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Mar 8, 2014 01:32 AM

Red Medicine


I have gone to Red Medicine after midnight a bunch of times over the past few years, and always enjoyed myself. The chicken dumplings, the coconut bavarois, the rabbit spring rolls, brussel sprouts, house-made cream soda, etc... all quite pleasant. I had hoped this would extend to dinner service finally when I recommended it to a chef friend visiting from SF tonight.

We ended up going with 5 people, and it was probably one of the most disappointing dinners I have had in LA. Let's go through it:

Chicken Dumplings: Well, these were tasty, as always. Just simple, hearty bite of chicken, herbs, and sauce. Probably the most reasonable dish on Red Medicine's menu, and quite possibly their best. Simple, yet executed well.

Sweet Potatoes: The sweet potato dish was ok. The smoked tofu provided a pleasant undercurrent to the sweet potato, which was prepared well. Not necessarily mind-blowing, but a pleasant, solid dish.

Duck Liver: Beautiful plating, but utterly pointless. The herbs, and veggies on the plate did nothing to compliment the duck liver, and without some bread to put it on, it made very little sense. Portion was quite small as well. Everyone said "image over substance", and was pretty unhappy with it. The liver itself had a distinctly licorice flavor. Not worth the $19.

Pork Cheeks: Interesting plating, but wow...$28, and there was literally about 5 bites of food. We each had a leaf, a bite of pork cheek, and an endive. The flavor was not bad, but again, hardly any substance, despite the plating. The bitter currants were intensely sharp, and there were far too many of them compared to how little pork there was. It could have been a nice counterpoint if there was lots of fatty pork that the sharp, sour notes were balancing, but instead it was just a very sour tasting dish, with a little bit of porcine pleasure barely there. Tremendously disappointing in the end.

Large Format 36-Hour Braised Brisket: The best dish of the night, but the overall presentation was kind of sad. It was nicely done, fatty, pleasant, just a but sugary sweet with the palm sugar braise; reminiscent of some of the wagyu short ribs I've had at The Playground. But you put it into the lettuce wraps... what is the point of putting such excellent meat inside of lettuce, with all the herbs, and sauces? It was kind of more pleasant just to have the brisket by itself.

Heritage Pork Belly: We should have realized that they serve this the exact same way as the brisket... more lettuce cups. Sigh. Incredibly disappointing. Worse yet, this was quite possibly the worst pork belly I have had in LA, or anywhere. Very dry, almost flavorless, and just barely edible with all the lettuce, herbs, sauce, etc... If everyone hadn't been drunk, and still starving because of how horribly small the portions of most of the dishes were, we would've sent it back I think. But I didn't want to be we didn't.

In the end, things were so disappointing that most of my friends went outside to smoke and told me to get a check, they didn't want to risk any more money on dessert.

I have never been so humiliated to make a recommendation before.

The Vietnamese iced coffee I had at the end of it all was tasty, and at least the pinot noir from Burgundy we had was an ok wine.

But more than the food just being almost entirely pointless, or mostly "imagine over substance", the service made little to no sense. We almost never had our waters refilled, and we could barely get the waitress (there seemed to only be a single waitress for the whole place) to take more of our orders, or recommend us wines.

I never would have expected this from how great my meals at the bar have been late at night here.

I would say that Red Medicine is probably still a great bar, and place to stop in for a late night bite, but I would pretty much never recommend anyone eat dinner there.

At $90/person, the meal was not worth it at all. When the dining room is crowded, the acoustics are horrible, and they don't use air-conditioning. All of us were sweating bullets in t-shirts in the crowded dining room, and hardly able to talk to each other despite being in a corner.

Something is horribly wrong at Red Medicine. They need to figure out their service, and possibly transition to a straight tasting menu format, and get rid of these pointless large format dishes.

I will probably return at some point to see what solo dining might be like for the dungeness crab porridge or something, but let this stand as a word of caution to anyone interested in trying Red Medicine for the first time for a full dinner service.

