Red Rabbit: Bunny hops
Sacramento, CA 95816
The Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar—named after the impossible-to-miss sanguineous Oryctolagus cuniculus hovering in the new terminal at the airport—is located where Red Lotus Kitchen & Bar once resided on J Street. It has the same red-brick walls, curved room-dominating bar, and even some of the same Asian-inspired dishes.
There’s no bone marrow on the menu, however, as there was at Red Lotus, but there are any number of tantalizing desserts.
Resistance is futile when it comes to Red Rabbit’s desserts. A meal isn’t complete without picking at least one item off of the large chalkboard to the left of the bar. The berry-infused ice-cream sandwich is bright and refreshing, with a chewy shell that dovetails neatly with the smooth, fruity interior. The German chocolate doughnuts splashed with powdered sugar depress only when there isn’t a fourth one to wolf down. Magic is also made with Meyer lemons—surprise yourself.
But there’s less effusiveness for the entrees. For example, the Bastard Banh Mi doesn’t improve on the original. Replacing a felicitously flaky French roll with toasted sourdough is certainly a different flavor convocation—but to what end? There’s a reason banh mi has been made the same way for more than half a century, and Red Rabbit’s bastardized version offers no improvement on the original. “Greasy” would be one word that comes to mind to describe it, and that’s not a word one wants to find in the banh mi lexicon.
Pickled veggies, thinly sliced pork, pate and sprigs of cilantro are all present, but not the aforementioned French roll. As the French would say, that makes it a full-on batard. Lack of the French roll is a fatal omission. No way around it. Any number of folks routinely gripe that Sacramento lacks a banh mi bar so why not add a few variants—shrimp, turkey, five-spice chicken—and have Red Rabbit be that place? And not to go wish-list crazy, but there’s always room for a good döner kabob place.
Similarly, lemongrass opens up a wide array of palate possibilities, which, at least in the case of Red Rabbit’s beef stir fry, doesn’t reach its potential. With the exception of brocollini, on paper the following sounds like a wickedly awesome combo: bell peppers, onions, cilantro, shiitake and basmati. Seems like so much wonderfulness should be happening there, and yet, the result is flatter than Kansas. A pint or two of sriracha, por favor.
A number of items from the “Farm to Plate,” “Tasty Snacks” and “Buns” sections of the menu land high in the plus column, however. Any place that offers chimichurri rocks hard. By any objective standard, while not a complicated sauce to concoct, the Argentina-originated parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, vinegar and cumin amalgam is a universal accompaniment that vibrantly accents any dish. Here, it enlivens the Farm Animal Lollipops snack—particularly the lamb—and the mayor-of-Munchkin-City-sized lamb bocadillas.
As for the meat pops, the chimichurri enlivens enough so that it’s not a bad idea to ditch the salty, bland marinara that’s also offered. “Snacks” is the operative word, here. These portions are smaller than their price tags suggest. The three mini tacos, while viewable to the naked eye, are definitely mini and the habanero sauce is hot but not “screamingly HOT!!” as the menu warns. More better: The frisee salad with chicken—$7 plus another $3 for the bird bits—offers a well-rounded, light meal. The pancetta lardoons, pepitas and Asian pears with the sherry vinaigrette combine pleasantly on their own but improve with the generous chunks of grilled chicken piled on top. As a beets fanatic, it would be remiss not to encourage a sample of the B.L.B.—beets, lettuce and bacon—sandwich and, more rewarding, the Roasted Beet Carpaccio with goat cheese and arugula.
Food comes fast. Servers work seamlessly in tandem. Flawed with moments, but more moments than flaws.