It's a restaurant attached to a once down-and-out motel trying to clean itself up, across a crummy canal from a strip club that alternates between straight, gay, black or white performers and on a street that's been under construction since before the U.S. invaded Iraq. A recipe for success if I've ever seen one.
Kris Wessel has taken one of the biggest gambles in the city outside of the multi-million dollar Karu & Y space in, well, wherever it is. Judging from the crowd there this Friday night, his gamble looks like it's initially paid off. Everyone seemed to know each other but I knoew no one except Douglas Rodriguez who presided over the first booth by the entrance. Red Light is a small space (I hate the word cozy, but that's what it is) with booths in an "L" shape along the windows that face the aforementioned street, canal, and performance space. The bar, with cool vintage orange bar chairs, runs parallel along the booths. The outside area isn't quite done, but when it is I see many lazy Sunday spent there.
But believe it or not we went to Red Light tonight not for the location, but for the food. The menu is very limited and there's only about 5 or 6 dishes in appetizer sizes available. Apparently these dishes will be the basis for the upcoming full menu. 5-hour braised rabbit with carrots in a freaking insanely good stew sauce, bbq shrimp in an even more insanely good sauce and a savory oyster pie were the dishes we chose. I'm not much for sopping up sauces with bread, but we didn't leave an ounce of sauce on the plates of the rabbit and shrimp dishes. We skipped on a fish chowder, ceviche, and frog legs. We saw most of these dishes come out and watched people's faces as they ate. No negative reactions at all. There shouldn't be. The food came out freshly prepared and piping hot. Desserts were limited to a key lime pie and homemade banana rum ice cream which was more banana than ice and cream (so I used it as an excuse to count it towards my fruit intake for the day).
There's the obvious kinks in service but you get the feeling that when they get worked out this place is going to be really, really good. It's the kind of neighborhood place every neighborhood should have (which we had when Michael's and Michy's first opened and before the national media took notice) and I'm glad it's in mine. Yet another nah-nah-nahnah-naaaah to South Beach.