Chef Rick Bayless is now delighting OC fans with his upscale Mexican cuisine at Fashion Island's Red O.
Red O is located at Fashion Island at
143 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach.
949.718.0300 :: redorestaurant.com
It’s not every day that I utter the words, “Scoot in; Kobe Bryant is trying to get by.” But on a recent Saturday night, that’s exactly what happened. The Lakers player wearing a red leather jacket and sunglasses in a dimly lit dining room, who looked like a boss without really trying very hard, was having trouble finding a table in the crowded restaurant. And my husband’s chair was in the way.
The scene was Red O, one of Fashion Island’s most recent dining destinations. It’s also one of Orange County’s most desirable tables at the moment. Come dinner hour, when the scene slowly evolves from lively upscale Mexican dining to jam-packed, standing-room-only restaurant-slash-nightclub, it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to get a table at the spur of the moment, as one of the world’s foremost athletes can attest to. And it’s all due to one celebrity chef: Rick Bayless.
Bayless’s latest OC venture follows his L.A. restaurant of the same name, a swanky, beautifully designed restaurant where only the best in what we’ll call modern Mexican food is acceptable. Inspired by various regions throughout Mexico, using lighter California ingredients, Bayless’s first OC venture is, thus far, a smashing success.
Entrusted to Red O Executive Chef Keith Stich, dishes roll out of the kitchen effortlessly, their timing only the first of things done right. Starters like Dungeness crab tostaditas get creative with tomatillo-avocado salsa, grilled pineapple and Mexican knob onions, while classic guacamole keeps it refreshingly simple, with little more than chunky avocado to call attention to its pure flavor. Quesos fundidos – a mix of melted Sonoma jack, fontina and goat cheddar cheese – is likewise heavenly.
But it’s the beef that Bayless seems to have a supernatural connection with. Carne asada brava – a prime New York strip served with roasted tomato salsa, sweet corn tamales and grilled knob onions – is like no other grilled meat you’ve associated with before, or possibly after. And slow-braised short ribs, smothered in pasilla sauce and dotted with potatoes, green beans and frisée, are masterful.
Just one recommendation: Make a reservation.
Behind the Scene
Red O might be one tequila shot short of a nightclub, but the chef behind it all, Rick Bayless, makes sure the food doesn’t suffer because of it. Practically a household name when it comes to Mexican cuisine, the chef, who was born in Oklahoma, may not look the part of the south-of-the-border expert, but his experience – from his PBS series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” to taking home the title of Top Chef on “Top Chef Masters” in 2009, and his restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, the latter of which received a Michelin star – has made him a true master of his craft.
Instead of heading straight for the tamales and enchiladas, consider one of our favorite Red O dishes: salmon in serrano crema. A masterfully crafted plate of rare Alaskan wild coho salmon with crispy skin topped with Serrano chile crema and surrounded by charred farmers market baby vegetables, herb green rice and fennel hits all the right notes, even if you won’t find it on a traditional Mexican menu.
Feast for the Eyes
Designed to go from casual daytime dining to exotic nighttime scene, Red O is a sight for hungry eyes. Inspired by the historic villas of central Mexican city San Miguel de Allende and designed by celebrity interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the restaurant is outfitted with handmade oversized chandeliers and a live tree that rises from the bar and into the massive front dining room. While the effect is more Morocco than Mexico, thanks to pierced brass lanterns and North Africa-inspired wall cut-outs, the effect is nonetheless stunning.
Dulce de Churro
An end-of-the-meal churro at a Mexican restaurant is nothing short of a requirement in our rules of dining. Red O’s no-nonsense version consists of freshly fried churro dough with a creamy inside, which is then covered with chocolate-Kahlua sauce.