Red Hen, Washington DC.

April 2019

First night in the great capital, this was a really spectacular find. A 10-minute walk from our Air B&B and recommended by the hostess’ instruction booklet, I wasn’t optimistic based on her wall graphics in the otherwise nice apartment.

But what a winner! It was packed on a Monday night at around seven, we got the last couple of seats at the bar, and were immediately impressed with the bartender/server’s engaging comportment. The menu is straightforward antipasto-pizza-pasta-other-mains. The wine list is abbreviated but (as it turned out, sample size of one) high quality.

Fresh off a day of train traveI I took a bourbon and Campari cocktail, just delicious and reminiscent of something Dale Trimble served recently. I’ll see if I can get the ingredients. We shared a cauliflower starter which I was very (but silently) skeptical of (cauliflower?!). But this was delicious. I think the veg had been parboiled, dredged in breadcrumbs and then briefly deep-fried, but the sauce was a spectacular garlic-and-supercharged-mayo-based complex joy. Server said all menus are available if we email them, which I’ll try to do. I’d eat that kind of cauliflower every night…

Two pastas were also world-class: lamb sausage ricotta cavatelli with Parmesan, chickpeas and breadcrumbs, and a clam spaghetti not on the on-line menu. We’ve had quite a bit of good pasta on this trip but both of these dishes had flavour that was really off the chart. And of course this isn’t haute cuisine but the richness and balance was as wonderful as anything we had at Café Boulud in Manhattan. Couldn’t resist a chocolate dessert rich, sweet, just lovely even though it was gluten-free.

The wine was an inexpensive ($US60) nebbiolo that surpassed quite a few of the big barolos I’ve tasted. We see this place is booked solid for two weeks, and although it isn’t listed in any of the come-on tourism resources online and it isn’t in Michelin’s universe it’s clearly a local winner and for us way near the top of little Italian trattorias we’ve ever enjoyed anywhere.

Food 9.4, service (sitting at the bar only) 9.3, ambience 8.6 (see peace and quiet), value 8.8, peace and quiet 6.2.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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