What’s not to love about Red Hen in Bloomingdale? At a recent dinner, “The Chew” co-host Carla Hall lighted up a coveted window table, pals had to remind me to share the saffron fettuccine with braised chicken and a shower of mustardy crumbs, and Sebastian Zutant, the resident wine wiz, announced that the wine he was introducing us to was “my favorite wine of the whole year.” (A sip of the orange Vino Costo from Spain hooked me, too.) In its early months, the smoke-perfumed retreat helmed by chef Michael Friedman poured on the salt. No more. Everything that lands on my table these days — lamb meatloaf sandwiched with smoked onions, halibut atop soft polenta and ginned up with grilled kale — makes me wish I lived closer to a kitchen that also combines chickpeas, lentils, salami and smoked mozzarella into a salad worthy of a food cover. The tie that binds, brilliantly: oregano vinaigrette. “Mom’s” pound cake, meanwhile, has me briefly considering a parent swap with the chef. Dominated by a central bar and an oak-fired hearth, the cozy Red Hen hires cool kids, one of whom, server Jared Barker, farms on the side and occasionally rewards regulars with his fabulous eggs. The restaurant sounds close to perfect, but it’s not; I’d go more often, but my ears won’t let me.
2013 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
October 10, 2013
Orange wine? Anything co-owner Sebastian Zutant wants us to drink more of, count me in. Intriguing wines at user-friendly prices make this bustling newcomer in Bloomingdale worth crossing town for, but so, too, does the relaxed Italian cooking from Michael Friedman. Like Zutant, the chef is an alumnus of the wine-inclined Proof in Penn Quarter; their partner, Mike O'Malley, makes sure the dining room, accessorized with chicken art, runs smoothly.
Seasonal salads and crostini make good first impressions; smoked ricotta drizzled with truffle honey goes down as easily on toasted bread as chicken liver with fresh thyme and Parmesan. Forge on with pasta, maybe something hearty such as creste di gallo combined with braised duck, mushrooms and black olives. (Italian speakers should pick up on the wit; the pasta is shaped like a rooster's crest.)
Scallops enriched with seemingly a stick of butter reveal a chef who can get carried away at times; Friedman is also liberal with salt. And as much as I love all the wood -- the oak-stoked kitchen hearth is mesmerizing, the furniture crafted from canella handsome -- Red Hen's hard surfaces create a boombox.
Worth crowing about: roast leg of lamb sandwiched with broccoli rabe and saffron mayonnaise on crisp bread, and servers who act like neighbors in part because most live close by.