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Perfect pasta

New Bloomingdale spot Red Hen a hit on all accounts

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Red Hen, Bloomingdale, gay news, Washington Blade
Red Hen, Bloomingdale, gay news, Washington Blade

The Red Hen, a delightful new restaurant in the bustling Bloomingdale neighborhood. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the weather is gross, there’s something comforting about a nice bowl of pasta. It seems to warm your entire body with every bite.

So after a snowy afternoon spent Christmas shopping, my husband and I decided to try a restaurant that had been recommended to us on many occasions. Red Hen (1822 1st Street N.W./theredhendc.com) is an Italian/American restaurant located in the vibrant Bloomingdale neighborhood. With a fantastic wine list as well as creative and delectable modern Italian dishes, this cozy restaurant turned out to be the perfect location to hunker down and spend this stormy evening.

Proprietors and longtime friends Michael Friedman, Michael O’Malley and Sebastian Zutant joined forces to bring this sophisticated establishment to the city. The rich tones of the rustic wood throughout the space create a warm and comfortable restaurant that does an excellent job complementing the food. Chef Friedman has spent a great deal of time cooking and eating around the world, including in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Northern Africa. He perfected his craft in the kitchen at Proof under the tutelage of Chef Haidar Karoum before opening Red Hen.

When we arrived, we were welcomed by a charming hostess who brought us to our table and handed us our menus, and then our waiter Brendan assisted us in selecting the perfect red wine for the night. We agreed upon the Mediterra Poggio Al Tesoro super Tuscan. The wine list at Red Hen is impressive, so we appreciated the assistance. Brendan was a helpful and attentive server the entire evening, without being intrusive.

As a starter we selected the smoked ricotta crostini with balsamic brown butter and truffle honey. We loved the crunch of the crostini, the creaminess of the ricotta and the touch of sweetness that the honey gave the entire dish.

As we devoured our appetizer, we began thinking about what we were going to have as a main course; there were many dishes that piqued my interest. However, I really was in the mood for pasta, so I selected the Mezza Rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu and pecorino Romano. Greg decided to have the caramelized scallops with soft polenta, Brussels sprouts, bacon and balsamic.

The rigatoni in my dish was perfectly al dente and the full-bodied flavors of the fennel sausage ragu made it one of the best pasta dishes I have had all year. It’s amazing what a simple dish that is so elegantly prepared can achieve. The caramelized scallop dish was equally impressive. The scallops were beautifully cooked and had a velvety smooth texture that slowly melted away and enveloped your taste buds with their fresh flavor. The creamy richness of the polenta was an excellent counter to the lightness of the scallops.

We sat back to briefly stretch our stomachs when Brendan reappeared and asked us if we would like to see the dessert menu. After experiencing what the kitchen could create for the savory side of the menu, there was no way that I was going to miss the opportunity to try the sweet creations. Upon seeing the menu we knew that the proper dessert choice was the chocolate cake with fudge sauce and a white chocolate and peppermint gelato. This dessert was every bit as amazing as we anticipated and it was great way to end our culinary adventure for the evening.

Usually when I want beautifully prepared Italian cuisine served up by a knowledgeable wait staff that is always smiling, I go to Ristorante Posto, but the Red Hen may steal me away from my regular stomping grounds at times due to the impeccable dishes and friendly service I experienced. I would never abandon you Posto, you may just see a tiny bit less of me.

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Dining

Union Market’s Last Call Bar a welcoming oasis for all

Mixologist Britt Weaver expresses her pride and identity every day

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Britt Weaver is head mixologist at Last Call Bar.

Amid the development of the fast-growing Union Market district, spanning dozens of eateries (including a duo of Michelin stars), embracing and inclusive spaces are tough to come by. Last Call Bar is one of those — and head mixologist and proud member of the LGBTQ community Britt Weaver is making sure this divey spot stays that way.

While buzzy restaurants take the spotlight, Weaver and Last Call are embracing the different.

“I’ve made it a personal mission to ensure that the bar continues to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and accepted,” she says. “Being behind the bar, I see a lot of people — I try to make sure every guest feels safe, seen, and cared for when they visit.”

Last Call exudes a laid-back spirit, aiming to fill that neighborhood-style gap that might be missing among prix-fixe tasting menus and shiny boutiques. Eccentric décor that includes painted lockers, old posters hung from the ceiling, artfully peeling paint, and arcade games feeds into the homey spirit. Patrons are welcome to bring in stickers and slap them on the bar, adding even more personality to the space.

Launched in 2019 serving sub-$10 drinks and having survived the pandemic, Last Call still maintains an unconventional vibe that extends to the menu. It’s one of the few bars that serves flavor-changing Jello shots, with the option to add nostalgia-inducing pop rocks; as well as an hour-long “teeny tiny ‘tini hour” for those who want a taste but not an entire glassful of liquor. Keeping things cool: koozies are also for sale. The food menu’s grown since opening, with sandwiches in addition to bags of chips and shareable dips.

