Chef Jeremy Bearman’s menu at Rouge Tomate marks a breakthrough in New York: food cooked with health in mind that doesn’t beat the health drum. Balanced, bright, tasty food that just happens to be based on a careful foundation of healthy-eating principles. And it has earned Bearman a Michelin star to boot.
I like to begin a dinner with some of Bearman’s “seasonal toasts,” tasty bites that, this summer, included local fava beans with sorrel and yogurt; local corn with crab, jalapeño, and cilantro; and green-market tomatoes with a little bit of rich burrata from Vermont. Always, after that, a seafood appetizer: arctic char crudo with trout roe and dill, perhaps. The entrées include meat options—the lamb with romesco sauce was nicely done—but I usually lean to things like risotto with summer squash, or hake with summer beans, buttermilk, and Meyer lemon.
You get the drift: a produce-infused menu with zingy accents and smart ideas, not unlike the approach taken 40 blocks south at Dan Kluger’s terrific ABC Kitchen, but with even more attention to nutritional balance on the plate. This is important new cooking.
Behind the scenes, Rouge Tomate takes a disciplined approach to health. A staff nutritionist collaborates with Bearman on menu development. They follow a few rules: no butter or cream in savory dishes, no grilling (that, they say, minimizes carcinogens), and no frying. A three- or four-course dinner usually ranges from 700 to 900 calories. But, although you can find a brief manifesto on their approach, it’s not broadcast. You easily eat here without paying much attention to the approach, just enjoying the food.
Getting here was a bit of a journey for a classically trained chef like Bearman. He’d cooked at über-chic, starred restaurants, including L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas and Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne in Manhattan, before joining Rouge Tomate when it opened its New York location in 2008. (The original Rouge Tomate opened in Brussels in 2001.) A year later he’d earned a Michelin star. “You really have to understand each ingredient and the methods of cooking that allow you to highlight their flavors and textures when cooking within these guidelines,” Bearman says. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge.”
Maybe, but in Bearman’s hands the challenge is well met.