Monday, May 18, 2015

Washington Social Diary: The Joy of Spring

Guests gathered on the terrace at the French Ambassador's residence before a luncheon co-hosted by Chanel for author Kate Betts.
by Carol Joynt

Spring has arrived at The Red Hen, and if you are in Washington you should get there, too. Talk to any area food fiend and this rustic haven in the Bloomingdale neighborhood will be listed in their top five, and often as their number one. It’s highly ranked on critics’ lists, too, here and nationally. On Zagat (remember Zagat?) it scores a 27. It was Eater’s Restaurant of the Year in 2013 and hasn’t lost any of its magic since. Only I was late to get there and now I’m making up for lost time.

A recent dinner says everything about the experience. I arrived early, just before opening, and already there were people waiting for the first seating. Here’s some very good news: The Red Hen takes reservations, eschewing the stingy policy of some other fashionable spots that won’t take bookings and thus force paying customers to stand in line, sometimes for hours. 
The Red Hen, at the corner of Seaton Place and First Street NW in Washington's Bloomingdale neighborhood.
On the way in to The Red Hen, patrons pass the herb garden. As you enter The Red Hen you see the fuel that fires the restaurant's cooking.
Chef Michael Friedman is a parent and says he understands the time constraints of hiring a sitter, and also the rigorous work schedules of his patrons. The restaurant does allow some pad for walk-ins, and the bar is big and another option for seating.

Friedman’s personality is so in his food. The friendly and happy deportment he displays as he attends to the open kitchen follows through to the “Starters,” “Pasta,” “Large Plates” and “Extras” on his one-page menu. By all means, don’t miss the pasta. His Mezze Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu is practically a religion among regulars, and thus one of “DC’s Most Essential Dishes,” according to The Washington Post. The wine list is adventurous, and be sure to check out the cocktail menu.
Mike Friedman of The Red Hen, a friendly chef who produces friendly food.
The room is high-ceilinged, with an open kitchen, and made cozy by so much wood.
Big windows, too, invite in the warm weather evening light.
Two early arrivals at The Red Hen.
Our table. Being at Red Hen feels almost like being in a farmhouse dining room.
A dedicated Washingtonian now, Friedman has had an interesting culinary journey to this business he operates with Michael O’Malley as General Manager and Sebastian Zutant as Sommelier. A native of Westfield, NJ, Friedman’s resume includes the Lettuce Entertain You group as a starter, followed by studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  While in school he did stints at The Modern and Scarpetta in New York, among other notable restaurants, before becoming a chef in the DC restaurant family of Chef Jose Andres. His last gig before going solo was as Chef de Cuisine at Proof.

A love of travel also shows in the food. Italy, of course, is in the pasta that is made in house. For the new season, try the Spinach Garganelli with Spring Pea Puree and Wild Mushrooms. I’m told a killer Cacio e Pepe is not on the menu but is available if requested. “It’s a secret,” said my source, a neighborhood regular. Greece shows in the Grilled Octopus. You’ll taste inspirations, too, from Turkey and Northern Africa as you travel through a menu that is notably affordable, with most dishes in the range of $12 (starters) to $23 (entrees) and sides for less.  
So many good choices on The Red Hen menu.
Bread served with a peppery olive oil.
The house Negroni. To start: Grilled asparagus with hazelnuts and parmesan. 
Also to start: Heirloom Baby Carrot Salad with Oranges, Wheatberries, Pistachios, Feta, Herbs & Lime Creme Fraiche
Grilled Octopus with Shelling Beans 'alla Romesco,' Shaved Fennel, Frisée and Tonnato Sauce
Some other items new to the menu in celebration of spring: an Heirloom Baby Carrot Salad with Oranges, Wheatberries and Pistachio. It delivers marvelous crunch with bright flavors. Grilled asparagus salad doesn’t get more spring. Friedman prepared the dish for me with hazelnuts and shaved Parmesan. It’s also available with Burrata, salami and toasted sesame.

