New York’s Rouge Tomate opened five years ago as an offshoot of a Belgian restaurant with a Euro-falutin’ philosophy called SPE, which basically entails good sourcing, preparation, portioning, and balance. When it opened, I was impressed with the food: RT immediately became the most ambitious restaurant explicitly focusing on haute healthy cooking in the country. But I was nervous about Rouge Tomate’s prospects, it being in a huge, expensive Manhattan location and not swamped with customers. Fortunately, the parent company appears to have deep pockets and, five years later, Rouge Tomate—now Michelin-starred—is doing real business.
So: how’s the chow at what remains the most ambitious healthy-cooking restaurant in the country?
Even better, it turns out. Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman and Chef de Cuisine Andy Bennett produce some dazzling treats, focusing on fresh produce, small portions, intense flavors and topnotch presentation. No one need know this food is aiming to have less fat and salt than most restaurant food; and, indeed, if you choose only from the richer side of the menu, you can overdo it here, too. But there’s conviction and method at work, and the technique is topnotch.
I still love the Seasonal Toasts, with toppings like wild mushrooms with charred leeks, or lobster and celery root: the same sort of small-bite satisfaction you get downtown at ABC Kitchen. The crudo—raw fish—are impeccable: I tried Arctic Char with horseradish yogurt and trout roe (delicious), and also, in the raw department, oysters with a concord grape mignonette (interesting idea, pretty little thing, but too sweet).
White gazpacho soup with “farmer's yogurt” was a thick, creamy pleasure. Eggplant “tartare” came in a box fashioned of crispy potato slices and was topped with an egg that had the silky, firm texture of an ouef that had been bathing sous vide.
A luscious bit of cauliflower panna cotta came cleverly packed into a little caviar jar, with a layer of caviar on top. Tender octopus was tangled up in a salad of perfectly cooked beans, several earthy heirloom varieties, along with pickled fennel, tomato vinaigrette, and buttermilk: a vibrant, interesting dish.
Cocktails are good at Rouge Tomate: The bartender, like the kitchen, strives for a nice balanced tartness. But don’t ignore the juice bar: A seasonal non-alcoholic drink of huckleberries, mate, honey vinegar and lemon was startling, delicious, perfect. Almost as good, on the boozy side, a sour cocktail: a blend of house-made peach syrup, bitters, and, unexpectedly, a peach-pit infused scotch.
If you’re in Manhattan this fall or winter and looking for an exciting meal, try Rouge Tomate.