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The Red Rabbit opens on J Street

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The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar is now open in the space that used to hold Red Lotus in Midtown, and a grand opening is scheduled for Friday.

The restaurant and bar aims to bring affordable food and drinks with an international flair to the block and see the same successes that other businesses – Harlow’s, BarWest Burgers & Wings and Centro Cocina Mexicana – have seen, said co-owners Matt Nurge and John Bays.

“We’re going with the globally inspired concept,” said Bays, who is the restaurant’s chef. “We’ve got a little Vietnamese, a little American – a lot of braising going on, and we’ve got some Hawaiian.”

An assortment of cheeses – including Spanish Manchego – will be on the menu, and while those come from overseas, much of the rest of the food is locally sourced.

“We try to get everything from local suppliers whenever we can,” Bays said.

Bays said the food prices are still being tweaked, but he plans on offering salads for around $5 – $7, and entrées range from around $11 – $15, with appetizers falling in between.

The menu itself is still being finalized, but some items, such as the “Bastard Banh Mi” – a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich with lemon chicken, pickled vegetables and chillies on grilled bread – are essentially finalized.

Vegetarian items are included as well, and Bays said it was important to build them from scratch, not just have them as an afterthought.

“These are vegetarian and vegan meals,” he said. “They’re more than just a side of vegetables.”

One of the vegetarian items is the “Earth Burger,” which has beans, rice, almonds, carrots, zucchini, onions and a goat cheese spread on an egg bun.

Brunch – including a Bloody Mary bar – will be held Saturdays and Sundays starting Feb. 18.

Nurge said house cocktails will be about $7, and well drinks such as a gin and tonic will be $4.

Currently, the restaurant is waiting on its liquor license, but all draft beers will be California brews.

“The ABC doesn’t tell businesses when they will get their licenses, but we’re hoping it’s soon,” he said.

“Everything we’re doing is simplified, but with high-quality ingredients,” Nurge said.

The theme of simplification is carried through with the décor of the restaurant, which is markedly different from Red Lotus, but those familiar with the former business will notice some of the same features, including the circular bar inside the doorway and the back patio.

“We were looking at the space, and a lot of it was really nice,” Nurge said. “On the patio, we took out the bamboo, and we really liked what we had left.”

The back patio is an all-weather patio with a roof, gas heaters for the winter and water misters for the summer. A front patio also runs along J Street, and Nurge said the whole restaurant can hold about 150 people comfortably.

One facet of the restaurant that pertains more to the approximately 30 employees than customers is a monetary incentive. A percentage of the restaurant’s profits will be doled out to the workers each quarter, and they will share in the profitability of the business.

“We open the books to them, and they can see exactly how we’re doing financially,” Nurge said. “It’s absolutely transparent, and we want them to feel like they’re more than just workers. We want them to feel like they’re a part of our success, because they are.”

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar is located at 2718 J St. It is scheduled to be open from 11 a.m. – midnight Sunday through Thursday, until 2 a.m. on weekends, Nurge said. When brunch begins later this month, the restaurant will open at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. For now until Thursday, it will open at 6 p.m., and then will follow normal business hours.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.

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