The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2019 Fall Dining Guide.
The model for the Red Hen wasn’t one restaurant, but the places Mike Friedman ate in as a younger chef: Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, Lucques in Los Angeles, River Cafe in London — “all owned by women,” he points out. The only question I had after my last meal in Bloomingdale was why it had been so long between visits.
Red Hen is the ideal neighborhood community center, after all, dressed with a welcoming bar, lit with honey in mind and warmed by a wood-stoked oven that does wonderful things to chicken, among other dishes. Toast with Sicilian anchovies, radishes and sweet butter is a blissful Act 1. Follow it with pasta, maybe mafalde with melted leeks, wild mushrooms and herby bread crumbs.
Reservations are hard to come by. The good news: Friedman says he keeps up to 40 percent of his tables for walk-ins and reminds us that the 18-seat bar is first come, first served.
Red Hen: 1822 First St. NW. 202-525-3021. theredhendc.com .
Open: Dinner daily.
Price: Mains $19-$32.
Sound check: 81 decibels / Extremely loud.
The following review originally appeared in The Washington Post’s 2017 Spring Dining Guide.
The Red Hen remains a reliable destination for pasta and more
It’s still really popular, it’s still really loud and it still does liquids proud. (Good luck finding a stool at the bar.) The Red Hen, older sibling to the ace All-Purpose in Shaw, is a neighborhood restaurant designed for people looking for a little jazz in their food. A ball of burrata atop chickpea-lentil salad splashed with oregano vinaigrette? Covered. Grilled-striped octopus on cauliflower-almond cream with a scattering of ’nduja bread crumbs? You bet. Pastas are more of a mixed bag than they used to be, judging from one night’s doughy ricotta cavatelli, but I’m all over the squid ink linguine, dressed with cannellini beans, pea shoots, calamari, pickled Fresno chile and (we’re almost there) bread crumbs. The grill is your friend. Spring for crisp chicken splayed on hazelnut-romesco sauce. Short ribs can be tough, and whereas wines used to be introduced with quiet flair, that’s not always the case now. If Red Hen isn’t quite the charmer it was when it opened, in a neighborhood hungry for food options, the restaurant nevertheless calls to me when I’m close and craving something casual, riffs included.
The following review appeared in The Washington Post’s 2015 Fall Dining Guide.
Au courant sips and pasta that never slips
If you want to know what you should be drinking this nanosecond, belly up to the bar at one of the best things that has ever happened to Bloomingdale and ask co-owner Sebastian Zutant for a recommendation. Last year, he had us drinking orange wine from Spain. This go, it’s Riesling from Serbia, a super-dry match for suckling pig porchetta, an impressive hunk of soft meat and crisp skin rounded out with roasted fingerlings and salsa verde. There’s more where that came from: Chef Michael Friedman’s pastas never fail to satisfy. To eat his tube-shaped paccheri under duck ragu, baby tomatoes and fresh mint is to pledge allegiance to a kitchen with a roaring oak fire. There’s also less where that comes from. Charred octopus with chickpea salad suffers from tough tentacles and chickpeas so undercooked you wonder if your dentist takes night calls. Red Hen, all bonhomie and warm wood, isn’t as consistent as I wish. But it nails enough, often enough, to stay on your dance card.