Red Light Chef Jackie Chen inspired me when I heard her speak at Chicago Gourmet. She’s quirky, fun, and real. In fact, she makes cooking sound so good that I very nearly dusted off my kitchen counters and bought a whisk.
So I’m surprised that Chen’s charm and passion for the art of cooking didn’t translate into a good meal at Red Light. Tammy and I went there Friday night with high hopes and empty stomachs. We left hungry for tastier food.
Most of what we tried was overpowering. The sauces were too saucy and the spices too spicy. I really wanted the wild flavor combinations to work, but they just didn’t. We both ended up leaving a lot of food on our plates, and the only thing at the table we polished off entirely was the bottle of wine we ordered — an absolutely lovely tempranillo.
We had three appetizers – the sweet potato fries, the acorn squash soup, and the crispy artichokes. At the best of times, I like all things sweet potato and squash related. In this case, the sweet potato fries were bland (I prefer the ones at Elephant and Castle) and the soup too rich. The artichokes, which are listed in the vegetarian section of the menu, were the strongest of the three with a nice texture, touch of saltiness, and good dipping sauce.
I had the shrimp ninety-nine for my main course — a dish that couldn’t decide if it was spicy or sweet, so it ended up being oddly tangy. T was in the mood for something savory and had the diver scallops. They were much more successful than my shrimp, so I nibbled off her plate, but she found them too spicy to finish.
For dessert, we had the berry pound cake, which was by far the best thing we ate. As good as it was, it was very heavy and tough to weigh through. The portion was huge!
I will give serious brownie points to Red Light for service though. It’s excellent. First, I’m impressed by Chen’s awareness of food allergies. She requires her wait staff to ask about them, and they do. This attention to detail continues throughout the meal. Also, we were tight on time that night, and the staff got the job done! Thanks to their speedy service, we didn’t miss a single minute of the live So You Think You Can Dance tour at the United Center! Yea!
I know restaurants can have off nights, and I hope that’s what happened with the food at Red Light. Some of our friends are also surprised our first visit wasn’t a good one, and I’m still reeling a bit myself. So I feel like I should go back to give Red Light another shot and maybe try some meat next time. But frankly, there are tons of dining options in Chicago. If anything, I’d likely go to one of its sister restaurants, Marche or Opera, before I’d return to Red Light. Our experience there just wasn’t worth the price tag — roughly $70 per person.
820 W Randolph