Friday, May 28, 2010

LudoBites at Gram & Papas (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

LudoBites at Gram & Papas
227 E 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Fri 05/28/2010, 06:00p-09:00p

LudoBites at Gram & Papas Exterior
May 28th served as the final night of the fourth incarnation of "Chef of the Future" Ludovic Lefebvre's "guerilla style pop-up restaurant" concept LudoBites. LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papas debuted to us eager Angelenos on April 8th, and, like its predecessors, has proven itself to be another unmitigated success. After closing out both LudoBites 2.0 and LudoBites 3.0, it wasn't even a question that I would be dining here on the last night of LudoBites 4.0. Joining me this time were Carina of Mission Fruition (and formerly of Uncouth Gourmands), Christina of Food, Je T'aime, Cynthia of Cookie Chomper, and Ryan of Epicuryan.

LudoBites at Gram & Papas Menu
The menu for "The Final Night 4.0" is shown above. Click for a larger version.

The Evening's Wines
This iteration of LudoBites was a strictly BYO affair, with corkage set at $8 per 750mL bottle. Interestingly, though the pop-up has always advertised a corkage fee, this is the first time where I was actually charged. Ryan and I each brought two bottles: I chose the whites, Ryan the reds.

2008 The Other Guys Viognier The White Knight
Our first wine was the 2008 The Other Guys Viognier The White Knight, from California's Central Valley. It was actually a bit off-putting at first, but opened up quite nicely in the glass, showing zesty, floral, and citrus notes, with a soft acidity.

Tartine Plate 'Warm Baguette' Honey-Lavender Butter & Smoked Lard
Tartine Plate "Warm Baguette" Honey-Lavender Butter & Smoked Lard [$4.00]
A "tartine" is a French term referring to buttered bread. The baguette here was indeed "warm" as advertised, and also had a nicely flaky crust and chewy interior to boot. I first tried the honey-lavender spread and found it slightly disconcerting actually, with a sweet floral flavor that Christina likened to "spa cream." I preferred the smoked lard--like butter gone rogue--with its heavy, heady flavor that really did justice to the bread--tastes like heart disease!

Brie Chantilly, Honey Comb, Balsamic
Brie Chantilly, Honey Comb, Balsamic [$7.00]
Brie is one of my favorite cheeses, and I really appreciated how its creamy, luscious character was so deftly preserved and highlighted here. Actually, this would make a great cheese course, with the honeycomb adding just the right amount of sweetness to things.

Dorade Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Spring Onions, Lemon Honey Paste
Dorade Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Spring Onions, Lemon Honey Paste [$14.00]
The ceviche on my previous visit was one of the stars of that meal; unfortunately, this version didn't reach such lofty heights. The issue was that the citrus here didn't quite have the power to properly counter the considerable brine of the dorade, which resulted in a somewhat lopsided dish. I did, however, greatly enjoy the use of onions and coriander in tempering the fish's gravity.

Ludo Chides Us
Humorously, Ludo chided us for taking too long with the photos, saying that the food would get cold (fortunately, we were enjoying the brie and ceviche at the time, so temperature wasn't an issue!). He even Tweeted to the effect...

Santa Barbara Prawn, Avocado, Passion Fruit, Cocktail Sauce
Santa Barbara Prawn, Avocado, Passion Fruit, Cocktail Sauce [$24.00]
My major issue with this dish was that the prawns were served too cold, which was a bit distracting. That being said, I greatly appreciated their fresh, snappy consistency and how the creaminess of the avocado complemented the crustaceans so well. My favorite aspect here, though, was the spicy, prickly, lingering finish from the cocktail sauce.

Marinated King Salmon, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Crème Fraiche
Marinated King Salmon, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Crème Fraiche [$14.00]
I had a version of this during my last meal here, and I'm happy to report that the dish has actually improved. The salmon's flavor was less monolithic, far more robust this time around, and really paired well with the tangy red wine vinaigrette. It was good enough to stand alone, even without the crème fraiche. Overall, a much more well-integrated dish than before.

Veal Tartar, Oysters, Almond Oil, Seaweed, Tonnato Sauce
Veal Tartar, Oysters, Almond Oil, Seaweed, Tonnato Sauce [$14.00]
Those readers with particularly good memories may remember a version of this dish from LudoBites 2.0 at Breadbar. The veal, in concert with the oysters and tonnato, was actually quite intense flavor-wise, with an almost fishy essence, though this was somewhat tempered by the almond oil. What I really enjoyed here was the use of seaweed, which contributed a marvelous, vegetal, briny flair to things that really completed the dish for me.

2007 Curran Grenache Blanc
The next white wine was the 2007 Curran Grenache Blanc, from Santa Ynez Valley. This was a fresh tasting wine, with marked notes of white fruit and straw over a backbone of crisp minerality.

Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cone, Spicy Mayo, Mango, Corona Granite
Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cone, Spicy Mayo, Mango, Corona Granite [$19.00]
Here we have an entire soft shell crab, served in a sesame tuile-like cone (it reminded me of a super-sized version of the one used for the spicy tuna amuse at Spago). I didn't get much of the mango here, which perhaps was a good thing, as I deemed the sweetness sufficient as is. My favorite part of this, actually, was the Corona granita, which was amazing in how it so accurately conveyed the essence of the cerveza. If you're wondering, the number on the paper cup denotes the number of servings made of the cone--not sure why they're keeping track of this dish over the others though.

Foie Gras, Green Cabbage, Kimchi Consomme, Pickled Turnips, Sesame Oil
Foie Gras, Green Cabbage, Kimchi Consomme, Pickled Turnips, Sesame Oil [$26.00]
The foie itself, wrapped here in cabbage (Alain Senderens famously did this at Lucas Carton), had a delightfully firm, yet pliant complexion that I loved. What was even better was the flavor, which was incredibly mild, subtle, yet astoundingly profound. The liver was quite tasty alone, but the cabbage contributed a great enveloping counterpoint to the dish, while the bitterness of the radish did wonders in tempering the power of the foie. And let's not forget the broth, which had a superb Asian-inspired essence that Carina likened to a wonton soup. Overall, this was my favorite course of the night and one of the best preparations of cooked foie gras I've had; it even reminded me of the fantastic Foie-Gras "en Papillotte" at Guy Savoy (which is the best hot foie I've eaten).

And here's the infamous photo Ludo snapped of us with his iPhone!

Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Cherry-Amaretto Chutney
Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Cherry-Amaretto Chutney [$29.00]
One foie gras course deserves another, and so here we had another revisited dish from LudoBites 2.0 (where the croque was one of the most requested items). What we got to taste here was the very marrow of foie gras, counterpoised nicely by the jammy sweetness of the cherry-Amaretto chutney; it was actually surprisingly effective. And if you're wondering, yes, squid ink was used to dye the brioche black.

Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guiness
Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guiness [$12.00]
The ham soup was one of the highlights of the meal previously, but it was even better tonight. The potage's meaty savor was bolder, more robust, more concentrated, and I really appreciated its interplay with the tangy cornichon and radish, as well as the delectable pieces of bread and Swiss swimming around in the bowl. A "liquid sandwich" indeed.

Boudin Noir Terrine, Apple Puree, Wasabi
Boudin Noir Terrine, Apple Puree, Wasabi [$12.00]
I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is like a savory chocolate cake, an amalgam of meaty flavors tinged by a bit of iron-y savor, with a subtle, saccharine-nutty backbone. What was really interesting was to eat the boudin noir with the paired apple sauce, which really transformed, tempered really, the nature of the terrine. Given its somewhat "challenging" character, I'm surprised this infamously slow-selling dish survived this long on the menu. For LudoBites 5.0, I'd love to see a take on the classic boudin blanc.

