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Birthday Dinner Recs? Ink, Red Medicine others?

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I have a birthday dinner next week to plan for and looking for some suggestions. I've been out of the new restaurant scene for the past 12mths or so...

Places I am considering are Ink, Red Medicine for now. Any preferences for one or the other? Other suggestions? One of my dining companions is lactose intolerant, ideally a restaurant that has ample non-butter or creme items would be ideal.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. If you have 8 or more in your party, it's prix fixe only at RM - 8 savory and 2 desserts for $65pp (everything is family style, including desserts, so you don't actually get two entire desserts per person, but it's still a lot of food), menu planned ahead of time via email. I did that at the beginning of summer. Hits were the Brussels sprouts (of course), dungeness crab spring rolls, Imperial Wagyu, and chicken dumplings. Misses were the Indian eggplant and, to a lesser degree, the sweet potatoes. Of the desserts we received, I actually liked the green strawberry the best, although I may be in the minority there.

    I enjoyed the meal, and will definitely continue to dine there - it's one of my favorite restaurants. I don't really blame RM for the parts of the meal I did not enjoy. My party had several people with dietary restrictions, including a vegetarian and someone who can't have caffeine, which affected the way I ordered. If not for that, I never would have ordered the two bad dishes, although I would not have experienced the green strawberry dessert either, since the majority of my friends were not interested in it.

    Although, RM might want to rethink that Indian eggplant dish, because nobody liked it (I don't want to offend anybody with my description of that dish, it's kinda gross). And I still feel the ice dessert would be a much better dish if they would go easier on the currant and soapy-tasting stuff, and heavier on the herbs (take that sprig on top of the praline and put more of it into the ice).

    Service was excellent, and Cory, the guy I corresponded with about the menu, could not have been better.

    I don't know how you feel about Hatfield's, but that's always a good choice.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mrhooks

      I was concerned that RM might be too gimmicky - pretty but lacking in taste dept... Seems like you enjoyed your meal.

      Not a big fan of Hatfield the couple times I've been there.

      1. re: Sgee

        RM is outstanding. It is not bland in concept, taste, or visual appeal.

        If you have an adventerous palate I highly recommend it.

    2. Based on the two places you mentioned, are you tied to the BH/WeHo area? What's your budget?

      If you're willing to come to WLA/SM, there's board favorites (and mine too) Shunji or Tar & Roses. I would gladly go to either place to celebrate a birthday!

      1 Reply
      1. re: PeterCC

        No location restrictions, somewhat lower budget than normal around $50/pp.

      2. You might be interested in Ciao Bob's recent review of Scratch Bar http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9129... in the same general area of the other places you are considering. I don't know about the lactose intolerant aspects of their menu.

        1. Red Medicine is good.

          I also like Hinoki & the Bird.

          1. Thanks all for your feedback, decided to go with Red Medicine.

            Will save Scratch Bar and Hinoki for another time.

            1. I can see why RM continues to be a polarizing restaurant. Seems to be an equal number of raving fans vs. detractors.

              Dined earlier this week and I have to say, this is the first restaurant I absolutely did not enjoy ANYTHING we ordered. Poor execution - lots of technical errors, disjointed ingredients - basically felt like I was eating weeds foraged while camping - thrown in for the sake of being different without much thought on cohesiveness of ingredients and taste, a few dehydrated leathery vegetables thrown in with limited cooking equipment in an attempt to execute Noma-esque quality cuisine.

              My disclaimer - I've had a decent fill of Vietnamese cuisine but limited Nordic/Forage-y cuisine - only once at Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik (which was excellent btw and prepared in a shoebox sized kitchen). Before anyone gets upset, I realize RM's intent is not to create Nordic or Vietnamese cuisine, my assessment was not based on this expectation. It just frankly wasn't good cooking IMO.... perhaps it was too sophisticated for me.

              Service was lackluster, waitress never re-filled our glasses during the entire dinner.

              I was afraid of saying anything for fear of retribution by the restaurant for being a naysayer on twitter (which I realized was an outlet for them while googling RM on my phone during the meal) or other social media outlets...

              23 Replies
              1. re: Sgee

                What did you have? Did you have the Brussels sprouts? What about dessert?

                1. re: Servorg

                  We did order the Brussels sprouts - too salty, the cracker topping had been left out in the open for too long - resulting in a chewy vs. crunchy texture.

                  The chicken rillettes was the worst, dry, almonds tasted stale. Barely noticed the rambutans, felt like they were thrown in just for the sake of sounding exotic. Rambutan flavor is pretty subtle, pointless to overwhelm with hoisin. Crouton hard baguette slices accompanied the dish - just didn't work.

                  Dry roasting cabbage over binchotan in the Dungeness crab dish is not a good technique. Does not soften the cabbage enough to eat.

                2. re: Sgee

                  Thanks for the report back and sorry for the disappointing birthday meal. It reminds me of a personal b'day visit to Rivera (a few years back) where I had a similar feeling about the meal. Perhaps my expectations were too high (celebratory meal + restaurant I'd kept hearing raves about). Hope your b'day was enjoyable, regardless.

                  1. re: Sgee

                    my experiences same as yours. i think food sucks, service sucks and place is snooty.

                    glad some people like it.

                    1. re: Sgee

                      Thank you so much for reporting back. We really do appreciate the feedback, and take it seriously in consideration when recommending places for others.

                      That said, I have not yet been, but we had a reservation last year at this time, for my birthday, that we had to cancel due to something that came up. Perhaps that was fortunate on our part..... So glad that this year, we decided to go somewhere else, instead of trying to revisit last year's plan.