Friedman and I first met last year when he was among the chefs displaying their talents at the annual Chefs for Equality, a fundraiser organized by David Hagedorn for the Human Rights Campaign. It is a stellar night for sampling great food and all the chefs (ingénues and the acclaimed) show up. Friedman served an inspired Foie Gras Tiramisu, which is why he had a crowd coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths. Another restaurateur said, “Of everything here tonight, this is the one.”
Friedman, at the open kitchen, watching as an order of halibut is made ready.
Pan-roasted Halibut with Fregola, Chickpeas, Carrot Creme, Falafel Spices, Radish & Green Harissa.
Regulars swoon for this: Mezze Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu & Pecorino Romano.
Spinach Garganelli with Spring Pea Puree, Wild Mushrooms, Asparagus, Basil & Toasted Almonds.
Roasted Porchetta Sandwich with Smoked Onion Aioli, Salsa Verde, Frisée, Ciabatta and Pickled Vegetables.
Thanks to generous hours – open every day of the week for dinner – all of us can partake of “the one.” As with other au courant Washington restaurants, the patrons are a mix of many demographics. It’s a handsome, high-ceilinged room made cozy by the exposed brick walls, wood floors and tables and the roaring kitchen grill fire. Try to take some time before or after dinner to stroll the area, particularly Seaton Place. Bloomingdale pioneers like to boast it is “the next Georgetown.”

The Red Hen
1822 First Street NW

There are many tempting desserts but we chose Pistachio Cake with Lemon Icing, Orange Gelato & Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

A few weeks ago Daniel Boulud was in town to spend some time at his DC restaurant, DBGB Kitchen + Bar at City Center, to oversee a charity dinner at the home of sports mogul Ted Leonsis, and to sit for an hour with me for “The Q&A Café.” The interview is now up on YouTube and I ask that you please set aside some time to give it a watch or listen. I would give you his C.V. but Daniel needs no introduction and, besides, it’s all in our conversation.
Daniel Boulud as he and CJ talked for a taping of "The Q&A Cafe" at the George Town Club.
Keeping the chef trend, this coming week I’m interviewing the owner and chef of The Inn at Little Washington, Patrick O’Connell. Among other topics we will discuss his new book, A Magnificent Obsession.

We’re taping the show Thursday at the Tudor Place museum house in Georgetown, and it includes a luncheon catered by Susan Gage Caterers. Join us if you can. The ticket info is here.
Chefs Patrick O'Connell and Daniel Boulud - each making doing an interview at "The Q&A Cafe."

The French ambassador, Gerard Araud, last week took advantage of the fine spring weather and hosted a private luncheon for 40 of his friends, all women. He boasted, "I'm the rooster in the hen house." The elegant, seated affair was co-hosted by Chanel and also paid tribute to author Kate Betts and her memoir, "My Paris Dream." Everything about it was serene – the weather, the wine, the guest list and especially the food. Araud made the generous gesture of inviting out Chef Christopher Tanneau-Kervran and his crew to take a bow. I hadn't planned to do anything but sit and enjoy, but it was so pretty I had to take some pictures and they tell the story.
Ambassador Gerard Araud - the only man in the photo and at the party - with his guests.
Marisol Pearlstein, Izette Folger, CJ, and Robin Jeffery.
Izette Folger, wearing a dress of her own design, and CJ, with a circa 1997 Chanel handbag.
Here’s who was there: LaLa Abdurahimova, Bela Patel Aggarwal, Jackie Alemany, Lisa Arnold, Grace Bender, Kate Bennett, Brooke Bonner, Nicole Chedid, Debbie Dingell, Nicole Elkon, Joan Fabry, Izette Folger, Danielle Frum, Liza Gilbert, Robin Givhan, Robin Jeffery, Erica Kasel, Kathryn Key, Jennifer Maguire, Capricia Marshall, Ann Mashburn, JoAnn Mason, Cheryl Masri, Jodie McLean, Kathy McPherson, Roxanne Roberts, Elissa Rubin, Evan Ryan, Michelle Schoenfeld, Semra Tanrikulu, Rose Thorne, Elizabeth Thorp, Mariella Trager, Marisol Pearlstein, Ruthie Vexler, Diana Walker, Elsa Walsh, Eun Yang.
Ambassador Araud welcomes his women friends to luncheon. He was the only "rooster in the hen house."
In his brief welcome, Araud proudly noted the dining room's new decor, which he said he designed.
After the meal, Amb. Araud called out French Embassy Chef Christopher Tanneau-Kervran and his assistants to take a bow.
The atmosphere at lunch was friendly and serene, reflecting the beautiful weather.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt