I was a little hesitant to try Red Medicine mainly because it is billed as a “Vietnamese Canteen”, but neither the head chef nor any notable member of the restaurant staff seemed to be Vietnamese. For whatever reason, Vietnamese food has been building buzz as the new trendy cuisine in foodie circles, so there are starting to be more refined and/or more Westernized versions of Vietnamese food being introduced to the masses, most of the time by actual Vietnamese chefs or at least Asian chefs. Generally speaking, the food has been decent, if not passable, but my main critique tends to be that the prices are too high for Vietnamese food. Nevertheless, we decided to go on my sister’s recommendation so most of LNH Fiesta all headed out one evening to check this place out especially after hearing about the recent controversy.
The Brussels sprouts were prepared with caramelized shallots, fish sauce vermouth and then topped with shrimp chips. The flavors were good. My main critique was the shrimp chips which was disappointing because I normally love these crispy chips. Unfortunately, these ones were kind of oily and stale, so they added nothing to the sprouts.
Although the Banh Mi really wasn’t really a Vietnamese sandwich, it delivered all the flavors of one. Small pieces of foie gras and pate de campagne along with pickled cucumbers and a bit of chili mayo were sandwiched between two thin bread-like looking crackers. Not only was it a very creative presentation, but the flavors were spot on. I only wished there was more of it. They were really too small.
The grilled bay scallops were served with braised radishes, beurre blanc, fish sauce, sea buckthorn, and nasturtium. I assume that the last two ingredients were the leaves and flowers that cluttered the dish but didn’t add much in the way of taste. The scallops were good but much to small, and I liked the subtle taste of fish sauce with the beurre blanc. It was a nice east meets west touch.
This green papaya salad with the different pickled roots, tree nuts, and crispy taro chips seemed unlike the traditional Vietnamese version, but the nuoc cham dressing ended up providing just the right balance of sweetness and fishiness that made the dish quite delicious. In spite of its odd presentation where all the salad was pushed to one side of the bowl, I thought this dish was one of the better ones of the meal.
The amberjack sashimi-like dish was cluttered with a jungle of vegetation including radishes, charred cucumber, and pine needles. It seriously looked like a jungle. The amberjack was fine, but aside from what little there was of the fish, there really wasn’t much else on the dish that was edible. Again, another strange presentation.
The oyster mushrooms and haricot vert were sauteed in an oyster sauce and served with a large crispy toast cracker. Like everything else used in most of these dishes, the ingredients were small, and in this case really tiny. Haricot vert are essentially green beans, but these were baby-sized green beans. In spite of that, the taste was good although a little bit on the salty side.
I was really looking forward to this dish, and I wasn’t too disappointed. The filling was a mix of Dungeness crab, meyer lemon, pea pods, fine herbs, and chili which was then wrapped and fried nice and crispy. The creaminess of the crab filling was a little bit different and I didn’t really like the green herbs too much, but my biggest critique was that I wish there was more of it.
The Beef Tartare was another dish that was presented on half the dish. It is hard to tell from the picture, but under the water lettuce, there is beef prepared with water chestnut, spicy herbs, nuoc leo, and chlorophyll. I really didn’t like this dish very much.
The 5 Spice duck was served with charred frisee, chicory, tamarind syrup, and grains of paradise. I”m not sure what grains of paradise are, but the duck meat was a little too overcooked, so it tasted dry and blah.
I’m not exactly sure what Chinese Lion Peppers, but I assumed these were similar to Japanese shiso peppers. There was almond skins, honey, soy, violet basil, and dates all integrated somehow in the dish, but honestly, I can’t remember much about this dish.
Although these were called Chicken Dumplings, they really were chicken meatballs cooked in caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass and served with a selection of confitures including lemon, pickled cucumbers, fried shallots herbs and sauces. I actually liked the meatball itself. The chicken meat imparted a different taste and the seasoning was nicely balanced. I didn’t need all the extra stuff though.
I had no idea what Pintade Fermier was, but it is actually a baby chicken and in this case, it was slow-cooked in caramel and cinnamon, and then topped with dandelion, coriander and crispy onion roots. The chicken meat is quite tender, and the caramelized flavor is basically identical to another common Vietnamese dish called thit kho or caramelized pork. It was a very good dish.
The Calf’s Tongue came, plated all the way on one side of the dish, with quince, daikon, young walnut and mustard seeds. Again, odd presentation aside, the calf tongue was okay. I’ve had better calf’s tongue so this one was not all that memorable.
This dish was called Large Format on the menu which I really don’t understand. It was supposed to be an American Wagyu Beef Brisket glazed with fish sauce and sugar, but I guess they ended up overcooking the last piece. They came out and apologetically offered us pork belly instead. This really was probably one of the best if not the best dish of the evening. It definitely was the most filling given its size. The preparation seemed similar to the Pintade Fermier, but it tasted much more concentrated and and the caramelization was more distinct in this dish. There was quite a bit of flavor so we definitely needed an extra helping of jasmine rice to soak up some of the sauce. I really liked this dish, but it really was quite rich and fatty.
This Lime Sabayan tasted very similar to a key lime pie without the granola crust. It was topped with cucumber ice cream, cashews macaroons, white chocolate and jasmine. It was a bit too tangy, but I kind of liked it. I didn’t really care for the added accoutrements.
This Pots de Creme was surprisingly taste in spite of the lemongrass flavoring. Supposedly there was sweet potato, orange blossom, red bull and bergamot, but I couldn’t really distinguish any of those flavors in the dessert. The chocolate cookies, if that is what they were, added a crunchy texture that went well with the dessert. I liked this dessert a lot.
The Black Current Lychee dessert had flavors of avocado, violets, creme de cassis, gentian and hyssop. I didn’t expect to like this dessert, but it was actually quite interesting.
Overall, I didn’t think the food was actually that great. I totally wasn’t expecting it to taste Vietnamese, so it wasn’t like I was faulting it for not being authentic. The flavors were just kind of blah. One thing that seemed to permeate through all the dishes was the use of different herbs and vegetation. Vietnamese cuisine is often known for its use of fresh herbs, but I think the chef has misunderstood this. Every dish seemed to go overboard with the herbs and vegetation, not only using a lot of them but using a whole random, obscure variety of them. For the most part, it didn’t necessarily affect the taste of the dishes, but I don’t think it really helped either. Although there were some really creative touches in a few of the dishes like the Banh Mi, most of the dishes were average tasting, at best. The desserts were pretty strong though, however given his success as a pastry chef, it makes a lot of sense. The use of half of the dishes in plating the food was a little bit odd, but I guess that was their thing. The most annoying part was that the portions were so small that in spite of the number of dishes that we ordered, we just didn’t feel full or satisfied. It was an interesting concept, but I don’t think I would recommend coming back.
8400 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
PAFO Ratings for Red Medicine:
Price 3½ stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3½ stars
Overall rating 3stars