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  1. I had a recent visit to Red Medicine (2 weeks ago) - and didn't have anything near a disastrous meal

    But I still felt the same way as (2) previous visits. Underwhelming in the taste department. More interesting than delicious.

    And this time I was annoyed with a plating technique where they pile up some kind of greens on top, and you have part the canopy forest and get to the bottom. Interesting the first time, but a bit annoying the 3rd. Not sure how you eat it, do you have to cut up the greens and then take little bites and mix them with what's below? Is this a deconstructed salad? It's just a little messy to eat.

    I'll have to try the late night bar menu as you have done.

    2 Replies
    1. re: foodiemahoodie

      "And this time I was annoyed with a plating technique where they pile up some kind of greens on top, and you have part the canopy forest and get to the bottom. "

      Yes, everyone was very upset about that at my table.

      I felt quite embarrassed that I had recommended the place because of it.

      Well, the large format plates, and sweet potatoes didn't suffer from that fate, nor the chicken dumplings, but that's hardly saying anything. We had FAR too many lettuce cups for this level of dining...

      The dishes at the bar seem to be the ones with cohesiveness, where the plating supports the dish. For example, I had the rabbit spring rolls, and with them you could dab the spring rolls into the little blobs of sauce that were artistically placed, and get a bit of the scattered herbs, etc... in each bite. It made sense, and tasted great. Same thing with the chicken dumplings, or, of course, their famous bar-only banh mi. Or the coconut bavarois =D

      It's like they are allowed to fly too free at dinner. The restraint of the bar setting somehow sets some limits that make the cuisine shine.

      I've never felt so ambivalent towards a restaurant before. I've genuinely raved about my bar meals at Red Medicine over the years, and I have also rarely been so embarrassed by a dinner service that I recommended to friends. I looked like a complete idiot. The coconut bavarois must be really something for me to still consider going back there after being so humiliated...hah

      1. re: BacoMan

        Yeah, my date was a pescetarian (sounds like a religion, doesn't it?) - and if you're so inclined, you end up ordering a lot of small plates which are usually on the salad-y side.

        They had one seafood entree - but that was sold out. So a lot of foraging fun!

        I do think if you put on your critical hat (for whatever reasons) and want to find something wrong with a restaurant, you'll be just leaning toward not liking something rather than liking it. I remember going to a restaurant in Paris and the maitre 'd was such a dick, I wanted to hate everything. I doubt it was bad, but I ended up finding something wrong with every dish (thought the aphids on the raspberry tart were pretty conclusive). Red Medicine is the kind of cuisine that some people would find "pretentious" - I don't have an problem with being creative. But I want a big portion of delicious on the plate too. RM tends to give me good instead of great in that area. I end up feeling less satisfied than if I'd gone to Lawry's.

    2. Too bad … dessert is one of, if not the, best parts.

      1 Reply
      1. re: a213b

        Yeah, I tried to convince the other 4 people of that, but they were so miserable with the rest of the meal that they refused to stay for it.

        The coconut bavarois aren't on the regular dinner menu anyway though...which kind of sucks (still on the bar menu though!)

      2. I would only go there for desserts these days.

        1. My sentiments exactly.
          Too bad this post wasn't available 3 weeks ago.
          I had good food at RM several times before and decided to show an out-of-town visitor what RM's food and cocktails were like.
          For 3 people we ordered:
          1) brassicas, 2) chicken dumplings, 3) foraged mushrooms, 4) sweet potatoes, 5) trout roe, 6) uni, 7) rillette, 8) dungeness crab, 9) Braised Brisket.
          We were the first guests there on that Tuesday and the restaurant never got more than 4 tables filled while we were there.
          The food was brought out in rapid succession with up to 3 items on the table at the same time. Worst, they taste so disappointing that we stop eating after item 6) and ask for the bill.
          Hope RM will improve its food soon.

          1. Not a fan, but new article here today...dishes in photos look more like a terrarium for a kids insects/turtles than food, but that's nitpicking....anyways, i know RM has its fans...