Time and time again we are reminded that money does not necessarily lead to happiness – the tabloid covers with big block type, artists ranting away their insecurities on stage, the angry Lexus driver cutting you off with the blare of a held down horn. But money does afford us nice things, doesn’t it. Some of these objects and experiences are luxuries, sure, and extravagance is extra, but their acquisition is also an appreciation. And for most of us, these things, be they a week in Waikiki or the pair of shades bought for the trip, are an expression of fulfillment that started with hard work and sacrifice. They are earned.
So too British Colombia Honey Mussels, Wagyu Beef Tartare, Rack of Red Wattle Pork, New Zealand Tai Snapper Crudo; rich dishes on the responsibly sourced side of decadence and complemented with the cocktails of cosmopolitan craftsmen. Welcome to Redbird, Neal and Amy Fraser’s newest restaurant, an open air space of polished surfaces and soft sounds refined within the historic St. Vibiana Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. For your next whatever make a reservation, sit down, and delight over life’s offerings. You earned it.
Amy and Neal, why a restaurant in a decommissioned cathedral?
Amy: Vibiana was originally transformed into an event venue in 2006 by Gilmore Associates, the real estate development and management company which spearheaded the residential and subsequent commercial boom in Downtown LA. We were hired to cater an event at Vibiana in June of 2008, and were unfamiliar with the venue. During my first walk-through, I was floored by the stunning beauty and history of the former cathedral. I was then given a tour of the adjacent rectory building and told that Tom Gilmore and his team were currently looking for a restaurant to develop the space. I froze. I got chills. I thought, “Neal has to see this, we have to do it.”
Neal: it just made sense. There was an inherent feeling of being a part of something bigger.
Why a cathedral? There was an inherent feeling of being a part of something bigger.
How were you inspired to build out the space by what came before it?
A: We wanted to honor the space's timeless architecture by simply sprucing it up with a new coat of paint and showcasing it with smart lighting, and then to introduce simple modern forms to complement it. All the while maintaining function, warmth and a little funkiness.
How does the space inform and reflect the menu?
N: Just like the design, we wanted the menu to honor the space and its history. The setting dictated the style of food: sophisticated yet approachable, unpretentious and indicative of the multiculturalism of our city.
What did you want to do with Redbird that you hadn't done before?
A: We create restaurants that we want to go to. We focus on the totality of the experience for our guests with everything – proper lighting, temperature, noise level, music, comfortable seating, utensil weight and appropriate functionality through design – to make service as efficient as possible. We’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do since we opened our first restaurant in 2003. We had a lot of time to think about Redbird as the process was a long one. We tried to apply everything we’ve learned and to be as smart as possible. We still missed things, of course. There are so many variables beyond one’s control with a restaurant build out. But we feel Redbird is more “us” than any of our restaurants before.
What's your favorite dish on the menu right now? Why?
N: Lamb Belly. It sums up what we’re doing in that it’s grilled, it’s spicy, it’s fatty, it’s soothing. It’s sophisticated and simple at the same time and its multicultural influences reflect that of our city.
For everyday life, what staples do you have in your own fridge? What do you make yourselves in a pinch?
N: I make chicken soup for our daughter every week. She eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, blueberries for Amy. Amy eats some horrible gluten-free dairy-free burritos when she comes home from work, tired and starving. A friend just turned me on to some really good instant ramen called Shoyu Ramen that doesn’t have a bunch of terrible preservatives in it.
What's your favorite neighborhood spot or hole in the wall? What do you get there?
N: We eat Blossom a lot in our neighborhood. Our daughter loves it and we love it. We get pho, the crepes and the Cornish Game Hen.
On the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately tip, what's next for the menu and you two?
N: Spring things. Some of my favorite ingredients are coming into season; English peas, nettles, fava beans. We’re working on a community garden project on the Vibiana property that we’re really excited about.