After years of anticipation, Downtown’s Redbird has finally made its official debut. A collaboration between chef Neal Fraser, his wife/longtime business partner Amy Knoll Fraser, and restaurateur Bill Chait, the new spot is set inside the former rectory of the St. Vibiana’s cathedral, a 19th-century structure that’s been updated with mid-century decor, a 360-degree bar (featuring cocktails created by Julian Cox), and a retractable skylight roof.
Redbird’s seasonally driven modern American menu has the sophisticated leanings that this town has come to expect from chef Fraser. From the complimentary bread–pleasantly spongy tapioca-flour treats served in a cloth bag—to the “kickshaws” (a name the restaurant has given to the smallest plates), appetizers, and mains, the beautifully plated dishes showcase expert restraint and thoughtful preparation. The menu also resists pegging with its mix of cultural references—mole, pot pie, tempura, foie gras, prosciutto, and head cheese all show up.
The best of the menu’s Italian inspirations comes in the form of cappelletti, an early standout from the appetizer section and a good representation of Fraser’s talent for feigning simplicity even when he’s employing high-minded technique. The pasta dish is the result of centrifuging, which separates the different components of a food by density. For the cappelletti, butternut squash is spun to create a filling for the plump “little hats” as well as the brodo (a.k.a. broth). The futuristic process, ideal for isolating the various flavors of fruits and vegetables, creates a subtly sweet liquid in this case and a lovely companion to the dainty dumplings.
“I wanted something delicate and not too heavy,” Fraser says.
At once comforting and almost airy, the dish feels like an ode to the hot-then-cold California winters, right down to the rich pecorino sardo, and the bright splash of house-made balsamic vinegar that speckles the broth. A sprinkling of sage, which comes from Redbird’s garden, adds a pop of color while lending a fragrant and earthy finishing touch. We suggest asking for a spoon, so that you can get both broth and pasta in one bite to experience all elements of the dish at once.