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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Red Medicine: Good Amberjack and Chinese Lion Peppers (?), Save Room for Dessert

I wasn't sure what to expect at Red Medicine, which makes it abundantly clear on its site that it does NOT serve Vietnamese food. Rather it serves Vietnamese-inspired food. The chef/owner did stints as pastry chef for both Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz of Alinea (in Chicago) fame.

Overall nothing too special. The best savory dish was the amberjack served raw with something called succulents, which tasted very fresh and looked like thin asparagus spears; deep fried lotus roots that gave the dish a crunchy texture; red seaweed that didn't do much for the flavor but looked pretty -- all on a bed of buttermilk and tiny tapioca balls that doubled as dipping sauce for the fish pieces.

The next best savory dish was something we got because we happen to take the Brussels sprouts back. The sprouts were supposed to be caramelized with fish sauce and vermouth, topped with those shrimp fritter you get out of a box. We took back the sprouts because they were beyond caramelized. They were burnt. So were the new ones we got.

On the house, the kitchen sent over what were called Chinese lion peppers, smothered in some ground almond (the menu said "almond skin" so that was curious), honey, soy, and garnished with some slivered dates and violet basil leaves.

The nuttiness reminded me of the nutty Korean drink in its powder form, misugaru, but I digress. The peppers were roasted or flash fried and weren't that spicy. The nutty almond powder and spicy peppers liked each other, as Jaimie Oliver would say. Some bites were accentuated by the occasional sweet and chewy date slivers. The violet basil gave a subtle but decidedly aromatic basil presence to the mix.
We naturally had high expectations for the dessert, since he made his name as a dessert guy. They didn't disappoint.

The more memorable one was coconut Bavarois, which combines coffee, condensed milk, Thai basil frozen balls like beautiful green gems and peanut croquant (French for "crisp") that were like crunchy and soft peanut cakes.  Once mixed with all the other components, made for a creamy and delicious dessert I'd never experienced before. Approved!
The other dessert was rhubarb leaves atop a mountain of lemongrass meringue and cream (fancy name: mahlab cremeux) that, in turn, sit atop a biscuit with hibiscus jam. The whole thing was decorated with rhubarb that had been sliced uber thin and deep fried (we first thought they were beets) and some gorgeous violet flower petals known as gentian.

The verdict? Too much going on, unfortunately. Beautiful, no doubt, but not sure it lives up to the insane description or aesthetic.

Service was ok until it made the cardinal sin of all time -- brought the check before we asked for it. It doesn't matter if we've ordered all there is to order and we've had our dessert and said we didn't want coffee. I don't think any fine dining establishment should do this, regardless of how packed it is -- and this place most definitely was not packed at all. That is a HUGE pet peeve...Done ranting now.

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