In a perfect world, every neighborhood would have what Bloomingdale is about to get with the Red Hen: a cozy Italian restaurant with interesting food, tasty cocktails, and gentle prices.
Industry vets chef Michael Friedman, Sebastian Zutant, and Mike O’Malley are behind the 60-seat restaurant, which they created with their ideal neighborhood spot in mind. You’ll find a warm room with brick walls and canela wood floors, chairs, and tables fashioned by Edit Lab at Streetsense designers* Lauren Winter and Brian Miller. Large windows and 13-foot ceilings create a feeling of openness in the 100-plus-year-old structure, where flickering candles and campfire aromas emanating from the open kitchen’s wood-burning grill add to the rustic ambience.
The farmhouse feel extends to Friedman’s seasonal menu, which draws from Italian and American influences and occasionally nods to his Jewish upbringing. An appetizer of grilled bread arrives with riffs on two deli staples—smoked fish and egg salad—here combined into a creamy trout topping with chopped egg and trout roe. Clams casino also get an update—Friedman stuffs shells with braised clams, andouille sausage, and a crunchy crumb topping. All the pastas, both dried and fresh, are made in house, from simple fusilli cacio e pepe to rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu. The wood grill imparts a smoky flavor to grilled formaggio di pimento (pimento cheese) polenta and many of the meat and fish entrées. Currently the most extravagant order on the moderately priced menu is the $23 wood-grilled hen cacciatore, a marinated bird cooked over the open flame and served on a bed of wild mushrooms, roasted potatoes, and a vinegary red pepper-tomato sauce.
Friedman and Zutant first teamed up at Proof, where the former worked as chef de cuisine and the latter as wine director. Zutant’s pedigree means you won’t find vapid Pinot Grigios and one-note Chianti here. Ten wines by the glass include a robust white Pinot produced near the Slovenian border and Catavela orange wine, plus a 100-deep bottle list with prices topping out around $60. Cocktails are equally moderate, with a largely $10-and-under list that showcases Italian spirits, wines, and recipes. An early favorite: a twist on a Negroni with gin, Cocchi Americano, and Sicilian orange and maraschino liqueurs.
Perhaps the most neighborly gesture: reservations. While a good portion of tables and bar seating will be held for walk-ins, booking is available for those times you don’t want to wait. (Walk-ins can head around the corner to Boundary Stone for a pre-dinner drink.)
The Red Hen. 1822 First St., NW; 202-525-3021. Open Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to 10, Thursday through Saturday 5 to 11, and Sunday 5 to 9:30
*This post has been updated from a previous version.