8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Red Medicine is a very polarizing restaurant. It has its fans (like myself) who defend the progressive, Vietnamese-inspired cooking as forward-thinking cuisine that cannot be found anywhere else. On the other hand, there are plenty of diners in LA who see the restaurant as arrogant and gimmicky, and rather “fusion-y” with no real sense of direction. The restaurant has done itself no favors in the past, whether it be the “unmasking” of LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila, or the more recent Twitter incident where they publicly shamed no-shows. In fact, they are probably more appreciated by chefs and out-of-town diners than the masses here in the city who pride themselves on dining at what’s the next hot thing, or the next critical darling. And that’s too bad, because I do believe Red Medicine is sophisticated dining at its finest and most creative, one that can exist in a much more formal setting, but is what it is because it’s in LA. And that’s not a bad thing, although the level of appreciation might come with such territory. But put this restaurant in NYC or SF, and it probably has a Michelin star.
The controversial restaurant is also one that has consistently gotten better over time. I liked my first visit, and I really liked my next visit, and I loved my most recent visit from a couple of weeks ago. With each visit, the flavors get more bold, the profiles get more complex, and the combinations get more cohesive. But these characteristics are some of the aspects that make the restaurant so polarizing. It’s not a matter of complaining that diners aren’t sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate the dishes here, but rather more of a “there’s too fucking much going on here and I just want to enjoy my food” sentiment. And that’s just fine – this restaurant isn’t for everyone, and the restaurant knows it. It’s true to its own vision, however weird and complicated that may be. You just have to go in with an open mind. Also, those of you who’ve had service issues in the past – I can truly say that I’ve never encounter such problems. Water was always refilled, servers were informative and checked in often without being intrusive, and dishes were cleared after every course.
On this visit, Lawrence and I got the tasting menu (now of public knowledge and on the menu), and we added 4 supplemental dishes to make a custom 10-course meal. The standard 6-course tasting, at $65, isn’t really much of a steal, but it does have dishes that aren’t on the regular menu, and I’d say that you would want to order at least 5 of the 6 dishes if you were going the a la carte route anyways. I don’t want to go into a course-by-course breakdown since I’ve already done it in the past, but if you have a group of 2 or 4 this is definitely the route to go (do note that each course is essentially just the dish served in the same manner as they would be a la carte, hence me suggesting an even number of diners). You can always add other dishes that sound intriguing, and there are plenty of those, or if you have a larger group, you can order one of the large format dishes (I’ve heard amazing things about the brisket in particular, which I haven’t gotten around to trying). And don’t forget the cocktails – just as good and creative as the dishes.
I’ve praised the birch ice dessert to many people in the past, and it’s again a highlight of my meal. There’s so much going on in the dessert – different flavor profiles, different textures, even different temperatures. You have to get a little of everything in one bite to truly appreciate and enjoy it though. And the trout roe appetizer was essentially the dessert in savory form. From the different things working with and against each other, to the dish composition, right down to the fish bowl presentation and the ice cover on top, the trout roe was executed just as well as the birch ice. Future protip at Red Medicine: order anything that comes in a fish bowl. The other dishes were great as well – the restaurant has an uncanny ability for making me like the vegetarian dishes more than the protein-based ones. But therein lies a problem, if there is any – the “weakest” link of the menu (and this is more of the case at more places than people think) is the meat-based main courses. Last time, the akaushi beef dish was by far the weakest, a dry piece of meat without any flavor (and unfortunately, a variation of such dish suffered the same fate during Darin Dines’ most recent visit). The lamb shoulder dish was cooked well and tasted fine, but in comparison to the other dishes, was rather…boring.
But one decent dish does not deter my dining experience at Red Medicine, and I’m sure many people enjoyed or will enjoy dishes like the lamb shoulder. But I don’t think it’s the strength of the restaurant to execute straightforward protein courses. I really do love the restaurant though, and highly recommend it to everyone I know. Those who have dismissed it after facing initial disappointment, or were turned off by their rather immature attitudes on social media, should really give it another shot. On a Saturday night, there were plenty of seats available, going back to my earlier point of the LA diners’ apathy towards the restaurant. If the bar served the full menu, I’d probably go much more often, as the restaurant is open until 2am EVERY NIGHT (a true late-night gem, but one that’s not really priced in the hangover/munchies range). But for now, an occasional visit rekindles my love and appreciation for such sophistication, and more importantly, pleasure to the taste buds.
1st Course: Wild Brook Trout Roe
Biodynamic Leeks – yuzu, buttermilk ($15)
2nd Course: Custard of Fresh Cream
Santa Barbara Uni – almond milk, kei apple ($18)
Brussels Sprouts – shallots, fish sauce ($9)
3rd Course: Dungeness Crab from the Oregon Coast
4th Course: Young Potatoes
5th Course: Lamb’s Shoulder
Coconut Baravois – coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant ($9)