Friday, December 10, 2010

Red Medicine - 12/09/2010

8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(323) 651-5500

After an almost comical series of delays, Red Medicine is finally open to the public. Originally scheduled to open in July, the restaurant has faced numerous permitting and inspection issues that set them back almost half a year. I first learned about Chef Jordan Kahn at XIV where I thought he was making the best desserts in LA. When I heard he was opening his own place I was a bit taken aback to discover the heavy Vietnamese influence on the menu. An early preview of the food at Test Kitchen helped dispel my concerns and since then Red Medicine has been one of my most highly anticipated restaurant openings.

Located at the spot formerly occupied by Hokusai, the restaurant consists of a small bar/lounge area and cavernous dining room. The feel is somewhat modern and industrial dominated by weathered wood and concrete, not exactly warm but somehow well-suited to the menu. The bar area is open until 2am, a late-night industry spot for chefs where Chef Kahn can share the therapeutic benefits of Vietnamese food that he so enjoys with his peers.

SWEET POTATO - romaine ribs, turmeric, beer, baby shrimp
The meal started off with a bang, the strings of sweet potato are fried to perfection with a gentle fishiness courtesy of the dried shrimp. Delicious on its own, the potato is taken to another level after a quick dunk in the fish sauce whose bold pungent tang contrasts and highlights the natural flavor of the potato.

PINTADE FERMIER - slow-cooked in caramel, cinnamon, dandelion, coriander, crispy onion roots
Apparently Pintade Fermiere is a type of Heritage Guinea Hen prized for its exceptional flavor. Chicken and caramel was a new combination for me, but it works, the caramel gives the bird a flavor reminiscent of brown butter, rich and slightly sweet with a subtle coriander tinged aftertaste.

#7 - Campo de Encanto Pisco, Pineapple Syrup, Lime, Grapefruit Peel, Purple Basil, Old Fashioned Bitters
This was one of my favorite libations of the evening; the drink is restrained with nuanced hints of bitterness, tangy sweet fruit, and alluring basil.

#18 - Krome Vodka, Chili-Anise Shrub, Lime, Grapefruit, Peychaud’s Bitters, Thai Basil, Ginger Beer
This was probably the strongest cocktail; bright and refreshing courtesy of the basil and citrus coupled with a subtle effervescent sting from the ginger beer.

#19 - Clear Creek Apple Brandy 2yr, Apricot "Brandy", Lime, Egg White, Soda
One of the bolder cocktails of the group; all ripe apples and heat with a grippy texture from the egg white.

#20 - Asahi Kuronama, Musquee de Provence Pumpkin
Beer with ice was a rare experience for us; my companions zeroed in on the watery feel but I thought the combination tasted almost like an iced tea.

fluke - cured with lime leaf, radishes, charred cucumber, pine needle
The fluke was probably the strongest course of the night with vivid flavors interleaved in a high energy dish. The crunchy bitter radish and sizzling heat of chili slices are evenly matched by the gently saccharine sauce and enchanting pop of citrus from the finger lime kernels.

SPRING ROLL - cold, crunchy, pickled, spicy, herbs
The minimalist radish-centric spring rolls were a far cry from the variation on goi cuon that I was expecting. Still this proved to be a superb dish, highlighting the revitalizing properties of crisp pickled radish juxtaposed with a sticky-sweet sesame sand.

"BANH MI" - foie gras, pate de campagne
If one course exemplified what Chef Kahn was trying to accomplish with Red Medicine it is this. The pickled vegetables and pate capture the essence of Banh Mi while the exceptionally flavorful foie gras marks it as a world apart from the traditional preparation.

KELLEY’S MOM’S FARM EGG - brassicas, pickled rose hips, chili, fried garlic, boiled peanuts, lovage
The eggs were sourced from a farm run by the mother of one of the chefs, hence the name of the dish. After the meal Chef Kahn told us an amusing story of how they fed the chickens Thanksgiving dinner food hoping to influence the flavor of the eggs. Though the experiment was a bust, but in terms of flavor the dish was anything but. Breaching the perfectly poached egg adds a gelatinous coating that tempers the bitterness of the various brassica greens, very reminiscent of the way my parents would serve he bao dan over rice and veggies at home.

green papaya - ripe papaya, pickled roots, crispy taro, tree nuts
Given my aversion to papaya I never expected to like this course let alone consider it one of the evening's best. Instead of cloying, the strips of fruit are taut and vivacious, beautiful in conjunction with the sweetened tree nut and the crisped lightly salted taro chips.

BEEF - fermented soy bean, bacon XO, chinese eggplant, purple cabbage, celery stem, nuoc cham
The first of three very strong beef courses was the bavette, a flank steak with with the perfect amount of scoring on the exterior and a a mouth-wateringly succulent interior. The robust beef flavor is complimented by a potent bacon XO and tangy soft eggplant.

CRISPY SPRING ROLL - dungeness crab, calamansi, pea pods, fines herbs
The crispy spring rolls followed a more traditional formula, blending a crisp sapid exterior with a filling of sweet crab meat. The weight of the dish is deftly tempered by the application of sweet calamansi and fragrant herbs.

SWEET BREADS - vietnamese curry, yam, turmeric root jam, sawtooth, baguette
The flavor of the sweetbreads are lost against the heady coconut laced curry though Chef Kahn explained that they were more for textural purposes anyway. In the end, I found myself sopping up the spicy-sweet sauce with big pieces of the toasted baguette.

kohlrabi - soft tofu, grapefruit, fish sauce, lettuces, sunchokes
Kohlrabi or German turnip is a variety of cabbage with a flavor that I could only describe as a cross between apple and turnip. The lightness of this dish was the ideal foil for the curried sweetbread, crisp and vegetal at the outset with a delicate tofu center that was almost milky in consistency.

BEEF TARTARE - mustard leaf, water chestnut, spicy herbs, nuoc leo, chlorophyll
The tartare has grown and evolved since the last iteration. The beef is equally snappy and toothsome, though the accouterments have grown markedly, the mustard leaf and water chestnut provide a multifaceted crunch as well as a barely noticeable trickle of spice that built to a pleasing numbing heat on the finish.

oyster mushrooms - oyster sauce, haricot vert, brioche, espelette
A simple dish of sauteed vegetables that would be right at home in any good Asian restaurant, the vegetables picked up a subtle flavor that I can only describe as the result of being cooked in a well used wok.

CHICKEN DUMPLINGS - caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, confitures
Though I found the texture of the dumplings a bit dry, the pork fat certainly gave the meat a transcendent flavor. Again the use of acidity and herbs helps provide a countervailing lift against the weighty pork fat.

PORK CHAUD-FROID - crispy chicken skin, lychee, clove, pistachio
The smoky pork rilette would have been perfectly at home in a banh mi, but on its own, the chaud-froid felt a bit monolithic, even when taken with the accompaniments.

#21 - Barbancourt 8yr Rum, Crème de Cassis, Creme de Banana, Orange
This cocktail tasted heavily of the rum, dominated by dark fruit with an overarching essence of banana.

#22 - Red Wine, Sparkling Lemonade
The most approachable drink of the evening, the sparkling lemonade adds a tart fruity levity to the drink that one of my companions likened this to a sangria.

#23 - Pimm’s No. 1, El Dorado 5yr, Pineapple, Lemon, Bay Leaf, Angostura Bitters
The blend of spiced gin, rum, and pineapple dominate giving this drink an animated tropical character reminiscent of a Mai Tai but with more complexity on the finish from the bay leaf and bitters.

calve’s tongue - quince, daikon, young walnut, mustard seeds
Another repeat from the Bo 7 Mon dinner, the calve's tongue was even more tender this time around almost ethereal, dissolving on the tongue and leaving behind a smoky aspect. The etherealness of the tongue demanded bold textural contrasts which comes in the form of crispy daikon and sandy powdered walnut.

chinese lion pepper - almond skins, honey, soy, violet basil, figs
I wish this came earlier in the meal as I find the vegetal smokiness of shishito peppers help whet the appetite. I appreciated the textural element provided by the coating of almond crumbs on the peppers as well as the subdued ripe sweetness of the soft cooked fruit.

DUCK - 5-spice, charred frisee, chicory, tamarind syrup, grains of paradise
The incomparably tender duck almost fairly melts on the palate with a flavor reminiscent of roast duck. The depth and complexity of the pronounced bitterness of the frisee is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The bitterness of the lettuce is the perfect accent to the duck adding a BBQ-like rustic feel to the bird.

WILD STRIPED BASS - brown butter-soy milk, verbena, pomelo, raw chestnut, lettuce stems
The striped bass felt overly dense and blunt; though the heady melange of brown butter and soy milk helped matters somewhat, infusing the fish with succulence and flavor. This was one of the rare times I actually could have done without the citrus, finding the flavor disconcerting when taken with the rich broth.

brussel’s sprouts - caramelized shallots, fish sauce, vermouth
Ironically my companions who actually like brussel's sprouts weren't fans of this dish but I quite liked it despite my general disdain for the vegetable. The sprouts are heavily charred but seasoned with a generous application of fish sauce, the ensuing funky char coupled with the shrimp chips blunted the worst of the brussel's sprouts natural bitterness.

BLUE LANTERN BAY SCALLOPS - braised radishes, beurre blanc, fish sauce, lime skin, nasturtium
The use of larger scallops might have been in order as the bay scallops felt a touch overdone. Still they possessed a markedly pure flavor that was amplified by the bitter tang of the radishes.

