’t stop eating them he also wishes they were less salty.
Desserts feature equally as interesting pairings. A coconut bavarois with coffee, condensed milk, Thai basil, peanut croquant and chicory is one choice we sample along with and order of the plum, yogurt, purple yam, bergamot cracker and rose-geranium. Desserts effectiveness can be measured by how quickly they are eaten. These last mere seconds. The fact the pastry chef was at French Laundry this makes sense.
Red Medicine is pumping out inspired cooking and for those who haven’t been, haven’t been back or have been staying away due to the early impression left after the Virbila flap, The Monster says it’s a must do.
Why go? You know what soubise, bavarois and Virbila are…
Monster rating: 4½/5 Monsters
8400 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211