Monday, August 2, 2010

Red-O: Tinga tu Madre and Guacaviche at LA's Ultimate Palace of Pretense, Cuisine by Rick Bayless?

I must admit, when I heard all the commotion about Rick Bayless coming to Los Angeles, I was excited. Rick along with Diane Kennedy, has done a lot to educate Americans about authentic Mexican cuisine--that is to say that they've gone to Mexico, learned recipes and studied the techniques, and then published legitimate cookbooks. Diana Kennedy currently lives in Mexico, and has done so for a long time.

I've dined at Frontera Grill and had a great dinner there with friends some years back, it was quality cooking and the plates were recognizable, but it wasn't anywhere near the best Mexican cuisine I've had in Mexico, or the U.S. I really see chef Rick Bayless as an enthusiastic American ambassador of Mexican cuisine, and a food anthropologist. Certainly, he is an outstanding chef, and worthy of being a champion on Top Chef Masters.

But, I thought--this can help raise the profile of Mexican cuisine, and perhaps contribute to the overall dialogue about Mexican cuisine here in LA, which has been increasing with the efforts of more chef driven Mexican cuisine here in town. John Sedlar, in the vanguard of Mexican cuisine, Jaime and Ramiro of La Casita, Rocio Camacho of La Huasteca, are some of these chefs representing L.A. And, not to mention the scores of regional Mexican restaurants in L.A., many of which are chef driven, or run by highly skilled specialists. These talented Mexican chefs, cooks, and specialists are the true spokespeople for Mexican cuisine here in town, a place that Rick Bayless really hadn't visited in 15 years.

In an interview on Feast while discussing the opening of Red O, Rick Bayless claimed to be bringing a cuisine no one has seen here in LA, because of the strong Mexican-American food culture. He is partly right--L.A. does have its own Mexican-American, or pocho food culture, but it is also home to the third most important center of Oaxacan cooking in the world--after Oaxaca, and Mexico City respectively. He mentions his southern complex moles as if we don't already have dozens of Oaxacan restaurants serving moles, and not to mention our Mexico City style restaurants serving mole, and the handful of Pueblan restaurants preparing Pueblan moles.

Yes Rick, many of our restaurants represent the simple cooking and antojitos of Jalisco,and in many cases these places are serving tacos, and burritos that are more Mexican-American. But, we have the largest Sinaloan and Nayaritan population in the US,and they have a sizable amount of restaurant presence here in LA. We have a broader range of recently arrived immigrants and established Mexican-American communities here in LA. Chicago has many "regional" restaurants with non-Latinos in the kitchens, but the best stuff in Chicago isn't at those places.It's in the Chicago Mexican-American neighborhoods.

But immigrants alone don't necessarily make the cuisine happen, especially since most Mexicans coming to the US are coming for manual labor jobs, not to be professional chefs. Skilled specialists and taqueros don't need to come to the US for work, they have enough work in Mexico. There are plenty of line cooks, but I haven't come across a true al pastor practician yet.

Once the initial hype died down, Rick Bayless let loose some tweets that led me to believe his involvement in Red O would be minimal.Are these Rick Bayless'recipes? Did Rick suggest a menu, did he train Michael Brown in a style of cooking, or did he run him through this menu like a drill sargeant?

Arriving n LA to help chef Michael Brown and the Red O team thru opening days! Many months of training; tonight brings Frontera flavors 2 LA
12:47 PM May 26th via Twittelator

Day 4 of Red O in LA. Very please w what Chef Michael Brown is doing here! Frontera flavors in beautiful LA resto on Melrose.
4:14 PM May 29th via Twittelator

Frontera Flavors? Not recipes, just...."flavors." At no point has Rick really claimed ownership of the food here.

@Rick_Bayless: I am consulting on a restaurant, but i dont own it RT @Susie_LA @Rick_Bayless Is it true you are opening restaurant in Los Angeles? 5:43 PM Jan 30th from Twittelator

Consulting? Well, among the only writers to get their story straight was Amy Scattergood of LA Weekly's Squid Ink. The blogging community and other writers were believing this farce, and even blogging the wonders of Rick Bayless' cuisine at the media hosted opening dinner.

In a interview with KCRW's Evan Kleiman, chef Rick Bayless back peddled even more when asked about Red O.
Kleiman:"I have to ask you,what does Red O mean?"
Bayless:"You know...I'm not one of the owners of Red O, I'm just running the kitchens.."
The chef went on to state he was "heavily involved in the kitchen maintenance".."developing all the recipes".."all of the training"..."quality control."

You can listen to the full interview here, about 23 minutes in, but all Evan had asked him was what Red O meant, and he was quickly distancing himself from any kind of ownership or accountability.

I was uninterested from then on, but more things came to light, as in this ridiculous door host, which is completely absurd. Some friends of mine were even insulted by these guys, others were just yelled at for breaching the restaurants outer defenses. It's the only restaurant in LA you can't walk in and try to get a table, grab a business card, or just have a look around.

I then got of hold of the menu. Mr. Bayless, these are dishes that LA hasn't seen? Really, did you have the respect to perhaps visit La Casita, La Huasteca, our many Oaxacan restaurants,our specialists and regional restaurants from so many states in Mexico? You say LA mostly has antojitos, yet Red O's menu is mostly......antojitos. There are the celebrated seven, well....we have all those too. And, I can tell you, that in most cases, I can name an infinite number of better versions here in LA than Red O's.And in the case of the two dishes that aren't well represented here in LA, chilpachole and cazuelas, I can find BETTER versions if I can find even just one place that serves those dishes.

