Stories and reviews about the Red Hen in the Bloomingdale section of D.C. often stress that this is a low key, neighborhood restaurant. Right now, that’s mostly true. When we visited, the clientele fit that description – families with children, large groups of young people, couples, and a very busy bar area where everyone seemed to know everyone else.
As the night wore on, however, we began to notice others coming in. A well dressed table of six, the women in dressy outfits, the men in suits. A table of business people looking like they had just left the office, wherever that might be. A couple looking like they were celebrating a special occasion, sipping wine and staring into each other’s eyes.
We’ve seen this happen before in New York. A restaurant begins as a neighborhood favorite, then news begins to spread. The food is not only great but exceptional. The wine list extensive and creative. The ambiance warm and inviting. And it’s the place to see and be seen.
One has only to check the restaurant’s website to learn that there is an incredible team responsible for this latest dining mecca. Chef Michael Friedman’s resume includes Lucques in Los Anngeles, Incanto in San Francisco, Morimoto, Scarpetta, and Danny Meyer’s The Modern in New York, and Vetri in Philadelphia. In D.C., he spent two years working with José Andres and was chef de cuisine at Proof. Sommelier Sebastian Zutant spent three months working at California’s Deloach Vineyards, as well as working at Rasika and helping to open Proof in 2007 as wine director. And General Manager Michael O’Malley has a degree from the University of Las Vegas’ prestigious hospitality program, an MBA from DePaul University and has put in his time working and helping to manage various restaurants.
This is an all star team now running an all star restaurant.
We began with two appetizers recommended by our server: smoked ricotta crostini with balsamic brown butter and truffle honey; and, heirloom beet salad with wheat berries, mint, ricotta salata and caper vinaigrette.
The crostini was a simple concept elevated to complexity with the perfect combination of fresh ingredients. The toast was crisp, the ricotta velvety smooth, and the butter and honey added a subtle touch to enhance rather than overwhelm the cheese.
Our pasta dish was saffron fettuccine with rabbit sugo, cinnamon, grilled kale and mustard breadcrumbs. The noodles were thin but not overcooked allowing them to stand up to the hearty rabbit sauce.The kale added color while the mustard breadcrumbs contributed a little heat and texture.
For a main dish, we shared the caramelized scallops with soft polenta, brussels sprouts, bacon and balsamic vinegar. If we hadn’t already been impressed with Chef Friedman, this dish sealed the deal. The caramelized scallops had a woodsy flavor and were very tender. The soft polenta was silky smooth and buttery, the brussels sprouts, tart and crisp, with the bacon echoing the scallops’ smoky taste.
With our meal, we enjoyed wines by the glass, a Barbera and a Montepulciano. Both excellent, although next time we hope to truly appreciate Zutant’s wine list by choosing one of his reasonably priced bottles.
Leaving the Red Hen, there wasn’t an empty table in the place and a line forming at the door. Word’s out. Welcome to the neighborhood.
1822 First Street, NW