The Red Hen
1822 First St., NW
Daily for dinner.
Price Range: Moderate
Noise Level: Chatty
Chicken-liver crostini; clams casino; fried artichokes; asparagus Parmesan soup; fusilli cacio e pepe; gnocchi with hazelnut pesto; lamb sandwich; sweetbreads; halibut with mussels; pine-nut tart; panna cotta with hazelnuts and candied orange.
The surprise isn’t that one of the top debuts of the year is in DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, far from the madding crowds of 14th Street. It’s that first-time restaurateurs Sebastian Zutant, chef Mike Friedman, and Mike O’Malley have come up with a place so soulful and seemingly effortless.
To step into the handsome, wood-smoke-scented space is to feel you’ve entered the kind of downscaled, personal place a name chef opens when he decides it’s time to step back and satisfy his own needs. The menu is nominally Italian, and Friedman produces simple-sounding dishes that are striking in their cleanness—robust chicken-liver crostini, an asparagus soup that tastes like a distillation of the vegetable—and works with an admirably light touch when it comes to pastas. Put yourself in the hands of sommelier Zutant when it comes to wine; the list is among the more interesting in the area, full of obscurities like orange wine from Slovenia and a wealth of well-priced, food-friendly picks.
Open: Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.
Don’t miss: Clams casino; fried artichokes; fusilli cacio e pepe; gnocchi with hazelnut pesto; lamb sandwich; sweetbreads with bacon and polenta; halibut with mussels; pine-nut tart; panna cotta.