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.
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!