The Redhead

The Redhead came on to Fork and Spoon’s radar after reading a review about their fried chicken – why, yes, thank you for noticing, fried chicken is becoming an obessesion of the Cutlery.

Let’s start with what was great – the food was great! And our waitress was great! Thank you, Lia!

As an aside, we were so unhappy with this place before the food came that when we saw Lia actually fold a patron’s napkin when they got up to use the rest room, we were shocked. Very pleased, but shocked that a waitress of that caliber was in this place.

Guess yet? Great food! Not so great place.

Spoon arrived before Fork, and within 10 minutes of sitting, Spoon had a LIST of not so great things.

The Redhead is VERY small, which is fine, restaurants don’t need to be gigantic, but cramming as many tables as you can into a place makes for uncomfortable eating. There was barely 4 inches between tables – and the tables are VERY small.

Spoon arrived, the restaurant was empty. We were to be two. They did not want to seat Spoon until I arrived. So if Spoon had gone in and wanted to eat alone, would they have not served Spoon? Seriously, how ridiculous. They gave in and sat Spoon at a teeny tiny table in the back. Next to that teeny tiny table was a tiny table for three. It was on the corner piece of the banquet. Can we sit there?  No. Okay.

Oh, and the banquets are not comfortable. They are very high off the ground so you are hovering over the table.

They don’t have iced tea. Southern food. No iced tea. Just one of those things that makes scratch your tines and say go…hmmmmmm?

Dark! The Redhead is dark. So dark the menu might need to be in braille.

Add these three things up and we were ready to leave before ordering. We didn’t care about the menu or the fried chicken.

Oh, and NOISY! The ceilings are very low, one wall is brick, the place is narrow, so the sound just bounces against the walls.

Fork was facing the front of the restaurant and spied a couple – yes, two people – being seated at one of the corner banquets. Fork figured it can’t hurt to ask again, and then be ready to stomp out if they said no – fair is fair. If they can sit at a table for three very small people, then Fork and Spoon should be able to as well. They said yes – so we stayed.

The Redhead has a very nice wine list. They have some very nice specialty cocktails as well.  Fork spied a pear cranberry cosmo and had to give it a whirl. Citrus vodka, pear-cranberry syrup and candied cranberries. This was like fruit punch. So good! You could really taste the pear. It was very light and very fresh tasting. Only draw back, the candied cranberries. There wasn’t really anything candied about them. It may be from floating in the drink. But they seemed like plain old cranberries to us. What a pleasant way to get ready for the feast ahead.

We decided to share a main dish and try a few appetizers, this way we could try more dishes. As an advanced warning, to those of you who are carb phobic, you might want to stop here. There are dangerous waters ahead for you.

We started with the Bacon Peanut Brittles. You all know the Cutlery philosophy – ‘It has bacon, how bad can it be?’ Sweet peanut brittle and pieces of crisp bacon mixed into one bowl. You can taste the bacon, get a hint of maple, a slight kick from cayenne , and we think rosemary. A delicious combination that has you keep reaching back into the bowl for more. If this generous bowl is not enough for you, you can buy bags of the brittle to take home with you.

Next came the Chips & Dip. These are housemade waffle chips with a butter braised onion dip. With those words alone, how could we resist? Cutlery can only be so strong. The chips were crispy and fabulous and warm.  This was a huge bowl of chips – we might hang our tines in shame that we ate the entire bowl, but they were far too good to resist.  The chips on the bottom of the bowl were as crispy as the ones on the top. Not an easy feat for warm chips. The dip was great. Very oniony and tangy. Bits of onion, but not too large to scoop up.  It was just smooth and silky and very rich in flavor. Yes, that was all gone too!

Our third small dish was Braised Pork Belly. These were beautiful chunks of braised pork belly, slightly crispy skin. The pork belly was as tender as tender can be. The pork belly chunks were served over housemade  sauerkraut and kumquats. The sauerkraut was really very good. Totally unlike anything you find in a package in your supermarket. While it had a tang to it, it wasn’t sour or briney tasting. The tang that was there cut through the richness of the pork belly. The kumquats were sweet and loaded with citrus flavor. THey were a nice surprise element to the dish and tied all the flavors together nicely.

