Most people heard of Red Medicine in Beverly Hills because of a very public kerfuffle with a the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, which is unfortunate. That incident shouldn't overshadow the restaurant's innovative Vietnamese-inspired cuisine from Jordan Kahn, a young rock-star chef making waves with contemporary technique and awe-inspiring presentation. But there is one more reason to go: The cocktails.
Listening to general manager Noah Ellis talk about the bar program at Red Medicine is almost be a science class. "We look at ingredients first, and maybe have drink in mind, and we think about how to get there," he says. "Some ingredients need sweetness and lemon and the right spirit. Some drinks need more balance, so maybe a gin needs vodka and a specific acid."
They riff off the classics but add their own twist, often via chemistry. For instance a Pimm's Cup gets a little boost from Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda and radish instead of cucumber, but it's the use of citric acid syrup instead of lemon juice that gives it balance ("It just adds better flavor."). Ellis even incorporates sous vide (cooking something long and slow in a low-temperature water bath) and other molecular techniques for cocktail ingredients.
Take rhubarb, which has an acidic, green vegetal flavor that doesn't taste great raw. In order to use it in Cocktail #49, a cachaça-based drink, the vegetable is cooked sous vide in simple syrup, and then both the rhubarb and syrup are used in the drink. Shaken with a few lavender leaves and citrus rinds, it's a wonderfully refreshing quaff; you really get this nice flavor of rhubarb without the bitterness.
But you don't need any fancy kitchen equipment to make it. Ellis helped us adapt the recipe for home:
Recipe adapted from Red Medicine
Makes 1 drink
For the rhubarb syrup:
2 stalks fresh rhubarb, chopped in large pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ vanilla bean
For the drink:
1 ½ ounces cachaça (Ellis recommends Leblon)
½ ounce rhubarb syrup
½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ounce ginger ale (Ellis recommends Fever Tree)
5 to 6 slices cooked rhubarb
4 to 5 lavender leaves, and 1 lavender bud
6 to7 thin strips of orange peel, pith removed
To make the syrup: In a medium pot over medium high heat, bring the rhubarb, sugar, water and vanilla bean to a boil. Turn down the burner to low and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and strain through a sieve, reserving both the rhubarb and syrup.
To make the cocktail: In a shaker filled with a few ice cubes, add the cachaça, rhubarb syrup, lime juice and ginger ale and shake gently. Pour everything into a Collins glass, and garnish with rhubarb slices, lavender leaves and bud, and orange peel.