Squid 'Carbonara', Pancetta, Poached Egg (63°), Parmesan Snow, Chive Flowers
Squid "Carbonara", Pancetta, Poached Egg (63°), Parmesan Snow, Chive Flowers [$18.00]
This was one of my favorites from before, and didn't disappoint. I appreciated how the squid's brininess was more apparent this time, and how the luscious egg and weighty Parmesan worked so adeptly in countervailing the cephalopod. The pork belly, meanwhile, added a fantastic, overarching saltiness to the whole hodgepodge. Very nice.

2008 Château d'Oupia Vin de Pays de l'Hérault Les Hérétiques
The first red of the night was the 2008 Château d'Oupia Vin de Pays de l'Hérault Les Hérétiques, from the Languedoc region of France. This turned out to be the most challenging wine that we had, with strong touches of tobacco, earth, and leather intermixed with hints of dark fruit.

Monkfish, Baby Carrots, Carrot-Orange Coulis, Exotic Spices
Monkfish, Baby Carrots, Carrot-Orange Coulis, Exotic Spices [$26.00]
Here, I appreciated the monkfish's firm, dense flesh, but felt that the fish's natural sapor was completely overpowered by the vegetal sweetness of the carrot. I liked the use of "exotic spices," vadouvan I imagine, but even that wasn't enough to bring balance and order to the dish.

Fried Chicken, Coconut Polenta, Grilled Baby Corn, Diablo Sauce
Fried Chicken, Coconut Polenta, Grilled Baby Corn, Diablo Sauce [$18.00]
Ludo sent out an extra, complementary order of his chicken, and we were grateful for it. "LFC" is quickly becoming one of the Chef's signature dishes, and with good reason. This is some of the most succulent, saporous chicken I've ever had. I loved the meat's over-the-top, grab-you-by-the-balls flavor, and how this was so artfully accented by the bird's delightfully crispy, rosemary and thyme-encrusted skin. The coq easily stands alone, though I did appreciate the sharply spicy diablo sauce, which reminded me of the condiment that once came with KFC Hot Wings! I didn't care as much for the polenta though, which I found overly saccharine.

2005 Parsons Flat Cabernet Shiraz
The final tipple of the evening was the 2005 Parsons Flat Cabernet Shiraz, hailing from Australia's Barossa Valley. I rather liked this one, finding a spicy, coffee-tinged, jammy bouquet leading to plenty of berry fruit on the palate, along with traces of tobacco and minerals.

Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Dried Bonito, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint Potato Mousseline
Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Dried Bonito, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint [$26.00]
The only difference between this lamb and the one that I ate before was the substitution of dried bonito for smoked eel. The result, though, was considerably different. The meat was noticeably more "lamb-y," with a delightfully subtle katsuobushi flair, and I enjoyed the light, vegetal piquancy of the mint. Interestingly, Christina commented that she actually preferred the potato mousseline here to Joël Robuchon's legendary pommes purée, though personally, I prefer Guy Savoy's fist-poundingly-good truffled version!

Carina, Ludo
Carina poses for the requisite photo with Ludo.

Braised Beef Cheeks, Escargot Red Wine Butter, Leek Salad, Roasted Eggplant
Braised Beef Cheeks, Escargot Red Wine Butter, Leek Salad, Roasted Eggplant [$19.00]
Our final savory of the meal was also, as expected, the heftiest course of the night. The beef was everything you'd expect: rich, fatty, and tender, with dark, heavy, meaty flavors intertwined with a shade of red wine tang. The cube-like item, meanwhile, was an amalgam of beef jus, black currant, and agar. Given the potency of the beef, the crisp, bright astringency of the paired leeks was absolutely critical in completing the dish. Nice.

Holly of The Michelin Project staged here for the duration of the pop-up, and performed very admirably in the kitchen, according to Ludo himself. You go girl!