Finally! The reason for our visit to the The Redhead arrived at our table – Buttermilk Fried Chicken. The fried chicken looked beautiful. Golden brown, crispy coating,  huge portion. There was a breast piece as well as a leg and though piece. The chicken had first been brined. The chicken was very moist and flavorful. The coating was so crispy and nicely seasoned. One small draw back – the chicken may have been over brined. When chicken is brined for too long a period of time, it tends to get a slimy texture, almost as if it wasn’t cooked enough and is raw. Looking at it though it was perfectly cooked, but the texture of the leg and thigh was very unpleasant. The breast was fabulous! Don’t get us wrong, this took nothing away from the flavor or how much we really liked the chicken. Served along with the chicken was a nice sized wedge of cornbread. The cornbread was very moist, slightly sweet, very tender. Served with the fried chicken and cornbread – the already perfect southern combo – was a spinach salad with apples and pecans. We wanted to sing a song form Sesame Street – ‘one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.’ In case you haven’t guessed it, the salad. The salad was such a mismatch. Not a great dressing, not the right flavors to compliment the chicken and cornbread.

We ordered a side of Salt & Vinegar Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. The flavor was great. The salt and vinegar was great with the creaminess of a fingerling potato, lots of herbs added in for extra flavor. The potatoes should have been roasted a bit more – or maybe a bit less. The potatoes themselves were very dry and a bit floury, which we found unusual for a fingerling potato.

Now for dessert. Always room for dessert.  And there were a number of things on the dessert menu that looked so yummy, Fork and Spoon could not decide. We relied on Lia again and gave her our top two and let her choose for us. And what a choice she made! Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake served with buttermilk icecream. Spoon and Fork love Sticky Toffee Pudding, but it’s hard to find it made really well in a restaurant. This one was superb. Rich, dense, filled with toffee flavor and chopped dates. The cake was sitting in a pool of toffee sauce. On top of the cake was a lacy, caramelly tuile – just to add a little crunch to the dessert. Sitting in the tuile was buttermilk icecream. The tang of the buttermilk took the edge off the over the top sweetness of the cake. The icecream melting down over the cake and into the warm toffee. There were two pieces of candied ginger on top of the whole thing to just lend another flavor. Mama Mia! Lia, you made a great choice!

Fortunately, at this point we came to the end of our meal. Fork and Spoon were so hot. Add to the heat, the unbelievable din, and Fork’s tines were a-twitching!

Was it good? Oh, yes! Would we go back? Oh, no! Lia was great, the food was good, everything else, not so much.

The Redhead ~ 349 East 13th Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.533.6212
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Repeat at Rao’s

What a lucky Fork! Invited to dinner at Rao’s by Demitasse Spoon.  Very exciting! Along with Fork and Demitasse Spoon came Shish Kabob Stick and Butter Pick.

Going to Rao’s, no matter what you eat, is just an exciting dining experience. The owners, Ron Straci and Frank Pellegrino are there nearly every night and make regulars and first time visitors feel welcome and like family. Some of you may have seen Frank Pellegrino on the Sopranos or in the movie Goodfellas – Frank’s being there alone made Demitasse Spoon’s night perfect.

Because there were four of us, we were shown to a booth in the main part of the dining room – which was very cool. Don’t get Fork wrong, the family table for two by the kitchen is great – you get to watch all the goings on in the kitchen! The ambiance in the whole joint is great – and yes, this would definitely be a joint. The staff is super friendly. The house wine is good. The food is out of this world. But the entire experience for a true foodie is surreal, and Fork was in foodie heaven.

The fellow who drags a chair over to your table to discuss the menu and take your oder has worked there for over 10 years. Before that he was a loyal customer.  So he pulled up next to our table and started talking about the menu. Fork watched as Demitasse Spoon, Butter Pick, and Shish Kabob Stick’s eyes started to glaze over. There are just so many choices. Fork – being an old hand at Rao’s (haha) – took over and did the ordering.

We started with Mozzarella and Carrozza. What arrived were four pillows of golden crusted mozzarella. Ooey-gooey mozzarella, between slices of bread, dipped in egg and bread crumbs and deep fried. What could possibly be bad about that! The four little pillows sat in a pool of rich tomato sauce. There was one for each of us. You had to eat quickly at this meal, if you rested your fork for a moment, you never knew who would be eyeing your plate!

