A Heavenly Dinner
Visited: August 8th, 2015
Restaurant Type: Modern American
Tonight, it was time this old timer became a part of the “Hip” crowd and not the potential “Break Your Hip” crowd. Tracy and I would join our friends Steven and Adelaide at one of the hottest restaurant tickets in downtown L.A….Redbird.
Redbird is located on the corner of Main and 2nd Streets inside the rectory of what was St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, once the parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It was dedicated in 1876 (below photo is from 1880).
Chef Neal Fraser (formerly of Grace) named the restaurant Redbird because former Cardinals (no, not Stan Musial or Ozzie Smith) used to make the rectory their home. St. Vibiana’s suffered major damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
Thanks to local preservationists, the cathedral was not demolished, but instead the archdiocese purchased some land nearby and constructed the Cathedral Of Our Lady Of The Angels (see California Dreaming). About eight years ago, St. Vibiana’s reopened as an event space and even hosted post-Emmy Award parties in 2009 and 2010.
Adelaide had scored reservations (sometimes you don’t have a prayer to get a weekend reservation) for 7:45 on a Saturday night. When we arrived, there was a wedding next door, and the enclosed garden in front was set up for the reception. Valet parking is available ($8.50). Yes, this would not be an inexpensive evening.
We strode upstairs to a cool looking cocktail lounge and perched ourselves on couches and chairs while we perused an extensive, expensive and eclectic cocktail menu. Adelaide and I ordered drink “Specials.”
I went for the Redbird Tonic (“spirit of choice” was Gin), which is mixed with a house-made-tonic. The menu shows what year the drink was supposedly invented (gin and tonic…1825). I looked it up on activehistory.com, and the website states that “in 1825 British officers began to mix gin with their daily ration of quinine tonic.” There’s nothing quite like getting liquored up and learning history at the same time.
Adelaide tried the Bird Of Paradise. It was a frothy pink concoction topped with an orchid and served with a cold metal straw (gin, lime, raspberry syrup, cream, egg white and orange blossom water). It was reminiscent of a raspberry Ramos Fizz. According to Redbird’s website, “The Bird of Paradise is a close play on a recipe from the 1939 compendium A Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker Jr.”
Tracy and Steven both went old school saying, “I’ll take Manhattans.”
Before you could say, “Bottom’s up,” our table was ready. There is dining both inside and on an outdoor courtyard complete with a retractable roof (perhaps the next L.A. NFL team could play here). We were fortunate enough to secure the outdoor dining area with a cool view of the church’s 3,500 pound cupola, which was returned back to the top of the tower in 2007.
We inquired about how the remainder of the space was utilized. Our waiter said that there were offices upstairs and a private dining area in the tower. Although Redbird was packed with patrons, it was well staffed with friendly and informative servers.
We had called earlier in the day to inquire about the corkage fee ($25…two bottle maximum). However, our server informed us that the corkage fee had been raised that very afternoon to $30 for the first bottle and $50 for the second, but they honored the $25 quoted over the phone. The sommelier stopped by our table to pour the wine, and we discussed wines with him for a moment. Next time (if I can replenish my wallet) we dine here, I will order Redbird’s wine, which I assume is the point of an overly expensive corkage fee.
You have, of course, heard of an Amuse Bouche. Redbird’s take is slightly different when it comes to this complementary item served before dining. As soon as we were seated, we were served an Amuse Booze….a Hawaiian punch concoction of vodka, pineapple juice, sherry and lemon juice. The Amuse Booze was followed by a bag of warm, crispy rolls.
Once again, as what seems more the norm at restaurants these days, many of the dishes are meant to be shared. We all shared three appetizers to start.
We were enamored with the Grilled Lamb Belly ($19), with fava beans (hmm, I hope it was Lamb Belly Mr. Lecter), kumquats, curly endive (apparently they were out of larry and moe), Aleppo pepper and sumac yogurt. The kumquats provided just the perfect amount of citrus to offset the spiciness of the peppers.
An Avocado Salad ($16) consisting of smoked bacon, county line little gems (a type of lettuce, not the jade or garnet you give as an anniversary gift) and a buttermilk blue cheese vinaigrette was also very good. It almost looked too good to eat…almost.
However the star of the appetizers (actually the star of the entire evening) was the Posole ($16)…Heritage Pork Belly and Chicanitas (which are either fried tortilla strips or a Spanish girl band).
This is one of the best dishes I have ever tasted. The texture and taste was pure perfection. Our waiter explained that the pork is braised for 8 hours before being combined with the chicanitas. All three of these appetizers were easily shareable, although I might have taken more than my fair share of the Posole.
We tried four items for our main courses, but other than Tracy’s scallops they were a tad bit disappointing. They weren’t bad…just not up to the same excellent caliber as the starters.
I opted for the Aged Liberty Farms Duck ($32 on the menu although we were charged $38, which we did not discover until we looked the next day…gotta check those duck bills carefully). The duck, although a large serving, just did not have enough flavor, and the pairing with wild rice, peaches and xo sauce didn’t really work that well.
Redbird made a wonderful comeback with dessert. The four of us shared the two desserts recommended by our waiter… the Chocolate Caramel Bar; bourbon chocolate and smoked pecans served with bananas foster ice cream, and the Pain Perdu; brioche French toast with yellow nectarines and brown butter ice cream.
If you are a carnivore, you might want to check out the $118 Porterhouse. Bring three of your meat-loving friends and split this 32 ounces of Colorado beef, king oyster mushrooms and aceto balsamico. Put your cardiologist on speed dial for that one.
Or you could share with one other person a Duo Of Beef; grilled New York, short rib, kale croutons, confit potatoes and parmesan fondue ($48).
As for me, I could come back just for the Posole and Pain Perdu and be a happy camper.
Redbird is not a place we will come to often (I need to save some money for retirement), but if you’re yearning for a restaurant to celebrate a special event or if you’d like to “wow” some out-of-town guests, this former cathedral is the perfect spot. You might even call it…divine.
Maitaitom rating…4.4 maitais out of 5
114 East 2nd. Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 5 p.m. – 10:45 p.m.
Parking: Valet $8.50
Metro Stop: Civic Center/Grand Park (Red or Purple Line)