The Red Hen in Bloomingdale is red hot right now. But you’d never guess it by walking by or walking in – the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming even when the dining room is full. And when I called to see if they could fit us on a recent night despite being booked up online, I was graciously accommodated. It turns out there’s also a decent-sized bar area in the center of the restaurant, so if you can’t snag a table you should be able to grab a couple of bar seats on an impromptu visit.
The attentive service continued straight through our meal, with a knowledgeable but unintrusive server who knew when to hold back – I was catching up with a visiting friend- but never left us hanging. We started with smoked ricotta crostini and asparagus soup (yay for vegetable stock!), both of which were excellent. The crostini were slightly smoky, with just the right amount of char from being set on the kitchen’s hearth and a bit of sweetness from balsamic brown butter and truffle honey.
Asparagus soup was surprisingly intense, given that asparagus’ delicate flavor is easily diluted or overpowered. Here it was complemented by salty parmesan and a bit of truffle oil (if we remember correctly) and topped with tender asparagus tips.
We both ordered the raved-about gnocchi with hazelnut pesto, although fusilli cacio e pepe is also currently available as a vegetarian entree. All I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t have to share the gnocchi. It’s made Roman-style, which I’d never encountered, and was lighter and fluffier than any potato, ricotta, or otherwise gnocchi I’ve ever tried. Roman gnocchi is made with semolina, baked in a tray, cut into cubes and then pan-roasted. It was almost the texture of very pillowy polenta, with a bit of jiggle and a bit of crumble. Bright hazelnut pesto was the perfect accompaniment. I’ll be thinking about this dish (and probably trying to recreate it) for a while.
I’m glad we saved room to share dessert but later wished we had actually ordered two. The dessert menu is pretty darn big when compared with the dinner menu, with offerings like semolina almond cake with lemon butter and a chocolate espresso budino. We chose well with the pine nut tart and creme fraiche gelato:
The gelato was what I imagine frozen yogurt really ought to be, rich and boldly tart. When melted over the sweet pecan pie-like tart, a ridiculously good honey flavor emerged, kind of like what happens with some white wine and cheese combinations. Cue the goofy satisfied grin.
Get yourself to the Red Hen for your own happy-place-happy-face!
1822 First St NW (near Rhode Island Ave)