RED O SANTA MONICA
Chef Rick Bayless is one of biggest culinary names in the country when it comes to Mexican food. I’m a big fan of his bold and daring Chicago restaurants and have enjoyed meals at his Red O SoCal outposts with locations on Melrose Avenue (which first opened in May 2010), Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and Fashion Island in Newport Beach for years.
Bayless is a former winner of Bravo’s Top Chef Master in 2009 and is also a James Beard winner. Other accolades include Midwest Chef of the Year, National Chef of the Year, and best American Chef of the Year. Red O is billed as a restaurant that aims to deliver superior cuisine and service in a stunning vacation inspired atmosphere. While I may never have felt that I was away on vacation while at Red O, I have enjoyed its combination of prime steaks and seafood using authentic Mexican sauces prepared with ingredients that are primarily sourced from local farms using sustainable practices.
At Red O Santa Monica, Corporate Executive Chef Marc Johnson aptly holds the fort down in Bayless’ absence. The Red O Santa Monica space has seen its fair share of restaurants come and go but the presence of Bayless’ Red O appears to look like it will have lasting legs. I like the restaurant’s energetic vibe and posh appearance. While you may not notice that you’re across the street from the beach, nor feel like you’re on vacation, there is a buzz that fills the rooms and diners and imbibers revel in a good foodie and boozy time.
I’m usually a tough critic when it comes to Mexican food and right off the bat I was disappointed with the chips and salsa. I’m a big believer that you should at the very least get the basics right and I wasn’t impressed with neither the chips nor salsa. Drinks wise, I passed on the standard Vodka Mule, which is made with Stolichnaya Vodka, fresh lime, ginger beer and served over ice in a copper mug, and instead made mine a Mezcal Mule, which was a great way to start dinner. Likewise, the Honey on Fire with El Silencio Espadin Mezcal, habañero-honey, lemon, Yellow Chartreuse was very nice and well balanced.
Other cool cocktail is the Camouflaged with Avion Silver Tequila, Montelobos Mezcal, Sibona Camomilla, fresh lemon, and raw sugar served tall. I wasn’t a big fan of the Golden Daisy with Patron Silver Tequila, Grand Marnier, peach and fresh lemon as it tasted like a very blah margarita. The South of Manhattan with Knob Creek Bourbon, Selvarey Cacao Rum, Cinzano 1757 and orange bitters is a good boozy libation. And while I’m no fan of mint, the The Cooler with Hendrick’s Gin, elderflower liqueur, fresh lime, simple syrup with cucumber and mint was refreshing. I actually enjoyed it despite the use of mint.
We started our meal with the Fresh Corn & Goat Cheese Tamales made with fresh corn masa, Laura Chenel goat cheese and tomatillo sauce, which was a pleasant and rich starter. The Beef Short Rip Sopes with certified Angus beef short rib, roasted tomato-green chili sauce, queso añejo and onion was a great hearty dish.
If you want a more decadent and rich option, the Mary’s Duck Taquitos—slow-cooked duck, tomato-arbol chile sauce with wild baby arugula—is a winner. And the Mexican Street Corn with poblano chile, cotija cheese and cilantro is a solid item.
Hearty entrée dishes include the Lamb in Mole Negro with roasted Brussels sprouts, organic baby kale, caramelized onion, with a nut crunch. I’m big mole fanatic and I thought this dish was just OK as there was not enough mole flavor.
The Chilean Sea Bass, another favorite of mine was a light and pleasing plate. Wild from the cold waters of the southern hemisphere, the sea bass was moist, and had a rich buttery flavor. A Bayless dish that I’ve loved for years is his Enchiladas Suizas. Served with your choice of chicken or vegetable with cream tomatillo sauce, melted jack cheese, frisee, red rice, and beans I recommend the veggie enchilada. I still remember the first time I had this dish and I couldn’t believe it was all vegetables. It’s a hands down winner.
And don’t forget about desserts. I was really looking forward to the Chocolate Tart with fresh assorted berries, canella whipped cream, and cajeta caramel sauce as I love cajeta. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough cajeta. Bummer. But ask for more on the side and then overdose on the caramel goodness. But the Plantain Cake with cream cheese frosting, roasted plantain puree, pepita-toffee crunch, and Mexican chocolate sauce is decadently delicious! Consider this a must-have. And because one of my favorite things in the world is liquid dessert, I loved the Spiked Coffee with Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, Milagro Blanco Tequila, fresh coffee and cream. I’m not a real coffee drinking but this one just worked for me.
Red O Santa Monica is located at 1541 Ocean Ave #120 in Santa Monica. Open daily. Call 310-458-1600.
Story by Jose Martinez
Some Photography Courtesy Of: Red O Santa Monica