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Rick Bayless: Red O No You Didn't

Three Weeklings look for good Mexican food at the 'authenticity' guru's new Fashion Island restaurant

It was high noon on a sunny but brisk Newport Beach day. The Bentleys gleamed in the valet lot. I was first to arrive. Then Dave Lieberman in a sport coat. Then Gustavo Arellano. We'd agreed to eat at Red O together, the second outpost of Rick Bayless' controversial restaurant, which debuted last month in Fashion Island. The controversy came nearly four years ago, when Bayless—in anticipation of Red O's opening in LA—said in interviews he was intrigued "how the true flavors of Mexico" would play in Southern California. To some, the careless statement sounded ignorant to our area's ready stock of regional Mexican food specialists; to others, it was downright insulting. During a talk at a fund-raiser, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold poked fun at it. Provoked, an angry Bayless bit back in what became known in the annals of food-blogging history as the Gold and Bayless Food Fight of 2010.

Which brings us to now, when Gustavo, who attended that fund-raiser and wrote the blog post that sparked the Gold vs. Bayless spat, was joined by your humble scribe and Dave, a man who spends nearly every other weekend eating and drinking in Mexico for our award-winning, online Tijuana Sí! column. We came with open minds, as well as elevated expectations. Bayless, after all, won the only season of Top Chef Masters anyone actually watched, is a prolific cookbook author and presides over one of the most successful restaurant empires in Chicago. Even his most ardent detractors, especially Weekly contributor and food blogger Bill Esparza, will concede that the man is "an outstanding chef."

In the lobby, a room surrounded by tequila bottles, I asked Dave for his thoughts on one particular bottle with what looked like a plain, hand-typed label. "That's $10 tequila in a $20 bottle," Dave huffed. Most of the money spent on that brand went to getting George Clooney's endorsement, he said. When I looked up, I saw that more than half of the tequilas covering the wall bore the same identical, mass-printed labels, all with the famous actor's signature. How apropos to Red O, I thought. Bayless' name, like Clooney's, was here because someone paid for it. The restaurant is, at best, a consulting gig for Bayless.

Better than Javier's?
William Vo
Better than Javier's?

Location Info

Map

Red O

143 Newport Center Dr.
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Newport Beach

Details

Red O, 143 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 718-0300; www.redorestaurant.com. Open Sun.-Tues. & Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Lunch for two, $50-$100, food only. Full bar.

Marveling at the arches and the intricately tiled walls in the soaring dining room, Gustavo remarked that the design looked "Mediterranean meets Chapman University"; it's more Moorish than Mexican, he observed. Meanwhile, Dave came back from surveying the bar's tequila selection. "It's a good list," he said, "especially for Orange County."

As we drank in the scene, Gustavo noticed the music wasn't Mexican either. It was the Colombian salsa of Joe Arroyo. Though he's an Arroyo fan, Gustavo quipped, "Why are high-end Mexican restaurants so ashamed of accordions and tubas?"

Once we were seated, chips came out in a ceramic vessel, and with it salsas Dave thought were a bit salty and Gustavo deemed "whatever." We asked our server, a Latina who spoke with a Valley Girl accent, for something hotter. She brought a habanero blend that we agreed was better, although too lemony. The guacamole sampler was served on an elaborate curved metal contraption; half of the plantain chips deposited below it were already stale. While they were decent guacamoles, they all tasted the same. If it weren't for the soggy shishito pepper on top of the yuzu guacamole, it would've been indistinguishable from the one made with lime.

We shared some well-fried, stretchy-cheese-oozing empanadas mislabeled as quesadillas. But Gustavo questioned why a man who touts Mexican authenticity would use Sonoma Jack instead of quesillo. Meanwhile, Dave sulked that the server left the rest of his margarita sitting in its ice-filled shaker. "That's not going to get any stronger the longer it sits," he grumbled.

Upon tasting the aguachile, Gustavo shook his head. "Aguachile is supposed to electrify the tongue; this is a ceviche!" he said.

