Through the Wine Glass: a review of The Red Hen

A few days ago, Tom's parents invited the boys to spend the night so that they could take them to Luray Caverns the next day. As today is Columbus Day and there's no school, it was decided that we'd bring them over yesterday evening after Jack's baseball game.

Tom and I were tired after a busy weekend but decided that since we had a rare evening off and no babysitter on the clock, we'd pick a restaurant, no matter the distance, get dressed and go.

"The Red Hen," we declared, and way downtown to Bloomingdale we drove. Literally. We drove to 1st St and live near 50th. We had no idea if they'd have room for us, and indeed when I asked, a table was a two-hour wait. On a Sunday. This is testament to The Red Hen's popularity.

But theirs is a sizeable bar, and as T and I rather prefer sitting at the bar anyway, we settled in to wait after scoping out several duos who appeared to be winding down.

view, through my wine glass, of part of The Red Hen's kitchen

view, through my wine glass, of part of The Red Hen's kitchen

I ordered an unusual Trebbiano blend, an Italian white, and T his preferred, a saison-style beer, and just as we settled in to each other, relaxing under the weightlessness of no schedule and no children for 18 hours, two bar stools were vacated and we moved in.

The menu is full of hearty fare that incorporates a wide array of seasonal veggies, artisanal meats, seafood and cheese in unique ways. In short, I loved the offerings. 

We started with the Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Capers, Mint & Toasted Pistachios as well as a plate of Charred Octopus with Sweet Potato Hummus, Braised Beans ‘alla Romesco,’ Shaved Fennel & Frisee. 

roasted beet and goat cheese bruschetta with pistachios

roasted beet and goat cheese bruschetta with pistachios

The bruschetta was lovely, and I enjoyed not only the small dice of the roasted beets but also the micro greens and pistachios. If the capers were there, I couldn't find them. And that's OK because I'm not totally sure how those would pair with the nuts. Food for thought.

charred octopus with sweet potato hummus and frisee

charred octopus with sweet potato hummus and frisee

The octopus was assertively charred (which makes me swoon) but still tender which is a tough line to tow, but I can't say that I loved the sweet potato hummus and black beans with it. The shaved fennel and frisee were perfect accompaniments though, and I was happy they were there in generous fashion. Tom liked this dish more than I did and was unfazed by the beans.

We both felt our entree choices and second round drink choices hit things out of the park. I was hungry and felt decidedly carnivorous, so once the delightful male bartender assured me that  pig had lived a happy life, I chose the Mezze Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu & Pecorino Romano. 

People, I would pay good money of another bowl of this right now. I shared several of the sizeable (too-large in my opinion) fennel sausage chunks with Tom who gratefully and quickly devoured each boulder, but when he tried to take more pasta, I nearly sliced his hand off.

"Step away from my perfect mezze rigatoni man!" 

The sauce...oh, I weep for the fact that it's gone. It was rich and complex and creamy but not too creamy and tomatoey but in just the right way. And that snow shower of coarsely grated pecorino? Mamma mia!! As if I needed more pleasure, I ordered a glass of Montepulciano which was the perfect pairing.

T chose the Caramelized Scallops with Autumn Squash Chowder, Mussels, Smoky Bacon, Fregola, Basil & Breadcrumbs and was equally thrilled. I try over and over again to enjoy scallops, but I simply do not. That said, that stuff the scallops were nestled on?? Fantastic! I love fregola (a Sardinian pasta similar to pearled couscous), and this "chowder" is an excellent way to use it. It was bacony and squashy and the basil gave it just enough sweet brightness.

one of the best desserts I've ever had!

one of the best desserts I've ever had!

Tom has sworn off sugar since July which has mostly worked in my favor, but last night I really wanted to share dessert with him and he obliged. We chose the unbelievably spectacular Sugar Cream Tart with Toasted Pecan Crust, Honey Gelato & Candied Pecans, and after the first bite, I was sorry he'd agreed to split it with me.


I cannot even tell y'all A) how good sugar cream tarts are and B) how quickly today I researched a recipe and bought all the ingredients to make it. It's like a sweet cream custard that tastes as if it's been slightly bruleed and then set atop a crust (and in this case the toasted pecan element was epically good) and served with caramel and an ethereal cloud of honey gelato. 

I actually did want a second piece.

Other than one of the female bartenders who was not terribly helpful in giving us a sense of anything and asserted that 500ml was much more than 16 ounces (when in fact it's 16.9 ounces) thus making T even more sure that he did not want to splurge on the very expensive 500ml beer he was eyeing, everyone was friendly, the ambiance is warm and bouncy and intimate, and the food was really excellent.

Five stars to The Red Hen. Thanks for a wonderful evening.