Restaurant Reviews

Rick Bayless’ Red O | Open in La Jolla UTC

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RED O Opens in La Jolla

Rick Bayless has been the voice of Mexican cuisine in the U.S. for decades, introducing regional cooking into the American public, shattering the idea of Taco Bell resembling Mexican food. With countless published cookbooks, numerous restaurants, a popular TV show, a James Beard award, and a designation bestowed on him from the Mexican government, Rick Bayless has long been the go-to guy for Mexican flavors in America.

San Diego is lucky to have had such a fluid culinary border for so long that actual Mexican cuisine has been rather accessible if one wanted to find it. Even in San Diego though, there is a large population of folks who are more comfortable in familiarity.

RED O, Rick Bayless’ chain restaurant, recently opened in the La Jolla UTC area where Donovan’s was previously located. It’s the perfect location for a corporate-style restaurant.

RED O, Mexican restaurant, Rick Bayless, La Jolla

I, along with several other San Diego influencers, were invited to lunch at RED O. The space has been completely transformed. The high ceilings and decor are stunning. Light floods the restaurant giving it a very open and inviting feeling. The outdoor patio with it’s fireplace is perfect for al fresco dining with some incredibly powerful heat lamps. No need to dine with your parka in the evenings here. This will definitely be a stop over in the upcoming summer season for me. If you have a large party, RED O can accommodate.

We started with cocktails and as cliche as it might sound, (and as the recommendation from our server) we began with margaritas. I don’t love tequila (I’m a mezcal & whiskey gal.) but since the server was so enthusiastic about the special Casa Blanca Margarita, I gave it a try.

For anyone that enjoys tequila or margaritas, this margarita is a show-off. Presented in a clean, slim martini glass, the margarita arrives in style, spilling over with “smoke” from the piece of dry ice settled at the bottom. As signature drinks go, this is a great item that elicits plenty of oohs and ahhs from guests as it makes its way from bar to table.

Casa Blanca Margarita, RED O, Mexican restaurant, Rick Bayless, La Jolla

We were served a spattering of appetizers to try. As expected, chips, salsa and guacamole were delivered first. You may think nothing of it, but this was my first test. Would the chain restaurant throw together a dumbed-down version of salsa? I really didn’t think about the guacamole. It’s usually background noise for me. The salsa though… was delicious. It was flavorful, hit me with enough spice to wake me up and the texture kept me interested. We were off to a good start.

Duck Taquitos, Corn and Goat Cheese Tamales, Shrimp Ceviche, and a selection of street tacos made its way next. This was an unfair course for me right off the bat. I was disappointed in the Americanized offering of taquitos. The duck taquitos, like any taquito, tends to be dry. With a beautiful protein such as this, I thought there could have been a dozen better ways to serve it. The street tacos were flavorful but I am biased because I regularly eat actual street tacos on the streets of Mexico. These were good but played into the corporate market they are trying to satisfy. The shrimp ceviche was served on a plaintain chip was a nice play on flavors and texture.

Shrimp Ceviche, RED O, Mexican restaurant, Rick Bayless, La Jolla

The shining star of the course was absolutely, hands down, the Corn & Goat Cheese Tamales. These were moist inside with a slightly sweet creaminess unexpected from using the goat cheese. I could have eaten a dozen in that sitting. I was hooked.

The special was a sea bass served over meusli. The grains were really a great base for a nice portion of sea bass. The mistake I and three other guests made, was we didn’t ask for our fish to be cooked medium rare. Each of us agreed that medium was a little harsh for this beautiful piece of sea bass. There was no flakiness to the fish. It was a tad too dry and dense. I did mention it quietly to the chef and he did inform me that they prefer to cook it to medium. Kudos to the kitchen. They are consistent.

Dessert samplings were truly very good. Between the Passion Fruit Butter Cake, a Tres Leches, and Churros how is a girl to choose!? The winner for me was the Passion Fruit Butter Cake. It was sweet, tart, dense and moist. There was so much happening in each bite but it was exciting.

As a whole experience, RED O was a lovely restaurant. They have an audience they are aiming for and I believe they have hit the mark. In order to keep the doors open, a restaurant must create familiarity to the masses and can include offerings for the more explorative dining public to suit.

I believe I’ll return for dinner where perhaps I can find a not-so-generic, Mexican faire menu. Maybe then, I can delve into the dishes that reflect Rick Bayless’ Mexico.

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