PORK - caramelized black vinegar and honey, prunes, sorrel, white poppy, dried almond
Even though I was hurting by this point I still thoroughly enjoyed the fork tender pork. The pork had a generous layer of fat that imparted a heavenly unctuous aroma balanced by a thick glaze of vinegar and honey and further tempered by the ripe jammy prunes.

kabocha - burnt onion, chinese sausage, edible ferns, creme fraiche
Kabocha tends to be a little sweet for my tastes and that proved to be the case here. The mealy texture and saccharine flavors were particularly difficult given how full we were. I had hoped the Chinese sausage would provide a porcine moderating element but it just wasn't strong enough to compete with the squash.

SNAKE RIVER FARMS AMERICAN WAGYU BEEF BRISKET, - glazed with palm sugar & fish sauce
Here we come full circle, for the final savory course of the evening we again have lettuce wraps and fish sauce but this time the filling is a decadently fatty cut of brisket. The beef itself is fantastically heavy, loaded with a gaudy amounts of fat making the pickled radish and cucumber a must. Despite being full to bursting I found myself craving one more bite.

With Chef Kahn at the helm, Red Medicine is one of the few restaurants where the desserts could quite possibly outshine the savory food. With that in mind, we made it a point to order one of each dessert though we were already bursting full.

LEMONGRASS POTS DE CREME - sweet potato, orange blossom, red bull, bergamot
First up was a uniformly smooth pots de creme, imbued with the elegant flavor of lemongrass. I never would have imagined dessert with Red Bull, but its medicinal flavor fit quite nicely with the herbal tones of the lemongrass. My favorite part of the dessert were the light brown nuggets that tasted like chocolate chip cookie dough.

COCONUT BAVAROIS - coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory
I mistook this for the dessert I had at Test Kitchen but any similarities ended with the similar visual presentations. The dessert itself was markedly heavier, consisting of a base of coconut flavored Bavarian cream and topped with a dizzying array of textures and bold flavors. The dessert is so complex that it is difficult to succinctly describe the sensations the dessert provides, rather I suggest you try it for yourself.

BLACK CURRANT-LYCHEE - avocado, violets, creme de cassis, gentian, hyssop
The third dessert felt like an intermezzo of sorts, the black currant and lychee are both very vivid but yet distinctive. The dessert also features a meringue-like bits that contrasted nicely with the creamy soft texture of the sorbets. Also, chalk it up to Chef Kahn's superlative pastry talents but this was the first time that I've had an avocado ice cream that I didn't find off putting.

BITTER CHOCOLATE - kecap manis, oats, pear, parsnip, brown butter
Chocolate and soy sauce, daring and just what I would expect from someone of Chef Kahn's caliber. Moreover, this is one of the most intricate chocolate desserts I've ever tasted. The chocolate is well expressed in this dessert, but not so powerful that it overwhelms the rest of the dessert. The kecap manis provides an esoteric savoriness and tarry color while the pear, parsnip, and oats provide balance to the heft of the chocolate.

LIME SABAYON - cucumber ice cream, cashew macaroons, white chocolate, jasmine
I had a fantastic variation of the Lime Sabayon during Chef Kahn's second stint at Test Kitchen and if anything the dessert has become even more elegant and sophisticated since then. The combination of light citrus, vegetal cucumber, and fragrant jasmine evinces an airy grace that made this the strongest dessert I've had in a long while.

This was probably the best Banh Mi I've ever tasted. Yes the price is substantially higher but the quality and technique shown here isn't something you could find at your typical Vietnamese restaurant even at five times the price. In particular, the warm pate and pork belly ooze richness while the liver in the pate gives it a commanding flavor that I've not seen anywhere else.

"This is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant." Truer words were never spoken. Red Medicine's manifesto starkly declares this to be a breed apart from your traditional Little Saigon eatery. Rather the restaurant is a chance for Chef Kahn to take those distinctive flavors from Vietnamese cuisine that so captivated him and apply them to a whole new realm of cooking. The execution was remarkably polished for the first night of service, with the kitchen adapting the flow of food to match our pace with little difficulty. More importantly the food itself is superb and proved to be more than worth the wait. I look forward to taking Chef Kahn's advice to come back again, sans camera, and just enjoy the food.


Anonymous said...

this was a truly epic meal. just out of curiosity, how many people helped you tackle that?

Epicuryan said...

Three other people came with me all of whom were selected for their ability to consume massive quantities of food.

Thanh Nguyen said...

I'm vietnamese myself and a good homecook. I don't recognize at all the pics are Vietnamese food without reading the title. The spring roll looks like chinese eggroll (using flour based rolling paper and is a really a bad choice to cook vietnamese spring roll)rather than vietnamese spring roll. I read from Kaln's statement is confident of his talent somewhat bragging. That's why I'm here.

Epicuryan said...


I agree that the food doesn't look Vietnamese. Kahn even says "This is not a traditional Vietnamese restaurant." What he wanted to do with Red Medicine is to capture the flavors and the feelings of comfort they gave him.

Check out his entire manifesto if you want more information.