Brandy-cured foie gras defies expectations.
Waiting for the new Red to open was a little bit like anticipating a new album from a favorite band. I had been a fan (nay, a superfan) of the original Red Sushi since it opened on King Street five years ago — could the new restaurant possibly live up to the hype?
The answer, unreservedly, is yes. Owners Jack Yip and Tanya Zhykharevich have managed to preserve everything that was great about the old Red Sushi — the sleek-yet-unpretentious atmosphere; friendly, competent service; outstanding food — while making a much-needed expansion in a truly beautiful new space on the first floor of the AT&T building at 316 W. Washington Ave.
Red Sushi regulars may recall the old routine: You put in a name for a table and then head out to another bar to wait for the host to text when your table is ready. The cozy space, which seated about 50, was so popular that the bar seats were frequently taken over by diners, leaving no place for people to enjoy a cocktail while waiting to be seated.
Not so at the new location, which has a spacious lounge area with room for about 50 patrons, either at the bar or at low tables encircled by tufted half-booth seating. Beyond, there’s a dining room with room for another 50, including a sushi bar (where you can watch the chefs create their edible art) and a private chef’s table. Outside, there’s a patio with a Capitol view and room for about 40 more. Comfortable and chic, the decor is thematically and aesthetically on-point — hanging globe lights and silvery beaded curtains conjure images of ocean bubbles and oyster pearls; the red-and-black walls have a subtle, abstract pattern, reminiscent of sashimi tuna; an enormous mural of a woman (a mermaid?) decorates the open kitchen.
I was most intrigued by the new, inventive, non-sushi dishes on the “Dine” section of the menu, which borrow from Japanese, French and new American culinary traditions and seem to occupy an interesting space between appetizer and shareable entree. Wagyu beef tartare comes topped with a subtle white truffle caper vinaigrette and is served alongside horseradish flan. Spread the spicy custard on a crispy wonton strip and top it with the beef, making sure to get some fried shallot, parmigiano reggiano and a bit of quail egg in there to make the perfect bite. The brandy-cured foie gras, served on crostini with red onion marmalade and peach-basil jam, was luscious to the point of being too much. Slices of tuna tataki are lightly seared, giving the fish a deeper, meatier flavor, complemented exquisitely by smoked soy and tender enoki mushrooms. Umami abounds.
I was pleased to see the restaurant kept all the classic sushi, sashimi and signature rolls I had grown to love at the old location. My all-time favorite, chu-toro (fatty tuna), served sashimi-style (without rice), was perfection — buttery smooth, dense and rich, arranged into a beguiling rose shape. For the adventurous, another favorite is uni (sea urchin). It can come as sashimi, but I like it sushi style, as the rice provides a stable base for the delicate, custard-like roe. Golden-yellow in color, sweet and briny in taste, this is the good stuff.
Of the ever-changing seasonal rolls, the Purple Rain is particularly beautiful, with layers of tuna, shrimp and escolar topped with jalapeno and coconut-sweet potato puree for a sweet-and-spicy finish. The I Am Shellfish — with king crab, tempura scallop, cream cheese, asparagus, pea shoots, sweet almond and kohlrabi sauce — is substantial and satisfying (if a little heavy), a meal in itself. There are about 50 rolls always on the menu: Cooked or raw, vegetarian or vegan, simple or complex, there’s something for every diet, palate (and budget). There are also fun little menu hacks, like adding black rice, swapping out rice for a cucumber wrap (fewer calories!) or getting a roll deep fried (more calories!) for an upcharge.
Those who loved lunch at Red Sushi will be pleased with the way it’s done at here, which continues the popular two-roll special for $13 while adding, once again, more variety to the menu. Steamed buns (pork, chicken, tuna, tofu) were serviceable, but not outstanding. Salads (seaweed with cucumbers and vinaigrette, spinach with pears and edamame) were simple and fresh. A blonde French onion soup (cream-based, with truffle and a drizzle of chive oil) was an unexpected success, though it came out slightly cold. The burger is surprisingly great — Wagyu beef, Hook’s cheddar, a nice garlicky aioli and crispy tempura onion rings. I ordered mine medium-rare and it came out medium, but I legitimately didn’t care (which tells you how good the burger was).
In a way, I’ll always be nostalgic for Red Sushi, a restaurant I loved so much that I once ate there twice on the same day (back when I was flush with service industry money). But with its new space and new concept, Red has grown up, just like Madison has.
Editor's note: The content has been edited to reflect the name of the restaurant being simply "Red" and not "Red Dine Lounge."