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Legendary Rick Bayless’ Mexican Best at Red O, Santa Monica

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(Gerry Furth-Sides) The bar is the star at Red O in Santa Monica. Corporate Executive Chef Marc Johnson’s new winter menu at Rick Bayless’ Red O, Santa Monica focus on flavors from Central Mexico, Baja and Mexicali.

It’s the flavors of Mexican  by way of food maven and Renaissance man, Rick Bayless, that drives the restaurant, and it is happy food and everyone at the restaurant seems pleased to be there working for him.
(This evening “mole” from the answer/question) about Chef Bayless’ creating a state dinner at the White House on Jeopardy question!)
Executive Chef Seth Vider who oversees Santa Monica.  He also  travels to the other Southern California locations to ensure consistency.
Here Monique pauses in between kitchen duties and she was such a joy we had to mention her.
A leading force in making sophisticated Mexican cuisine famous and his loving mastery of the cuisine, Rick Bayless’ legendary Chicago restaurants, Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are the kind of places you can refer a non-foodie or a top chef in LA to and know they will love it. I know. I’ve done it many times. And I’ve had the same experience myself, including one lifetime memorable experience being hosted by Deann Bayless at Topolobampo with friends and family. It does not get better than this.
No less than six Margaritas to choose from on the menu while diners puruse the menu at leisure.  A favorite is the House Margarita made with El Espolõn Blanco, triple sec, limonada and served on the rocks with a salt rim ($12).  Any margarita is transformed into a Cadillacs with a float of Grand Marnier ($3).
We also tried the Mescal Flight  that showcased Del Maguey ‘Chichicapa’, El Silence “Espadin” and Vago ‘Elote.
The Cocktail list alone is inviting enough to make up a meal.  On a warmer day we would have order The Cooler ($14) with Hendrick’s Gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime, simple syrup with cucumber and mint, served over ice.  Honey on Fire ($15) sounded just right for a colder time with El Silencio Espadin Mescal, habanero-honey, lemon, Yellow chartreuse.  Served tall

With one Red O (named after the Red Onion restaurant that Rick worked at long ago) already going strong in West Hollywood, this newer one faces the beach and incorporates more fish and seafood. As all Red O chefs, Johnson orders many as possible sustainable ingredients from local farms are used.New dishes are balanced with customer favorites, such as the Mary’s Taquitos or Mary’s Duck Taquitos ($16), comprised of slow-cooked duck, tomato-arbol chile sauce, and wild baby arugula.  The sauce is incomparable and why Chef Bayless earned his reputation.

Yellowtail Aguachile ($22) arrives almost translucent on the plate.  An overlay of hamachi yellowtail sashimi, spicy lime brother, avocado, know onion, cucumber and orange.

Looking more like Ricky Gervais than Ricky Gervais himself, Chef Carlos Hernandez came to the table and cajoled us into trying his favorite, The 18 oz Prime Cowboy Ribeye ($49), accompanied by impeccable, succulent, fried sweet plantains, crema, traditional black beans, and mole negro.

He and Chef Johnson share a background at Maestro’s so they are particularly fond of beef.  (He  told us with a laugh, “yes, Maestro’s is special because they have an original sauce that distinguishes them and no one has the recipe outside corporate!”) As with Maestro’s, it is the combination of the unique sauces and the quality meat (from Newport Meats).  Even the leftover beef at home was delicious the next day.

For those seeking the ultimate extravagance, Red O offers the Tablita for Two, featuring a grilled 32 oz prime tomahawk chop, one pound Maine lobster tail, tajin butter, black beans, Mexican red rice, pico de gallo, classic guacamole, flour and fresh white corn tortillas. (mkt).


Our table favorite of the evening was unanimously the Mariscos Chile Relleno ($29), a personal favorite of Chef Johnson’s.  Encased in a long, beauty of a pepper and making up an entire meal itself were Maine lobster, prawns, house cheese blend, white rice, black beans, and ancho-citrus sauce.

Sides to share ($7) include Fried Sweet Plantains, with cream and queso fresco, or an elevated take on Mexican Street Corn, with Poblano chile, cotija cheese, and cilantro. For an extra zip of greens there are Grilled Broccolini, accompanied with cotija cheese, chile flakes, garlic, and cilantro, or the Sautéed Baby Kale & Brussels Sprouts.

Red O Santa Monica also  has something specifically for the kids.  Cheesy Monterey Jack Cheese Quesadilla with corn tortilla, jack cheese, guacamole, white rice, and black beans, or the Grilled Chicken Tacos, accompanied with corn‎ tortilla, chicken breast, jack cheese, guacamole, white rice, and black beans.

The combination of balanced flavors and the slight sweetness of the cream, mole and plantains were enough to make a complete meal without dessert.  But our waiter also had his favorite to share: butter cake with custard and grilled strawberries.

After this sumptuous meal, a walk on the Santa Monica Pier in the crisp ocean air with glittering lights all around us, was the perfect ending to the meal.

Red O Santa Monica, 1541 Ocean Avenue, suite 120, Santa Monica, CA 90401 ( 310.458.1600), www.redorestaurant.com

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