What I Needed Was Red Medicine

The weekend came along and my body began to ache. My hip bones tender, my shoulders tight with tension, and my low back was particularly sore. Around 8:30pm that night we went to have some ice cream sandwiches at CoolHaus in Culver City. I felt chilled and really should not have indulged in ice cream. But the Meyer Lemon ice cream and the ginger cookie distracted me from what I was denying. I was catching something. My temperature was rising, I was shaking a bit, nestling myself into the bed once we returned home. Darling tried to feed me two Tylenol and looked at me like I was very ill. But I was a difficult patient. I'd only swallow one and coughed up the other tablet.

"You're getting sick," he stated, his face grazing over mine, taking into account the little signs: my eyes were blood shot, the creases underneath puffing out, a definite indication of my state of illness. I was shivering. Rising fever.

"I am not getting sick," I demanded like a child. "I'm not."

Our dinner reservation at Red Medicine was set for the next night. Darling mentioned he'd have to cancel if I wasn't better by tomorrow. He had secretly planned to take me there. I didn't want to get sick and cancel. I was excited about the dinner and looked forward to going all week.

And so I did take my red little tablets of acetaminophen.

I put on my favorite black lace skirt with a new black blouse and heels. With my hair curled and my makeup giving me a glow I'd otherwise not have, I almost believed myself to be well.

Usually when I'm sick my craving for a big bowl of soba noodles and broth is what I desire.  But I trusted in Darling to take me somewhere he had in mind, knowing that he takes such good care of me. And it was worth it.

What medicine it was. Not knowing about Chef Jordan Kahn or anything about Red Medicine, the discovery through each plate was part of the adventure. I write about the pleasure of food and by no means am I an expert or critic. I am an adventurer. I enjoy finding new restaurants as much as I take comfort in my usual routine spots. Experiencing the Vietnamese-inspired cuisine without knowing anything about the chef or the menu gave me a fresh surprise.

I will tell you what I loved about this dinner--- what inspired, delighted, and what it did to my senses. What the food did to make me feel well again.

HEIRLOOM BLACK CARROTS  with guava, winter kale, dulse, young walnut, tamarind. 

The carrots came first, served on a dark plate. Its overall blackness on the stony platter didn't show off the color of the black carrots. But this was an invitation into tasting the mineral rich root vegetable mingled with purple kale and dulse. It was a bite of earth, reminding me of a shady afternoon outside in a garden, fresh from the soil, carrots. The crunch of kale and dulse, crisp and a little salty sweet, sticky guava and tamarind enhanced the carrots tenderness. I used chopsticks to hold the large carrot and bit into the scraggly end--- the tips were left as they came from the ground. It made me wish for my own garden to grow vegetables in. Someday.

AMBERJACK  with red seaweed, buttermilk, lotus root, tapioca, succulents

The amberjack dish arrived and the server poured a small pitcher of buttermilk into the center of the bowl. Light, creamy, ethereal bites of delicate amberjack suffused its gentle flower of oceanic softness through my palate. We looked at each other with open amazement as we shared bites of this dish. Two dishes into our meal, I realized that my body wasn't aching anymore. Pops of tapioca caressed my tongue with the cream of buttermilk, the tangle of succulents and seaweed nourished. I was feeling better in between dainty sips of my red wine and each heavenly bite.

And then the peas. Oh, the peas.

WINTER PEAS  with yuzu, soymilk-yogurt, trout roe, purple cabbage, coconut

This dish was a marvel. One could write seasonal haiku about this. One bite after another evoked snow melting, cold Spring days warming into fragile sunlight, freshly picked peas bursting with promise of flowers, bees, and growing shoots. The fluff of coconut became sweet snow sticking to the spoon, the pool of red cabbage slightly tangy when mixed with a taste of the soymilk yogurt, and the dewy peas fragrant with their tiny kisses of green.

It soon became clear that each plate was food as art. No wonder Darling and I, two artists, appreciate food like this. Rather than just observing a piece of art, we were tasting its colors. Just as if I were eating fresh peas from Monet's garden while watching him paint, if I were able to transcend time, there are no descriptions for the variations of each brushstroke, every translation of the reflection of sunlight. Fresh peas like Monet's brush--- imbued with the feeling of atmosphere. Each bite of the peas flooded me with its beauty.

CHARRED LEEKS  with taro “vichyssoise”, parsley root, chinese celery, vietnamese herbs

Green vichyssoise verdant with fronds of herbs, whites of the leeks burnished gently. Crisp. Soft. A bite full of crunch and many different textures. A delightful garden of flavor.

MAITAKE MUSHROOMS with cauliflower, snake beans, bacon x.o., walnut

A wreath of snake beans, herbaceous feathery leaves, crispy maitake mushrooms arrived with a creamy sauce poured into the center. We were taken by its autumnal colors, and the long snake beans that acted as thick noodles when eaten with chopsticks. One could eat this with either fork or chopsticks, and we tasted this dish slowly along with separate tastes of the springtime of green vichyssoise coated leeks.

It was like eating November, then April, then November again.

The crispness of the ends of the maitake seemed either dehydrated or quickly seared. I wasn't sure how it was done, but it was perfectly crispy and buttery at the same time. Slivers of cauliflower hid in among the herbs. The plating was beautiful, with the snake beans shaped into a circular base for the wreath of mushrooms and herbs.

HEIRLOOM RICE PORRIDGE with egg yolk, hazelnuts, ginseng, echire butter

To warm us with its hearty comfort, the rice porridge arrived in a big steaming bowl. The server gave us two little bowls for individual spooning and eating, but we shared it right from the main bowl, two spoons in, stirring the egg yolk and other ingredients into the rice.

Universal for healing, a warm bowl of porridge. This hit the spot.

Suddenly I was feeling well. The rice porridge warmed its way down my throat and into my belly. It was a bowl of comfort, nourishing my body with egg yolk and ginseng. Darling's mom, like many a Korean mother, made him a bowl of rice porridge ( jook ) when he was sick. Perhaps fancier than just a simple bowl of rice gruel and salt, this was medicinal salve for the body and soul. The Chinese call it congee. The British cultures call it porridge. Whatever its name, it truly heals.

The rice porridge was rich but I could not stop eating it.

COCONUT BAVAROIS with coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant

I had hot tea and Darling had single malt scotch---Talisker,10 year old. My favorite. So I tasted a little of the scotch, the peaty warmth expanding down my throat, opening into my chest. Everything was blooming around me in the room, soft and enveloping. I remembered the reason why I loved single malt scotch so much; for that sensuous quality, seductive with its promise that everything will be alright, for that melting softness like a cozy blanket shielding me from the cold outside.

And the coconut bavarois with soft clouds of coconut, buttery peanut croquant, strong bursts of coffee, the cream of condensed milk at the bottom of the jar was a delicious and intriguing dessert. The flavor combinations balanced well with both black tea and single malt scotch.

My body was lifted into an ecstatic state by the fine food--- its artful arrangements and delicious ingredients brought me right back to well again. I'll take my Red Medicine gladly on another day or evening, whether I'm better or worse, because the food gave me something more than a flavorful taste. It did what good medicine should.

8400 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211 (323) 651-5500