"No, it's a tiradito! And it's not good," Dave added.

Both of them liked the short rib sopes more than I did. I found the hors d'oeuvre-sized masa cups filled with braised beef ropy and dry.

Later, Gustavo groused at the torta he ordered, with bread more suited to media noche than bolillo. It was pressed flat into a pseudo-panini and came with salad that would be pointless to anyone except the white-haired ladies who lunched around us. The lamb chops that the waitress told us won Bayless the Top Chef Masters title were underseasoned and came with mole negro that tasted more like mole poblano to Gustavo. I winced as I ate the bitter sauce. "Is it supposed to taste like it was made with spent coffee grounds?" I asked Gustavo.

As we left, I posed to my companions the inevitable question: Javier's, or Red O? Red O, they replied, adding they shouldn't have had to make the comparison. "This was supposed to be the place," Gustavo noted, "where the savior of Mexican cuisine finally brought its 'true flavors' to Southern California!" And as we went on to better Mexican food in the evening, we all agreed: Back to Chicago with you, Rick.

 
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202 comments
949girl
949girl topcommenter

Do you want to know what the funniest thing about this article is?  Drumroll....

The OC Weekly promo that is sponsoring the Tequila Boarding Pass and one of the stops is Red O!!!!  You've got to be kidding me!


Olivia Olivas
Olivia Olivas

Me too, Gc. Give me Mama's cooking or some taco's from a good trustworthy taco truck. You are all lucky. Up in Seattle, (that's RIGHT, home of the NFC Champions) all they have is Americanized or nuevo chic Messican food. Give me a good quinceanera to go to!

Gc Rivera
Gc Rivera

Ugh. Sick of these places. they're going to pop up just don't go.

cowpokette
cowpokette

this reminds me of going to I think it was the ritz carlton or some fancy hotel in dana point for fish tacos around 1996.  I got two eensy weensy very bland tacos for around $18.  I was still  so hungry we drove over to the taco stand across the street from mission san juan Capistrano where I got my fill of delicious fish tacos for around  $1.25 each. no ocean view, no linen tablecloth,  no crystal, but I was sooo happy.

Silvy Khoucasian
Silvy Khoucasian

I must STRONGLY disagree as well, this place is gorgeous, has delicious food and friendly staff. This article makes no sense and seems like its not grounded in reality. I mean its my FAVORITE new Mexican Restaurant! And the Margaritas mama mia!!!

1000Steps
1000Steps

All you bagging on Edwin don't get he's a professional troll. Not a journalist/critic/editor, he's playing y'all. 

Barbara Boyer
Barbara Boyer

Guess it needs a RE-DO rather than Red O. Love the restaurant in Chi Town!

Isabella Snow
Isabella Snow

Love Red O, especially the Newport location. So beautiful and perfect for lunch after shopping with the ladies. This is plain banter. Not a good look for you OC Weekly.

Jessica Rothchild
Jessica Rothchild

Damn girl! I just read the article and wow is all I can say. I had such great time with you guys at Red O that I can't take any of this stuff seriously. The food was so good! The manager was so cool and really the whole experience was great. These guys obviously have another reason for this. I do agree that it is inappropriate to have actually posted this article. Makes OC Weekly look pretty bad.

Greg Dzhamdzhyan
Greg Dzhamdzhyan

I never like Edwin and after this I won't take anything he says seriously. It's one thing to have an opinion and express it like an adult, its another to write a bunch of BS like this article. I honestly can't believe you guys published this. I totally agree with many of the comments below, I have lots respect for your brand and everyone involved with this write up. And to to add that "We stand by our assessment" is just digging your grave a bit deeper. Check out Edwins comments under this article and then you might not be so proud of your staff after that. You guys totally dropped the ball on this one.

Donna Yang
Donna Yang

Why should they mention such a BS article? It's obvious to everyone who is looking at it objectively that these three guys pre planned this meal and are out to get Rick. Ridiculous!

