Red O Restaurant Newport Beach is celebrating National Margarita Day, February 22, 2014, as soon as they can catch their breath from the weekend Valentine’s Day celebration. Since Southern Californians are serious margarita lovers, Red O thought it appropriate to extend tribute to this iconic cocktail, born in the 1940’s, for two weeks! Beginning Sunday, February 16th and continuing until March 1st, Red O will offer guests a flight of their three signature margaritas. The flight will include half portions (6 oz.) of the Topolo Margarita, Alacran Margarita and the Organic Skinny Margarita for $15. Here’s a peek:
A nod to Rick Bayless restaurant Topolobompo in Chicago, the Topolo margarita is smooth and refreshing with no trace of the puckery sweet & sour which so often ruins margaritas for me.
El Agave Silver Tequila
(crystal clear, triple distilled, aged, 100% Agave Azul from Los Altos de Jalisco),
JDK & Sons O3 Orange Liqueur, house made Limonada
Served on the rocks
The Alacran Margarita offers spicy margarita lovers the lip-numbing sensation they crave.
Hornitos Reposado Reposados
(lighter in color than most reposados and the perfect combination of smooth taste & tequila edge)
JDK & Sons O3 Orange Liqueur, VeeV Acai Spirit,
house made Limonada & Serrano Chile syrup
Served on the rocks in a Tajin-rimmed glass
Organic Skinny Margarita
Tierras Organic Blanco Tequila, fresh squeeze organic lime juice with a splash of organic agave nectar
Served on the rocks
My dining companion and I didn’t try the third margarita; instead we opted to try a Tequila Flight. Featuring three 1-ounce pours of tequila, Red O’s Tequila Flight is fully customizable – meaning you pick the three tequilas that you want to try from their extensive tequila list. Price is determined by which tequilas you select. Considering that neither one of are tequila connoisseurs, we trusted the judgement of a professional and let Manager and Sommelier, Christopher Janz guide us. His selections: Fortelaza Blanco – exceptionally smooth with nary a touch of oak, a bracing manly man’s Cruz Reposado, and Casa Noble Single Barrel Anejo. Casa Noble gained star quality when music icon Carlos Santana joined the board and became a partner in 2011, Casa Noble is renowned for their exceptional tequilas – the Single Barrel Anejo is exquisite; “matured in French White Oak barrels for two years and extra aged to perfection this limited production spirit exhibits a deep golden tone, has an exceptional bouquet and body, and ranks among the finest distilled spirits in the world” – for true tequila aficionados.
Red O is the hottest new restaurant in Newport Beach and sister to Red O Restaurant on Melrose in Los Angeles, celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s first venture outside of Chicago where, in 1987, he founded side-by-side restaurants: the casual Frontera Grill and the sophisticated Topolobampo. In 2007, Frontera Grill was awarded Outstanding Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation. The organization has also honored him as Midwest Chef of the Year, National Chef of the Year, and Humanitarian of the Year.
Most people know Rick Bayless from his highly rated PBS series “Mexico—One Plate at a Time” and, besides being a multiple James Beard winner, he is also the author of seven cookbooks; his book, Mexican Everyday, was also nominated for a James Beard Award, and the winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters”. Red O features menus designed by the renowned chef who is responsible for changing the image of Mexican food in America through his intense study of the regional cuisines of Mexico.
When you visit Red O, reservations are a must. I have enjoyed cocktails in the always crowded bar, attended a media preview dinner held in a luxuriously draped side patio area, and returned for dinner last week to sample the tequila flights and a few more of the dinner selections. The menu is divided into eight categories: Appetizers, Ceviches & Raw Bar, Sopes & Tamales, Salads & Soups, Enchiladas and Tacos Al Carbon, Meat – Slow Cooked & Grilled, Moles & Seafood, and Cazuealas for Soft Tacos. We tried one item from five of the categories – it was a lot of food, which means you have a delicious lunch to look forward to tomorrow, but we wanted to get a real feel for the uniqueness of Red O’s cuisine. Already a fan of Bayless’s regional Mexican cuisine, I visit Frontera Grill – arriving when they open for lunch – every time I’m in Chicago and his Tortas Frontera is the best thing to happen to Chicago O’Hare airport in decades!
With the exception of the Yellowtail Aguachile ($18), the evening was meat centric. The incredibly fresh Hamachi yellowtail sashimi in a lively spicy lime broth with avocado, red onion and cucumber was one of my favorites. I generally prefer seafood and will definitely be returning to taste a few of their seafood entrees. Settling into the comfortable striped-fabric, skirted chairs in the main dining room, the warm tones of dark wood, patterned Mexican tiles envelope you. Restaurants make a statement with unique, well-executed cuisine but if the ambiance or service leaves you cold, the total experience is lacking. Red O delivered – my eyes darted around the room taking in the soaring red ceiling, huge Mexican chandeliers, gleaming pierced metal sconces, inviting roomy red leather banquettes, widely spaced tables for hearing only your conversation – the eclectic contemporary soundtrack feels upbeat without interfering with table talk, and romantic soft lighting (which didn’t allow for very good photos, I’m afraid).
My friend’s favorite was the Chorizo Quesos Fundidos ($10) – the classic Mexican dip is not something I usually order because who can resist a warm gooey cheese dip – it’s so irresistible that you can’t stop at one or two bites. And Red O’s, with three cheeses, homemade chorizo sausage, strips of smoky roasted poblanos (or woodland mushrooms and grilled red onion) bound with Negra Modela is now imprinted on my tastebuds. Tequila cuts the richness of this dish beautifully, by the way.
Chorizo Queso Fundido
Of the entree selections, the melt in your mouth, slow-cooked Cochinita Pibil (Suckling pig) was outstanding and the hands down winner for both of us – not a bite was left. The tender achiote-marinated pig is slow-cooked in banana leaves (reminiscent of Hawaiian Kalua pig) and served black beans and roasted habanero salsa; pickled red onion and watercress balance the richness.
Not a tequila fan? Red O offers a variety of craft cocktails from Pisco Sours and Caipirinhas to a Vodka Mint Gimlet, as well as an impressive wine list. Manager and Sommelier Christopher Janz is at your service to thoughtfully guide you through the wine list and assist with a pairing recommendation if you desire. Shown here are a 2011 Puligny-Montrachet (France), 2011 Palmina Dolcetto (Santa Barbara), and 2009 Hacienda Monasterio Ribera del Duero (Spain).
Another aspect of Red O that stood out for me is the culinary talent they brought on board comes from Orange County. I like when companies hire locally and promote from within – Executive Chef Keith Stitch, Chef de Cuisine Justin Haefler and Manager|Sommelier Christopher Janz all hail form Orange County. Just one more reason to check it out, if you haven’t already. Cheers!
143 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA