When it was announced in 2010 that Neal and Amy Fraser’s much-loved restaurant Grace was moving into the rectory of St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, the people of LA couldn’t have been more exited. Months went by, then years of unforeseen delays and a slight concept change, but the restaurant – ultimately renamed “Redbird” – finally arrived in late December 2014. I’m excited and eager to report back that this eatery, one of the most hotly anticipated American-style restaurants in LA, was well worth the wait.
Get ready to take your taste buds on the trip of a lifetime. Located in downtown Los Angeles, Redbird is carved into one of the city’s most historic structures, inside the rectory building of Vibiana. Chef Neal Fraser, along with restaurateurs Amy Knoll Fraser and Bill Chait, have created a beautifully dynamic restaurant space with seating in the lounge, 24 seats at the wraparound indoor/outdoor bar, and most importantly, a beautiful courtyard as the main dining room with a state of the art retractable ceiling. Guests will be able to tailor their experience with the ability to enjoy Fraser’s sophisticated but approachable modern American menu. Enjoy the robust cocktail program by Julian Cox and Tobin Shea, as well as an unexpected wine list curated by Diane Pandolfini. General manager Christian Phillipo helms the floor with a refined and comfortable approach to service. When it comes to dining at Redbird… there’s no wrong turn.
Location, Location, Location!
When Redbird restaurant opened its doors in December 2014, there was no question as to where it should be located. Downtown LA has a great variety of every single kind of food choice: whatever you’re into, we’ve got it here. Everyone knew that this new vision of Redbird would be a great addition to the community.
Redbird is located in an old Catholic cathedral known as the Vibiana rectory. It’s hard to imagine, but a Catholic cardinal once lived and worked out of the tidy concrete rectory adjacent to the St. Vibiana cathedral at Second and Main streets. If only he could see his old home today, transformed into a colorful altar to modern Los Angeles dining.
Built in 1875, the Cathedral of St. Vibiana is a historic gem and one of downtown’s few standing 19th century structures. The building has been saved from demolition on more than one occasion. 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.
The Frasers instantly got hooked on the Vibiana rectory back in 2008, when Amy Fraser stumbled upon it while working a corporate event at Vibiana. The appeal of the historical space was immediate. Although they knew that this would be a long-term project, in their hearts they knew the outcome was worth it.
When – not if! – you decide to go, I would suggest that due to the restaurant’s popularity, you first go to their website and make a reservation. It’s usually filled with people and you just never know when it will be full. Be aware that there’s no street parking, so you’ll have to just give in and take advantage of the awesome valet parking… your evening just got a whole lot easier!
Power Couple: Chef Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll Fraser
Chef Neal Fraser began his career long ago in his hometown, LA. He worked the line at Wolfgang Puck’s Eureka Brewery and Restaurant. Inspired by that experience, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, which led to positions at Checkers Hotel in L.A. during Thomas Keller’s tenure and at Park Avenue Café in NY under David Burke. When Fraser returned to L.A. for good, he cooked at Joachim Splichal’s Pinot Bistro, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, and Hans Rockenwagner’s Rox, rising higher and higher in the ranks.
In 1995, Fraser opened Boxer as executive chef, earning attention from people near and far. Soon after, he also opened Rix in Santa Monica, where he served weekly 10-course tasting menus. After a brief period running the kitchen at the legendary Jimmy’s in Beverly Hills, Fraser and his wife Amy Knoll Fraser focused their energy on Grace, where he won a 2004 StarChefs.com Rising Star Chef Award.
The Frasers followed that success with neighboring café concept BLD in 2006. In fall 2012, the Frasers took over operations of Vibiana in Downtown Los Angeles, where the in-house food and beverage program (fondly dubbed Neal Fraser & Co.) offers custom menus complemented by a cocktail program. He than went on to his latest masterpiece restaurant, Redbird.
Knoll Fraser is a veteran of the Los Angeles restaurant scene. She opened her first restaurant, the critically acclaimed and award winning Grace, with her partner Chef Neal Fraser in 2003. Knoll Fraser has successfully merged the Fraser’s distinct handcrafted approach to food, beverage, and service with the beauty and history of one of the city’s most stunning architectural gems. She and her team have developed and implemented an extensive dining and craft libations program, and have upgraded the facility with a state of the art lighting and sound system, sound abating drapery and high quality and custom rental equipment.
Knoll Fraser currently holds a place on the Los Angeles Food Policy Leadership Board and the California Restaurant Association Los Angeles Board, and she is a charter member of the Dine LA Restaurant Week Advisory Board.
More Attentive Than Your Partner…
When you take your first steps into Redbird, you will find yourself in a warm lounge full of vibrant colors and a classy mess of luxurious chairs. A large circular bar, topped with gray-veined white marble, occupies the center of the room restaurant. The main dining area is outdoors, beneath a retractable canopy. Thick steel beams frame the inky night sky, hazy with light from Downtown’s streets.
What’s neat is how the restaurant, while very much in the borderless present, hums with a quiet classicism. The feelings that surround are sophisticated and comfortable. Whether you’re sitting on a full couch or a cushioned chair, your dining experience will go by in a blink of an eye.
