Red O – Taste Of Mexico

| September 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

Westfield, which operates shopping centers around the world, is pouring millions into the expansion and redevelopment of University Town Center (UTC). Drivers on La Jolla Village Drive have been watching construction for months as new buildings and parking structures take shape.

But drivers also had the opportunity to watch new construction across the street from UTC. A new restaurant was built there on land owned by the Irvine Company, a mega-real estate operating company that began when James Irvine in the 1860s started to acquire huge tracts of land in what is now Orange County. The company is now owned by Donald Bren, the wealthiest, single real estate developer in the United States.

That new restaurant, which took a long time to complete, is Red O Restaurant, subtitled “Taste Of Mexico” It replaced Donovan’s Steak & Chop House, which might be subtitled “Taste Of Meat.” And, by “replaced,” I mean totally. Red O construction did not modify the earlier building. It tore it down to the ground and totally rebuilt it.

The dark wood paneling and multiple rooms of Donovan’s gave way to a light and airy, rectangular building with high ceilings and large windows that look out on patios that run along several sides of the edifice. To say it in just few words, the place is gorgeous. If it were not a restaurant, it could easily double as the elegant lobby of an expensive five star resort.

Self-parking is available some distance away so it is easier to give the car to the valet before entering the large entrance. It opens into the large bar area, which is very popular with the after-work crowd pouring out of the many nearby office buildings. There is comfortable seating in the bar as well as on one of the patios, which services the bar. The other patio is used often for private events.

The adjacent large room is the main dining room, with high ceilings full of light and air, with comfortable tables spaced far enough apart to create privacy and intimacy. The room is not dark and moody, yet manages to feel romantic.

Red O is part of a chain but not in the traditional sense. Locations are not cookie-cutter copies of each other. The concept was developed by Rick Teasta and Mike Dobson, who once worked together at The Red Onion, an old time Mexican restaurant that served traditional recipes for many years. In a nod to their common history, they named their concept Red O.

The first unit opened in Los Angeles, on trendy Melrose Avenue, followed by opens in Orange County and Santa Monica. The fourth unit is here in La Jolla.

The partners hired Rick Bayless to consult. Bayless is one of the “deans” of Mexican cuisine, having won numerous awards including appearing at the James Beard House. He’s also written many cookbooks on the subject of Mexican cuisine. Bayless had the only Mexican restaurant ever to be awarded a Michelin star. Bayless provides input on the culinary vision of the menu.

Red O serves lunch and dinner daily and a brunch on weekends. There is also a “happy hour” daily in the afternoons. The menu reflects “a taste of Mexico”. That is, Red O is not so much a Mexican restaurant as it is an elegant premium restaurant that offers a selection of dishes that include dishes that reflect Mexican heritage.

The dinner menu lists starters that are distinctively Mexican, ranging from a classic guacamole, stirred into a smooth and delicious consistency with tomato, cilantro and lime juice to meaty carnitas empanadas with a mouthwatering avocado tomato salsa to a palate arousing quesadilla with chicken, chile, guacamole and pico de gallo. The tortilla soup was the tastiest I’ve enjoyed in a long time, a tomato broth with chicken, avocado, and lots of tortilla strips.

Themed traditional entrees include an amazing mariscos chile relleno, grilled and stuffed with lobster and shrimp. Several enchilada dishes and a sizzling taco platter round out the choices.

There are also a list of choose your own combinations of tacos, enchiladas and a goat cheese tamale. You build your own platter, accompanied by rice and beans.

On the non-Mexican side, the menu offers a selection of steaks and seafood that include a “melt in your mouth” ribeye and wonderful Chilean sea bass.

The list of cocktails includes creative combinations of select tequila and traditional ones such as Moscow Mule and Old Fashioned. The Alacran margarita, made with Sauza Hornitos Reposado, had an savory bite to it. The list is rounded out by a choice of wines and beers, offering both domestic and foreign products. Flights of tequila are also featured, allowing “tastes of tequila” by age.

Service was excellent. Staff was knowledgeable, offering good advice on menu items, and very attentive.

Red O combines Mexican themed dishes with non-Mexican favorites that are deliciously prepared and beautifully presented – all done in an elegant and comfortable ambiance. Prices are moderate to high but justified by the quality of the product and the setting. It is well worth a visit.

The restaurant is located at 4340 La Jolla Village Driver. Call (858) 291-8360 for information and reservations.

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