There are a lot of freebies and promotion deals to be had in our wonderful city, but I can’t say I’ve run across the offering of an entire dinner in exchange for the test drive of a car, before. And now, we have.
As someone who has held a tenure at the same company and building for over 5 years, I’ve seen lunch places come and go from my little perch on Wilshire Blvd. I like to joke that we are in the real “Slums of Beverly Hills” since we, inÂ the stretch closest to the L.A. line, hold a 323 area code instead of the usual 310 everyone west of us is assigned. The most varied of lunch options is a short drive to Miracle Mile because of the food trucks. And yes, I do, thanks to my frustration with the lack of options as well as my resistence to Trimana – the chain deli across the street which unabashedlyÂ microwaves their eggs in plain sight of their customers.
I’ve been in that space at the intersection of Gale plenty of times before, with Red Medicine being the 3rd changeover entityÂ I’ve witnessed. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s dark, dingyÂ bar called The Continental was the scene of learning exactly which co-workers I never wanted to go drinking with, ever again. Hokusai, a Japanese spot,Â offered $7 cash-only, combination bento boxes – the best lunch deal in the vicinity.
Now, Red Medicine is my next-block, one-stop-shop for the best bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ Beverly Hills (and the vicinity) ever did see. Their bar beckons me; liquid lunches are as enticing andÂ accessible as ever, thanks to Matt and his house-made juices and sodas.Â I enjoy his Pimm’s Cup (onlyÂ in L.A. during January is this acceptable, y’see) and his Singapore Sling. The others, I can’t wait to try. Yes, this is Beverly Hills but the cocktails at Red Medicine areÂ also only $10. Fernet lovers (or nay-sayers, depending on whom you ask): They carry MalÃ¶rt, probably one of the only places this west of Chicago to do so.
But back to solid lunch. The main selections are the BÃºn Cháº£ ($12-$15)Â and BÃ¡nh MÃ¬, both of which I have had – with pork belly – and have been extremely happy with. Let’s not fool ourselves: We’re not in Westminster nor Vietnam, and there’s nowhere in Beverly Hills you’ll get away with eating for less than $10. But if you want those flavors with an avant garde flourish, Red Medicine is your best bet. After all, the sandwich is a full foot long. The quality of the BÃ¡nh MÃ¬ is alsoÂ held up in no small part by the Bouchon bread, which I’ve noticed has been tinkered withÂ and increasingly toastedÂ (over 3 sandwiches during 3 different occasions). The cilantro is super fresh as is the deliciously pickled, crunchy carrot. Sliced jalapenos give the sandwich a good kick while the modest helping of mayoÂ addsÂ just a hint of sweetness. If you need some more spice, look no further than the house-made sriracha sauce, plated on the sideÂ – a delicious andÂ freshÂ rendition of the famous Rooster Sauce.
Feel like noodles, or looking for aÂ lighter lunch? The BÃºn Cháº£ delivers a fresh helping of noodles as well as the same, delicious and also noodle-likeÂ carrots. There are more pickled vegetables than in the BÃ¡nh MÃ¬ to match the light, sweet, vinegar-based and refreshing dressing.Â It’s a fancy patch of noodles that you can order with wagyu, pork or chicken but there’s no short-changing the flavor.
Controversies aside, I’m glad Red Medicine moved in. Things looked auspicious when I dined their Test Kitchen run at the debut of TK, itself, and I’m happy to see that once all the kinks (kitchen and PR, alike)Â are ironed out,Â it looks like Red Medicine may be the restaurant to break the curse of Gale and Wilshire. Bring on lunch!
Pop-ups are all the rage, lately, especially in Los Angeles. Test Kitchen, however, brings that concept to another, oxymoronic level in that it is a “permanent” pop-up, of sorts. Yes, Test Kitchen serves exactly the purpose of how it sounds in the first place, and is indicative of a food culture and city in which it is normal for talented and even famous chefs to be homeless. Test Kitchen is the couch they squat, and Jordan Kahn’s, Noah Ellis’ and Adam Fleischman’s (Umami Burger) new Vietnamese outfit to open in the fall on Wilshire, Red Medicine, was the first to do so in a fully booked 5-day run ending last Sunday.
Luckily, Mattatouille let me crash his 2-top reservation that day, and as to be expected there were tons of industry and bloggy types to brush shoulders against. In my lone experience during Jordan’s run, I could see hardly any drawbacks to the system. The pacing in all 12 courses was expedient (yes, there were 12) and the prix fixe pricing was dirt cheap at $40. The dishes that were hits really went out of the park; the dishes that were misses for me were arguable and interesting conversation pieces with others in attendance. One thing’s for sure, though: Jordan’s imagination was ever apparent in every course and kept all diners sitting at the edge of their chairs.
Favorites included the pork belly tartine – it was paired perfectly with pickled carrots and coriander, given weight by the pate and finished with the perfect kick at the end thanks to the back-burning green chili. I enjoyed it in a single bite yet savored it for minutes thereafter. Another grand slam was the Cured Amberjack, balanced atop sous vide french melon and topped with lime leaf, nuoc cham, bird chili and mint. It was an amazingly refreshing yet complex dish that really complemented the fish.
One of my other favorites was the tomatoes, which were a delicious example in sustainable cooking and farming, having been marinated in an infusion of their vines. The unmistakeable tomato flavor was paired up with silky and crunchy tofu – a refreshing departure from mozzarella and creme fraiche. The silken tofu had nuances of a creamier food thanks to the vine infusion oil but when I realized I wished there were more on the plate it was clear how light the dish was. Leafy greens and purple basil gave it good aroma, green color and foliage.
One of the dishes that I enjoyed but Mattatouille happened to disagree with was the bay scallops, dressed with young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca and charred frisee. It was my first time experiencing frisee served that way and this provided much of the flavor – a nice twist on a green that has normally been regarded as a garnish. The puffed tapioca was a nice spin on hominy, making the intermixed bay scallops (read: small) somewhat an ingredient in a seafood salad. It challenged how I indiscriminately favored big juicy scallop steaks up until this point. Touche.
The baby carrots were a nice, firm yet sweet texture underneath the also sweet fermented black bean – my favorite sweet-savory dish on the menu in contrast to the brussels sprouts (carmelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers), which I didn’t think quite worked but others had actually liked. The anise on the baby carrots as well as the coconut and tarragon really kept things aromatic and interesting.