The King is Dead … Long Live the King
Hey there Enthusiasts –
Happy new year! Yep, it’s me. Thought I forgot about you, didn’t you? Never! I just choose to think that absence makes the heart go fonder when I go awhile between posts.
I’m gonna start here with a pretty significant restaurant closing … but keep reading, because I’m gonna get to a really great restaurant opening, and you’re gonna want to know about that.
2014 ended with some pretty surprising news: the closure of Rivera. Rivera’s chef and founder, John Sedlar, is moving to Santa Fe and wants to focus on a new place there, and it’s true that he spent a lot of personal time making Rivera what it is. Close readers of this little vanity project will remember that I haven’t always thought Rivera was worth all the hype. On the other hand, when Rivera was great, there was nothing quite like it, as you can read here. And the cocktails at Rivera were second to none, helping to put the now-pretty-famous Julian Cox on the map – if you had their Blood Sugar Sex Magik or their Barbacoa, you know what I mean.
But what’s most interesting about Rivera’s closure is what didn’t happen. I would argue that Rivera was among the first, if not the first, “great” fine dining restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles, not counting high end places meant for business entertaining on an expense account. I mean a food-forward, creative, name-chef, going-for-it kind of place. When Rivera opened in 2009, Seven Grand had only been open a couple of years – the bar that I think basically started it all – and there just weren’t “those kind” of restaurants in Downtown. It seemed like every time I talked to someone who didn’t live or work in Downtown, the one restaurant they had either been to or heard of was Rivera.
So now, Rivera is closed. And what did that mean for Downtown? Not all that much, really. I mean yes, Downtown has lost a really good restaurant doing creative things that you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s unfortunate. But I’m talking about the bigger picture here: the fact that a restaurant like Rivera can close, and that Downtown basically shrugs its shoulders and says “Bummer”, just shows how many great options Downtown has, and that we have clearly surpassed the days when we depend on one or two signature restaurants or bars or anything else to keep people interested. I guess I saw it as a real world indicator, as if we needed another one, that Downtown’s roots have truly taken hold, and that the whole is greater than any particular part.
Now, back to my headline. Rivera wasn’t necessarily “the king” – it was more “the first” … but with its departure comes the arrival of a new destination restaurant that is years in the making, but worth the wait.
Ladies and gentlemen, please make your way to Redbird. (no real website yet, but this takes you to the closest thing there is to it). Redbird is the child of Neal Fraser and his wife, Amy, formerly mostly known for Grace, on 3rd St. in mid City. How long have we waited for Redbird? Well, Fraser closed Grace in 2010 saying he wanted to move Downtown (perhaps influenced by the 2009 opening of that certain other restaurant) … and it just opened this week.
Why did it take so long? I’m thinking at least partly because of its amazing location: its inside the rectory of the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral on 2nd St. And man, is it pretty. Here are some photos I found on LAist that do it at least some justice:
The top photo is the main dining room. See the citrus tree in the planter? The other indoor greenery? The airy, open roof? It all adds up to an amazing space. And then see the hint of a bar on the left hand side? That’s actually a wrap around from the bar that’s in the lounge, which is in the 2nd picture. And that lounge, which is what you see when you walk in, has its own laid back vibe. Vintage and repurposed furniture. That prominent marble bar. Cushy bar chairs. And then the final picture is looking down into the restaurant from through the glass roof above, which I just thought was cool.
The menu has lots of variety – one of the things I like is that it is “foodie friendly” while still having something for everybody. And the food comes in all shapes and sizes. The fellow Enthusiast I went there with and I just shared a bunch of different things from all over the menu. Potato crusted pork tenderloin bites, this incredible homemade called cappetelli, lobster pesto, and, only one day into its renewed legality, foie gras! And this was on the second night it was officially open! The cocktails are sophisticated and unique, using really old school ingredients you won’t see anywhere else, like kummel, which has a sort of cumin/coriander flavor (again, presented by the now-ubiquitous Julian Cox) and amber vermouth. The wine list is extensive without being intimidating, and the service is already world class – given all our server knew about the menu, the wines, and everything else, you’d think he had worked there for 7 years instead of 7 days. That’s a sign of real pros running the place.
A restaurant this good, and this significant, has not opened since Faith & Flower in April of last year. And what I especially like about it is that it’s pretty unique for Downtown. It’s not a ‘grand’ space like Faith or WP 24 or even Terroni. It’s not almost aggressively simple like Alma or Orsa & Winston. And it’s not a boisterous “everybody’s here for the party” place like Bestia or even Factory Kitchen at times. It’s elegant yet inviting, sophisticated yet simple, refined yet accessible. It’s a restaurant that will, or should, definitely attract non-Downtowners, and occupies a gorgeous, historically significant space. Go now, before reservations become impossible, which they will.
So, off goes Rivera … in comes Redbird. And Downtown is the winner.
214 S. Main (2nd, just past Main – obscure entrance up some stairs next to a small sign)