An Elegy For Red Medicine

Trout roe with peas and lemon curd at Red Medicine
Trout roe with peas and lemon curd at Red Medicine
Anne Fishbein

Late yesterday afternoon, Sept. 24, it was announced that Red Medicine will be closing. The pioneering restaurant from owner Adam Fleischman and chef Jordan Kahn issued a statement explaining that new building ownership and the resultant rising overhead costs (code for: new owners have raised the rent) have caused the owners to sell the restaurant.  The last day of service will be Oct. 31.

Red Medicine has been controversial since its opening in Beverly Hills in 2010. Named after a Fugazi album and helmed by a pastry chef, the modernist Vietnamese cooking had people sharply divided from the get-go. The restaurant was also not afraid of courting scandal. Soon after opening, front of house manager and partner Noah Ellis famously kicked L.A. Times restaurant reviewer Irene Virbila out of the restaurant and then released a photo of the anonymous critic. In 2013, they again made national headlines for shaming no-show customers by name on Twitter. 

Both of these acts were seen as heroic by restaurant folks, but they also turned a lot of customers off. And they may have detracted from where the public's focus should have been, which is with Jordan Kahn's cooking.

Kahn's upscale pastry background gave him an understanding of visual artistry in food that's rare in savory chefs. Some people thought his dishes, often presented in glass terrariums or as textural landscapes, were pretentious and overwrought. But many of us saw something deeper than ego pushing Kahn towards experiential eating. At their core, many of his dishes were meditations rather than wiz-bang frippery. 

There was also the question of why on earth he would bother to do all this extra work if pretension were all that was at stake. Red Medicine was never much more expensive than the restaurants around town serving slabs of pork belly slopped onto a plate; from the beginning, this was a passion project, not a precious enterprise for the super rich. 

Kahn was foraging seriously before, during and after the trend swept the globe, and he's notoriously hard to reach — because he's often in the Santa Monica Mountains looking for ingredients.

Red Medicine is open until 2 a.m., one of the only serious restaurants in town to offer food to its fellow chefs after they get out of their own kitchens. For a short but glorious time, Kahn dispatched a sous chef to the historic Formosa Cafe to serve Red Medicine-esque food to the late night drinkers there. 

It's hard to believe Kahn and team would go to such trouble just to stroke their own egos. 

Some people love theatrical dining, and the promise of something utterly different than what you'll get everywhere else. Some people just want that pork belly. To each his own. I, for one, will be incredibly sad to not have Red Medicine as an option, particularly at midnight. 

Noah Ellis is consulting on a number of businesses, including a new restaurant called Hutchinson Cocktails & Grill that's opening this week. Kahn is said to be working on a new project, which he will be announcing in the coming months. 

Let's hope there are terrariums involved. 

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