Donna Yang
Donna Yang

Daniel, the review IS exactly how you took it. I am a regular at Red O and Love Rick's take on Mexican cuisine. Dave and team of Bully's obviously are way to emotionally attached to Rick to be taken seriously. A publication like OC Weekly is not the place for you to behave like high school children, that's why you have a personal Facebook page. And, it is obvious that all of you involved are coming with HATE and that is no way to progress in any direction. Edwin should be fired for this article.

Donna Yang
Donna Yang

I posted this under the article but want to make sure to share this on this page as well. Firstly, SHAME on you guys for publishing this garbage. Its full of exaggerated emotion and lacks any quality. Second, going on a rant about a chef who has dedicated himself to your culture (edwin) is counterproductive! Instead of giving him valid suggestions and commending him on his dedication to the Mexican Culture, it sounds like you can't stand that a white man is more successful at it than you. Shame on YOU and Shame On this publication.

Peggy Khoucasian
Peggy Khoucasian

I actually went there recently and loved the food! There ceviche and oysters were delicious! So happy they opened another location as the one on Melrose was a favorite, its nice to take business clients and friends from the Irvine area somewhere with beautiful decor, classy and a professional staff. Highly recommend it especially if your artsy and need a little inspiration :)

Calisi Warner
Calisi Warner

Red O is amazing and anyone who hates on them to this level obviously has another agenda!! Everyone is intitled to their opinion but keep in mind that Rick is one of the most passionate chefs out there and he loves the mexican culture. His restaurants are providing jobs and you guys are so quick to be rude and make ridiculous statements. Anyone who reads this article will agree that the writer sounds like a spoiled brat!! Saying that the hispanic girl has a valley girl accent is ridiculous. Its clear that they went in looking to hate Red O and probably planned the whole thing. What a bunch of BS.

Xavier Olguin
Xavier Olguin

somebody drank the haterade this morning, suck it up pretend like you have things goin on in your life too haha :P

Jake Rankin
Jake Rankin

sounds almost as pretentious and smug as the republicunts they love to smear.

Calisi
Calisi

WOW.  What a bunch of BS.  Anyone reading this can see right through it.  Edwin, this is definitely not one of your good moments.  I have seen you share your passion about not only Mexican food but the culture in general and it's commendable.  This however is weak!!!  I can't get over some of your comments below.  What are you thinking? In this day and age where there are no take backs, how could you carelessly ruin your reputation with the sort of words you have used below.  Sorry man but no bueno!!  As for Red O in Newport.  I've been to the LA location with some of my classmates and have always had a good time.  The Newport location is absolutely gorgeous and whatever I had was delicious!  This article needs to be removed!  Its pretty lame and as the girl below said, it makes your newspaper look bad.  

Michael Patrick Rooney
Michael Patrick Rooney

As a matter of principle, I tend to ignore high-priced, Mexican and Italian food. It's counterintuitive. That being said, there was nothing "open-minded" about this review. It was a lynching veiled as legitimate journalism.

yangdonnayang
yangdonnayang

SHAME ON YOU OC Weekly for publishing this trash talk.  You basically discredited your entire publication with this obviously spiteful rant.  I don't know the feud between this Cyber bully and Rick Bayless but it doesn't matter.  It's childish and spiteful!

Sharing your personal opinion on your own FB page is one thing and you have the right, but sharing an overly emotional and completed vengeful article on a "respected" publication is just childish and selfish.  In addition, your comments below using foul language and anger just shows that you are an angry person coming from a hateful place. Shame on you too! 

I personally will no longer take OC Weekly seriously.  Shame Shame!!  


Carmen Gomez
Carmen Gomez

I'm surprised to hear that he has not one, but two restaurants in SoCal Donna Gilliland. I don't remember reading anything about these on his website we checked out the other day.

Johnny Heras Castillo
Johnny Heras Castillo

Jennifer Castillo does not like a celoso chión. 1) Practically 100% of authentic recipes have been changed by the descendent generations. Así es! 2) El Torito and Acapulco restaurants suck even though authentic paisas are in the kitchen. 3) Not everything the Leftist professors told us is true. Calmate before you get labeled racista y comunista.

