Perhaps you've had occasion to consult the placemats in Chinatown and have already registered that next year is the Year of the Rabbit, the children of which (when it comes around in the fourth position of the 12-year Chinese zodiac) are said to possess uncommon sensitivity and grace, but also caution bordering on the excessive, and a peevish hint of self-righteousness.

If you hadn't been aware, on the other hand, you might well have thought, hey, this year - 2010 - seems a lot like a year of the rabbit, right here on the plate in front of me.

Maybe you were at Kanella, the Cypriot kitchen on 10th Street, where they've been offering rabbit casserole with giant beans, and for a special, a New Year's Eve menu of panfried saddle of rabbit with grilled rabbit chops and carrot mash.

Speaking of the new year, it might be advisable to take another look at rabbit in the event you are ready to kick the beef habit (but know you aren't quite morally strong enough to go whole-hog vegan).

It's rabbit, after all, that's the other white meat - naturally. (That white pork is the result of a breeding campaign that looked at the poultry market and decided it was high time to get a share of it.)

The humble rabbit turns out to have heroic nutritional qualities - for meat. Big protein numbers, but fewer calories than even chicken, and darn near half the calories of beef. Cholesterol? Way lower than other table meats. Fat content? Ditto.

But that doesn't appear to be the inspiration for the sudden explosion of rabbit. It has many fathers, and mothers. Osteria's dish - rustic, woodsy knobs of rabbit in a pot of soft polenta with sage and brown butter - is descended, in fact, from the northern Italian home cooking of chef Jeff Michaud's mother-in-law.

At Bistrot la Minette, the rabbit on Peter Woolsey's Burgundy Dinner menu a few months ago came right out of the French country tradition - lapin a la moutarde, rabbit braised in white wine and Dijon mustard.

And one of my favorites of the year is from another country's tradition - Mexico's. I happened upon it at a Day of the Dead lunch at El Rey, the dinerlike spot at 20th and Chestnut - meaty rabbit legs sourced from D'Artagnan and braised with dried pineapple and papaya and plantain in a seductively dark, sweet-sour mole.

The particular mole, says chef Dionicio Jimenez, hailed from the Yucatan. But his fondness for rabbit comes from his childhood in Puebla, where his family, and seemingly most families, hunted fall rabbit in the mountains for dinner.

Finally, at Jose Garces' new venture J.G. Domestic in the gleaming Cira Centre next to 30th Street Station, the rabbit craze seems born of a new supplier - an Arkansas farm that can ship them fresh on ice: Domestic has been offering rabbit on its "whole animal" menu - the rack seared, the legs braised, and the loin wood-oven-roasted in rosemary butter.

That deferred in December to a five-course ($65) tasting menu modeled on Garces' winning ensemble for the Iron Chef competition. It involves dishes prepared with sparkling wines - marinated artichokes and domestic caviar and cured salmon and champagne-poached oyster and a seared diver scallop with a sparkling-wine hollandaise.

But the meat of the matter - the star - is prosecco-braised rabbit leg.

Not to sound a touch self-righteous, but at Philadelphia tables next year it's not going to feel so much like the Year of the Rabbit as the Year of the Rabbit Redux.

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.