Organic Strawberry, Vanilla Whipped Cream & Lemon Verbena-Meringue
Organic Strawberry, Vanilla Whipped Cream & Lemon Verbena-Meringue [$12.00]
I actually preferred this to the strawberry dessert we had on my previous visit. I loved the incorporation of a richer whipped cream, which did wonders in balancing the sweetness of the strawberry, and even the macarons were more apparent this time around. The best part, though, was the use of "pop rocks;" they left a tingling sensation in my mouth that lasted for over 30 seconds!

Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla Whipped Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream Christina Does Soufflé Christina Does Soufflé Christina Does Soufflé
Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla Whipped Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream [$13.00]
We ended with a textbook chocolate soufflé, a classic medley of chocolate and whipped cream. Tasty, but very conventional--I didn't even get any of that delightful pepperiness from last time on the finish.

Carina, Jo Jo, Peter
Carina, Jo Christina, Jo
It's always a party when Jo of My Last Bite shows up. Actually, the blogger presence was surprisingly muted on this night, though we did meet Chad of The Provender, Ryan a.k.a. rydka, and Ravine Lal Hiranand, who will soon be debuting his Fresh East quick service restaurant concept at the new Pavilions shopping center in West Hollywood.

And with that, we come to the close of another chapter--arguably the strongest--in the LudoBites saga. This leaves us, of course, wondering where the next round, Version 5.0, will pop up. From what I gather, it'll start somewhere in the July timeframe, after the Chef serves a stint on his Ludo Fried Chicken truck. The bigger question, thus, is where? The official word is that it'll be somewhere "Downtown," but, from talking with Ludo and Krissy, the shocker may be that the next LudoBites might stay right here at Gram & Papas. Only time will tell, but you can bet that I'll be there, as always, in earnest. Until next time...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Red O (Los Angeles, CA)

Red O
8155 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Wed 05/26/2010, 07:15p-10:00p

Red O Exterior

"Mexican Cuisine by Rick Bayless"

Exciting words, these. However, it must be noted that Rick Bayless won't be cooking at Red O on a regular basis, nor does he have an ownership interest in the business. The actual owners are the dynamic duo of Mike Dobson and Rick Teasta, the founders of Santa Ana-based oil changery EZ Lube (they also own Ma'Kai Lounge in Santa Monica, which, apparently, will also be converted to a Red O). The two have been partners for over two decades, but were best buddies before that, first meeting while working as doormen at the Red Onion in Redondo Beach. Red O, thus, pays homage to that original restaurant. Nevertheless, Bayless is responsible for developing the menu, and also took charge of teaching the staff, many of whom were brought to Chicago to train. Running the kitchens on a day-to-day basis, thus, is the realm of Executive Chef Michael Brown (of Patina Group and Wolfgang Puck Catering). Front-of-the-house duties fall on VP of Operations Jorge Pultera, who comes to Red O from Koi and The Ivy.

A brief Bayless bio: The Chef was born in Oklahoma City in 1953 to a family of restaurateurs, who specialized in barbeque. He thus grew up immersed in food, cooking even, but never thought about going into the restaurant business. Bayless took his first trip to Mexico at age 14. It was a family holiday, but he quickly fell in love with the energy, the vitality of the place. As a result, the Chef ended up majoring in Spanish and Latin American Studies during his undergrad years, where he formed dining clubs and also started to experiment with Mexican cookery. Afterwards, he studied Anthropological Linguistics at the University of Michigan, earning a MA degree, but dropped out in 1980, before he could attain a PhD. Around this time, Bayless also hosted a PBS television series called Cooking Mexican, started a small catering business in Ann Arbor with wife Deann, and headed the kitchens at famed Southwestern eatery Lopez in Cleveland. Following, from 1980 to 1986, Bayless lived jointly in Los Angeles (he was hired to develop menus for a Mexican-American restaurant chain) and Mexico, where he conducted extensive research on the country's culinary traditions, culminating in the publication of the seminal cookbook Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From the Heart of Mexico in 1987.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, Bayless partnered with some friends and opened Frontera Grill in Chicago, specializing in contemporary regional Mexican cuisine. Success quickly followed, and the next year, Bayless was named Food & Wine's "Best New Chef." 1989 saw the debut of Topolobampo, a more refined, James Beard-nominated, fine-dining version of the original Frontera. In 1991, Bayless won Beard's "Best American Chef: Midwest" award, with the organization's "National Chef of the Year" honor coming in 1995. He launched a line of prepared foods in 1996 under the Frontera Foods label, and went on to open Frontera Fresco, a quick-service restaurant concept, in Chicago in 2005 (a partnership with department store chain Macy's). Frontera Fresco debuted in San Francisco in December 2007. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, Bayless was considered a candidate for the position of White House Executive Chef, and in August 2009, he took home the title of Top Chef Master. The Chef's latest restaurant venture, Xoco, premiered in September 2009 in Chicago, and specializes in Mexican street food.

Red O Interior
Red O Interior
Red O's location, at the corner of Melrose and Kilkea, started out in 1977 as the legendary French bistro Moustache Cafe, which was later rechristened Chocolat under new ownership in 2005. The spot has been completely revamped with a sexy, seductive, Mexican-inspired decor by Dodd Mitchell Design and G+ Gulla Jonsdottir Design. The restaurant now features a large dining patio/courtyard with 14-foot chandeliers underneath a retractable, soaring glass canopy, flanked by a Bird's Nest-esque structure. There's also a bar/lounge area in the rear, which features a long communal table and swings, as well as a smaller bar off to the side, linked by a "tequila tunnel."

Red O Menu Red O Menu
The menu at Red O is rather vast (and neatly divided into sections such as "Bright Bites" and "Savory Snacks"), and features a variety of more traditional Mexican fare, as well as a number of "Cal-Mex" dishes. Currently, it's a dinner-only affair, but lunch service is slated to be added eventually. Click for larger versions.

Red O Cocktail List Market Margarita Mojito Mexicano
A very brief cocktail list was subsequently presented to us; click for a larger version. One of my dining companions chose the Market Margarita [$12], with fresh cucumber & honeydew melon muddled with agave nectar, Arette blanco tequila, lemon & lime juices. I, on the other hand, went back to my old ways and ordered the Mojito Mexicano [$12], composed of muddled mint, cilantro, serrano chile, lime & agave nectar, and Arette blanco tequila. It was actually one of the better mojitos I've had in a while, a great twist on the classic with the added depth and character of tequila.

Classic Guacamole
Classic Guacamole [$9.00] | freshly made, chunky, with warm chips & salsa
The guac was a must-order item, and indeed, it did not disappoint. I loved the dip's onion-y tang and tartish citrus finish, all intermixed with the lush creaminess of avocado. Overall, a very good guacamole, though not quite as strong as the version I had not too long ago at José Andrés' Oyamel.

Grilled Mazatlan Blue Shrimp Tostaditas
Grilled Mazatlan Blue Shrimp Tostaditas [$10.00] | roasted garlic mojo, avocado with fresh jícama "chips"
This was a surprisingly complex, balanced dish with rich flavors of blue shrimp, perked up by a bit of bite courtesy of the garlic. The crisp, refreshing counterpoint imparted by the jicama was much appreciated.

Alaskan Halibut Ceviche
Alaskan Halibut Ceviche [$12.50] | cilantro-serrano "chimichurri", cucumber, avocado
Humorously, we initially confused this dish for the guacamole--I'm sure you can understand why! In any case, here was a substantial ceviche, with the luxuriousness of the avocado beautifully moderating the considerable heft of the halibut, while the "chimichurri" added pricks of heat to the palate. Unfortunately, the flavors here were a bit overshadowed by the other, more aggressive courses served at the same time.

