Restaurant Review: The Red Hat
Chapeaus off to The Red Hat.
A Bit of
Chapeaus off to The Red Hat.
Originally, bistros served as a respite for farmers and fishermen hauling their wares to Paris markets. Cozy and homespun, they’d offer up the hearty fare of grandmere’s kitchen on gingham cloth with a friendly
The Red Hat bistro flaunts its heritage well. There’s the zinc bar, the brick walls, the red banquets, the stamped tin ceiling. And it’s crowded, forks tucking into Sunday’s special beef bourguignon and heaps of frisée. A warm greeting, a cozy table in a quiet nook, a sip of lush Rhône-style Corbieres, and we’re primed for a good meal.
The dishes seduce from the page: I claim the appetizer of goat cheese and baby beets, and it appears alluring amidst its blazing confetti of maroon beet, chive and carrot. But the goat cheese is bland beneath its crushed hazelnut veneer, and I forsake it for my husband’s beets, which come marinated and grilled, jolted with blue cheese and the crunch of roasted pistachios.
Blue cheese surfaces again in the Red Hat salad, nested in a mound of spinach delicately wilted by a warmed shallot-pear vinaigrette. Pierce the poached egg atop the frisée au lardon salad, and it seeps warmth into the bacon cubes and balance into the vinaigrette. Any bistro worth its fleur de sel has its house paté, and, a few sprinkles were the only thing lacking in Red Hat’s otherwise supernal version. Rich and mild, spiked with Madeira, a forkful with a flick of country mustard and a briny nibble of cornichon invokes provincial heaven.
That aura pervades two lunchtime staples. The ham-and-cheese sandwich croque madame (traditionally topped with an egg, though this one wasn’t) is grilled perfectly. And the boudin blanc, veal sausage swaddled between hefts of grilled ciabatta, requires just a sweep of Dijon mustard and a jaw that can unhinge. Amidst all these vibrant flavors a pan-seared salmon filet was a disappointment, with a tinge of spoilage that rendered its fine beurre blanc sauce useless.
The Red Hat’s braises would do any arrondissement proud. Its duckling’s provenance might be Hudson Valley, but its soul is pure Gascony, the confit leg meat flushed and tender within its caramelized husk of skin. Orange-glazed, grilled, sliced breast is a rosy fan beside a swath of basmati rice.
The braised lamb shank with risotto and disks of butternut squash is pure trattoria, but one bite and borders are forgotten. The meat is lush with flavor under its ebony surface, the risotto sweet with butternut squash.
And here’s my bistro hangar steak, scarlet rare, with its heaping tangle of frites. I gleefully grab my knife and hunker down, but quelle horreur, the meat is inedibly tough. Better to have chosen the dry-aged sirloin, its tepid flavor boosted by a luxurious demi-glace. Luckily, we’ve ordered a plate of porcini-filled gnocchi, whose mince of pancetta, chanterelle and sage gets devoured down to the very last fleck.
Most desserts are straight from the French farmhouse kitchen. My husband swoons over his crock of bread pudding, sated with nutmeg and cinnamon. The pear beignet’s pastry is crisp and flaky, though its undercooked fruit would shame any self-respecting farmwife. Key lime pie makes a surprise showing: wrong continent, but oh-so-right tang and intensity. Chocolate and caramel are a mantra to me, and on one visit they achieve the divine in the Something Chocolate tart. Next time, though, they falter, the ganache too dry. Another lapse that keeps The Red Hat just shy of bistro heaven.
THE RED HAT
63 Main St., Irvington
Lunch, Tue. to Fri. 12-3 pm
Dinner, Tue. to Thurs. 5-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5-11 pm, Sun. 5-8:30 pm
Brunch, Sun. 11:30 am-3 pm