Above and Beyond. That has been in my head for the past couple weeks. It’s what I do when I care about someone. Cdj’s birthday was last week and I wanted to surprise him. I had a few surprises but the primary was dinner. Red O Taste of Mexico recently opened in La Jolla. The infamous Rick Bayless is the culinary director of the restaurant. The menu features Mexican inspired dishes as well as seafood and steaks.
I made reservations via OpenTable but followed up a few days before the dinner. I wanted to request the best table in the house (if there was one) and possibly by a window (I wanted natural lighting for photos). The nice host suggested his favorite table by the window and made note of that in the reservation. I called the day of dinner to inquire if I could bring a fruit arrangement (sent by his parents) to surprise him and Elaine, the hostess, said yes and they will put in the refrigerator. I was getting excited to see how this night at Red O would play out.
I didn’t take pictures of the front or hostess area as I had my hands full of gifts/balloons. There is valet parking here for $5. You can text them when you’re finished with dinner so that your car will be waiting for you (how awesome is that!). There’s a self parking structure but I think that’ll actually cost more than $5 as Red O does not validate the tickets (as of now at least).
The hostess wasn’t the most pleasant. The restaurant bar and patio were both packed. I checked in but it took awhile for the ‘seater’ to come get us. I whispered to the hostess if I could give someone the fruit arrangement (I put it in a large insulated bag so Cdj wouldn’t know) and she looked annoyed. I said I had spoken to Elaine earlier. This hostess said I would have to give it to the seater to help us.
I was disappointed by our table. Our seater sat us next to the kitchen ingress/egress. It was difficult not to hear the kitchen commotion or get bumped in the back of the chair from so much foot traffic. The table also wasn’t next to a window so I’m assuming the hostess didn’t read the comments or perhaps didn’t care.
The saving grace for this table was our server Erick. This night would not have been a surprise birthday success without this man. More on that to follow. And he was the one that helped take the fruit arrangement.
The balloon had it’s own seat. Surprise #2 were cards his niece and nephew sent him.
The chips were served warm and salted. The fried corn tortillas were thicker but had a nice crunch.
The salsa tasted nicely made with onions, cilantro, and a bit of garlic.
There’s a decent wine by the glass selection here at Red O. I splurged and went with this $13 glass of tempranillo which was beautiful and easy to drink with our meal that evening.
Of course Cdj wanted to be cool so he ordered a single malt whiskey on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Erick had to ask the bartender the selection of whiskeys as it wasn’t listed on the menu. This was $14.
The tower presentation was pretty (not as much as Nicky Rotten’s though). The ahi tuna didn’t look as bright or fresh. The bottom of the tower had crushed tortilla chips. The tuna tasted well oiled with chile and cumin. I liked the bite combination of the seaweed salad, tuna, tart red onion, and avocado.
Don’t forget to check in on Yelp to get their classic guacamole on the house. It was a nice sized portion and consisted of avocado, onions, tomato, cilantro, and some chili.
Apologies for the photos on the next dish. I was too busy video taping the presentation. The Tablita for Two was a memorable presentation that took two waiters to serve. It arrives on the largest sizzling plate I’ve ever seen.
Here is a video I took of the Tablita for Cdj and his family:
He has camera presence with his natural hamming it up. Regardless, the video shows the grandeur of the Tablita for Two presentation.
The Maine lobster tail was to the top right corner of that plate.
They pour chipotle crema sauce over the steak. I didn’t care for the sauce and would have preferred it on the side.
The lobster tail is split down the middle so that it’s easily shared.
We had quite a bit of guacamole that evening. The Tablita comes with a small bowl.
You also get a choice between flour or corn tortillas. We opted for flour. I didn’t like the tortillas as they tasted mealy and strange.
The lobster tail wasn’t the most succulent and I questioned the freshness of the tail. The tajin butter was poured over the lobster on the sizzling platter before it was split in half for us to share. I asked for a bit more butter on the side. The lobster tasted fine and wasn’t over grilled.
The tomahawk steak was average. It wasn’t the tender-OMG feel you crave when ordering a huge tomahawk. The steak probably cooked too long on the sizzling plate by the time I ate it. So I would recommend ordering this steak a lesser medium rare if you plan on leaving the steak on the sizzling plate while you eat.
This was Cdj’s self made taco. You can see the thickness of the tortilla in this picture.
The $125 might seem steep but it wasn’t if you consider the prices here at Red O. The 18oz ribeye alone is $49. So you get almost double the steak (32oz including the bone) plus a Maine lobster tail for $125.
This is when friends started to arrive. We were supposed to be done by 8p and then meet friends at the bar (3rd surprise). We had just started the entree though. So Erick easily accommodated the first two people to arrive at our table (and also my request for separate checks for them and us). Then Erick graciously accommodated another two friends that arrived (unfolding our original square table of four into a round table for 6+). He was truly a great server.
Friends would grab my phone to help take pictures. The following were items they ordered:
Erick sent out two birthday desserts for our table.
Erick and I coordinated when he would bring the edible arrangement to our table. He unpacked it, carefully, out of the bag and then came to our table at the end of the previous two desserts.
Cdj was humbled and surprised by this gift (4th surprise) from his parents to our table. It was a special moment that would have ended a nice meal.
It was past 11p and the restaurant was dying down. I got up to use the restroom and both restrooms (gentlemen/women) had an “OUT OF SERVICE” paper taped to the front. I looked around and finally a server said the water was broken (?). I asked if there was another restroom I could use. She went to get the hostess (same one who checked us in). The hostess went to the restrooms and came out. She said they were out of service. I asked if there was another restroom I could use. She coldly and curtly said NO. I asked what were my options (I mean, what is happening right now – this is a Rick Bayless restaurant in La Jolla). She looked annoyed and pointed to the window and said ‘you are welcome to use Draft Republic’s.
Did she want me to walk there in my dress and heels. Was I to jump in my car and then return to the restaurant. Was our table to do the same thing? The interaction was Oscar Munuz cringe worthy (with his first acknowledgment to the passenger).
I went back to my table in disbelief and disappointment. I told the table I had to pay and apologized that I had to leave as I had to use the restroom. Erick came over with the check and asked what happened. He seemed just as appalled.
While I was reviewing the check, a gentleman walked over to say hello. I wasn’t paying attention as I wanted to just pay and leave. Nick, the VP of operations (?), came over to apologize. He heard what happened and wanted to make it right. I had to really use the restroom at that point. He offered to comp me but I didn’t need that. His apology was enough. He was the revamped Oscar Munez who acknowledged and apologized.
The valet was worth the $5 (and tip) fee. My car was waiting for me by the time I rushed outside. Don’t bother with the self parking. Just use the valet.
Red O Taste of Mexico is a sleek modern looking restaurant. I am sure it will attract quite a few customers. The food wasn’t spectacular but the staff was. Their happy hour menu looks nicely extensive and is offered daily. I’m not sure if I’d return anytime soon as the restroom situation still makes me cringe. Regardless, I was thankful for the way Erick (and Nick) went above and beyond. That’s what you do when you care. I so love it when I can tie an ending to the opening paragraph.
Happy birthday Cdj –
RED O TASTE OF MEXICO
4340 La Jolla Village Dr
La Jolla, CA 92122