Last Call welcomed Weaver in 2023. While working as a bartender during grad school, Weaver was drawn to the excitement of the bar scene. After COVID, she says, she leaned into her career in the hospitality industry.

In the freewheeling, demanding bartending industry, Weaver has fought to be seen.

“Previous jobs and ownership teams have urged me to conceal my identity, but that is something I refuse to do. It is so incredibly important for me to be able to express my pride and identity every day,” she says.

Last Call has a pedigree from its ally owner Gina Chersevani, who also runs decade-old Buffalo and Bergen stall inside Union Market and a sister Buffalo and Bergen on Capitol Hill. Chersevani is deeply rooted in the D.C. hospitality industry, which Weaver says has a culture that celebrates creativity and expression.

Chersevani ensures that “I’ve been celebrated and encouraged to express my identity,” says Weaver. “She has given me the freedom to cultivate a space that is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community while also still remaining true to the Last Call spirit.” This year, during Pride month, Chersevani launched a Pride punch card, in which patrons who visited all of her spots won free drinks.

Weaver further notes that being proud of her identity and committing to it behind the bar and in the fast-paced service industry “opens more space for other LGBTQ+ industry members to feel safe to express their own identities. Visibility is so critical in making safe spaces for the queer community.”

Looking forward, Weaver remains steadfast in her commitment to learning and growing in the space and in D.C. She promises that Last Call Bar has plenty of events and programming, new cocktail menus, and a welcoming community spirit.

To celebrate the summer, Weaver offered a cocktail recipe to have at home with friends: Strawberry Piña Colada.

Ingredients

· 2 ounces silver rum

· 1 ounce strawberry purée

· 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice

· 1 ounce coconut milk

· .5 ounce lime juice

Combine all ingredients, then shake. Serve in a Collins glass, over crushed ice, and

garnish as desired.

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Dining

RAMMYs honors restaurant industry professionals

A busy summer for D.C.’s dining scene

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D.C.’s Summer Restaurant Week runs from Monday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 18.

Representing the ever-growing, increasingly recognized restaurant industry in Washington, D.C., the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) held its first-ever RAMMYs Honors Event on June 18 in the lower level of the Watergate Hotel. Restaurant and hospitality industry professionals, leaders, and community members gathered to celebrate RAMMY special distinctions. 

The event took place as an extension of the traditional RAMMY Awards Gala, which honors “the exceptional ability and accomplishments” of the region’s restaurants and foodservice community. The 42nd Annual RAMMY Awards Gala will take place on Sunday, July 21, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The RAMMYs Honors event kicked off with a cocktail hour, and was hosted by author, seasoned democratic strategist, and co-host of MSNBC’s The Weekend, Symone Sanders Townsend.

While there were several awards presented, this inaugural event only held onto one announcement until the event itself: the RAMMYS Joan Hisaoka Allied Member of the Year Winner, presented to an associate member who best exemplifies commitment to and support of RAMW. This year, the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School won, a school supporting adult immigrants that includes a culinary arts program.

Other honors that evening included the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award Winner, which was given to Greater Washington Partnership CEO Kathy E. Hollinger “for her excellence and community leadership, increasing the profile and success of the metropolitan Washington foodservice community.” Prior to joining the Partnership, Hollinger was president and CEO of RAMW. Hollinger sat for a wide-ranging interview on stage with Sanders Townsend, who is married to Shawn Townsend current president and CEO of the RAMW. 

Finally, the 2024 Honorary Milestone RAMMY Award recipients were also honored, celebrating a significant number of years serving locals and visitors in Metropolitan Washington: The Dubliner (50 years), Black’s Bar & Kitchen (25 years), Equinox on 19th (25 years), KAZ Sushi Bistro (25 years), Marcel’s (25 years), and Passage to India (25 years).

As the restaurant industry grows in the city, for the first-time, the RAMMYS Honors event allowed for a unique opportunity to highlight a range of special distinctions determined by RAMW’s executive committee. Instead of being public-facing, the Honors were dedicated to industry professionals, to give extra attention and the spotlight to those that often get overlooked at the main RAMMYs Gala. These awards were chosen by RAMW’s executive committee whereas the other awards, given at The RAMMYS, are chosen by both the public and an anonymous panel of judges.

Summer, traditionally a slower time for the restaurant industry, means that RAMW is pulling out the stops for diners to try out new and favorite spots across the area.

First, finalists for Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s 2024 Wine Program of the Year will take part in promotions planned for the second week of July. From Monday, July 8, through Sunday, July 14, the region’s top wine programs will showcase their outstanding varietals and pours. The 2024 Wine Program of the Year Finalists include: Apero (Dupont Circle), Era (Mt. Ranier), Irregardless (H Street), Lulu’s Wine Garden (Shaw), and St. Anselm (Union Market). Each will have discounts, tasting parties, special blends, flights, and other ways to savor the area’s top wines.

Finally, the season also sees the return of Summer Restaurant Week, celebrating the region’s restaurant industry from Monday, Aug. 12, through Sunday, Aug. 18. Participating restaurants will offer multi-course brunch and lunch menus with updated tiered pricing for $25 or $35 per person, and multi-course dinner menus for $40, $55, or $65 per person for on-premises dining. Many restaurants will also offer cocktail, wine, and non-alcoholic pairings.

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Dining

Behind the bar with Moon Rabbit’s Thi Nguyen

Cocktails work in harmony with thoughtfully executed Vietnamese dishes

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Moon Rabbit’s Thi Nguyen

Thi Nguyen’s hands move purposely behind the bar, her all-business, cobalt blue nails gleaming under the warm lighting of recently relocated – and highly celebrated – Moon Rabbit. A dash of simple syrup infused with pandan – a shrub native to Southeast Asia with vanilla-scented leaves – moves deftly in her hands to lightly spice a cocktail that will soon receive another kick from ginger bitters.

Nguyen, Moon Rabbit’s celebrated bar manager, cannot be accused of holding back flavors from her drinks. Nor can she hold back her identity and her journey. Her journey from Saigon to Maryland to California and finally to D.C., but also her journey as a proudly out lesbian, unafraid to bring her whole self to all her pours.

Boundaries, borders, conventions: these matter little to Nguyen, who left several homes to finally find herself where she’s most comfortable, and where she acts as a leader and mentor for others to do the same. Just as she doesn’t hide her identity, she also doesn’t hide that her cocktails complement Moon Rabbit’s vibrant, contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. Owner/chef Kevin Tien pays tribute to his heritage as a first-generation Asian American, using Moon Rabbit as a platform for expressing his love for Vietnamese culture and food through a determinedly modern lens.

Her cocktails, then, work in harmony with thoughtfully executed dishes like chewy rice cakes under a tofu crumble and cured egg, deconstructed crab Rangoon, and wagyu-stuffed perilla leaves brightened by fermented honey.

Sitting with the chefs and acclaimed owner Kevin Tien, “we begin by exploring cookbooks together,” in a collaborative process, “to find inspiration and potential flavor combinations. It involves a lot of research and development, trial and error, experimentation, and technique.”

“And while this sometimes leads to failures, it ultimately helps us discover the perfect pairings.”

Her menu arrives without flavor hesitations. Cocktail names are given in both English and Vietnamese (as are the dishes), a signal that she is asking diners and drinkers to join her and trust her as unapologetic about her Vietnamese craft. 

The Hết Nước Chấm (Out of Dipping Sauce) drink is composed of vodka, passionfruit liqueur, a squeeze of lemon, and a simple syrup based on nước chấm– also known as fish sauce. While nodding to the popularity of the savory martini, this cocktail also reflects the ubiquity of fish sauce on the Moon Rabbit menu and across Southeast Asia.

Other ingredients? Sesame oil, coconut milk, palm syrup, and chrysanthemum all show up in various drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. She also creates cocktails that highlight and celebrate gay icons, drawing inspiration not just from the menu and research but also LGBTQ history and culture.

This pride in her work is reflected in the pride in her identity.

“Being part of the LGBTQ community has taught me the importance of authenticity, resilience, and inclusivity. I am unapologetic about who I am and show up at work proud of my identity, which helps create a space where others feel comfortable and supported.”

Tien, Nguyen, and his staff are highly intentional in staffing. “This commitment to inclusivity is reflected in our hiring practices; we intentionally build a diverse bar team that includes members of the LGBTQ community,” she says.

Just like her physical journey, arriving in this place of leadership and comfort took a circuitous path. In the face of microaggressions and ignorance, comments and assumptions, lack of understanding and respect, she has been able to “strengthen my resolve to create an inclusive and supportive environment.” She ensures that she’s active in events that raise funds for LGBTQ non-profits around the DMV area, including SYMAL, CCI Health Services, and KhushDC.

 “I hope to encourage other LGBTQ individuals to pursue careers in hospitality and to advocate for greater inclusivity and acceptance in their own workplaces.”

Moon Rabbit, formerly located at the InterContinental Hotel on the Wharf, closed with a shock last year (its closure took place among a unionization drive by the hotel’s staff that the hotel had opposed). Debuting in its new location in Penn Quarter in January, Moon Rabbit quickly retook its place as a top dining destination: the restaurant was recently added to the Michelin guide. In June, Nguyen herself was named one of the best new bartenders in 2024 by Punch magazine. As Pride month closes out, Nguyen remains as dedicated to her craft – and her advocacy – as ever.

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