The Red Hen – 1822 First Street NW
With the DC restaurant scene getting better, and bigger, by the day it can be hard to keep up with all the new hot spots to try. Especially if you are like me, and live and die by reservations. Most new places don’t take them at all, and if they do they are impossible to come by unless you want to eat dinner at 10pm. Since it opened its doors in 2013, I have heard nothing but good things about The Red Hen. Food critics, friends and fellow bloggers all raved about this restaurant to a person. While the Red Hen does take reservations. it only does so for a small amount of tables, preferring to leave tables available to walk ins. Which is great for a neighborhood restaurant to do…just not when it isn’t in your neighborhood! Finally the other day Patrick and I decided to head over to Bloomingdale and see if we could get in. On a Friday night. When we were starving. Usually this ends up in a hangry fight, tears and Chinese delivery at home but the restaurant gods were shining on us that night and they were able to seat us right away (we got there around 6:30pm).
They have a pretty large bar to wait at, or sit and eat at if you don’t get lucky. By the time we left, the place was totally packed with a line of people waiting outside so if you can stand eating at early bird special hours it’s worth it. Even if you are not hungry, I would recommend stopping by the bar and checking out their very cool selection. Mostly local beers and a heavy on Italian wine menu, as well as craft cocktails means there is something for everyone. I had to order a Negroni, as it’s my favorite Italian cocktail, and their version did not disappoint. I will say the prices on the bottle list I felt were a little high for the price of the food but we were still able to find something reasonable to go with dinner. One thing The Red Hen is known for is their list of orange wines – if you have never tried one this is the place to do it. If you like the flavor of red wine and the body of white wine, orange wine is for you.
The menu has a “Small Things” category as well as an “Appetizers” list that has more substantial plates. We started with the Whipped Ricotta Crostini with Balsamic Brown Butter & Truffle Honey as our “small thing.” YUM. The Red Hen has managed to perfect a tecnique that has always mistyfied me. How do Italians make grilled bread slathered with cheese stay so crispy? In Venice, the little Ciccetti bars would have crostini lined up on the counter and they would sit there for hours yet when you take a bite the bread has maintained its integrity. Perfect to pair with a bubbly glass of prosecco.
As an appetizer we went with the Fried Cauliflower ‘Sicilian Style’ with Horseradish Yogurt, Pecorino Romano & Breadcrumbs. I was thrown by horseradish in the description but they use a very light hand so it doesn’t overwhelm the dish and just adds a nice nose tingling heat to the background of the dish. This cauliflower is addictive like french fries.
The rest of the menu is devoted to pastas (made in house of course) and entrees. It’s a small selection but very seasonal. Luckily we had snacks to tide us over because it took forever to decide what we wanted to order – always a good sign when you want to ask for one of everything! I had the Casarecce with Asparagus, English Pea Crema, New Potatoes, Lemon, Basil & Pecorino Tartufo, which was like an Italian love letter to spring. Patrick went for the Grilled Beef Short Rib with Braised Shelling Beans, Peperonata, Feta, Basil, Chimichurri & Balsamico. They braised the short ribs and then threw them on the grill at the end so they were tender and falling apart but still had a little char on the outside. Just outstanding. He was torn between that and their Roasted Half Chicken with Black Truffle Polenta, Smoky Bacon, Scallions & Warm Frisee Salad so I told him to go short rib and I would try and recreate the chicken dish at home. It was pretty successful and will be Thursday’s post, so stay tuned.
Usually I am too stuffed for dessert but in the name of research we asked for the menu. Nothing really jumped out at us until our waitress suggested the Maple Custard with Caramelized Hazelnut Crumble. Not something I would normally pick but she said that whenever she goes to another restaurant she orders dessert to see if there are any out there as good as this one. SOLD! It was as good as advertised and I am not even a big hazelnut person.
Bottom line – don’t let its popularity or lack of a reservation put you off on The Red Hen. With warm service and perfectly executed Italian food, this place is worth the wait.