Kevin Cody

Beyond beer [restaurant review]

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Redondo Beach Brewing emerges from the microbrewery era with an ambitious menu and cocktails as well as craft beer

Redondo Beach Brewing’s Becky Bond welcomes guests to the restaurants upstairs patio. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Richard Foss

Food fads aren’t a new thing in California. At various times in the 20th century we went nuts for fondue, sukiyaki, Cajun blackened everything, and various other items.

The book Fashionable Food chronicles these gyrations during the last hundred years, and some things that were wildly popular seem inexplicable. Why were pineapple and marshmallow desserts wildly popular the 1920s, or concoctions of tuna in gelatin the rage in the 1950s? To read about them is to discover how much our sense of flavor and texture has changed, and when you replicate the recipes your palate confirms it.

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Pity the poor restaurateur who started specializing in Americanized chow mein in the 1930s as that fad ebbed, or who proudly inaugurated a “Continental” restaurant in the ‘60s just as people decided they wanted nouvelle cuisine. Some owners probably saw the way the wind was blowing and did a quick remodel so they could join the next fad, while others soldiered on with the original concept.

Redondo Beach Brewing opened in the mid-90s, a decade that saw the number of microbreweries in California mushroom from 65 to over 200. Hordes of hipsters headed for bars where brewing tanks were on display, because there was a cachet to housemade beer. The food at most of these was an afterthought, but Redondo Beach Brewing stood out for offering a wide enough menu that families stopped in on a regular basis. When the wave crested and the tide went out, Redondo Beach Brewing was still standing and still popular. In 2014 they removed the brewing tanks that had perfumed the place with the smell of hops and expanded their selection of other beers, and these days the liquid focus is split between those and craft cocktails.

On two recent visits we found the food solid and sometimes excellent, the prices reasonable and the portions abundant. Almost too abundant, as we accidentally over-ordered on the first visit because we hadn’t seen any plates go by. On that trip we had a village salad, and we’re pretty sure they meant Riviera Village because most rustic country hamlets don’t offer greens with walnuts, sundried tomatoes, gorgonzola, and grilled chicken in a balsamic vinaigrette. My wife was wary of this because sometimes sundried tomato is served in large chunks so it’s overwhelming in some bites and absent in others, but it was cut small and served as a partner in the flavor mix. There was almost too much chicken for this to be a starter salad, but as a meal over a nice mix of greens it was just fine. We ended up taking half of it home because by then we had seen entrees being delivered to other tables and wanted to save room.

On the second visit we decided to order something lighter for our shared starter and picked a special — the fig, mozzarella, and prosciutto flatbread topped with arugula. There were caramelized shallots too, but they were sparsely applied. More would have been welcome, because while the arugula and a dash of basil oil added herbal elements to the mix, the shallot flavor would have added some extra pop.

We’ve tried four main items: sugar crusted barbecue salmon, chicken risotto, Greek tacos, and because this was after all a tavern in concept, a burger. A turkey burger to be exact, from the build-it-yourself menu. The variety of options is considerable, and when I mentioned to our server that it must take a lot of her time at each table she replied that it was worth it, because diners get exactly what they want. Having visited some places recently where changes to the set menu are regarded as an imposition, I liked the attitude. We also enjoyed the burger, which had a turkey patty, feta cheese, bacon strips, and onion rings along with the usual vegetation.

The Greek taco was the Mediterranean equivalent to that burger, the fast food of the Aegean, a pita filled with ground lamb, tomato, onion, and cucumber slices with feta. Granted, there was also romaine lettuce, a few capers, and some balsamic reduction along with the tzatziki, so it wasn’t something you’d find on an a Greek island. I would order it without the balsamic next time because the sweetness wasn’t necessary and the dressing made the mix more soppy, but otherwise they were fine.

The chicken risotto wasn’t what we expected, but it was delicious. Rather than a bowl of risotto with some grilled chicken added at some point in the process, we received a pair of breaded and fried chicken patties with a spinach risotto between them. This meal was easily big enough for two people, and it was both ambitious and successful. I’d characterize the sugar-crusted salmon the same way, and that was an item I had ordered somewhat warily. Sugar-crusting salmon is a popular technique in the Pacific Northwest; when I visited the Makah reservation west of Seattle they sold a kind of sweet jerky called salmon candy, and I was so enamored of the flavor that I bought several pounds of it. That jerky had just the right balance of sweetness and smoke, and to get a similar effect from a gastropub in Redondo was unexpected. The topping of mixed white and black sesame seeds added flavor as well as color, and it was served over rice and a vegetable mix consisting mainly of asparagus, mushrooms, and green beans. It was well balanced nutritionally as well as gastronomically, a meal a more pretentious place might be proud of.

Beer was the big thing when this place opened, craft cocktails are now, and that’s what we had on both visits. Their selection includes both originals and classics like the French 75, popular just after the First World War, and they execute them decently. My wife liked the blueberry bourbon lemonade, while I preferred a Paloma variation that uses grapefruit-infused tequila and fresh lime juice. There are 60 tap handles for the beer drinkers, and that is still what most people order.

The atmosphere is chill and more sophisticated than the party bars down the street, the volume level moderate except when a game is playing and the local crowd is cheering on their own. I measured it at 78 Db at almost 9 p.m. on a game night, boisterous but not deafening.

There’s a line between restaurants that serve alcohol and bars that serve food, and Redondo Beach Brewing is not obviously on either side. You can drop in for dinner and drink only water and have a great evening, and if you feel like coming by after dinner somewhere else and touring the taps you’ll feel at home too. It’s an approach that has been successful for a long time and still works.

Redondo Beach Brewing is at 1814 S. Catalina in Redondo. Opens daily at 11:30 a.m., closes 10 p.m. Sun-Thur. 11 p.m. Fri. Street parking or nearby pay lots, wheelchair access good, some vegetarian items. (310) 316-8477. redondobeachbrewco.com. ER

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