Don Prentice
Don Prentice

Also, if you check out their fb page, it's clear they have a wonderful Social Media Manager. nothing but 5 star reviews, beautiful pictures, and great times were had by all. And not a single mention of the OC Weekly review...

Don Prentice
Don Prentice

For Rick, Mexican food has been a chef's adventure, a love affair... For So-Cal, Mexican food is a way of life. I'll stick with my local taqueria

Jim Alvarez
Jim Alvarez

I even learned to BBQ dog in Vietnam.

Jim Alvarez
Jim Alvarez

I learned to cook by the maid who would come to clean the house make a pot if beans and handmade tortillas and make dinner for us on Fridays. We had three generations coming to clean and wash every Friday. I miss her and the great Mexican food she would make and taught me how to make so many dishes. Then I graduated from High School and then Traveled all around the world. I was stationed in Japan and loved it. I spent 22 years away from home made food and now live in Southern California.

Jim Alvarez
Jim Alvarez

I didn't have any family members because all of my aunts lived in Los Angeles and to busy with there own Liquor stores and and my Grandmother was a Booky and was married 7 times. I was raised in Texas and no family to be around and hang out. My grandfather was in his 70' s when I was just 10. No love there and got married and had an Aunt 15 years younger than me.

Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas

I have found if I disagree with OC Weekly on anything I have a 99.9% chance of being right.

madilyneh
madilyneh

I look forward to reviews from Gustavo and Dave. But boys, this review was predictable. Gustavo you're too emotional when Bayless is involved. Rick is full of ego and it rubs you the wrong way. He's not all-that here., and never will be. That's all. 


Dàrth Pöwers
Dàrth Pöwers

Wow. Rick is not gonna like this review. How were the Chicago style hot dogs? Too salty as well?

Daniel Blandin
Daniel Blandin

Well, I hope the review is exactly how I took it, snobby and part of a tiff.... Many Top Chefs have different places in different states and do not and can not cook at each of them and they still are very good. If Red O is off a bit, then I hope Rick does some quality control but still think the review came off pompous

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

That's exactly the point, sir. His name is on it but he's not cooking. He has very little to do with the place.

Daniel Blandin
Daniel Blandin

Chef Rick Bayless is incredible and this review comes off as snobby and like part two of a personal tiff .... I haven't been yet so I can't say with certainty of the food at Red O but with Rick's name, I just can't see it going wrong.... RICK BAYLESS IS AMAZING !!!!!

Tele
Tele

lolllllllll

Tele
Tele

Can't tell if serious or trolling...

jordanmyangel
jordanmyangel

I agree with you.. haters are haters and miserable people.. if you don't like it who needs you there.. redo and the people behind that restaurant is amazing.. so tired of miserable people..  the place has amazing vibe, and the people that go there often are the ones to keep..  smarty really why would call her dumb Bitch?? 

Smarty
Smarty

Shame on you for being such a dumb bitch!

jordanmyangel
jordanmyangel

Amen.. exactly.. jobs for others.. people talking crap no nothing about the people behind the restaurant and if you don't like who needs these kind of miserable people there. dont like it don't go!! 

KOROOSH
KOROOSH

Not accurate, you tool - it is an opinion article - how can an opinion not be accurate?  Isn't your name Koroosh anyway, you dork?  You got cut from tennis tryouts for IHS circa 1992 (from a shitty team).  How did that make you feel??

yangdonnayang
yangdonnayang

I have been a fan on their FB page since they started it and actually a fan of Red O since their Melrose location.  It's the place I go when I go to LA because the service is excellent and the food is delicious and interesting. My experience has always been pleasant.  The same goes for their fan pages.  They obviously have someone great doing their social because they are respectful to the fans, always engage with us, and respond with us if we have questions etc.  Its the same at their locations.  This article is just Sad.  I feel bad for the writer because it's obvious that he has some issues.  

 
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