The atmosphere was very nice, the service had just a couple of minor hiccups, and although the noise level was deafening for the first hour and a half that we were there, we enjoyed our dinner last night at the new Red-O in University City. Decent, if not great, food, and the rebuild of Donovan’s is impressive, especially as you first enter.
We arrived 15 minutes early for our 7:30 reservation, and being as the (very large) place was completely packed, we ordered drinks at the bar, which is truly gorgeous. There was only one available seat, since happy hour had just ended, so because the wait was going to be short, I stood. My DH companion got a “La Paloma” (tequila-based drink) and I ordered a “Red O Fashioned”, which is mezcal-based. Both were house specialties and both very well executed and enjoyable.
Once at our table, we wanted to get a bottle of some kind of sturdy red wine opened, to give it a little time to breath in the bottle, and in our wine glasses, while we finished our cocktails. Alas, they had no Baja wines on the wine menu! We were told they were coming, but not yet. Downer. So we ended up ordering a Chilean malbec-centered blend from Coyam, which was truly excellent and paired well with everything we ended up ordering, including the dessert.
I was surprised that in a classy venue that offers Modern Mexican cuisine, we were given complimentary chips and a salsa. The chips were ordinary, the salsa very good, but I was a bit taken aback by the idea of it.
For an appetizer, we shared carnitas empanadas. They’re small, and you only get three. These were bland, and the green salsa that came with them, while ok, actually wasn’t as good with them as the tasty red salsa that came with the chips.
My main course was the lamb mole, which for all practical purposes is rack of lamb, served on top of a very thin layer of black mole sauce. I ordered the lamb cooked medium-rare, and it was done perfectly to my taste. The mole sauce was nicely bitter, but flat and uninteresting. The bone ends of the three separated lamb ribs were resting on top of an asparagus and mushroom medley, which we also had ordered as a side, since my companion wanted some too. I thought it was too acidic; she liked it a lot.
My companion’s main course was the scallop dish. This consisted of four large wonderfully sweet and tender, lightly grilled (I think) scallops served on top of a yellow-colored but bland-tasting (to me) vermicelli. They looked to be similar to Vietnamese “mi”, but they were almost tasteless. So I’m not sure where the yellow color came from – perhaps a light sauce of some sort. My companion was fine with it, but I wouldn’t have liked too much of it.
For dessert, we split a chocolate tart. Excellent crust, very nice chocolate, and numerous fresh berries. And yes, this went well with the wine.
What were the service hiccups? Well, our server herself was very friendly, helpful, and attentive. But two of the courses were brought out by people from the kitchen who were wandering around with them trying to find who they belonged to. We had to personally intervene to help with that. They seemed to lack a system for identifying tables – to all involved. I can’t recall a similar experience in recent memory.
Will we return? Maybe. The noise was awful and we had to shout at one another and the server to hear. We were told that if you want a nice quiet meal, the time to arrive is 5 to 5:30. If we go back, that’s when we’ll go. During Happy Hour, which runs 3-7 pm.