Red Med at Formosa
West Hollywood, California
Of late, the Hollywood hotspot that once was the place to see and be seen has been looking a little long in the tooth; back in 1925 when boxer Jimmy Bernstein turned a dismantled Red Car trolley into the Formosa Cafe, its namesake island was still decades away from being reborn as Taiwan. The dimly lit lounge has lost some of its luster over the years, devolving from being the watering hole to the stars to a dusty little neighborhood bar – but if restaurant impresario Adam Fleischman and the team behind master forager and Chef Jordan Kahn’s Red Medicine have their way, their recent partnership with the Formosa Cafe will transform the historic eatery back into a gastronomic destination.
Those worried that the little red engine that once served as a quaint meeting place for Hollywood’s A-list to rub elbows and chow down on Americanized Chinese food will be hipsterized beyond recognition needn’t be nervous – Fleischman has a reputation for modernizing while maintaining the historic ambience of a property. As Red Med at Formosa, the bar will continue to offer traditional libations but will also feature new and innovative cocktails; for the diner crowd looking for that late night cuppa joe, they’ll also be percolating Handsome coffee by the pot as well as offering cold-brewed and Vietnamese-style iced coffee. For now, the trolley decor, faux leather booths and frosted glass candles will stay, along with glass cases filed with novelty decanters and the hundreds of autographed 8×10 glossies with famous faces pressed against glass frames; changes will be small at first such as improving the lighting in order to show off the Chef Kahn-designed menu.
Although the dishes will be closer to retro-Red Medicine than the elaborate plates that could double as fanciful flower arrangements, they’ll still have Jordan Kahn’s green thumbprint on them. Even the carnivore’s favorite, steak tartare, arrives at the table in a bowl bathed in an application of Nuoc Leo, blanketed with a layer of peanuts and water chestnuts and crowned with a fistful of sprouted lettuce, looking more like a potted plant than chopped, ultra-rare beef. Ruminants will delight in RM@F’s green papaya salad, a vegetarian dish with pockets of shredded pickled root vegetables, crispy taro chips, julienned jicama and greens; the sesame-marinated eggplant takes firm, cooked cubes and accompanies them with shaved celery, red cabbage and fresh, leafy mint.
Even the seafood is green – tender chunks of rock shrimp cooked in lime frolic in a shallow pool of neon-green aguachile and avocado scrapings, topped with chewy threads of fried ginger. The dish becomes a visual and aural experience when scooping up the ceviche into diminutive shrimp chip bowls, releasing a satisfying snap, crackle and pop. This is the legendary stuff that keeps you coming back for more like a strung-out seafood junkie. The fried Shanghai rice cakes are curious little medallions that have the taste and texture of a cross between scalloped potatoes, mochi and lamb fries, and like the beef tartare peek out from a clump of bacon, Shishito peppers and Thai basil.
Confit chicken wings impart a sweet, tart and spicy flavor from cooking down Nước chấm with lime and Thai chiles, and the crispy rice coating gives them additional dimension; the savory pork bánh mì is pretty close to authentic, although Red Med at Formosa eschews the typical upper palate shredding French bread for a softer ciabatta that holds more of the dipped puddle of house-made Sriracha.
Red Med at Formosa looks to breathe new life into a mellow-aged remnant of the golden days of the silver screen, and hopefully they’ll be able to navigate the razor’s edge between maintaining their current neighborhood tavern clientele and enticing foodies in for a gastronomic adventure. Are you ready for your close-up, Ms. Desmond?
NOTE: The cost for the food was provided by Red Med at Formosa. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event.