Lincoln Driven 2 Dine: A Dose of Red Medicine
Last night I got to experience an interesting promotion: The reignited Lincoln Motor Company, in order to get people to test drive their new vehicles, offered to buy them dinner (anyone, apparently: if you didn't have a driver's license, they'd drive you). Since dinner happened to be at Red Medicine, a place I'd been meaning to visit longer than I want to admit, I signed up.
I'm not an Auto blogger, but I've owned my share of cars, and I enjoyed getting behind the wheel of the 2013 MKZ Hybrid. Maneuvering it slowly around one city block isn't really my idea of a test drive (nb: I scare car salesmen), but the feel reminded me somewhat of a sportier Audi A6, a car I once owned and liked. Supposedly rated at 45 MPG either in city or highway driving (the electric motor stays on until 60 mph). Between the lack of a stick shift (gear shifts through buttons on the console, like some cars used to in the '60s) and the huge sunroof, it definitely felt like a 21st century car. Nothing like the boxy, floaty Lincolns we all remember our corpulent uncles and local pimps driving (what, you didn't have a local pimp?).
Anyway, on to dinner: Red Medicine is a somewhat minimalist space in a midcentury corner storefront on the edge of Beverly Hills. The decor is a little austere and shopclassy, but not as much as some places (Gjelina), thankfully. One could argue that a set menu for a promotional night isn't an accurate barometer of a restaurant--and this isn't meant as a final word anyway. But the menu was selected by the restaurant themselves from their current Carte, so on the other hand, everything ought to be perfectly as they want to present it, shouldn't it?
The tasting was casually divided into three courses of unofficial share plates (their actual menu just lists all items available together, except for three "large format" offerings). First came a chicken dumpling with a bit of fried sugar coating and two kinds of fruity jams and Boston lettuce leaves to pick it up with; crispy Dungeness crab spring rolls; shallot-roasted Brussels sprouts in fish sauce with Thai basil leaves and shrimp chips; and what was called a fava rillette with yogurt and sprouts, accompanied by little baguette toasts.
Somewhere between a Spanish croqueta and a turkey meatball, the dumpling was nice enough. The crispy Dungeness crab spring roll reminded me more of a light taquito, cigar-like and fried crisp, but it was full of excellent flavorful lump meat (it had better be: the menu prices these at $15 each) and contrasted by a lime mayo. The Brussels sprouts presented a new twist on an very well-trod ingredient, full of strong Asian flavors and textures that played a really interesting symphony. It was bold, arguably a bit overseasoned, but I kept going back to it. The special fava dish, presented in a sort of mini fishbowl/terrarium, seemed a bit fanciful. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it, but I am saying that I don't think most people would be able to distinguish it blindly from the edamame guacamole you get at Trader Joe's. With sprouts on top.
As is typical, what you might call 'mains' were more straightforward by comparison: a big piece of Alaskan halibut, simply grilled, and another plate of Imperial Wagyu (that's the brand name: it's from Nebraska) brisket. To accompany, came a very pretty bowl of young potatoes with sake lees fried into little gnudi and two contrasting edible flowers/herbs. Thai condiments accompanied these: more Boston lettuce leaves, slivered carrots and celeriac, pickles and sweet vinegar, with the suggestion that you use these to make wraps. I tried that a couple times: it was fine to eat that way, but it didn't necessarily add to my enjoyment the way it does when you're having ground chicken wraps or fried fish. These mains were more or less best eaten with a fork.
Halibut was simply grilled over Japanese charcoal, although owing probably to the size of the piece, I didn't get much charcoal flavor the way you do with yakitori skewers, just dryness. Pouring the whole bowl of vinegar over the fish alleviated that pretty nicely. The meat (braised 36 hours and glazed with palm sugar and fish sauce) was gorgeous: dense, rich, complex. So rich I don't know how I kept eating it, but I had a hard time stopping myself, which tells you a lot. The potatoes, literally swimming in butter, were very nice (I tend to prefer potatoes like this: it's how the good lord originally made them) and the herbs contrasted them with elegance, though I didn't quite 'get' the sake lees dumplings, if that's what they were, just kind of tough and tasteless. Unnecessary by half.
I should say something about the cocktails: The list is identified by numbers, not names (stark contrast to the current 'Moons Over My Hammy" trend in LA cocktail names) and the most reductionist flavor/ingredient words possible. Thus I tried "#86/raisin,nutty,brandy,citrus peel" and "#79/smoky,spicy,earthy,honey sour." Both were fine--and well crafted by my bartender--but generally as generic as they sound--in fact I had to confirm the second was what I ordered, and I still don't think that it was. They just don't seem to reflect, or particularly complement, the adventurousness of the kitchen. I chose to drink spirits over wine, though when I later looked over the list, I wish I'd gone the other way. There are many excellent and uncommon selections here (very Euro-centric) that reflect a real passion, particularly for Riesling, which is usually the best pairing to Asian flavors--beyond sake, of course. Beer selection is limited.
Dessert was a coconut 'Bavarois,' a nice culinary school name for what is basically a custard parfait, made with condensed milk and sort of de/re-constructed in a small bowl with coffee ice cream, drops of thai basil puree, something else I couldn't quite figure out, and peanut-cocoa crunch. I loved it. Often dessert arrives as an overly heavy sugar bomb: this hit just the right note of light palate-cleansing sweetness, with complexity to mirror the chef's food. I kept going back to it. It was probably the most successful dish of the evening.
This part of town doesn't feature a lot of cooking that is quite as adventuresome as Jordan Kahn's (The Bazaar is on a whole 'nother level, really almost touristic), which the menu describes as "modern. local. Vietnamese." It's a bit more than that, but like any adventure, can obviously fall easily into misadventure. There are enough other intriguing dishes on RM's current menu to make me want to come back (Chinese lion peppers with honey, soy, basil and dates; Japanese scallops with powdered yogurt and geranium, watercress, elderflower, lettuce root; Mugifuji pork with rhubarb) when I'm in a curious mood or with daring friends, although for a purely satisfying creative meal I'd be more likely to choose from 3-4 other places I know nearby.
A la carte prices reflect the neighborhood, though the $65 six course tasting menu seems like a value.