Red Medicine is the infamous restaurant where famed food critic Irene Virbila was outed (i.e. photographed) and refused service. While I agree with many opinions on both sides of this incident, I had not been keen to go to this restaurant until a fellow foodie friend said it was high on his list of places to try.
Fortunately I am not famous enough to be either recognized or refused service for my “power” as a food critic, so I was seated and served without incident with two of my friends who are both as critical of food as I am.
Since the menu is meant to be shared, we ordered several small plates, the first one to arrive was the brussel sprouts with caramelized shallots, fish sauce, and vermouth for $9. The crunchy chips on top were a nice way to present this dish and some of the brussel sprouts were fabulous, while others (especially at the bottom of the dish) were overly salted. When using fish sauce, it is very important to use a light hand when salting and apparently the kitchen didn’t understand concept yet.
We also tried the beef tartare for $15 which was made with water lettuce, water chestnut, nuoc leo (peanut sauce), chlorophyll, and peanut. This was such an unusual version of beef tartare that we all said “Whoa!” after the first bite. But we all took second and third bites until we finished the dish. Combining all the ingredients on the rice chips was essential to getting the full flavors this dish incorporated. I’m not sure I would order this again, but I was glad I had tried it.
The most disappointing dish of the entire night was the white asparagus with fried burdock root and coated in tapioca salsify, with spot prawn roe, on top of almond milk. It was completely tasteless, with no seasoning whatsoever, and the asparagus was so stringy that we had trouble eating it (or even biting through it). It was a shame since we all loved asparagus, but none of us wanted to eat this.
It is hard to tell from the photo, but the sweetbreads under the charred cabbage were wonderful. This was one of our favorite dishes of the evening, with perfectly crispy and tender nuggets. Once again the salt was a bit overdone on the charred cabbage, but the sweetbreads made this dish a winner.
For our final hot course, we chose the rice porridge with the uni supplement for $27 made with egg yolk, hazelnuts, ginseng, butter and Santa Barbara Red Uni. This was a very rich dish which we all loved. The combination of flavors made this the ultimate comfort dish of all time. This was definitely not your run of the mill home made or even restaurant quality rice porridge. It should definitely be shared unless you want to eat only one dish here.
For our desserts we shared the Green Gage plum with frozen cream, sorrel, elderflower, wild chervil. It was an interesting (as in neither good nor bad) alchemy of flavors both tart and sweet, but no one like this enough to finish it.
The dessert winner of the evening was the birch ice. It was THE most unusual dessert I have ever tasted and it beckons me to come back to Red Medicine with it’s scintillating composition of textures and flavors. The presentation was beautiful.
But upon cracking open the crunchy top layer, the cold, sweet, and creamy secret treasures below were absolutely addictive. Made with birch ice, almond praline, red currants, green almond, and jasmine, this was a palate pleaser.
I’m glad I was not on their “hit list” and able to taste their unique fare. Although I loved all their presentations, I was not impressed with all their flavors, especially since over salting food is a big faux pas that was repeated in two of their dishes. At prices that hovered around $60 per person, this kind of amateur mistake should have happened even once. People care more about tasting their dishes than looking at them, so the execution of recipes must be precise to elevate the food to the same level as the plating.
We all remember a flavorful dish long after it is eaten, but no one will remember a beautiful plate after they have seen it.