Dinner in Redondo with a side of history [restaurant review]
The 1892 Bistro in Riviera Village offers gastropub food with Caribbean and Mexican accents
I’ve heard it said that you only need to know three dates to pass an American history class: 1492, 1776, and 1941. That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one. My teachers thought it was more important to know the sequence of events than the numbers behind them, so were lenient about details, which I appreciated because I’ve never been good at remembering numbers.
I’d bet that some other people have trouble remembering the name of the 1892 Bistro, not to mention having no idea what that number commemorates. It’s not the street address, which was my first thought when I heard it. It’s the date Redondo Beach was incorporated as a city, something I’d bet most residents don’t know. The bistro opened in the former Tapas & Vino space in mid-November, and there are a few items that stayed on from the old menu. Manager Andy DiGirgis stayed on too, and welcomes visitors from his spot behind the wine bar.
The menu doesn’t have any items you’d find on a menu from the late 19th century — though people did eat hamburgers then, they weren’t topped with arugula, peppered bacon, or gorgonzola. Instead the menu is wide-ranging, with some gastropub standards and a few items that reflect the chef’s Cuban and Mexican heritage. The environment is modern and low key, with a few historic photos on the wall to express the theme.
In two visits we tried three starters: fried goat cheese balls, a Southwestern fried chicken salad, and a daily special of roasted marrowbones. The goat cheese balls are a small portion but have superbly balanced flavors. The cheese has been coated with a flour crust before frying so there is a crisp crust, and it sits atop caramelized onions drizzled with honey, and chopped strawberries on the side add an unlikely but effective counterpoint. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it’s a winner.
The fried chicken salad was a standard item decently executed, a mound of greens with corn and black beans topped with a creamy mild chipotle dressing. Some fried chicken tenders and tomato wedges were added after the salad was tossed, and the menu promised cotija cheese but we didn’t see or taste any. That would have provided a finishing touch, but it was good just as it arrived.
For reasons I have never understood, marrowbones can be a polarizing item. Humans have been enjoying rich, fatty marrow since we lived in caves – at various excavations finding cracked and singed mammoth bones is a sign that humans cooked there ages ago. The bones here were prepared in classic style, sawn in half so all the marrow was accessible, seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs, and roasted. The hot, buttery marrow went well with the chopped purple onion, bread, and strawberries, and if they offer this item when you’re there I highly recommend it.
The two dinner main courses I have tried were the signature burger and the Cuban braised shredded beef called ropa vieja, which was served with fried yuca and a house salsa. It usually comes with rice, but I noticed that they offer another Caribbean staple called mofungo, mashed plantains cooked with olive oil, garlic, and pork. They were willing to make the substitution, and it completed the plate nicely. Properly made ropa vieja is intensely beefy and full flavored but not hot, and this nailed it with flavors of tomato, onion, bell peppers, and cumin that blended harmoniously. The fried yuca topped with a peppery salsa and the mofungo also hit all the right notes. This chef knows how to make Caribbean flavors sing, and I hope that they consider adding some other dishes from that region to the menu.
We ordered the 1892 bistro burger partly because when a restaurant makes something their signature dish it’s usually an indication that they’re particularly proud of it. The patty had a nice balance between grill smoke and meaty richness, and contrary to my expectations the slightly funky blue cheese was a good pairing. Lamb and gorgonzola are both naturally oily and this could have been a mess, but deft cooking and the slightly bitter arugula saved the day. The burger arrived with crisp sweet potato fries, and while these were good I might have preferred standard fries or perhaps more of the fried yuca.
As might be expected of a bistro-themed place they offer beer and wine, and in both cases the selection is limited but well curated. There are places on this block with over forty tap handles, but here there are six, and they offer about 25 wines by the glass. We sampled a Cedar Brook Sauvignon Blanc, Albertoni Chardonnay, and Curran Tempranillo, and were happy with all of them.
We tried only one dessert, the blueberry bread pudding that arrived topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel. Even if you’re not really hungry after dinner you should get one of these for the table, because it will disappear.
On a brunch visit we tried a crab benedict and their version of chilaquiles, along with a mimosa and a glass of Champagne. Both of these items leave a lot of room for interpretation – for instance chilaquiles may be crisp-fried or soft, topped with red or green sauce in amounts ranging from meager to lavish, and may or may not be topped with cheese. The version here had the sauce cooked onto the soft tortillas so they were slightly leathery, and I would have preferred them a bit more moist. I cut them up and mixed them in with the black beans and fried egg and they were fine, and a dash of the house hot sauce added some extra spark.
The benedict was a thick crabcake topped with poached egg and hollandaise, with a healthy portion of roasted potatoes on the side. The crabcakes were made with mild claw meat rather than the more oily backfin and a fair amount of binder that included chopped onions and herbs. On the East Coast or in the south these would also have some peppery seasoning, but here the subtle flavor of seafood and herbs was left to shine. The portions on both were substantial, and enjoying them on the shady patio while viewing the Saturday parade of people and dogs was a great way to start the morning.
Prices at the 1892 Bistro are about typical for Riviera Village – dinner with four glasses of wine ran $140, brunch with a mimosa and wine ran $60. The place is obviously still a work in progress but adds something to the area. It’s a food destination rather than a bar that serves something to soak up the drinks, and as such slightly out of place, but I hope they make it.
The 1892 Bistro is at 1729 S. Catalina in Riviera Village, Redondo. Open 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Mo and We-Fri, 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. Sa – Su. Street parking, wheelchair access good, volume level moderate, patio dining. Phone 424-390-4335, menu at 1892bistro.com. ER
by Richard Foss