                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                        My 2 Cents...
                        Have been to RM several times.
                        Each time has been a revelation: whether it be the Vietnamese/SE Asian influence, the Locavore/Foraging aspect;, The EMP/Per Se/French Laundry connection: the entire experience was a new one and made me long for more.
                        Some restaurants serve to fill our nutritional needs, some serve to make us hungrier for some existential fulfillment. There is, currently, no restaurant in LA that makes me more excited about dining as an experience (rather than just a way to consume food) than Red Medicine.

                      2. re: Sgee

                        I personally love RM, and it's gotten better for me with each visit (including service), but I definitely respect and understand your point of view. It really is a polarizing restaurant for most.

                        1. re: Sgee

                          Have been to Dill in Reykjavik (along with Grillmarket and Seafood Grill) and thought the lobster bisque was good. Smoked puffin and minke whale were good. Totally did not get any Vietnamese influences. Very very different from RM. A lot of chefs are using fresh herbs and flowering herbs these days. Doesn't make it Nordic cuisine.

                          Sorry you did not like it. As you can tell, I am one of those odd ball fans of this place. You bring up a good point in that because it is so polarizing, it is hard to recommend this place without knowing how one's palate leans.

                          I like that his cuisine is unique and for me, quite successful. It provides a welcome change of pace in LA. I would rather have RM than another SBE creation or another small plates farm to table restaurant or another place providing lobster rolls or another pizza place...

                          1. re: Porthos

                            I believe it is a sign a restaurant is doing something when right when it *is* polarizing.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I suspect it would more likely indicate something unique about the food. And if unique-ness is "doing something right" - then you've found yourself a proper divining rod.

                              I would think uniformly, nearly-unanimous raves would be a better sign. But there's always that CH phenomenon that reads like "Fantastic!" "Best meal ever!" "Perfect!" "Delicious" "Can't wait to go back!" followed "Not so great." Someone ALWAYS pops in to piss on the parade.

                              1. re: foodiemahoodie

                                It's the restaurant not the diner that is pissing on the parade in this case

                                1. re: jessejames

                                  Think you said that 1 year ago. ;-)

                                  I really hope not because that will discourage other similarly adventurous chefs from opening here.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    Sincerely glad you like it and hope I'm wrong because you and other hounds like it Lots of other spots to choose. I live nearby rm and it is often near empty when I pass by.

                              2. re: Porthos

                                Porthos, I totally agree we need more unique restaurants in LA, wayyy too many farm-to-table sloppy cooking small plate joints. RM just wasn't my cup of tea but glad it serves the needs of quite a few fans.
                                A few fat ducks, tickets, benu would be nice additions to our local scene...

                              3. re: Sgee

                                Thanks for your feedback. I feel pretty similarly about RM, except I go there quite frequently for dessert. There's nothing like the birch ice dessert (actually, ink. serves something kind of similar, but not nearly as tasty).

                                But I hate that people say or even think that something is too sophisticated. Your palate is your palate, and you shouldn't have to apologize or make excuses for it.

                                Besides, anybody that would imply that a restaurant is sophisticated or for sophisticated folks is usually just projecting a quality onto themselves: "RM is sophisticated. I like RM. Guess what that makes me!"

                                1. re: andytseng

                                  I agree but also feel its just the other side of the coin when a diner criticizes a well trained chef for flavor combinations and technique. "Guess what, I watch food TV so I know a thing or two about cooking!"

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    I've been around the block dining out at high and low-end establishments around the world and cook at home a fair bit, doesn't require a professional chef to notice technical errors in a restaurant.

                                    The flavor combinations may not be my cup of tea, however chewy crackers, leathery vegetables, beetroot sheet with too much gelatin, bland dry underseasoned rilletes, roots left on grilled spring onions are just fundamental execution errors - unless folks find those elements appealing...

                                    1. re: Sgee

                                      Sgee, sorry, my comment wasn't directed at you personally.

                                      Many hounds have dined around the world extensively high and low, and also cook at home. Some like RM and some don't. Having dined around the world helps me determine authenticity and helps me calibrate my culinary scale for certain cuisines. Some cuisines I find very salty but I don't think it is an execution error of the entire cuisine but rather my personal preferences. What some find as superfluous I may find the perfect highlight and see the chef's intentions.

                                      Just another point of view and not a critique.

                                2. re: Sgee

                                  Appreciate the report. I now know that this is a restaurant I am going to skip. Not the type of food I would enjoy.

                                  1. re: Sgee

                                    Wow, when I ate at Red Medicine 6 months ago, the restaurant wasn't polarizing at all on this board. There was near-universal adoration at the time which only led to my greater disappointment with the meal itself. My use of Chowhound was even questioned because of this meal!

                                    My overall experience wasn't as bad as yours seemed to be. We had pretty great service with the waitress noticing from across the room our very unhappy faces with one of the dishes and then the kitchen comping us a dessert. Desserts were pretty great although we were just itching to be done with this meal by then so didn't really fully enjoy them. Cocktails were pretty good too.

                                    Anyway, I think some negative reviews can be a good thing for a restaurant as diners know better what they're getting themselves into. Room to be surprised on the upside.

                                    1. re: churros

                                      For me, a different issue. when first went in early 2012, turned out to be best meal of 2012, loved the porridge, loved everything.
                                      Went back about 6 months ago, different menu, but this time liked virtually nothing, had my mouth changed ? Now off my rotation, assume it is me, but with some dissenters now posting maybe a bit of them as well.

                                    2. re: Sgee

                                      Thanks for reporting back. And reporting back objectively (damn the torpedoes!).

                                      Restaurants are dynamic creatures. I suppose RM may be either in a downward decline or you may have had an off-night there. In any case, the service (or lack thereof) you experienced was definitely not acceptable for an establishment of RM's caliber.

                                      In either case, sorry to hear that you had a suboptimal birthday dinner at RM. Given your street cred with me on this board, this DOES make me reconsider the place.