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Instant Reaction: Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit opened earlier this month, and I’ve had the opportunity to swing by twice to check the place out.

First, let me give my standard disclaimer for reviews of very new restaurants. I’m very understanding because they’ve just opened. I know there will be hiccups here and there, but my goal is to figure out whether a restaurant is worth giving a second look to, or if the concept is doomed.

My initial visit was in early February for their grand opening. I sat at the bar to grab a beer, try one of their appetizers and check out their happy hour. They had just gotten their liquor license that day and only had one beer on tap.

Because it replaced Red Lotus (I liked it so much I had my wedding rehearsal dinner there), I couldn’t help try to figure out the changes to the interior. While Red Rabbit maintains the same structure as Red Lotus (meaning the fireplace is still in the same place and the bar hasn’t moved), the space feels warmer and more open. I couldn’t pinpoint the reason why, but the vibe was also friendlier.

One thing that struck me is that the wait and bar staff, dressed uniformly in all black, looked like they all could have come straight from Shady Lady. The fact that their bartenders were handcrafting cocktails added to that impression. (I later learned that one of the owners had come from Shady Lady, so that’s probably why.)

I ordered the Farm Animal Lollipops, which paired three golf ball sized meatballs on a stick with a unique sauce. It had a beef lollypop served with a marinara dipping sauce, a lamb ball served with mint, a chicken in bacon ball served with a beer onion aioli and lamb served with chimmichuri. I thought it was a solid dish with quality meat. Despite its apparent small size, the dish was surprisingly filling. I really enjoyed it and plan on ordering it again in a future visit. The dish is normally $8, but the price drops to $5 during happy hour.

My second visit was on Valentine’s Day. We arrived just before 6 p.m. without a reservation (they were out of reservations) and were seated quickly at one of their two tops in the bar area. The restaurant was half full, but filled up as the evening wore on.

We started with the Portolbello Frites (Tempura Battered Portobello Batonets, Roasted Anaheim Chili Aioli) at the recommendation of the waiter. It was a really unique dish. The mushroom “fries” had a great umami flavor and was a little reminiscent of fried sardines (something else with a lot of umami). I’m really glad we followed his recommendation and had the opportunity to try something different that we usually wouldn’t have eaten. The appetizer normally runs $6, but we got it for $5 during at the tail end of happy hour.

For our main courses, we ordered the Bastard Banh Mi and the Pork Osso Bucco.

The Bastard Banh Mi ($10) was a really tasty interpretation of the classic Vietnamese sandwich. They call it a “bastard” banh mi because it’s served on sourdough instead of the classic French bread, and the meat is lemon chicken instead of pork or something more exotic. It still has the standard pickled vegetables and chilies. The switch in breads makes it a little harder to eat, but what you lose in tidiness is gained in the great crunch and flavor from the grilled sourdough. I don’t know that I’d replace the standard banh mi sandwich with this version, but it’s a great reinterpretation of the dish.

The Pork Ossco Bucco ($16) was another good entrée. We decided to order it because on the recommendation of a gentleman sitting next to me at the bar during my first visit. The presentation on the dish was fabulous and the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender. It was a really solid dish.

For dessert, we got the beignet ($5). It was freshly fried and was reminiscent of the fresh Krispy Kreme donuts you got as a sample when they first opened. It was really well done. The dessert came with 3 donuts, but I was too excited and ate one before remembering to take a picture.

I do have to mention that the service is still a work in progress. The waiter didn’t know what the beers were for happy hour and lacked some basic knowledge of the menu. Still, because he was so earnest and because the place was so new, I can’t be too hard on him.

Overall, they still have a ways to improve, but I think they’ll get there. The concept is solid, the food is good and the service is going to get better. Their entrees are reasonably priced and fit the niche above a place like Bar West, both in price and food quality, similar to places like Paesanos or Centro, but below fine(er) dining like Tuli.

They’re a good fit for the block. While I’m sad Red Lotus is no more, I’m glad they could be replaced by a quality restaurant like Red Rabbit.

Red Rabbit is located at 2718 J Street and can be found online at TheRedRabbit.net.

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