If chef Michael Brown wanted to learn about Mexican cuisine, why didn't he go to Mexico? This I find quite insulting as someone who reveres the Mexican kitchen. A month of consulting and preparing Mexican food with non-Mexicans in Chicago? Even the non-Latinos that run all the kitchens of Rick Bayless' restaurants get to go to Mexico at least once a year to study.

Well, on the night of this impending meal, I met up with friends with the intent of having a good time. I followed all the rules so my meal wouldn't be tainted by an overzealous door host. Yet, two of our diners walked in without submission and were scolded by the door host.

With Josh, Allison, Zach, Tomo, and my friend Chris all assembled, we sat down for a shot of tequila to get into the mood.This was a tremendous group of people to dine with, all we needed were a couple of good eats.

It is a beautiful room, and certainly qualifies as an upscale Mexican piece of property.

The bar swings are pretty cool, too. Tomo and Allison had fun sitting on them before we left for the evening.

The tequila tunnel is--I don't know--I've seen these before, and I'm a little bit more about the juice. This is a shallow tunnel of commercial, straight to US market, and pricey, ordinary brands.The only gem on the list of anejos was Regional, which they were out of. After that, they have Arette, and Don Fulano, which are both excellent, but these are in just about any decent bar's tequila collection. So we went with the Don Fulano--everybody loved it--So far so good!

We ordered across the entire menu to really give Red O a chance. Up first was the guacamole served with salty, store bought chips. The guacamole was nothing special, and yes, it can be folks. All the money here is in the plate. It just was an average guacamole, not better than one you could make at home.

The crab tostaditas were bland, but not any way offensive. If you've spent any time in high end Mexican restaurants in Mexico, this type of plating should not set the hairs on your back to stand up. A bite like this should be action packed, and it wasn't.

Again,lots of blogs and reports talking about fine products and complexities, but the theme of the night, at best, was cloying, one-note flavors.This food has complexities if your idea of refinement is ketchup or alfredo sauce!

The sope felt more like a puffy taco, and the pork belly didn't wow. Sopes are antojitos and the realm of specialists like Nina's Food, Antojitos Carmen, and so many more here in LA.

The first real stinker of the night was the ceviche verde, or green ceviche. Zach and I went back and forth on the name of this new dish and settled on Guacaviche. It is the guacamole from the first dish with fish. The fish was a good quality fish, but the texture was grainy, and there was no acidity. Maybe Michael should have tried the ceviche verde at La Casita? Still not too late.

The duck taquitos didn't taste like duck, and the sauce was not special, nor did it do anything to this dish. Quack!

Tamales? You can get these for a dollar from our many specialists in LA, the masa here was a tad stiff, and over all, I've had similar types of tamales from 7-11. Of course they didn't come with a beef short rib, which is a nice idea, but it must be delicious, which is always a challenge in making tamales. Tamales are the realm of the tamalera, not a great choice for a restaurant, unless there is a master on hand.

What is a queso fundido? It's a cheese dish, and should focus on the cheese. Here, it was covered in chile strips and onions, with a bit of the chorizo we ordered with it.I don't care if it's Vella Sonoma Jack, it must be a proper melting cheese . In Mexico, this dish is done with local melting cheeses, which vary from region to region. This is another dish that is done best in the northern states, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Sonora, and even down in Jalisco. How about La Casita's version that has four Mexican cheeses and is wrapped in a banana leaf? Red O's lacked flavor, was too busy with the chile strips, and the cheese quickly stiffened.

The chilpachole, which is supposed to be a spicy seafood soup, touted its fine seafood ingredients, yet the broth wasn't a chipachole I know. It isn't delicious and spicy, it tastes artificial. And the Carlsbad mussels? They tasted more like Long Beach! After Josh concurred that there was something foul in this dish, we sent it back. I haven't had to do that a whole lot, nor do I enjoy having to send a plate back, but this was exceptionally nasty.

These things happen, but even with a friendly mussel, this dish doesn't deserve to called a chilpachole. The version at Mi Ranchito, the kitschy Mar Vista Mexican restaurant that while is by no means serious kitchen, is looking pretty damn good right now.

The suckling pig cochinita pibil also has an unpleasant texture and I could only handle one bite. I wasn't expecting anything authentic, as this menu reads more like an El Torito, but I do expect it to taste good. This also had something artificial in the flavor that was off putting.

The pescado zarandeado was a first for me, on a couple of things. First, it came out in less than ten minutes after we ordered. A pescado zarandeado is a whole fish cooked on a metal grate that is flipped over a mesquite grill with a marinade--this is what they call a filete zarandeado in Mexico. Rick in his interview described this as a Pacific dish, but it comes from Nayarit, and is the state dish of Sinaloa. We have serious pescado zarandeado here in LA, from a region that Rick doesn't consider as being as interesting as Vera Cruz, DF, and Oaxaca? Well, why do a dish from that region?

This dish takes 35-40 minutes even on a kitchen grill, it came out in less than ten minutes as it is just a filet. It is done with snook, sea bream, sea bass, and other Mexican fish, but American stripped bass doesn't cut it.

