Test Kitchen with Red Medicine
The zeitgeist is like the G spot.
Sometimes you’re right there and you don’t even know how you found it.
Elusive and ephemeral. But when you hit it, you know.
And so it is with Test Kitchen, the pop-up restaurant without a chef that’s at the intersection of every food fetishist, twitterrati, food blogger, cocktail crawler, taste maker and industry insider’s wet dream.
The lovechild of Bill Chait, the business brains behind Rivera, and industry insider Brian Saltsburg, Test Kitchen is a six week pop-up restaurant featuring an ever changing and unannounced line up of well known chefs and mixologists testing out menus and cocktails for future ventures without the constraints of expectation. Ricardo Zarate (of Mo-Chica) provides some continuity in the kitchen by consulting with each chef and will also be testing for his new restaurant Anticucho, which will open above the space now occupied by Test Kitchen. Behind the bar, mixologists Julian Cox (of Rivera and testing for John Sedlar’s new restaurant R26, opening in the old Grace space) and Joel Black (of Caña and testing for the mysteriously named Project 9575) sling cocktails accompanied by guest mixologists for each chef.
First up at Test Kitchen was the team behind the upcoming contemporary Vietnamese eatery Red Medicine – Chef Jordan Kahn, Managing Partner Noah Ellis, and Bar Manager Matthew Doerr. I didn’t know much about Jordan Kahn prior to this meal, only that he was a hot shot pastry chef (previously of Per Se, Alinea, Michael Mina, XIV) taking on his first non-pastry chef position in LA. And that he was teaming with Adam Fleischman, the man behind the ever growing Umami chain.
The menu would be a 12 course tasting served family style. Priced at $40, it was the most affordable menu to date. Accompanying cocktails were $10, again a relative bargain compared to the other teams.
We began with cocktails from Matthew Doerr. No names, just numbers for now.
#10 – Plymouth, Douglas Fir Eau de Vie, Lemon, tarragon, Mint, Peychaud’s Bitters
#7 – Don Cesar Pisco Italia, Pineapple, Grapefruit Peel, Purple Basil, Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters
RADISHES, coco-butter, lime, dried soy
Cured AMBERJACK, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint
An interesting pairing of amberjack and melon, which really worked. The saltiness of the fish sauce in the nuoc cham over the amberjack was nicely contrasted by the sweetness of the melon, with the chili, mint and lime leaf all adding their respective accents. A favorite dish of mine.
BRUSSELS sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers
Another favorite, the saltiness of the fish sauce again counteracting the bitterness of the brussels sprouts and the prawn crackers adding that textural crunch.
TOMATOES marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs
This dish was all about the interplay between the sweet acidity of the tomatoes with the soft, almost creamy texture and subtle taste of the silky tofu, which acted almost like a sauce. The crunchy tofu, meanwhile, provided the textural crunch.
Saigon tartine – PORK belly, pate, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili
Essentially an open-faced banh mi, I loved the pickled vegetables cutting across the more subtle pork pate.
Green PAPAYA, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts
Being more familiar with the Thai green papaya salad, this Vietnamese iteration was milder, brighter and greener in taste. Here, the mint predominated and the crispy taro and peanuts added textural contrast.
Caramelized CHICKEN dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce
A flavorful and well balanced bite, the chicken dumpling was moist, the sriracha imparting heat, the mint coolness, all wrapped in a lettuce leaf.
Baby CARROTS, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon
The baby carrots were cooked soft with the fermented black bean predominating in taste, perhaps to the detriment to the overall balance of the dish.
Bay SCALLOPS, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind, syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé
I liked the flavor of the scallops although their size was not quite as satisfying. The puffed tapioca was an interesting touch but the charred friseé for me was too, well, charred.
BEEF bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame
The star of this dish for me was the bacon X.O. sauce, with dried seafood replaced by bacon, imparting a hot and sweet punch to the beef. Sensational. I hardly remember the other components to this dish.
More cocktails. The #10 again.
And the #6 – Bulleit, Cynar, Lime, Rhubarb Grenadine, Ginger Beer
And onto dessert.
PEACHES, creme de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk, quinine
Essentially peaches and cream in tonic water. Yes, I liked the peaches but, well, it didn’t compare to the other dessert.
COCONUT bavarois, coffee, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory
Loved the coffee “soil”, loved the peanut cookie, loved the coconut bavarois, loved how all the components played so well together in the glass. Loved finishing the meal on a high note. Not surprising, given Jordan Kahn’s pastry credentials.
Overall, a resounding success. This meal did everything it was meant to. It introduced me to a new chef of considerable talent, it whetted my appetite for the upcoming Red Medicine, it showcased Jordan Kahn’s range outside of pastry and in contemporary Vietnamese cuisine, and it set the bar high for future Test Kitchen visits, of which there have already been two and will be many more.
Stay tuned for my upcoming posts on Test Kitchen visits with Walter Manzke and Michael Voltaggio.Test Kitchen 9575 W Pico Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90035 (310) 277-0133