Neal Fraser, who's been a bit of a chef ronin this past few years, is finally ready to unveil his Downtown masterpiece, Redbird, which takes over the old 1933-built rectory inside the Vibiana Cathedral. The now de-consecrated building has been re-imaginedalong with wife Amy Knoll Fraser and designer Robert Weimer. Nearly five years in the making, the name is a play on the former cardinal's offices, which were located upstairs.
Walk in from the 2nd Street side (note the lovely Adam Silverman lanterns in the entry) and step up first into a relaxed lounge space, filled with mid-century style furniture and helmed by an impressive wine cellar on the far side. To the right, a near 360-degree bar that will dole out Julian Cox-designed drinks. The lounge also features a stunning ceiling painted by Guerin Swing with motifs from the cathedral, as well as a tasteful painting from local artist Nancy Baker Cahill. Oh, and there's even a door that the pope gave to the rectory back in 1933 that states: "Truth is Our Freedom."
Outside, a lovely patio space will serve as the main dining room. The retractable roof opens to the heavens above, with the steeple in view for anyone that might forget where they are. The appointments are subtle and reminiscent of the previously holy ground, with tiles, woodwork, and shapes meant to reflect the late 1800s cathedral.
All this work wouldn't make sense without high-level cuisine coming from the kitchen. Neal Fraser introduces a tight menu of New American dishes using everything from Santa Barbara prawns with uni and wasabi snow to Rabbitchetta placed over Anson Mills polenta and pea tendrils. The menu layout can be customized into a tasting menu, or served in a traditional three-course meal. Toward the front of the menu are lounge-friendly bites called kickshaws, with things like shishito peppers with bottarga or chicken pot pie with chanterelles.
The Frasers are keeping Redbird in soft opening phase this week, with an official debut planned for after the holidays on January 7. Dinner starts this week with the soft launch while lunch and brunch service commence in early 2015.