I was so surprised by this dish that I asked one of the runners what it was. He replied, "fish". I said, yes, but what's the name of the dish? He fired back, "fish, fish!" I've never encountered such a rude runner, especially not a Latino. We had three runners, a floor captain, and a waiter, yet service was awkward, and clumsy. I asked another runner, this time in Spanish  the name of this dish, and he said pescado zarandeado, the rude runner came back as he was putting down other plates and chimed in, " and this is chicken, this is pork..", without humor.

It wasn't a quiz, I just couldn't recognize this as zarandeado and wanted to know a little bit about the food. Our non-Latino waiter didn't seem to know the dishes either, at least not so much by their spanish names. Hey, the names are in Spanish on the menu!

Was this pescado microwaveado? It was no zarandeado, no magnificent splayed open tender fish oozing with flavor.It's just a grilled filet o fish.

Chef Michael, Rick isn't interested so much in Nayaritan cooking, I mean it doesn't turn him on, so maybe you should check out Sergio Penuelas at Mariscos Chente's on Imperial. He does a superb pescado zarandeado, whole fish, Mexican snook, and nails it every time. This dish is what El Torito would call a zarandeado.

Cazuelas, hmmm, another one of those "tricky" dishes. It's a stew in a cazuela, and can be amazing depending on what's in it. We do some great stews, called guisados in Mexico, here in LA, but not many are served in the cazuela, or casserole dish. Is that reason to stop the presses? Hardly. The chicken in salsa poblana should have been rich, and creamy, with a mild poblano heat, but no.....watery, flavorless, and a bunch of chile strips and onions again. This isn't a hard dish to make, a type of simple tinga, or spicy meat.I love this dish and often make it at home, it is easy to make, brilliant, and not many places serve this since it's more of a home cooked dish. It's a perfect filling for tacos if Red O could make it tasty. This is reason alone to head back to the test kitchen. You can't make a chile cream sauce with any flavor?

There are plenty of places around LA though, that will give you a plate of something good to place in tortillas.Get an alambre plate from Antojitos Carmen, or Tacos Cuernavaca. You will get soft tortillas to make your tacos at these places, which is a lot of fun.

The camarones al mojo de ajo, another simple and satisfying dish found everywhere, was our replacement for the chilpachole a la Long Beach harbor.

It's garlic, butter and seasoning folks. Nothing to see here, make it at home or try one of the countless average to excellent versions we have around town. They will all be more satisfying, even at most Mexican-American restaurants. I'd even say to go to Serenata de Garibaldi for this if you long for a little presentation.

We ordered all the desserts, and by this point I was feeling so unsatisfied from this meal I was eager for some decent sweets. I'm usually with little room for such things but this meal left me hungry, just a collection of little sad bites was all the evening had afforded.

The chocolate mousse wasn't very appetizing, at all Again, something about the flavor.

The flan was a yawn, but the

bunuelos were fine.

I enjoyed the sorbet, and this little cake which I later found out was tres leches. Given the base flavors of the night I would call this un leche.

Finally, an intact dish emerged from this destroyed meal, the goat cheese cake. It's a fine dessert, deeply flavored, interesting, and a nice textural addition of a piece of popcorn atop this dessert.Bravo.

This past year has been full of so-called Mexican restaurants moving into LA, the awful Provecho(good ridduns), Rosa Mexicano and its tableside guacamole and bad commercial food, and now this? Do these people believe us to be fools? Pay a celebrity chef to exploit the public's infatuation with celebrity chefs so that they'll buy into this illusion.

Rick Bayless is a consultant, and a very well paid one at that. He is no stranger to such transactions as he lent his name to a Burger King commercial a few years back, even Emeril hasn't done that.

He's also started a fast food chain called Frontera Fresco, no doubt these will be coming to an airport near you.

But, this idea that non-Latinos from Chicago are cooking real Mexican, and Red O is this high end Mexican restaurant lifting up Mexican food here in LA is such a crock of beans.

It's not authentic, it's bad food, it's bad service, and this door host nonsense is not how we dine here in LA. Zach Brooks said it best, "If the door host stops you from going in, he did you a huge favor."

I would ask the blogging and writing community to look to our Mexican chefs, cooks and fine street food vendors for authentic Mexican. This isn't alta cocina, it's not authentic Mexican, and it is about as inspired as a Beverly Hills El Torito. As Gustavo Arrellano would say, " Ask a Mexican!"

Finally, the tinga poblana on Red O's menu goes for about $27. This is just spicy meat, the kind Nina and Carmen put in their antojitos for a couple of bucks. A whole quesadilla from one of these women will fill you up and leave you content. But luxury ingredients are not what this dish is about, it's about taking a simple piece of meat and elevating it with spice, and a Mexican mother's touch.Despite the high prices for Red O's simple fare, I can't help but wonder about how much of cost of the lousy food is Rick Bayless' pay-off and piece of the action, the door hosts, the runners, floor captains, waiters, managers, bartenders, hosts, expensive real estate, and costly interior. Tinga? Tinga tu madre Red O! This place is as empty as that tequila tunnel.

I respect Rick's love of Mexico, dedication to learning its cuisine, cookbooks and TV show, and know he is a talented and professional chef. I just question why he doesn't either remove his name from that sign, or fix that kitchen. I mean, far too many people are believing this is the real deal and that's a pity.

All photos for this report are courtesy of Tomoko Kurokawa of Tomo Style Blog

Red O
8155 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA


Ravenous Couple said...

Best and brutally honest review i've read from any blog. EVER.

Zach said...

LOL. I did say that... although I didn't hate all of the dishes (or the service) with the same passion as Bill and Josh. I think the clear takeaway is that if you know anything about authentic regional Mexican food (and nobody knows more than Bill), you will truly hate this place- especially for the price.)

Krista said...

I have to admit, I liked his show growing up. But I was COMPLETELY turned off to this place from the second he lied on the record to me on the Daily Dish about opening a restaurant in LA. "No, I can't. I'm such a bad commuter...I have three restaurants and they are all next door to each other. ...There's nothing in the works." Guess he really CAN'T handle a cross-country business.

gourmetpigs said...

The menu reads interesting enough but for the price and the attitude, it doesn't interest me enough to go, not in our city so rich in mexican cuisine anyway and sounds like I am lucky enough not to have gone and paid.

I did pay $23 for a barbacoa at Frontera Grill, which was fine though mostly laden w sauce, though I am used to paying $8 ...

Food GPS said...

Definitely a disappointing dinner. I had high hopes after enjoying a solid meal at Topolobampo several years back. At Red O, most of the dishes lacked intensity or complexity, though I did enjoy the bunuelos, cheesecake and our chosen tequila. Red O certainly isn't in the same league as a restaurant like La Casita Mexicana.

KrisDub said...

I am truly impressed by the honesty displayed here. So many bloggers and food reviews tip toe around bad service/food in order to not offend these 'celebrated' chefs. I like that you pulled it off without being rude.

Tiffin unBoxed said...

LOVED LOVED LOVED this write-up Bill, and am so on board with everything. The Long Beach mussel reference as well as the ketchup and alfredo sauce reference are so quotable. I was so excited to try Rick Bayless' food and ultimately the ONLY thing I also loved there was the cheesecake dessert.

Dommy! said...


Excellently written piece...

Like you, I've been to Rick's restaurants and have loved my meals there. I adore the energy and soul they put into their dishes...

But, something from the very begining about Red O didn't strike me as right. I was going to wait a month... it passed and still had no desire to go. Glad to know my instincts were right...

Kung Food Panda said...

Great write up Bill. I didn't think too much of Frontera when I went last month, thus, any interest of trying out Red O pretty much went down the drain. Your report confirmed it.

Tomo said...

Ay papi, I love when you use your vicious Mexican whip to crack a pussycat restaurant into shameless submission. The food was sub-par but boy those photos are beautiful ;)
Love your review, as always.

streetgourmetla said...

Ravenous Couple, thanks, that means alot.

Zach, Yes you DID! Well, I find it odd with that many people attending to you that there would be no polish, whatsoever. Others have felt the same. Again, I never expected authetic here, just tasty, and perhaps interesting.This place could do a better job without ever becoming "authentic".

streetgourmetla said...

Krista-just like you, Rick is all we really had. He went to good places, although he does tend to focus on very accessible restaurants, but it was always a great show, and he highlighted so many great recipes from Mexico. But, underneath it all, I believe Rick Bayless is a shark.

Burumun-Exactly! What the hell is frontera grill doing serving barbacoa? If it's not from a pit, done by a specialist from either Hidalgo, Texcoco, or even Puebla. Red O isn't interesting at all.

streetgourmetla said...

Foodgps-Yes, they should just go eat at La Casita for a month.

Kristen-Thanks Kristen, I really tried to be respectful, and didn't want to be over the top, I appreciate that.

Wasima-SO that's it, we're done with this place.

streetgourmetla said...

Dommy-Your instincts were spot on.People don't understand we can look at these things and know, verdad?

streetgourmetla said...

Kung Food Panda-Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised, I haven't been to to Frontera since about 2004? When I was there, it came down to just a handful of items I would consider ordering. I mean, tamales, tacos, barbacoa?No thanks.

Tomo-I like it when you call me Papi. Your photos are lovely, as always.Thanks for doing our dirty work.

Food GPS said...

Bill, these are strong words to be sure, but at least you back up your opinions with supportive evidence.

Zach, hate's a strong word. Too strong. It's not like staffers physically abused me or belittled my family at Red O. The food was just one-note and not nearly as compelling as what I've found at restaurants like La Casita Mexicana or Mariscos Chente(s).

Lesley said...

Wow. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience. It's clear this isn't a restaurant for the serious Mexican food-lover -- which is too bad, because Rick Bayless & co. had such an opportunity to do something really creative and sophisticated.

It's funny, because I'm often disappointed for the same reasons by Mexican restaurants in Mexico City. Some that proclaim to be "alta cocina" or even just very good examples of Mexican cuisine are just... blah. The street food and fondas are often so much better! And cheaper. But I don't know -- I struggle with whether there's a place for these higher-end spots, in terms of ushering in new tastes for people who have no idea what real Mexican food is. Maybe this is a jumping off point. They taste a sope at Red O, for instance, and maybe next time they'll find a little fonda and be more emboldened to order it.

Leah said...

WOW!! I love your honest review. I was supposed to go to Red O with fellow foodies when it first opened, but I had recently gone to Frontera Grill in Chicago and found it underwhelming compared to the great places in LA. . . I would have been offended by the pescado dish. . I still shed a tear when I think about how good it is at Mariscos Chente!!

Nomsnotbombs said...

I've long been confused about the hubbub surrounding "Rick Bayless' Red O," as he's NOT an owner--as you pointed out. I feel like you're in a unique position to comment on the food, and I totally trust your judgment. Thanks for the tips and for saving me the dinero and the hassle of the doorman!

streetgourmetla said...

Lesley-Yeah, well I do like many upscale places in DF, but they also draw from the fondas, corridas,street food, etc. Pujol is street food with the vanguard approach and that's cool. I don't think Red O leads to people seeking out the real stuff any more than Kenny G leads to people listening to Coltrane.

streetgourmetla said...

Leah-That zarandeado would have killed you.

weezermonkey said...

Your feelings about Red O = my feelings about momofuku ssam bar!

peppermonkey said...

I've been waiting for this review. I loved how you systematically took apart his food piece by piece as opposed to making some short outlandish comment. I've always had a weird feeling about Bayless: That he was taking too much credit for the authentic food of Mexico. His food may seem wonderful to those who have never had real mexican food (like every critic in NY), but is he really a creator, a chef like John Sedlar who respects the flavors and refines with technique. No

Right Way to Eat said...

This is one of the best review I get to witness. Brutal honesty is one thing, but I love the explanations and not holding anything back.

I'm a little stunned in that Bayless wouldn't talked up about the place after he got paid very well in training these guys. It's one thing for him to backpedaled, but offering no endorsement for the place that was using his training to prepare the food on the menu that he coordinated?

That radio interview already put me uneasy in trying this place. Then to get the bouncers to treat potential diners rudely (and I knew one of the guys who got denied entrance to the bar on that Squid Ink interview).

Well said on this review! I will definitely take all of your considerations. Truthfully, I was already less enthused, now to a point not interested at all in going.

streetgourmetla said...

Weezermonkey-Ah, well, I feel your pain,hehe.

PepsiMonster-Right, you'd think Rick Bayless would be, yeah man, this is my "Cuisine by Rick Bayless". Today he retweeted SIV's 3* review but didn't comment, not a thanks, or what an honor. Just a half-assed retweet, kind of like the guy in the back of the room with a half-raised hand.

PepperMonkey-Well, clearly something is wrong when SIV is calling Rick Bayless the best Mexican chef in the US, when she doesn't seem to cover any Mexican cuisine, and hasn't visited the restaurants of our local Mexican chefs.And, you're right, John Sedlar has so much respect for the Mexican Kitchen, and pushes the envelope. He's not just doing a culinary school plating of a dish he lifted in Mexico while knocking back a couple of maragaritas.

Diana said...

I thought I was the only one who wasn't head over heels for Red O! I was actually a little nervous posting my take a couple months ago. While I did enjoy a couple of the dishes, most were underwhelming -- especially at that price point. It's funny, Mattatouille actually mentioned in the comments that I should consult you about restaurants to try so I would have a better "context" for my commentary. Sounds like I might need to hit up La Casita soon. :)

Great, great review.

brian said...

Its great to read 2 such divergent reviews on the same day.

There are a few places where I have to really have to agree with Virbila:

#1 And I also have to agree with that the service was less than exemplary.

#2 I also have to agree wit the snooty reservationists and the night club like staff.

#3 that the lamb cazuela is good -it was my favorite dish there.

Unfortunately for Red O and the LA Times, the rest of my personal experience is much closer to that espoused by streetgourmetLA and not that of Virbila.

Most of the dishes at Red O were just not the best renditions of what they were - overall my meal was OK - and certainly not worth retuning to anytime soon.

If it was a dinner at Acapulco or El Torito I would have not expected more, but for a place wrapping itself in the Bayless consultancy I certainly had much higher hopes.

Arianna said...

Bill, your review made me really, really hungry - but not for Red O! Your descriptions of how good these dishes CAN be, at any of the amazing places in and around LA (and Mexico), made my mouth water. As others have said, your honesty as you explained - point-by-point - where Red O went wrong, was insightful and well-done. Loved this review.

WineGrrl said...

Why do they need a bouncer (or whatever they call that guy)?!

I also heard him on KCRW and he seemed more enthusiastic about his stories of working in his granny's restaurant back in Oklahoma than the Red O (an unfortunate name choice). I don't think I'll be eating there, either.

Blah Blah Blah said...

What a great and thorough review! Thanks for being brutally honest and not writing the type of suckfests (driven by free press dinners) that most bloggers write.

streetgourmetla said...

Diana-Don't ever be afraid to speak your mind, clearly, you were one of the sane ones at that dinner.

Brian-Well said.If the sign didn't have "Cuisine by Bayless" we wouldn't expect much, but it does.

WineGrrl-He did really want to talk about anything BUT Red O, and he was here for Red O, hmmmmm.They need to move the bouncer to the kitchen so that he can keep undesirable plates from making it to the diners!

Blah,Blah,Blah-Thanks!This was quite the SuckFest, wasn't it? Well, the sucking stops here.

Anthony said...

I don't argue with the review per se, as I haven't been to the restaurant and do get a bad vibe from it. That said, I also get the vibe from the review that it's about L.A. parochialism rather than a simple evaluation of the food. I've been to Chicago enough to know that Bayless cooks one hell of a lot better than he's given credit for in this review. I don't argue with the obnoxious attitude of the restaurant, that it's overpriced, and that there are better versions of some of the dishes elsewhere here in L.A.. But I find it hard to believe that virtually every single dish was met with the equivalent of: 'sucked, it's better at "insert name of L.A. restaurant.'

streetgourmetla said...

Anthony-Why is it hard to believe?Because it's Rick Bayless? Yes, if you must, please try the cuisine.And, you're correct, my appraoch here is based on Rick and his investors coming into LA and disrespecting the local talent(did you watch the Feast interview?)and claiming to bring a cuisine that we don't have, which is a lie.It's also about people who continue to think that a guy who rips off recipes from generous cooks and chefs in Mexico and then just changes the plating and a few fancy products making people think he's somehow an originator.

Rick doesn't create, he duplicates without the depth. I said I had a great meal at Frontera Grill, but isn't even in the same league as the average cuisine I've had in Mexico, and he isn't better than the Mexican chefs we have here in the US that have grown up with and have lived this cuisine.

And, yes, this meal was bad, Anthony, I could easily find dishes here in LA that are better. I'll do you one better, I already know where to find the dishes that are better.

I went through a lot of thought and effort to be careful and fair here, and I tried every dish hoping for a pleasant experience. This is an honest assessment of what I ate, but this is more than just a review of the restaurant, it is in defense of a cuisine that I respect.

I guess my point is, the emperor has no clothes.Thanks, Anthony, I do appreciate your comments.

Anthony said...

Fair enough! I love your passion and you've convinced me enough that, no, I won't be going to find out for myself. So in that sense, I basically agree with the fundamentals of your piece. I didn't see the Feast interview, but I do agree his standoffish attitude toward both taking ownership of this restaurant's food and toward L.A. is off-putting. I think my only point is that I know that the food in his Chicago restaurants is, simply, superb -- complex and rich when appropriate, and simple and unadorned when also appropriate. Very respectful of Mexico's great cuisine, and pulled off beautifully. And, aside from that, having seen him on Top Chef Masters, I was really impressed with how he competed against some very arrogant chefs and beat them a their high-end game, and did so with grace.

So, yes, the food here is certainly over-priced and I accept your word that it's also not very good, and his attitude may be weird. And who knows the reasons behind that. But I've seen enough from Bayless to give him the benefit of the doubt overall.

But I also give you the benefit of the doubt in terms of the honesty of your review. And, in particular, on the one hand I said it smacked a bit of L.A. parochialism but, on the other hand, as a true Angeleno-phile (like yourself, obviously), we could probably use a bit more of that in our town as we're one of the world's great underappreciated places. (I'm actually out of town for the summer, and your review absolutely has my mouth watering waiting to get back!)

Anthony said...


Just watched the Feast interview. And, yes, Bayless is dreadfully ignorant of Los Angeles. That's embarrassingly insular.

streetgourmetla said...

Glad you watched that Anthony. It's amazing how in the same interview he mentions the LA Oaxacan community, then claims to be bringing mole to LA. What's he smoking?

teresa said...

Great review luv da honesty.. I'm not of eating out Mexican food much since I'm Mexican & my moms I can say is a fantastic cosinera, famous for her tamales in WATTS "Tamales Elena", so if I want 100% authentic Mexican food I just gotta stop by my moms. But that dose not mean that here & there I don't try some1 else food, I was must exited 2 visit Red O since I'm a huge fan of Rick, now after reading ur review I don't think I'm going 2 bother myself anymore, I don't want 2 b disappointed. @Streetgourmetla have u been 2 Guerrero in ur travels 2 Mexico?

streetgourmetla said...

Hola Teresa-Well, you know that tamales should come from a tamalera, and paying $12 for a pair of lame tamales is insane.I hada tamale Huasteco last night for 10 pesos in San Luis Potosi, so delicious.

Currently, I'm only missing Oaxaca,Hidalgo, Tlaxcala,Vera Cruz,Tabasco, Queretaro, and Guerrero. I will get to all of these places eventually, or rather soon I should say. Of course, all these states have incredible cuisine.

I would recommend Rivera, La Casita,and La Huasteca though.

teresa said...

Well when u make it 2 Guerrero, I'm going 2 have the audacity 2 recommend some of my fave delicacies from my hometown. U can not possibly live w/ out having da Tamales en hoja de platano I'm sure u had them b4 many times but there r no Tamales like da Banana leaf Tamales from Guerrero. Da Pollo Rostisado is 1 of our fav street foods over there w/ onions & cabbage that have been caremalice in da chicken juices, like no other. Da Mole Verde w/ Tamales Nejos its outstanding. Da Picadas where my fave lunch 4 school. Da tacos de Barbacoa w/ Consome from da mercado I dream about those. My mom used 2 send us 2 da Mercado & we always used 2 buy less of what she asked us & save money 4 da Tacos con Consome. Da Moronga fresh & bloody lol can't 4get about that 1. Caldo de Iguana, Caldo d Jaiva w/ camaron the sea food is da specialty of Acapulco can't get more fresh them having them fish it out as u order. I see u r a fan of Pescado Sarandeado well u will luv our version of it. Da Ceviche da Oisters I mean I can just go on & on. & I can't 4get about da sweets Concerba de Mango, Flan, Chilate & bla bla bla. Its heaven on earth if u ask me. But I guess that's what we all say about nuestra tierra. Enjoy ur visit I'm sure u will luv it.

Eddie Lin said...


I'm not even Chef Bayless and my butt is sore just from reading that "new hole" tearing piece.

I think, as usual, Jonathan Gold summed it up best in an interview with Evan Kleiman on Good Food. In the interview he conjectures that the enigmatic name "Red-O" actually refers to the old Mexi-combo platter chain, The Red Onion - a clear slam on Red-O.

But after reading your ballistically ballsy post, I'm not sure which restaurant got insulted: Red O or The Red Onion. My bet is that you'd say The Red Onion got the shaft in J. Gold's conjecture.

Viva Street Gourmet LA!

streetgourmetla said...

Eddie Lin-Yeah, that Jonathan Gold is a sneaky one.

Well, we had to hit 'em back after Bayless and Red O dissed LA with this ridiculous restaurant.

Eddie Lin said...

Re: Anthony's comments.

I'm glad you turned Anthony around because I didn't understand why he couldn't comprehend that this was not about LA parochialism.

Rather, it's about regional cuisine and with LA being so close to the Mexican border (not to mention that California used to be part of Mexico) it makes perfect geographical sense that the Mexican food in LA is better than in Chicago. Would LA claim to have better Polish cuisine than that of Chicago? It'd be absurd, considering we have only 2 decent Polish restaurants in the entire county.

I'd argue that the city of Chicago would go ape shit if we even claimed to make a better deep dish pizza. Now consider that Rick Bayless rolls into town and psuedo sets-up shop to sell Angelenos Mexican food we have "never" experienced - that's an entire cuisine, not just a pizza. That's pretty nervy and absolutely insulting.

Yes, regional cuisine exists. I'll bet anyone that there's not a single Chinese restaurant in the Midwestern U.S. that can go toe to toe with some of the great hole-in-the-walls of Valley Blvd. in the SGV. Why? Because there are a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese people living in the SGV. Many of who can cook, really well!

So it's not parochialism, it's decades, if not centuries of nurturing a cuisine and feeding the people of a region. Bayless should know that. In fact, he does know that and that's why he's acting so strange, defensive and clearly embarrassed.

It's a short-sighted move no matter how big those checks he's cashing from Red O Inc are.

nelehelen said...

Great review, Bill!

I agree with you that all the flavors were one-note. When I had my dinner there, everything started to taste the same. Execution in cooking was also strongly lacking. I did, however, enjoy some dishes.

Oh, and does it only take one shot of tequila to get you in the mood? haha oh you and your tequila!

streetgourmetla said...

Eddie Lin, that's what I'm talking 'bout!There's all this respect for Chinese, Japanese,French,Italian, etc. but no one speaks out for the Mexican traditions nor sticks up for its true practitioners. Some of the same folks who insist on only eating Chinese in the SGV, will go to El Tepeyec saying how much they love Mexican food.Tokyo Delves doesn't try to pretend they are authentic.

Helen-Again, you are one of the people in the blogging community who got it right. Yes, me and my tequila.One of these nights, all of us and my tequila!

Unknown said...

Right on, Bill! Great job. I called it Dread-O on chowhound...and I was being way too kind. From the first chip with the absurdly over-hyped guac, to the end it is a disappointment at best and an insult to Mexico at worst. I found myself wondering what the line cooks and servers who know Mexican cooking must be thinking about the customers when they make and serve and get (handsomely) paid for that slop.
See you soon,

streetgourmetla said...

Bobby-Yes, I thought you were too kind on CH, but I sensed an underlying distain. Glad to have you on this side of the border, brother!

streetgourmetla said...

That's, underlying disdain.

No Mames said...

"But, this idea that non-Latinos from Chicago are cooking real Mexican, and Red O is this high end Mexican restaurant lifting up Mexican food here in LA is such a crock of beans."

It's all about race isn't it?

You just can't handle the fact that a white man managed to raise the profile of Mexican cuisine in the U.S. more than any other Mexican chef.

Why don't you come to Chicago and have dinner with the woman who wrote this article:

Why is Rick Bayless the expert on Mexican cuisine when he isn't even Mexican?

You guys would hit it off just fine.

streetgourmetla said...

I'm very sorry to say that I've lost Nicholas Gilman's comment.I hit publish and it hasn't appeared. Nicholas is a Mexico City based writer and a good friend to Rick Bayless.Here is Nick's website

It went something like this

"But, this idea that non-Latinos from Chicago are cooking real Mexican, and Red O is this high end Mexican restaurant lifting up Mexican food here in LA is such a crock of beans.

It's not authentic, it's bad food, it's bad service, and this door host nonsense is not how we dine here in LA.Zach Brooks said it best, "If the door host stops you from going in, he did you a huge favor."

I would ask the blogging and writing community to look to our Mexican chefs, cooks and fine street food vendors for authentic Mexican. This isn't alta cocina, it's not authentic Mexican, and it is about as inspired as a Beverly Hills El Torito.As Gustavo Arrellano would say, " Ask a Mexican!"

Quoting my post, Nick responded,"it saddens me to see Rick Bayless lambasted this way"...."Rick should get the Julia Child award for all he's done to promote Mexican cuisine in the US"

I hope I got this mostly right.

Dear Nicholas Gilman,

Thanks for coming on my blog and contributing to this conversation.

This posts is about Red O, and the Feast interview Rick did, as well as the circumstances surrounding Rick's involvement with Red O.This is such a curious position, that Rick is allowed to disrespect the local Mexican cooks and chefs,claim he's bringing us the real deal, while pimping this bad restaurant. I find it inslting, so do others in the food community, is he allowed because he's on TV and done so much for Mexican food?

Rick hasn't promoted anything but himself, and alot of people have contributed to the rise of Mexican cuisine in LA.

Mexican chefs have been cooking authentic cuisine here for years, but it was Barbara Hansen, then Jonathan Gold, and now the blogging community that has promoted Mexican cuisine here, with respect and class. The cooks, chefs, taqueros, etc. here have been at it for years, and it's time they get credit for the work they do.

You don't want your friend insulted, well neither do I wish my friends slighted.

A Julia Child award? I'd much rather see it go to our chefs, who without a line of salsas at Costco, have been pecking away year after year to educate Angelinos about Mexican cuisine.

I've always been a supporter of Rick's but I feel he's out of line, and when he puts such bold statements out in the public forum, he's subject to criticism.



streetgourmetla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Street Gourmet LA
i had a similar back and forth with Robb Walsh - when i want authentic mexican food, i'd go to my abuelita or ma'ma's house.

gt from h-town

Chubbypanda said...


Just wandered over here from Gustavo's blog. Damn, dude. You really nailed it with this review.


- CP

streetgourmetla said...

Thanks, Chubby Panda!

Alcachofa said...

I never comment on blogs, ever. But I just want to say thank you for this. I was looking online for some negative Bayless criticisms after taking my Mexican boyfriend (we live in Mexico) to Frontera (I'm from Chicago). Not easy to find. Our experience was not a happy one, and much too similar to yours at Red O. The food was blah, and nowhere NEAR authentic. A visit to Xoco later was even worse. I pounded the line cooks to know whether they thought the torta ahogada was "good enough," and they were obviously not allowed to tell the truth. I think Bayless has done great things as an emissary of Mexican food in the U.S., but mostly in the realm of expanding gringos' Mexican-food vocabularies. Thanks again.

Don Cuevas said...

I'm two years late to this discussion, but so what?

First, I want to say, "Great Blog Title!".

Second, I have only to add that I have never eaten in a Rick Bayless restaurant, mostly through lack of opportunity. Now, after reading your blog, I don't especially want to.

Third, I LOATHE pretentious upscale restaurants that do chefs' "interpretations" of ethnic cuisines. Neither do "Star/Celebrity Chefs" attract my interest. I have been "burned" all too often in pricey pretentious restaurants in Mexico City, and even in Morelia. But I finally learned my lesson.

Fourth, I am saddened that Rick Bayless has come to this. I loved his first two cookbooks but wasn't at all a fan of the cookbook based on his tv show.

Thanks for the frank review. More restaurants could use such an honest treatment.

Don Cuevas.

JamesJC said...

(I didn't mean to be anonymous, just didn't want to login with Google)

Very informative, but I do have one quibble. I would have preferred the restaurant review be separate from the question of RB's misguided comments. It reads like: he was saying all this nonsense about LA food, and then we went to his restaurant to see what all the fuss was about and, of course, it sucked.

I'm not saying you definitely had a point to prove in reviewing the place, but it would be better to remove as much of the potential bias from that review.

As it stands, the review is so negative about so many things, I'm suspicious. And the fact that it was prefaced/concluded with reference to RB's very poor engagement with the restaurant and complete lack of engagement with LA Mexican, only supports that view.

I don't want to hear a review from someone who's looking to hate a place. And it sounds like you were looking to hate this place. Not that it's easy to remove that completely or partially -- this is the background to your visit there -- but for the purpose of the review it might be best to separate the takedown from the review.

But very good (and well-deserved) takedown nonetheless.

streetgourmetla said...

JamesJC-My review of Red O is objective, despite the comments by Rick Bayless about LA. Let me say this, I begin any visit to a restaurant with the natural skepticism we all have when trying a new restaurant. To come in with optimism is more reckless--it's a bias that's harder to overcome.

Despite the insulting tone of this post, which was intended (eye for an eye isn't the high road, but so what?), my review was only biased by the claims of Bayless himself, that he was bringing Southern Mexican to L.A.--that influenced my responses for sure.

I've been to countless Mexican-American restaurants that have had the same degree of poorly executed, and trite cuisine, but I don't bother exposing them, I just don't write about them. Bayless' claims and behavior forced me to consider an honest review, and reality check.

Let me say that if I had a goal in writing this, it has been surpassed beyond my expectations from the response this received in L.A., from people I respect a lot, who were afraid to say what I said, but agreed with much of what I wrote.

I've had a chance to sneak back in since then, and the food was just as lame. Xoco in Chicago isn't good, Frontera is tired, and Topo is underwhelming and lacks any imagination. I stand by both my review and the roasting of Rick Bayless--I feel they can coexist.If Rick were cooking the way he talks, I'd be the first to say he's the real deal. I don't hold a grudge against any restaurant, or chef when it comes to their food--I don't need to like the cook or chef to appreciate their food, and they don't need to like me either.

sweetspud said...

Rick Bayless... zzz!