As a fan of all things generally strange and off-kilter–and an H Street resident–it personally struck a chord seeing The Red Palace shut its doors for good at the end of 2012. From BYT’s perspective, we were all fairly broken up about it, posting not just a touching retrospective but also a guide to D.C.’s burlesque community sans the quirky, one-of-a-kind venue, in an effort to keep the weirdness alive.
But, as anyone who’s lived in the District long enough can tell you, neighborhoods change, and quickly; H Street is no exception. Though there might be an Elephant Man-sized hole in our hearts without the sideshows and Fiji mermaids popping up along the corridor, we are truthfully excited about the new prospects in the area, and Vendetta is right at the top of our Must Try list.
The new Italian bistro just opened Monday and already seems to live up to the buzz. With two indoor bocce courts, salvaged wood, stained glass and lighting from an old church in Upstate New York, three vespas incorporated into the design and some tasteful taxidermy, the new restaurant isn’t too hard on the eyes. (It’s also quite a bit roomier since the team behind it all–also behind H Street Country Club– knocked down the dividing wall between what used to be The Palace of Wonders and Red and the Black.)
But the real star of the spot, we believe, is the mouthwatering menu.
“You’re not gonna a find a dish here that has 17 components,” Executive Chef James Figueroa-Perez tells me. “Especially in the south of Italy, you have three or four components that you try to showcase. I’m trying to be as authentic as possible. It’s not inspired Italian, it’s not redefined Italian, it’s not American-Italian–this is what a grandmother eats in Italy, even today.”
Chef concedes, however, that the portions sizes are still larger than those in Italy; it is America, after all. Another traditional surprise? There’s no chicken on the menu. Not one bit.
“Italians don’t eat chicken,” chef says with a laugh. “If Italians want chicken, it’s called rabbit.”
Their rabbit, by the by, is confited for roughly five hours, then removed of all bones, then stewed with rapini, cinnamon, white wine, mustard and rabbit stock. It’s no wonder it’s their best seller so far.
Dishes you will see include traditional salads–a mix of lettuce, olives and nuts like their Uno (romaine, radicchio & olives in walnut & honey vinaigrette) or their Tre (warm cannellini, pancetta & tomato over arugula), as well as–you guessed it–pasta.
Most of their pastas are made in-house, fresh, from the Bucatini and Pappardelle to the Tagliatelle and Gnocchi. The shaped pastas are imported from Italy and bronze-plated, which gives the pasta a slightly grainier texture and helps sauce to stick to it more
Additionally, they’ve got multiple gluten-free options upon request, as well as vegan dishes–nothing not to love.
What they don’t make in-house they source locally. Meats in the antipasto, for instance, are sourced from Olli Salumeria in Virginia. Their goat cheese is from Pipe Dreams in York, Pennsylvania. All of their fresh ingredients and housemade pastas combine for some incredible menu options one you pick first, your noodle, and second, your sauce.
We’re especially excited about the Nero do sepia, a braised squid ink sauce for the adventurous who love seafood, the Rabbit Ragu and the Kale and Walnut Pesto.
“I’m just trying to honor the people that came 300 years before me,” Figueroa-Perez tells me. “I don’t need to alter anything; it’s perfect how it is.”
Vendetta is currently open Sunday through Thursday from 5:00pm to 10:00pm and from 5:00pm to midnight on Friday and Saturday.