Neal and Amy Fraser, who opened bld and Grace on Beverly Blvd, finally opened Redbird in December 2014 after a multi-year build out inside the former Vibiana Cathedral in Downtown Los Angeles. Partnered with Bill Chait, the husband-and-wife team ended up acquiring rights for the entire cathedral and its event space capabilities. Though Redbird's concept and approach makes it one of the fanciest fine dining places in Downtown, they've managed to grow their business substantially since opening. Here now, a rundown on the Frasers's big return to the restaurant scene.
You had a really long build out. What was the opening like?
Neal: It was rough. Once we got to the finish line, we just went for it. Up until a few weeks ago, we still had roof leaks. There was stuff that just never got taken care of on day one. We're slowly expanding into the rest of the building so that we can use all the spaces allotted to us.
Amy: We technically opened on January 7, and we had a few weeks of friends and family starting in late November and through December. Our first official week was the week of Christmas, which is a not an especially busy time. Plus the construction wasn't complete so we couldn't use all the space.
Why did the build out take so long?
Amy: It was a very complicated restaurant deal. We took control of the entire property. The Vibiana is a large events venue. We wanted to do all the catering for it, so we partnered with Bill Chait, who acquired Grace from us [which became Playa and is now Petty Cash Taqueria]. They ended up buying half the property, so we're our own landlord in a sense. That changed a lot of things. It took us time to negotiate that.
What were some of the early adjustments you made?
Amy: All kinds of adjustments. Once a restaurant opens, it takes on its own life. We realized that we needed certain things for service, that an area didn't work for this table, we needed more supplies to reset the tables. A shelf here, a place for glass storage there. We're constantly developing the space and always trying to improve the experience for the guest.
Once a restaurant opens, it takes on its own life.
Any other changes?
Neal: The interior was initially completely a lounge and the outside was supposed to be seated dining. If we did that, it would be just 70 seats. We immediately figured out how to make part of the lounge a dining room. We wanted to do cart service but discovered the floor was too uneven to make that happen. We initially envisioned a smaller menu but expanded the offerings over time.
What's been the impact of critical attention?
Neal: People really like the restaurant. Sure, we've had some negative Yelp reviews. But we didn't have any terrible critical reviews. People really get the restaurant, and the community, which is basically City Hall and the buildings around it, has embraced it. We get a fair amount of people from the City. We fill an interesting niche here in Downtown because we're not Historic Core, we're not Little Tokyo, we're not Arts District. But we're pulling in people from all of those areas. We want to be a destination but we also want to serve the locals. So while we're not as everyday as a place like Badmaash, you could come in and have a drink or snack at the bar. We welcome those diners.
Amy: We've been pretty busy. We didn't want to get too much press so that we'd be busy and have people stay away because of that. And we didn't want to be overhyped. We're just focusing on what we have to do every day. I can't believe it's almost been a year.
What are you looking forward to in 2016?
Amy: We're not necessarily where we want to be in every aspect, but we want to have really excellent service. Neal will keep developing the menu, and we're going to launch brunch in January. We have a lot to do, building out the second and third floors for private dining. We're also renovating the garden in the back of the building. There's a lot to be done. The events business next door has been growing, so it's helped us to get a broader audience for the restaurant.
What dish best represents Redbird?
Neal: I would say the wild boar dish. The boar is from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, and it's served with roasted sunchokes, turnips, and black trumpet mushrooms. I've been making wild boar dishes for the past ten to fifteen years, and I think this preparation really sings. The grilled lamb belly with kimchi pancake is probably in its best iteration. We coax the tenderness out of the belly. It's very humble, but there's so much effort that goes into the dish. Finally, the vegan soup, which is a roasted butternut squash soup that gets richness from coconut milk. Right now we have a fall/winter flavor profile with Southeast Asian flavors. The coconut milk gives it a lusciousness, as if we added cream and butter.