Red Rabbit delivers affordably extravagant Italian (and great wine) in the North Loop

At Red Rabbit, pasta comes in Italian-style portions.

At Red Rabbit, pasta comes in Italian-style portions. Photo courtesy of Red Rabbit Facebook Page

How often do you really splurge on wine by the glass in a restaurant?

Chances are, almost never.

Almost never because most mid-priced restaurants order safe when it comes to the wines they sell by the glass. Once the bottle is open, oxidation means it won’t be any good after a couple of days. If they can’t sell the rest, then poof!, there goes their profit margin.

But Red Rabbit invested in a Coravin preservation system, allowing them to open bottles that retail for over a hundred dollars, and sell them to you for around $20 a glass. An investment, yes, but a much smaller one than the hundred-plus you would generally have to part with in order to get a taste of world-class wines. When paired with their mid-priced and approachable Italian cooking, it's a unique experience, and possibly the best reason to go.

Other reasons: Todd Macdonald (of the late Parella) is heading up the kitchen, and he's my pick for local chef doing the most graceful things with Italian cuisine at the moment. Parella was a big loss. I still dream of the impeccably simple but wild Misticanza of 20 Greens and Herbs salad, and of those deep, unsettling braised short ribs.

Things at Red Rabbit are less complex by design. As we’ve reported previously, the concept is by Luke Shimp, of Red Cow, who approaches the gourmet burger with a desire to give people what they want. Similarly, the menu at Red Rabbit is a compendium of greatest hits from the red sauce genre, without foisting gargantuan plates of marinara or ungodly portions of meat on diners. It’s still stealthily “authentic” Italian, in an approachable Americanized package. Mucci’s has had similar success with this genre, but Red Rabbit is a little simpler still. It's safe to assume it's poised for chain-ification, a la its beefy sister restaruant. 

Starters are almost exclusively as straightforward as it gets: a serving of burrata, some wood-roasted olives, bar nuts, a cheese and salami board that must be a dramatic stunner to justify a $27 price tag -- one of the most expensive items on the menu.

The Caesar salad, while not the showy likes of that Misticana, is a done-right classic, all high-quality Parmesan, anchovy-forward, and deeply massaged into good romaine. Pastas are served in the Italian style of smallish individual portions. A housemade Pappardelle Bolognese arrives plush and gorgeous with the meat sauce serving as a garnish to the main event of the noodle. Wood-grilled meat dishes (and an entree-sized whole roasted cauliflower) are designed to be shared, so that big animal protein is served in the sensible proportion the savvy Europeans would serve it. You’ll have room for dessert.

There’s also a smattering of pizzas served personal-sized if you’re hungry enough, or better yet, share a bunch of stuff and split one. Sadly, our spicy salami with red sauce, chiles, ricotta, Mozz, and Parm was ruined by an oil-slick portion of “chili honey” rendering it inedibly sweet. Avoid it unless the idea of savory pizza dessert attracts you.

You should, though, truly consider Red Rabbit if you are the sort of person who has a hard time getting large groups or family members to agree on what to eat. Pizza and pasta are difficult to argue with, as are large chunks of meats and high quality glasses of wine.

About that wine: Also consider that they are served in the appropriate glassware for their varietal; the wine list serves as a little primer offering history, advice, and fun facts about the grapes and making styles so that while you sip upon it you can learn a thing or two; and for the price of one glass, you can try select flights. Do so, and learn why the $21 glass might be a truly justifiable investment, as it's sometimes difficult to realize such things unless you drink it next to the $8 glass -- which is just fine as well, by the way. There are also plenty of beers and craft cocktails if you go that route.

The dining room is remarkable for its understatement, just low-key tones of red and gold and exposed brick with no sign of cliche, with lighting that should satisfy both canoodlers and fans of being able to read the menu. (Just in case, every server carries a little flashlight for your check-reading pleasure.) Even the music is adjusted to that near-inaccessible balance where you can hear it and your date.

I recently received a request for a recommendation of where a group of 10 could dine and hear each other... at the same time. I sent them to Red Rabbit. Groups too often have to resort to charades to hear each other in a restaurant. This is an important detail.

Prices are what could be described as “fair” for downtown, with pastas at $15 and under, pizzas at $13 and below, and even those larger plates at mostly under $20, excepting the steak.

Splurge for the vino, starting with the Badia Coltibuono Chianti, described pretty accurately as “complete” and “kaleidoscopic.”

Have you ever had a “kaleidoscopic” wine? Now you can. It’s the new year. You deserve it.

Now open
201 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis