I have gone to Red Medicine after midnight a bunch of times over the past few years, and always enjoyed myself. The chicken dumplings, the coconut bavarois, the rabbit spring rolls, brussel sprouts, house-made cream soda, etc... all quite pleasant. I had hoped this would extend to dinner service finally when I recommended it to a chef friend visiting from SF tonight.
We ended up going with 5 people, and it was probably one of the most disappointing dinners I have had in LA. Let's go through it:
Chicken Dumplings: Well, these were tasty, as always. Just simple, hearty bite of chicken, herbs, and sauce. Probably the most reasonable dish on Red Medicine's menu, and quite possibly their best. Simple, yet executed well.
Sweet Potatoes: The sweet potato dish was ok. The smoked tofu provided a pleasant undercurrent to the sweet potato, which was prepared well. Not necessarily mind-blowing, but a pleasant, solid dish.
Duck Liver: Beautiful plating, but utterly pointless. The herbs, and veggies on the plate did nothing to compliment the duck liver, and without some bread to put it on, it made very little sense. Portion was quite small as well. Everyone said "image over substance", and was pretty unhappy with it. The liver itself had a distinctly licorice flavor. Not worth the $19.
Pork Cheeks: Interesting plating, but wow...$28, and there was literally about 5 bites of food. We each had a leaf, a bite of pork cheek, and an endive. The flavor was not bad, but again, hardly any substance, despite the plating. The bitter currants were intensely sharp, and there were far too many of them compared to how little pork there was. It could have been a nice counterpoint if there was lots of fatty pork that the sharp, sour notes were balancing, but instead it was just a very sour tasting dish, with a little bit of porcine pleasure barely there. Tremendously disappointing in the end.
Large Format 36-Hour Braised Brisket: The best dish of the night, but the overall presentation was kind of sad. It was nicely done, fatty, pleasant, just a but sugary sweet with the palm sugar braise; reminiscent of some of the wagyu short ribs I've had at The Playground. But you put it into the lettuce wraps... what is the point of putting such excellent meat inside of lettuce, with all the herbs, and sauces? It was kind of more pleasant just to have the brisket by itself.
Heritage Pork Belly: We should have realized that they serve this the exact same way as the brisket... more lettuce cups. Sigh. Incredibly disappointing. Worse yet, this was quite possibly the worst pork belly I have had in LA, or anywhere. Very dry, almost flavorless, and just barely edible with all the lettuce, herbs, sauce, etc... If everyone hadn't been drunk, and still starving because of how horribly small the portions of most of the dishes were, we would've sent it back I think. But I didn't want to be difficult...so we didn't.
In the end, things were so disappointing that most of my friends went outside to smoke and told me to get a check, they didn't want to risk any more money on dessert.
I have never been so humiliated to make a recommendation before.
The Vietnamese iced coffee I had at the end of it all was tasty, and at least the pinot noir from Burgundy we had was an ok wine.
But more than the food just being almost entirely pointless, or mostly "imagine over substance", the service made little to no sense. We almost never had our waters refilled, and we could barely get the waitress (there seemed to only be a single waitress for the whole place) to take more of our orders, or recommend us wines.
I never would have expected this from how great my meals at the bar have been late at night here.
I would say that Red Medicine is probably still a great bar, and place to stop in for a late night bite, but I would pretty much never recommend anyone eat dinner there.
At $90/person, the meal was not worth it at all. When the dining room is crowded, the acoustics are horrible, and they don't use air-conditioning. All of us were sweating bullets in t-shirts in the crowded dining room, and hardly able to talk to each other despite being in a corner.
Something is horribly wrong at Red Medicine. They need to figure out their service, and possibly transition to a straight tasting menu format, and get rid of these pointless large format dishes.
I will probably return at some point to see what solo dining might be like for the dungeness crab porridge or something, but let this stand as a word of caution to anyone interested in trying Red Medicine for the first time for a full dinner service.