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A Twist on the Easter Bunny Features Rabbit on New York City Menus

By Heidi Patalano | March 29, 2013 8:00am

NEW YORK CITY — While many children are eagerly awaiting a visit from the Easter Bunny, many New York gourmands would rather be eating one.

While often overlooked as a fitting Easter dinner dish, rabbit compliments the occasion and the season, said Chef James Briscione, a chef instructor a the Institute of Culinary Education and the first champ of Food Network’s “Chopped.”

"Rabbit is perfectly suited for the flavors of spring," he said.

"It pairs with sweet young vegetables like carrots, peas and asparagus. Plus it's just a heck of a lot more interesting than chicken. In my book, a properly braised lamb shoulder is the only other acceptable centerpiece for your Easter table."

Rabbit isn’t a staple on New York menus — in part due to its higher cost and the animal’s reputation for being adorable. But for diners who value flavor over a fondness for furry creatures, there are plenty of restaurants in the city where it can be enjoyed.

French bistro Lucien, in the East Village, has been serving its braised rabbit dish for the last 15 years. The Dijon mustard sauce-smothered dish, served over egg pasta, even earned a famous fan.

Arthur Miller — that was the only thing he ever ate in here, several times,” said chef and owner Lucien Bahaj.

Braising is a common preparation of rabbit for many, if not most, of the restaurants in the city that put it on their menus. Chef Briscione explained why.

“About 75 percent of the animal is relatively tough. It has more connective tissue and is a little bit chewier, so when cooked in a traditional way, like under high-heat cooking methods, searing it or grilling it, it might come off a little bit tough,” he said, adding that the slower, low-temperature preparation of braising keeps the meat tender.

Wallse, in the West Village, offers braised rabbit with a Spaetzle made with quark, a ricotta-like Austrian cheese. It has been an enduring favorite among those who aren’t put off by the idea of eating a loveable woodland creature.

“It can sometimes be difficult to serve rabbit to diners without intimidating them,” says Wallse's chef Kurt Gutenbrunner. “But our Spaetzle is simple, beautiful and full of flavors. It has become so popular that people won't let us take it off the menu.”

If you’re interested in introducing this lean protein to the uninitiated — and telling them “it tastes just like chicken” doesn’t help —  ignorance may be the best policy.

“I think there’s always going to be a problem with the fact that rabbits are cute and most people get their first introduction to them as a little fluffy things in their Easter basket,” said Briscione, who added that two methods of rabbit preparation are part of the curriculum at the Institute of Culinary Education.

“My dad for example, who loves good food and loves to eat, if I tell him it’s rabbit, he won’t eat it. If I don’t tell him, he loves it,” said Anna Klinger, chef and co-owner of Al Di La in Park Slope.

Her braised rabbit with white wine, garlic, rosemary and black olives is such a favorite that some regular patrons claim to not have ordered anything else off the menu in the last 15 years that the establishment has been open.

There are plenty of restaurants in the city that are offering a tasty spin on the traditional braising preparation.

Gentleman Farmer in the Lower East Side does a rabbit cassoulet with tarabis beans, red onions, carrots and rabbit sausage.

Lincoln on the Upper West Side will feature a special Easter menu appetizer — confit rabbit legs tossed with cannellini beans, fava beans, green olives, red onion, parsley, bread crumbs, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.

Red Gravy in Brooklyn Heights serves it up with a chestnut reginetti, swiss chard and lentils, and Woodland in Park Slope pairs it with pepper licorice spaetzle.

To take this twisted turn on Easter to the extreme, head directly for the newly opened bar The Dead Rabbit in the Financial District. The bar takes its name not from some unfortunate roadkill, but from an Irish gang that inhabited the city during the "Gangs of New York" era.

The restaurant serves a Welsh rabbit, but this one leaves Peter Cottontail unscathed — it's a name-grab off the British Welsh Rarebit, a tangy toasted cheese snack.