Red Table Makes a Good Egg
I anticipated the deviled eggs at Red Table would be good, as all deviled eggs inherently are, but not that good. Chef/owner Louie Jocson calls them "Not Your Mom's," but that's kind of a given for these yesteryear hors d'oeuvres. I have a soft spot for little egg halves, with the creamed and seasoned yolk piped back into their waiting dimples.
Red Table isn't the first restaurant I've encountered that offers them; Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach does, as did Corona del Mar's the Crow Bar and Kitchen at one point. Red Table's version trumps both. If in the future I see deviled eggs somewhere showered with micro-granules of bacon, hits of cracked pepper and a specially formulated spicy tomato sauce whose tang and acidity balance the richness, I'll know those were copied from Jocson's. You don't eat them with your hands; you fork-and-knife them, squeegeeing that peppy brew with the egg halves. You appreciate how Jocson didn't go the easy route with the sauce. A lesser chef would've squirted Sriracha and called it a day.
If the dish says a lot about Jocson's style and commitment, the constantly rotating offering of tacos he has on the specials board should say even more. One night, he deposited blubbery pork belly into thin, coaster-sized tortillas for a four count. Another evening, he opted for crispy salmon skin. But with them comes the huevos to serve a chopped nopales salad on the side and the confidence his audience won't blanch when every forkful trails with gooey cactus slime. It's, of course, delicious.
It will be about here that you sense the chef—who grew up in Fullerton and was the last culinary director of Karl Strauss Brewing Co.—had been saving his best ideas for when he could open his own restaurant. Take, for example, Red Table's vegetarian option called Forest Scallops. Jocson cuts up the thick trunk of a king oyster mushroom into cylinders, then sears them to look like scallop steaks. The illusion is so utterly convincing I almost sent it back, thinking the server gave me someone else's real scallop order. The quinoa, on which these "scallops" rest, gets cooked to a consistency somewhere between couscous and risotto. It's as well-seasoned as the sides of roasted root vegetables and kale are wholesome. It says something about a vegetarian dish when it can stand up to the more-than-decent braised beef short ribs, which arrive not only boneless, but also thick-sliced and dribbled with a sticky, rich demi glace extracted from the ribs; they lean on mashed potatoes and more roasted celery and carrots.
Because Jocson has decided to call his place a "gastrobar" (not a "gastropub"), there are two burgers: one with shaved onions, arugula, bacon and Cheddar; the other with caramelized onions, mushrooms, Cheddar and a Cabernet reduction. Both are good, thick, juicy burgers, easily yielding to messiness like all modern bar burgers tend to do. To accompany one, you might want to order his homemade pickles (which could be more pickled) or, better yet, the homemade fries, which could be more crisp. There are five kinds of fries, each dusted with a different seasoning and served with a complementing dipping sauce. The wasabi mayo that comes with the seaweed-flecked samurai fries could double as a decongestant. The bacon-wrapped dates will go quickly, the pork-encased bullets' crispy, salty sweetness pairing nicely with bitter arugula and a slathered gob of mascarpone, a thing I never before knew bacon-wrapped dates needed.
But for all his thoughtful creativity and confidence, there's always something personal, casual and warm in Jocson's cooking and this space. You order at the counter and seat yourself in a shabby-chic room that could be some eccentric person's attic. The kid's meal of "noodles and shaky cheese" is offered at no charge. And even if you didn't know the Red Table cupcake was an ode to Jocson's late wife and a favorite of their young daughter, the red velvet cake that's baked inside a coffee mug and topped with a swirl of vanilla cream cheese would still be intensely heart-tugging, lovely in its intent, effortlessly beautiful in its execution, just like Red Table itself.
This review appeared in print as "A Good Egg: Chef Louie Jocson's Red Table is intensely personal and intensely good."
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