Red Medicine - Beverly Hills, CA

Dinner - Saturday, June 11, 2011

A last-minute trip to LA necessitated a rather hastily-made dinner reservation this weekend. We had been meaning to visit Red Medicine for some time, and it turned out to be the perfect occasion as one of our dining companions has a soft spot for Vietnamese food (although we neglected to inform him that the food was more inspired rather than authentic).

I first experienced Jordan Kahn's artistry at Alinea, when he temporarily took over the pastry department after Alex Stupak's departure. I was impressed by Kahn's work, but shortly after, he left for New York and I lost track of him. It seems that he bounced around a bit, but finally discovered his personal vision here in LA.

The restaurant space is quite pleasant - high ceilings, with large windows letting in plenty of natural light. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the warm wooden tables with the concrete walls - modern, but very casual in feel (which I believe is their intent). Given that we had enjoyed a late (and very sumptuous) dim sum lunch at Elite Restaurant a mere 3 hours before dinner, our usual powers of consumption were severely tested this evening. The cocktails we had were enjoyable but not worth noting. As you will see, however, most dishes were noteworthy. We shared all the courses below.

Pork chaud-froid
Crispy chicken skin, lychee, clove, pistachio, spicy herbs
This dish was very well executed, although the pork was prepared more in the form of rillettes, with very little of the gelatinous aspic-y nature that the term chaud-froid brings to mind. The meat was topped with salted crispy chicken skin, which provided some nice crunch. Lychee segments brought a pronounced element of sweetness - a theme we would see repeated in every dish we ate that evening. I also enjoyed the Thai basil that was doused in fish sauce, although I suppose some would find this overbearing. My only wish was for the cloves to come forward a little more.

Green papaya
Pickled roots, crispy taro, tree nuts, nuoc cham
A very nice interpretation of green papaya salad, and visually beautiful as well. The nuoc cham sauce was nicely balanced between sweet, sour and salty (I often find various versions of it skewing too far towards the sweet end of the spectrum) - there was a little tussle as everyone at the table fought to get spoonfuls of it.

Beef tartare
Water lettuce, water chestnut, nuoc leo, chlorophyll, peanuts
One of the most intriguing preparations of raw beef I've had in recent memory. I'm unsure of the composition of the chlorophyll sauce (green streak in the foreground), but it was nicely spicy, like it had been spiked with bird's eye chilis. This went really well with the coarsely chopped beef. The water lettuce added a bit more of a vegetal aspect, and the crunchy water chestnut discs were excellent palate cleansers. The weakest component was the nuoc leo (powdered, presumably with maltodextrin) - it was relatively tasteless and it's texture didn't work for me in the context of the dish.

Lamb belly
Hoisin, hibiscus-onion, salsify, sunflower seeds, lady apple
Rather crassly prepared, with most of the flavours being dominated by the hoisin, but it was still damn tasty. The soft lamb belly was remarkably gamey, a move I applaud. There was a little too much salsify in comparison to the other components, but this was an easily amended issue. Together, the hoisin, onion and apple discs made this a very sweet savory course. I imagine this dish is quite a crowd-pleaser, what with lamb belly being in vogue these days.

Crispy pork neck, charred frisee
Egg, rose marmalade, dried banana
The dehydrated banana was a very nice touch, balancing the saltiness of the fried pork. Otherwise, a relatively ordinary dish - pork, mustard seeds, runny egg and greens. Another sure-fire favourite, but conceptually the weakest dish.

Ocean trout, grapefruit, burnt chili, icicle radish
The ocean trout was cured with cane sugar, and was accompanied on the plate by some delectable trout roe. While I liked the idea of the dish, it ended up being a little too sweet, particularly with the grapefruit gelée - still, I think it has the potential to be a great dish after the kitchen is done tinkering with its balance.

Sword fin squid
Onion soubise, carrots, salted black bean, elderflower
Very, very good - I wish we had ordered another serving of this. A big recovery after the relative disappointment of the previous two dishes. The squid was perfectly cooked, and were complemented perfectly by the crunchy puffed rice and soft caramelized carrots. The onion soubise added a nice depth of flavour, which was enhanced and contrasted by the pungent black bean sauce. Sprigs of elderflower added a nice herbal touch. With relatively few components, this was a much more edited dish than the all the courses prior to this, and the better for it. Excellent balance throughout.

Duck, caramelized endive
Banana, toasted grains, brown butter, five-spice
The duck was cooked sous-vide, and flash-fried to crisp it up. A bit of a head-scratcher - how does one let a piece of duck get so damn chewy? Putting that conundrum aside, I loved the flavours in the rest of the dish (the duck itself was also well-seasoned, just tough as all hell). In particular, the endive was brilliantly roasted (simple but important). Here again, the combination of bananas, brown butter and five-spice were evocative of dessert.

Bitter chocolate
Kecap manis, oats, parsnip, brown butter, soy milk sorbet
Finally, dessert proper, except the kecap manis brought in a refreshing element of savoriness this time. This, together with the parsnip and brown butter, echoed flavours from the previous dish but turned them upside-down - a fortuitous progression of courses. I was quite enamored by the soy milk sorbet, which asserted itself unabashedly. It played very nicely with the dark chocolate, and the whole dish was a great demonstration of Kahn's talent.

Coconut bavarois
Coffee, condensed milk, Thai basil, peanut, chicory
Our second dessert was more than equal to the first. The rich coconut cream could have been overwhelming, were it not balanced by the coffee crumbles and chicory. The peanut croquant kept the dish alive with its crunchy texture and saltiness, and the Thai basil added notes of spice and licorice to further counter the sweetness of the coconut and condensed milk. What could've been a disaster in less delicate hands was masterfully done here.

A very good meal at (quite frankly) a bargain price point. I'm happy that Jordan Kahn has settled into a place of his own where he can fully exercise his creativity whilst cooking the food he loves. It's a great trend that's going on these days with pastry stars like Kahn, Stupak and Salgado leaving the world of desserts... I for one enjoy the blurring of borders (I honestly never understood that imaginary wall between sweet and savory). We definitely hope to return to Red Medicine as soon as the next opportunity presents itself.

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone: (323) 651-5500