From some angles, you can see bits of the former cathedral interior through the big glass windows. When the sun goes down and outside is surrounded with darkness, the changing colored lights are a romantic addition to the vibe of the place. A locomotive-size grill chugs at one end of the dining room. More than at any Los Angeles restaurant since Rex or the first decade of Campanile, you feel as if you are part of something bigger than yourself, a hungry, chattering component of a grand pleasure machine. Is there any better feeling?
What can I say? Redbird restaurant was filled with pleasant surprises, but I think I was most blown away by their friendly and attentive staff. Usually when I usually go to restaurants, I find myself begging and pleading with my waiters to come over to my table. This was the first time in my life that I did not have to call the waitress over once. NOT ONE SINGLE TIME. When I needed more water, my waitress was there without me saying a word.
When I had a hard time with the menu, I had not one, but TWO staff members informing of everything they have and what they recommend I get. Boy did that make my life easier!
Some people are just good at what they do. In this case… the waiting staff, managers, and chefs at Redbird are a perfect example. What a breath of fresh air to interact with a group of friendly, genuine, and professional people for the night.
Soaring into the Redbird Menu
Here we go! After a 5-year wait it’s time to finally discuss what’s on the menu at this enchanting restaurant. Below you’ll find Redbirds most popular dishes.
Shishitos – bottarga, crispy quinoa
Squash Blossoms – buricotta, pickled green tomatoes
New Zealand Tai Snapper Crudo – yuzu kosho, shiso, meyer lemon, california olive oil
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin – bay shrimp, nori, wasabi snow
Head Cheese – fig mostarda, rye crisp
Potato Crusted Smoked Pork Shank – romesco, charred broccolini`
Posole – heritage pork belly, chicanitas
Avocado Salad – smoked bacon, county line little gems, buttermilk blue cheese vinaigrette
Thai Style Dungeness Crab Soup – cauliflower flan
Grilled Spanish Octopus – cherry tomatoes, black chickpeas, baby kale, anchovy vinaigrette
Maryland Softshell Crab – lime pickle, spicy yogurt, sprouted lentils
Grilled Lamb Belly – fava bean, kumquat, curly endive, aleppo pepper, sumac yougurt
Heritage Pork Ragu – duck egg tagliatelle, crushed tomatoes
Braised Goat Gemelli – rapini, garlic bread crumbs, poached egg, fresno chili
Gnocchetti Sardi – maine lobster, nettles, tomato confit
La Belle Farms Foie Gras – cocoa nib pistachio crust, brioche, apricot jam
Wild King Salmon – chanterelle, sea beans, gnocchi, sauce américaine
Day Boat Scallops – peas, morels, orzo perlato
Rabbitchetta – anson mills polenta, pea tendrils, thyme sauce
Duo of Beef – grilled New York, short rib, kale ‘croutons,’ confit potatoes, Parmesan fondue
Wagyu New York Strip – 12 oz washington state beef, summer truffles, pommes aligot
Whole Crispy Black Bass – artichoke barigoule
Veal Fraser – 24 oz wisconsin veal chop, 24 hour veal cheeks, burgundy snails
Porterhouse – 32 oz colorado beef, king oyster mushrooms, aceto balsamico
Weiser Pee Wee Potatoes – chorizo, rosemary
Pommes Aligot – point reyes toma
Wild Broccoli – chili, breadcrumbs
What to Order at Redbird
Ordering was tough. I went back and forth through Redbird’s menu several times until I decided to just go with whatever my waitress said was good. I waited 5 years for this place, so whatever I was ordering was going to have to be worth it!
I decided on the Avocado salad, and it was delicious. Perfect, in fact. The little gem lettuce was nice and crisp. The avocado and the blue cheese went so well with the crisp bacon. I loved how the different textures were able to blend together so smoothly. The bread brought out in a cloth bag was also a nice touch. The room temperature butter was fresh and sweet.
For my main dish I had the duo of beef. My steak was a tad overcooked, but the short rib was amazing. I could have cut it with a spoon, it was so tender! Never in my life have I seen meat that looks like that. However, the sauce was congealed and the beef was on the cold side.
Potato Crusted Smoked Pork Shank was closer to the Spanish croqueta. It was a breaded ball of mashed potato with a bit of juicy braised smoked pork shank. When biting into this croqueta, juice from the braising liquid squirted out much like Xiao Long Bao dumplings. Be careful where you take a bite since the juice will squeeze out and stain anything it lands on. It’s a nice meaty, smoky, soft slow-cooked pork with mashed potato that was not overly mashed to a thick paste.
I think for the first time in my life I was so stuffed that I had no room for dessert. It’s sad I know! But one stomach can only hold so much delicious food.
My Overall Experience
Where to start…
I can’t believe this restaurant is in existence. After finally getting a chance to dine there, I can understand why the restaurant took as long as it did to get everything together. I got the feeling from the moment I walked in that when the Frasers open a restaurant it has to be perfect. And it was. From the floors to the tables and the food it was indeed what they hoped for.
The service was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I hope to be served by the same group of people next time I come back. My night went by in the blink of an eye.
What a talented chef. That’s all I have to say. When getting the food, my mouth watered instantly. I’m not sure what was better… the presentation or the food itself. Each dish looked like a piece of art. I could tell the effort that was put into every detail.
It may have taken 5 years for Redbird to come about, but this restaurant is legendary. It goes without saying that this is an establishment that will be around for a long time. Thank you Redbird for creating a night I will not easily forget!