Red O Restaurant: New Mexican, Tequila Tunnel and More Cowbell

— by Caroline on Crack

Red O's pork belly sopes by Caroline on Crack

Red O's pork belly sopes

I’m going to admit something to you that may get me disbarred from the L.A. Food Bloggers Association, if there was one. I don’t know who this Rick Bayless is. At least I didn’t really before I was invited to a blogger dinner at the new Red O Restaurant (Bayless created the Mexican cuisine menu but doesn’t own the venue). Red O, in the former Chocolat space on Melrose, had only been opened for two days and was already booked solid for a month, and here I was lucky enough to land a seat.

And for those who don’t know, Rick Bayless is a world-famous chef with PBS series Mexico — One Plate at a Time, several cookbooks and the title of “Top Chef Master” under his belt. Very impressive indeed. So remember earlier this year when foodies were all twitterpated about how L.A. would be the site of his first restaurant outside of Chicago? Well, now you, too, know what the big deal is. Apparently his guy knows Mexican food and he was gonna show off his skills right in our town.

Mattatouille and Teenage Glutster from Caroline on Crack

Mattatouille and Teenage Glutster pondering the tequila.

For dinner, I was joined by bloggers Lindsay of LAist, Mattatouille, estarLA and Teenage Glutster as well as two publicists. We were treated to a seemingly neverending stream of tasty delights from pork belly sopes to Heirloom tomatoes and steak salad to Lamb in Chile Colorado.

And even given a tequila flight of Oro Azul Tequila Blanco, Corralejo Reposado Tequila, Don Julio Añejo Tequila and Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia. (Thanks to Glutster for the list as I was on the other end of the table and couldn’t hear the sommelier’s description of each one. Blah.)

Now, the entrees here, dubbed

“Mexico’s Celebrated Seven” as they are the top dishes representative of classic Mexican flavors, range in price from the $25 Pollo en Mole Poblano — grilled chicken, mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad — to the $31 Carne Asada Brava — green chile-marinated Creekstone Natural ribeye, roasty salsa huevona, sweet corn tamales and grilled knob onions. Not too bad, I guess, for a special night out.

But if you’d like to keep it light without lightening up your wallet, there are some nice options, especially for a cheapskate like myself. That $11 corn and goat cheese tamale with roasted poblano chiles was divine as that’s a triad of some of my fave ingredients. But if I wanted to treat myself I’d order up the $20 crab and shrimp enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, corn tortillas, Sonoma Jack cheese, black beans, and ensaladita. The Glutster and Mattatouille can back me up on how good this was as it was a highlight for them, too.

Topolo Margarita

As for cocktails, out of the six drinks on the list I only sampled the Tamarind Re-Fashioned ($11) — a concoction of Don Julio Añejo, tamarind soda, Luxardo cherries, orange, and orange bitters muddled with tamarind syrup — and had a Topolo Margarita ($11) with Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Gran Torres orange liqueur and limonada — all to myself.

The former was disappointing in that it wasn’t as flavorful as I had hoped it would be. I didn’t taste tamarind at all or really the tequila for that matter. But then again I like my cocktails with some kick and this was just too light for me. Everyone at the table agreed, not a favorite.

I did, however, enjoy the margarita. They asked if I wanted it up or on the rocks even though the menu states that it’s served up. In any case, that’s the way to go. Undiluted, with no ice. By the way, the restaurant is still testing out different cocktails so the current menu is likely to change soon.

The restaurant space itself is gorgeous. And at dinner I was fortunate enough to have its designer, Gulla Jonsdottir, sitting next to me so I told her myself. Ms. Jonsdottir was formerly the principal designer for Dodd Mitchell Design and has worked on the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and Beverly Hills’ Thompson Hotel. She’s so fancy that her business card is made from rose petals. Her design firm, G+ Gulla Jonsdottir Design, did such a wonderful job of Red O, instilling a sense of whimsy, charm and sophistication from the tequila tunnel lined with glass display cases showcasing bottles of premium tequila to the wall of golden cowbells to the handmade leather swings at the bar. No sombreros or Spanish colonial arches here.

Rick Bayless and Executive Chef Michael Brown greet the table by Caroline on Crack

Rick Bayless and Executive Chef Michael Brown greet the table.

And in the course of our dinner we were able to see the main dining room transform from a beautiful, naturally lit space perfect for dinner with friends to a romantic, candlelit venue ideal for cozying up with your oh-so-lucky honey. During sultry nights, the garage doors will open up to let in the cool night air.

I asked Ms. Jonsdottir which she thought was the best seat in the house — you know, for future reference — and she said the table up against the tequila tunnel with a commanding view of the dining room under the skylights and handmade Mexican chandeliers hanging above is the best. As it’s the table closest to the restaurant’s tequila lounge, which I unfortunately didn’t get to check out during this visit, I would have to concur.

She said that they’re looking to include a cigar lounge, too, in the near future where guests can enjoy cocktails with their cigars. Noice!

I would totally love to come back and grab some drinks whilst swinging at the bar, depending of course if those swings ever free up.

Red O Restaurant
8155 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90046 (map)
(323) 655-5009
Twitter: @Rick_Bayless