Woodland Mushrooms Ceviche
Woodland Mushrooms Ceviche [$10.00] | grilled knob onion, sun-dried tomato, serrano chile
You don't see many mushrooms ceviches around, but this dish turned out to be one of my favorites of the night. I loved the interplay of the earthy mushrooms with the sweet and vegetal notes of its various accoutrements, and how the heat of the serrano built up so eloquently on the long, lingering finish.

Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes
Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes [$9.00] | roasted tomato-green chile sauce
As expected, the beef itself was wonderfully tender, with rich, dark, hearty flavors, flavors which were augmented even further by the application of cheese. I really enjoyed the subtle smokiness imparted by the roasted tomato-chili dressing, but my favorite part was how the stout cylinders of corn masa so deftly tempered the meat's substantial gravity.

2008 José Maria da Fonseca Loureiro Twin Vines 2006 Tintara Grenache
With the cocktails dispensed with, we moved on to a couple bottles of wine. First was the 2008 José Maria da Fonseca Loureiro Twin Vines Vinho Verde [$37], a lightly effervescent, easy-drinking wine with juicy lemon-lime notes offset by a pleasant minerality--a great summer tipple. We also had the 2006 Tintara Grenache from South Australia [$39]. This was a more substantial wine, of course, and showed a nice peppery spice on the attack, when then led to very apparent, jammy notes of dark fruit on the midpalate--quite delicious.

Gleason Ranch Pork Belly Sopes
Gleason Ranch Pork Belly Sopes [$8.00] | black beans, salsa negra, sesame
It was interesting to compare these sopes with the preceding short rib versions. The flavors were actually noticeably more in-your-face, a smoky-sweet blast of salsa negra that really helped in cutting the fattiness of the pork belly. And again, I absolutely adored the little bites of masa.

Slow-Cooked Sonoma Duck Taquitos
Slow-Cooked Sonoma Duck Taquitos [$9.00] | tomato-árbol chile sauce, arugula
I found the duck here immensely flavorful actually, and quite liked how it played with the subtly spicy sauce. The arugula, meanwhile, contributed a slightly astringent contrast, but wasn't absolutely necessary for me. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable dish.

Chicken Tamale
Chicken Tamale [$8.00] | herby Oaxacan yellow mole, banana leaf
Here, what struck me first was the great exchange of flavors between the delightfully piquant mole, tasty chicken, and tangy onion. Arguably the best part of the course, though, was the corn masa, which had a wonderfully profound taste that complemented the chicken perfectly. Easily one of the best tamales I've ever had.

Homemade Chorizo Sausage Queso Fundido
Homemade Chorizo Sausage Queso Fundido [$8.50] | roasted poblano chiles
Cheese and chorizo, how can you go wrong? We're talking about enchantingly mild, melted Vella Sonoma Jack, paired with the subtly smoky, vegetal zest of peppers, all with the overarching saltiness and spice imparted by the chorizo. Superb with the included tortillas.

Sonoma County Lamb in Chile Colorado Cazuela for Soft Tacos
Sonoma County Lamb in Chile Colorado Cazuela for Soft Tacos [$13.50] | ancho & guajillo chiles, roasted garlic, cumin, black beans
A lovely lamb dish, with heavy, rich, "lamb-y" flavors aptly accompanied by a sweet-smoky-spicy ancho-guajillo sauce and an earthy entourage of black beans. This was delicious but a bit overpowering when eaten alone--tortillas are a must.

Achiote-Marinated Catfish Tacos al Carbon
Achiote-Marinated Catfish Tacos al Carbon [$15.50] | roasted poblano rajas, bacon-flavored charro beans, grilled knob onions, salsas
I first tried some of the catfish alone, and found it smoky, yet subtle and delicate, with a great texture. I then grabbed a tortilla, applied the various trappings, and chowed down. The resultant amalgamation was tasty enough, but I did feel that the sapor of the catfish was a bit lost in the fray--go easy on the accessories.

