by Ryan A. Breyer-Smith
Ragsdale Kitchen and Bar
692 E. Main St.
Lunch service was ending and dinner was still 2.5 hours away, but it wasn’t quite happy hour yet. It was time to assess the food and crew at Ragsdale Kitchen + Bar. Stories and reviews surrounding the fledgling restaurant were largely unflattering — ranging from odd staff encounters to long waits to a kitchen unable to provide many menu items. Call it growing pains. So for Ragsdale, whose opening date was delayed over and over in 2015, we opted to wait a few months for our own evaluation. Until now.
Looking out the eastern window, reading the four menus for the day, the thoughtful blend of “world fusion” cuisine seen was refreshing — Filipino, Mediterranean, Old and New American, Indian, Italian, British, Mexican, Hawaiian, Caribbean, Chinese and Japanese ingredients and preparations were all there, with elements from different regions in nearly every dish.
The completely remodeled Landmark No. 71 building. offers a chic black, silver and glass motif. The kitchen is seen through large windows. Colorful, engrossing and striking art — think Basquiat meets Picasso meets Neil Blender — hangs on concrete walls, contrasting the sleek palette. Outside, seating on the west-facing patio was already filling up.
Top-shelf drinks here are strong and creative. Specialty cocktails are made with fresh-pressed juices, splashes and dashes, with names like Midtown Martini, 805 Lowrider and The Avenue. Plenty of wine options. Plus the hyperlocal 14 beer taps have frothy selections from Ventura’s Surf Brewery and Topa Topa as well as Figueroa Mountain, Firestone and more.
On this easy Sunday afternoon, Ragsdale only had a few occupied tables. The staff was attentive and accommodating. Case in point: Even though happy hour was still 45 minutes away, the waitress and chefs let me order from that $4 menu.
For a starter we chose the buffalo cauliflower: deep fried, tossed in buffalo sauce, with just enough blue cheese sprinkles, the hot crowns smothered in flavor and plenty of kick — definitely spicy but not fear-inducing fire — the veggie tender under a thin crust. Complemented with a Hoppy Poppy IPA, it was a good start.
A slider-size turmeric rub pork tenderloin bao sandwich came next. A tasty little pork cut base; pickled red onions for a hint of vinegary acid; sliced cucumber and tzatziki gave the cool notes; stuffed with a bit of herb mix and tomato into a crispy (or steamed) bao bun. Three bites and it was gone.
Then a pair of minitacos: pork belly and al pastor duck. The pork was infused with tamarind, topped with a sprinkle of diced green papaya salsa, microcilantro and spice crème frâiche. The meat was a bit dull and dry, but saved by the cast. The al pastor duck, on the other hand, was a succulent, vibrant creation — with grilled pineapple, cilantro, pickled sweet peppers and sliced radish over luscious, marinated pulled duck. The house-made blue corn masa tortillas were disappointing, though. Crumbly is not a good adjective to describe a tortilla. A fork was necessary.
The Philly cheese steak fried spring roll caught my eye. Billed as herb-roasted ribeye steak, sautéed onion, wild mushrooms, red and green peppers, accompanied by RKB cheese sauce, it sounded like a perfect beer pairing to finish. But the spring rolls were presented with burned, black ends, and the only filling I could taste was meat. Not really what I’d hoped for.
Having only tasted the happy hour fare, I felt the need to try more. So the following Saturday, I returned.
Opened with a Ragsdale salad — string carrots, red onions, red grapes, cucumber chunks, cherry tomatoes and smoked coconut flakes over locally grown spring mix, tossed with house-made citrus-balsamic vinaigrette. It was well portioned, balanced, crisp. Sweet without going too far. Nice with a Mondo’s cream ale.
My last order was something that was sold out on my previous visit: chicken schnitzel sandwich. Jalapeño cornbread-encrusted chicken breast slices, Hawaiian slaw, grilled tomato, Sriracha-cilantro aioli on a toasted croissant. (Add choice house-made root-vegetable chips, French fries, side salad or potato salad.) Tender, juicy, just enough crunchy coleslaw, great spiciness from the aioli, warm tomato, inside a flaky roll. A progressive, unique sandwich.
Soft opening hiccups aside, Ragsdale seems to be finding its stride in 2016. There’s lot of good here. Just don’t expect Claim Jumper-sized portions. So would I go back, say, on a date night with the wife? Yes. I’ve already eyed orders like duck breast pineapple golden mole, warm quinoa salad, tandoori lamb chops, Caribbean jerk cornish hen, and Ragsdale Loco Moco for next time. F