June 26, 2013

The Red Hen

With the plethora of restaurants opening around the city, it's hard to keep up.  It feels like as soon as we try one place, five more have opened.  But we do what we can without having to crack open the piggy bank (well we crack it open sometimes and patch it back together!).  So on a beautiful Saturday night, with a looming super moon overhead, we found ourselves at The Red Hen, the newest spot in the up-and-coming Bloomingdale neighborhood.
As we walked up the block we noticed the giant red hen on the side of the building, and knew immediately this must be the place.  For all the skeptics out there thinking, "exactly what DC needs, another Italian-influenced seasonal, farm to table, hip restaurant", The Red Hen is the real deal.

From the moment we walked in, we were greeted by friendly staff.  We weren't sure what to expect since it is kind of a hot-spot at the moment, but the vibe is extremely laid back.  The large inviting bar in the center of the restaurant is certainly a focal point.  This is a place where you want to hang out.  The decor is a really rustic cool, from hanging potted herbs and art on the wall, to interesting light fixtures and tons of exposed brick.  While these are nice accents, the real star of the show is the open kitchen.  You see the line at work, preparing food on the signature wood-fired hearth.

And that's all before our drink order even came.  Speaking about libations, The Red Hen has a very cool cocktail program that puts some new spins on classic cocktails.  Even the names are great.  I had the "Take the Easy Way and Give In", consisting of gin, cherry shrub, lime, and soda.  If you're not familiar with shrub, it's a sweetened, vinegar-based syrup, becoming more prevalent on cocktail menus these days.  Justin got exactly what he asked for, the aptly named,"You Get What You Ask For", a mix that will turn the heads of cocktail buffs, consisting of grappa, limoncello, and the bitter, spicy, somewhat uncommon, cocchi americano.  While we enjoyed the first few sips of our cocktails, we were presented with some bread brushed with olive oil and a delicious olive tapenade.  The bread could've used a quick toast, but the savory tapenade was a delicious topping, not overpowered by salt.

Next, it was on to the appetizers.  By now you are probably aware of Justin's affinity towards anything with truffles, so the crostini of smoked ricotta, balsamic brown butter & truffle honey was a no-brainer.  The smokiness was subtle, but just right, and was nicely balanced by the savory sweetness of the truffle honey.  We also enjoyed grilled octopus served with pesto and a potato puree.  The octopus had a nice char on it, and was incredibly tender.  I was surprised that they mixed the pesto and potatoes together; it had lost some of its flavor, but it was a nice complement to octopus.

Are you drooling yet?  We haven't even touched on our entrees!  So let's dive in.  I went with the roasted lamb leg sandwich, served with grilled rapini, smoked onion, and a saffron aioli.  There was also some pickled fennel on the side, which was a nice acidic bite.  The lamb was cooked perfectly, and sliced thin on a nice, chewy roll. The aioli was awesome, and the saffron stood up to the richness of the aioli.  It was a smoky, savory, and delightful topping that brought all of the components together.  Justin opted for the veal sweetbreads. Sweetbreads are glands including the thymus, pancreas, and sometimes parts of the neck, and cheeks.  They are a protein that take quite a bit of finesse to perfect.  So did The Red Hen miss the mark?  Absolutely not--they were delectable.  Not a tinge of iron taste, they were cooked perfectly, not to sticky or fatty, and they had a delightful crispness.  The dish was rounded out with pea shoots, hearty bacon, a perfectly fried egg, and some extremely creamy and well-seasoned polenta.  Justin stuck with breakfast notes and ordered himself an imperial stout to act as the cup-o-joe to go with his bacon, eggs, and grits.

Somehow we managed to save room for dessert.  The basil panna cotta jumped right out at us, and we knew we had to order it.  It's not a flavor you typically see, and it certainly lived up to our expectations.  The panna cotta had a nice, refreshing basil flavor, really highlighting the herb itself.  It was accompanied by strawberry preserves, giving the dish a bit of sweetness and a delicious jammy texture to go with the creamy panna cotta.  The other dessert that we couldn't resist was the egg cream.  For those not in the know, an egg cream is a local favorite from Brooklyn that utilizes neither egg or cream.  Our server assured us that this recipe used Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup.  So what's better than an egg cream? One with a lump of malted chocolate gelato in it!

If you couldn't tell, we love the place!  We plan to go back on another Saturday to take advantage of their Saturday night special; any crostini, pasta, and a glass of wine for only $22.  We've read rave reviews about the pastas, and if they're anything like the dishes we've already tasted, we're in for quite a treat!

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