Pollo en Mole Poblano
Pollo en Mole Poblano [$22.00] | grilled Mary's young chicken, homemade mole poblano, black beans, watercress salad
Here, we were served two surprisingly large portions of chicken, which I found quite tender--albeit a touch dry--with a very pure, yet very mild flavor. It was a canvas on which the mole could really sing. The sauce itself, interestingly enough, was by far the most nuanced version I've tasted. It had the trademark flavors of sweet, smoky, and spicy, but the savor was far more integrated with the chicken than I'd imagined it would be--so complex, layered, confident.

Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil [$26.00] | tortilla-fed Gleason Ranch suckling pig, achiote-marinated & slow-cooked in banana leaves, black beans, pickled red onions, roasted habanero salsa
I'm a huge fan of Rivera's "Maya puerco pibil" dish, so I just had to get Red O's version. I still like Rivera's version better, which I find more succulent, though this, nonetheless, was a valiant effort. The meat was suitably tender, yet not without a bit of bite, which I appreciated. I quite enjoyed the pig's rich, deep flavors, perked up by a bit of achiote and countered by the application of arugula.

Tinga Poblana
Tinga Poblana [$22.00] | braised Gleason Ranch pork shoulder & belly, homemade chorizo, roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, Yukon gold potatoes, avocado, queso fresco
I actually preferred the tinga preparation of pork, which really represented a great mix of lean and fat meat, with a lovely char and great lingering spice. I was especially fond of the potatoes, which grounded and tempered the dish. One of the highlights of the meal for me.

Red O Dessert Menu
We were all surprisingly full by this point, but how could we pass up the sweet stuff? Click for a larger version.

Creamy Goat Cheese Cheesecake
Creamy Goat Cheese Cheesecake [$8.00] | caramel corn, Mexican "root beer" sauce
I'm generally a fan of cheesecake, and this was no exception. What was fascinating here was the sharp flavor of the goat cheese, which almost added a savory tinge to the dish, an element that played very well with the caramel corn.

Veracruz-Style Buñuelos
Veracruz-Style Buñuelos [$8.00] | with salted caramel ice cream, warm Kahlúa chocolate sauce
This was my favorite of the dessert trio. The buñuelos--sort of like flattened fritters of fried dough--had a great, addictive, cinnamon-y flavor to them. They easily stood by themselves, but the included caramel ice cream was a very apt, though somewhat expected, accoutrement.

Golden and Crispy Empenadas
Golden and Crispy Empenadas [$8.00] | with wild strawberries & mango, mojito sorbet
Empanadas are usually savory, but in Mexico, sweet versions are common as well. The light, refreshing fruit went well enough with the flaky pastry, but the star of the show here was clearly that mojito sorbet, which really did a tremendous job in conveying the essence of the cocktail.

Mexican food in the United States has come a long way since Bayless began his culinary career--it's no longer simply about burritos, cheese on everything, nachos, iceberg lettuce, and Taco Bell. Old habits die hard, however, and I applaud Bayless and his contemporaries for elevating the status of the cuisine, giving it the respect that it rightfully deserves.

In a way, with the opening of Red O, Bayless has come full circle. Before opening Frontera Grill, the Chef lived in Los Angeles, and was seriously contemplating opening a restaurant in the City (at a spot on Melrose, in fact!). He even had financing lined up, but, in the end, LA just didn't seem "right" to Bayless. The mentality--the cult of the new and novel, the hot and hip--didn't suit him. So why open a place now, over 20 years later? Some would say that it was the money, or that maybe Bayless has tempered down with age, or that perhaps LA, as a dining city, has just evolved into something worthy of consideration. In any case, for me, Red O is a welcomed addition to the Southland's restaurant landscape, and, I suspect, will do just fine. ¡Buen provecho!