Our second dish was Fried Calamari. Fork isn’t quite sure what they dredge the calamari in, but it is quite tasty. Sadly, very salty, but quite tasty. The coating was crisp and nicely seasoned. The portion plentiful. Mostly rings, and not rubbery at all. The calamari is served with a side of marinara sauce. Fork is very happy with just a squeeze of lemon and to just dig in, so I sadly cannot comment on the sauce itself.

Next, Roasted Peppers. You can never go wrong with the roasted peppers at Rao’s. They are fabulous. Beautifully roasted red peppers, toasted pignoli nuts, golden raisins, garlic and olive oil. So simple and yet so perfect.  Fork still contends it could use the slightest hit of vinegar for just a touch of acidity.

Let me tell you, if you come to Rao’s, come with your appetite – starters, pasta, mains, sides, dessert.

Following our starters we had pasta. First was Rigatoni Bolognese. The pasta was overwhelmingly salty. This definitely wasn’t the sauce, but the pasta itself – probably way over salted water. The bolognese sauce was very  thick and very meaty, nicely seasoned. You could tell that the bolognese sauce was cooked low and slow just by the taste. It’s a shame, though, that the dish was ruined my the salitness of the pasta.

The next pasta we tried was linguine with pink clam sauce.  The clams were fresh, there was a hint of garlic and white wine. It wasn’t overly fishy, which was a worry. Fortunately, it wasn’t as salty as the rigatoni from the bolognese. Now, Fork could swear when the list of sauces was being gone through that it was said that linguine with clam sauce is an amatriciana sauce – Fork hopes there was silver polish in the ears, pink clam sauce is definitely not amatriciana. Fork was pleasantly surprised how good this sauce was. Clam sauce is one of those dishes that Fork usually prefers at home, but this was very good and instantly gobbled up for the four hungry pieces of cutlery sitting in our booth.

Just as an aside, the bread that is served on the table is incredible, especially the seeded, braided one.

Along came the meatballs, and the meatballs are divine. If you try nothing else at Rao’s, you have to try the meatballs. They are tennis ball sized. So tender and moist. Such a great flavor. The meatballs sit in and are smothered in their marinara sauce. I know the Rao’s recipe in their cookbook says that these beauties are fried, but really, they have to be partially – if not completely –  simmered in the sauce to retain that tender consistency.The only disappointing thing about the meatballs was only having two of them to share between four people. The close friendship amongst us could have been thrown aside for a larger share of meatballs!

During our last trip to Rao’s I was told by one of the owners that to come to Rao’s and to not try the Fried Chicken, at some point, would be criminal. Well, a criminal Fork ain’t no more and this fried chicken is terrific! Cut into manageable sized pieces, lightly dusted in nicely seasoned flour and perfectly fried, this fried chicken is really delicious. There isn’t a thick coating on the chicken, but the coating that is there is crisp and very flavorful. The chicken was very moist and tender. This was definitely worth waiting for!

By this time, we were almost bursting at the seams, but there was still more to come. Even Shish Kebab Stick was full – thank you Rao’s!

Fork loves any sort of chop with sweet vinegar peppers. Demitasse Spoon loves veal chops. This was a dish made in the cutlery drawer just for us. A beautifully grilled, thick veal chop, cut from the bone, smothered in peppers. The veal was rich, perfectly cooked, only slightly pink on the inside. The peppers were sweet and vinegary, so perfect to cut through some of the richness of the veal.

Even something as simple as the house salad is amazing! If you are an Italian American, this salad will remind you so much of your grandmother salad that it might bring tears to your eyes. Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, endive, and radicchio. The dressing was the simplest of oil and red wine vinegar. The ingredients were fresh and cold, just the right amount of dressing, and the perfect ending to a fabulous meal!

There was SO much food left over! One of the waiters came over and asked if we’d like to take it home. Oh, YES, please!

For dessert – Tartuffo and espresso for Demitasse Spoon; the most incredible house made Coffee Ice Cream and Limoncello for Fork. As if there wasn’t enough coffee flavor in the ice cream already, Fork poured a tiny bit of Demitasse Spoon’s espresso over the ice cream.

Thank you, everyone at Rao’s for another fabulous dinner!

Rao’s is located 455 East 114th Street in Manhattan AND now in Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

You can make reservations in Vegas. And while reservations in New York are scarcer than hen’s teeth, you are welcome at any time to have a drink at the bar!
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