When it was announced in 2010 that Neal and Amy Fraser’s venerable Fairfax district restaurant Grace was moving into the rectory of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, the anticipation was palpable. Following the then recent debut of Bottega Louie, a re-launch of Grace seemed like the next feather in downtown’s dining cap. Suddenly, all went silent. After 5 years, unforeseen delays and a slight concept change, Chef Fraser’s latest dining experience, RedBird arrived in mid-December 2014. I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait.
Built in 1875, the Cathedral of St. Vibiana is a historic gem and one of downtown’s few standing 19th century structures. Saved from demolition after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the space has served as a successful event venue for several years. Although a later addition, the rectory’s Spanish influenced interior has been artfully transformed by Amy Fraser and team into an intimate indoor/outdoor dining space. On sunny days, the gabled roof retracts, creating an outdoor living room that is both elegant and comfortable. Punctuating the beauty of the space is a solid new American menu
Prior to starting their meal, diners are treated to a light aperitif courtesy of the chef and a selection of tasty breads served in a cloth pouch. On a recent visit I began my dinner with the tempura smelt and head cheese. Served in a citrus aioli, the smelt was crispy and nicely seasoned. I love head cheese and the Redbird version didn’t disappoint. Served with fig motarda and a rye crisp, the dish was rich and delicious with almost too little crisp to go around. Eager to try the larger entrees, I moved onto the Thai style Dungeness crab soup, Santa Barbara sea urchin, and foie gras.
The crab soup is beautifully presented in a tangy Thai curry style broth. Fresh crab meat grouped into the center of the bowl is the perfect complement the rich soup base, producing a dish that is surprisingly filling. Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara sea urchin is served on top of ridge back shrimp with nori and is dusted with a wasabi snow. The sea urchin was very fresh and had a perfect, silky texture while the wasabi snow was a really creative addition. The foie gras was addictive and tasty as I expected though I was unable to finish it so that I could save room for two larger entrees that included the Maine lobster and duck breast.
The Maine lobster is served with an al dente gnocchi sardi in a flavorful sauce containing nettles and black trumpets. Overall, it was a tasty dish and the pasta was perfectly cooked. My favorite entree of the evening however was the duck breast. Served on Redbird’s version of hopping john, a traditional southern rice and vegetable dish, the duck breast and leg meat are incredibly tender and the entire dis has a wonderful spice to. Duck can be a difficult meat to get right as it tends to be a bit greasy by nature. Chef Fraser’s preparation however was spot on.
Although stuffed, I had to sample dessert. The crème catalan, the Spanish equivalent of a French crème brulee, had the perfect level of sweetness, while the blood orange sorbet that accompanies it had a nice tang, serving as a great counterbalance to the custard. Meanwhile, the chocolate caramel bar tastes just as it sounds. Consisting of bourbon chocolate served with smoked pecans and bananas foster ice cream, this is an incredibly rich dessert. The ice cream in particular was standout for me. Unfortunately, after a large meal, this dish was just a bit too heavy for me to get into. I will have to return and try again along with some of the other desserts on the menu.
Redbird offers a wonderful menu and dining experience. Its reactivation of St. Vibiana’s rectory space completes the Vibiana complex, which plays a critical role in downtown’s development helping to glue together three distinct districts. With the recent opening of AVA Little Tokyo and the coming completion of block 8 just east, the Historic Core, Civic Center and Little Tokyo districts have now been bridged in an accessible, pedestrian-friendly way for the first time in decades. This is no small achievement considering that Downtown L.A. has, on a macro level, represented the disjointed, auto-oriented planning that has long defined our city and region. In all, the opening of Redbird is a victory on multiple levels.
RedBird is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday nights at the corner of 2nd and Main Street.
All photos courtesy of Redbird