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The Gossiping Gourmet: So much to 'ooh' about at Red O

January 14, 2014|By Terry Markowitz
  • The lamb mole negro is made with Colorado lamb chops, lollipop kale, caramelized onion, Mexico City quesadilla and three nut crunch at Red O Restaurant in Newport Beach.
The lamb mole negro is made with Colorado lamb chops, lollipop… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

Restaurateur Rick Bayless, winner of TV's "Top Chef Masters" and star of the show "One Plate at a Time," has opened the second branch of his Red O Restaurant in a large new building in Fashion Island.

The décor is dazzling, and as you enter, the din is equally dazzling. The huge space is divided into several areas, including a semi-enclosed, heated outdoor pavilion with a capacious fireplace. We chose to eat there because it was quieter than the other areas.

We had a delightful waiter named Chuy, who guided us through the extensive menu and wine list. As we made our choices, we nibbled on a basket of plantain chips with an amuse bouche of crab tostada with bits of pineapple and subtle notes of heat.

Since we were a party of four, we had two different appetizer samplers. The ceviche was served in a dramatic tiered metal arched plate with four small dishes of different raw fish preparations. Scottish steelhead ceviche was prepared with pickled red onions, hot habanero chili and a luscious lime crema.

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Slices of ahi sashimi marinated in lime juice with cucumber, avocado and micro cilantro were enlivened by a cilantro, green chili "chimichurri" sauce. Lush albacore and chopped tomatoes were marinated and then combined with olives, cilantro and Serrano chile.

Our favorite, though they were all good, was the Yucatecan shrimp and calamari, which involved steamed Mexican white shrimp and calamari in a mixture of orange and lime juice with habaneros, avocado, jicama and cilantro. Each of the selections used notably fresh fish.

The same presentation brought us four versions of guacamole. The classic one was as good as any we've ever had, very creamy with a slight note of sweetness and topped with slivers of radish and onion. Most interesting sounding, but our least favorite, was the pomegranate seed, walnut and sun-dried tomato variation. The combination just didn't work for us.

We liked the macha because of its unique texture, which included toasted peanuts along with arbol chilies, roasted garlic, tomatoes and onions. Another favorite was the yuzu, featuring citrusy juice plus tomatoes, shishto peppers and cilantro.

A major disappointment was the tortilla soup. It was loaded with pieces of chicken breast and avocado, but it was served lukewarm and had a very bland broth.

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