February 24, 2012
Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar opens in former Red Lotus

The color's still red in the middle block of J street between 27th and 28th streets in midtown, but now it's a rabbit holding fort. Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar recently opened at 2718 J St., the former site of Red Lotus which shut down in September after a year and-a-half of operating.

Gone are the dim sum-styled plates from chef Billy Ngo, and now you'll find a menu of worldy comfort foods (think: "farm animal lollipops" with beef, lamb and chicken in various sauces, a "farm to table veggie burger, loco moco and ramen with handmade noodles by "Pasta Dave" Brochier), with prices ranging from $5 to $18. All house cocktails cost $7, including the Boulevardier (bourbon, campari and sweet vermouth) and the Marshall Park Swizzle (rum, falernum, lemon, nutmeg).

Check Red Rabbit's latest reviews on Yelp for what local folks are saying about the restaurant thus far.

Behind the scenes, Red Rabbit features one of the more unique business set-ups around town. 5 percent of profits are given to all employees as part of a profit sharing program. A core part of the ownership group behind Red Rabbit are also the ones making your food and cocktails, including chef John Bays - an alum of Mulvaney's, Rio City Cafe and the Sacramento City Unified School District. Another owner/operator is Matt Nurge, formerly of Shady Lady and the Hard Rock Cafe, who's designed Red Rabbit's cocktail program and will likely be the one making your Old Cuban.

Other partners in the Red Rabbit include Sonny Mayugba, a local ad executive, musician and co-founder of the restaurant social networking site, and restaurateur Randy Paragary.

The restaurant's been open for two weeks, and will introduce its brunch program on Saturday. Look for a series of official grand opening parties in early April.

The Red Rabbit's still working out its kinks, from getting the right co-ordination between servers and the kitchen, to tweaking menu items. But on a recent Wednesday night, the Red Rabbit was already drawing a full house and varied clientele (small familes, local DJs, tattooed hipsters, business folks) and the kind of mid-week business that Red Lotus unfortunately wasn't able to muster well. Meanwhile, its next door neighbor, Barwest, has been a big hit with the 20-something crowd.

Peter Torza, who's held fort as a business owner on this block for over two decades with Harlow's and the defunct Black Pearl, has already become a Red Rabbit regular. He feels this block just finally might have the right synergy of businesses that's traditionally been lacking.

"It's a perfect mix," said Torza, while waiting for his drink order at Red Rabbit. "There's no competition on this block. We all represent certain aspects, and that makes everything work. This place is fantastic. Our block has been missing a link like this."

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