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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Red O: Great Drinks and Crab Tostaditas, Hold the Guac

There was no way my expectations wouldn't be high for Red O by superstar chef Rick Bayless, although he isn't the chef per se but apparently a "consultant," whatever that means (flies in once a week, it turns out). I watched his PBS show and own his cookbook. He cooked for Mexico's president. Thankfully, it wasn't very hard to book a table, on a Saturday, at that. We got a table in the nice outdoor terrace, which was perfect for the toasty evening weather.

The place was packed, much to my surprise, and service was good. I had a list of dishes to get and avoid from my diligent  perusal of message boards and reviews. I was ecstatic when I learned that my friend VM now ate a lot more seafood and even red meat and pork. She used to be Ms. Chicken Everything and Occasionally Calamari. I definitely have Mr. F to thank for that!

The first thing I had to have was one of those exotic-sounding cocktails. They all sounded amazing, but I got La Dama, which included Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila, serrano chile, mango grenadine (syrup), lime juice and syrup, with pomegranate liqueur and pomegranate seeds. It was far too sweet for my taste, so I exchanged it for Alacrn, the scorpion, which included Sauza Conmemorativo tequila, Veev Acai spirit, orange liqueur, lemonade and serrano infused syrup. This was a winner. I liked the chili pepper on the glass rim with slices or serrano chiles floating in the drink. Very refreshing albeit pretty strong.

For appetizers, we got the crab tostaditas, goat cheese tamales and guacamole. The meaty crab atop crunchy slices of deep fried plantains was very good. The grilled pineapple cubes and tomatillo-avocado salsa brought it all together -- some smokiness, some sweetness and all with varied textures.
We found that the guacamole had been hopelessly overrated. This guac was seriously nothing special. It was actually pretty bland. Some reviewers raved about the chips but I couldn't really agree there that they were anything to write home about. They were ok but nothing exceptionally excellent. I found them on the heavy side.

The accompanying red and green salsas salvaged the guac. My dinner companion correctly assumed that they likely made the guac mild for the masses and one could adjust the heat level by mixing and matching with these salsas. I liked the red one more. Still, good but nothing special.

The goat cheese tamale wasn't my favorite either. It was a corn, roasted poblano chiles and goat cheese tamale but I didn't detect too much flavor.

I got the Tinga Poblana, which was pork shoulder and belly braised to uber tenderness, chorizo, roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, potatoes and avocado, with a sprinkling of queso fresco on top.

I liked the idea of it more than the actual dish, I think. I was also pretty full by the time the entrees arrived. So I nibbled on a few bites, which tasted pretty good, especially when I scooped up the meat with some avocado and other sides.

To tell you the truth, while good, I was concocting all sorts of ways I would repurpose the meat at home. Wouldn't it be nice as a breakfast quesadilla with a fried egg on top? Or just plain tacos? My friend liked her adobado shrimp tacos.

I was devastated when I later found myself home without the meat! What a loss! Hate it when that happens.

I had read a lot about the delectable desserts, and was poised to get the buñuelos, which are like donuts only better. I was momentarily disappointed the menu didn't have that, but alas, the replacement was even better -- churros!

Yes, it is hard to go wrong with churros -- deep-fried beauties sprinkled with some sugar and cinnamon powder, and drizzled with some gooey chocolate sauce that had just the right amount of sweetness. 'Nuff said. They were delicious -- crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were a bit heavy on the sugar coating, literally, but they were easily dusted off. 

Behold, those babies...

It isn't cheap but while I wasn't blown away, I am curious about his take on other classic Mexican fare, like cochinita pibil, short-rib sopes or the chorizo queso fundido.

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