Red O, the new Mexican restaurant with food by Rick Bayless, will finally be opening for dinner next Wednesday night, May 26th. This is the first restaurant outside of Chicago for Bayless, although it should be noted that Red O is not owned by Bayless, nor will the celebrated chef be manning the stoves on any regular basis.
Red O is in the former location of Moustache Cafe on Melrose Avenue, and the space has been entirely reconfigured by Dodd Mitchell and G+ Gulla Jonsdottir Design. Automatic garage-style doors open between the various rooms; a retractable sky light also opens on command. There's a glass 'tequila tunnel,' a tequila lounge, a long bar with two swing chairs at the end like yard toys for grown-ups, a wall of antique bells, chandeliers, a vast communal table, and odd wall art that resembles box springs. Maybe they're visual aids for what you're going to require after sampling all those bottles of tequila. A second prep kitchen is also in the works — look for lunch service to start after the kitchen is finished, maybe in August — as well as a temperature-controlled wine room and a cigar lounge, also with a retractable roof.
With Bayless overseeing his empire in Chicago, the kitchen at Red O is run by local chef Michael Brown (Patina Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering). “I got a phone call,” says Brown about how he was picked for the job. Brown, who has tattoos of sugar skulls on both hands, was flown out to Chicago to audition, then — along with the rest of the eventual staff — to train in Bayless's kitchens. Brown says that Bayless will be around, in town for the opening, then once or twice a month to check in. And though Bayless is neither an owner nor a partner, “from the doors back is his realm,” says Brown. “His food, his ideology.” Brown describes the food as “halfway between Frontera and Topolobampo,” Bayless's two best known Chicago restaurants.
The menu currently has about 50 dishes, but look for more in the near future, with lots of specials. Bayless famously closes down his Chicago restaurants for two weeks every year and takes his staff to Mexico for research and development, out of which comes many of the dishes that appear on the menus. Brown isn't sure if he and his staff will get to go along (why not, Mexico is a lot closer to L.A. than Chicago is), but is sure that he'll be changing up the Red O menu a lot one way or another. On the menu next week: Mazatlan blue shrimp ceviche with mango, red onion and chipotle chile; albondigas al chipotle; Sonoma lamb in chile Colorado; pollo en mole poblano; cochinita pibil; and quesos fundidos with homemade chorizo and roasted poblano chiles.
As for the name Red O, “O is O,” says Brown. The actual owners of Red O, Rick Teasta and Mike Dobson, owners of Ma'Kai Lounge in Santa Monica, once worked together at the old Red Onion restaurant on the Westside. When they decided to partner on this project, they chose Red O in homage, sort of, to those meeting grounds. And in more musical restaurant chairs, Teasta and Dobson are planning on converting Ma'Kai into a second Red O sometime in the future.
Red O: 8155 Melrose Ave., Hollywood; (323) 655-5009.