When a friend called from just outside of Aspen to see if we could meet him for dinner in NYC, I sprung into action to find the ideal place. P. had entertained us in July by sharing the magnificent and exclusive golf course and dining area at the Roaring Fork Club. How to reciprocate and hit the right vibe and great menu choices in our neck of the woods?
, just one block east of Central Park
on the Upper East Side
, was the perfect choice. It has a breezy and bright interior which strikes a sophisticated chord with plenty of blond woods and red accents ( yup, it is rouge
). There is lots of breathing room between tables and best of all, there are private booths in the back of the generous dining room.
When I mentioned to Rachel, the Maitre d’, that we were entertaining a guest from out of town, she gladly guided us to my favorite area in the back.Rouge Tomate wears its pride on its conscientious sleeve without pronouncing its mission and intention too loudly. But read their website or ask your knowledgeable waiter and the story will unfold.
This one Michelin starred dining room has been fulfilling its mission to serve S.P.E. or Sanitas Per Escam (health through food) since they opened in NYC in 2008. With its original location in Brussels, they promote “social and environmental consciousness” and a “balanced approach to sourcing and preparing food.”
How does this lofty mission, one that sounds more like your Mom’s concern, translate into tasty dining? And what about choices for kosher keepers?
I love this place for its seasonal menu and its interest in big flavors derived from organic, locally grown (ok, you know, it is NYC and we are talking farms within 100 miles) ingredients.
They are the only restaurant that I know of that has a full time Culinary Nutritionist on staff. Kristy Lambrou spends half of each day in the kitchen, measuring veggies and proteins and consulting with Executive Chef Jeremy Bearman and Pastry Chef James Distefano. She has a target number of grams of fruits and veggies for each four course meal. While she is not analyzing calories as part of her mission, she estimates that entrees generally range from 350-500 calories due to the volume of veggies and low fat content.
How much do diners care?
Well, for those of us who dine out frequently, the pounds can pack on quickly due to invisible fats, sugars and other additives used to attain big flavors. In my latest 5 pound weight gain after some delightful summer travel, Napa wine tasting and fall holiday sequence, I need to clean it all up a bit but don’t want to sacrifice flavor.
Considering the packed dining room and the difficulty I had scoring the reservation, I think diners care a lot.
Here’s what we ate: delicious home made breads
tantalized us with spicy olive oil and bites of ruby roasted beet
s. The peasant bread was just too tough to pass up. I ‘m sure it was worth it.
We ordered each of the five Seasonal Toasts. Each was piled high with generous mounds of a vegetable based melange. Heirloom cauliflower was roasted and finely chopped with pine nuts, basil and olives. It was one of our group’s faves.
The wild mushroom
melange combined fresh ricotta, leek and thyme and was moist and deeply earthy.Our waiter was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about reviewing the rest of our choices as he pointed out that many items can be converted to vegetarian. We took him up on the offer and enjoyed the mound of dried fruit chutney sans the tref.While there is a seasonal tasting menu that could have been altered to suit our kosher keeping
habits, we opted to order lots of small bites and only one entree.
The Hawaiian Walu
Crudo with avocado, jicama, and spring radish was clean and lemony, just as we expected it to be. It was light and perfect.
Jewel like mounds of finely chopped Arctic char, served raw with horseradish yogurt, trout roe, dill and pumpernickel crumble was absolutely delicious. The burst of trout roe, the richness of the char, the tart play of the flavored yogurt seemed vaguely reminiscent of something less sophisticated and deeply familiar.
Was this a brilliant play on pumpernickel bagel with a smear of cream cheese and lox? I think so!
It was a gem and I would return for that dish alone.
But there were more stars that evening. We shared the house-made falafel
, cleverly served as neat cubes and paired with cumber raita, pear-cranberry chutney and poached pear. My man cannot cannot resist falafel and I often acquiesce, while mostly being disappointed. Here, the square shapes were novel and perfectly browned . The counterpoints of sweet ripe fruit and tart yogurt made this another winner.
While P. wandered from our kosher style veg choices to enjoy a salad of brussels, roasted pear and some artisanal meats, we shared the Cow’s milk ricotta gnudi.
This was my one disappointment of the meal. I loved the idea of heirloom cauliflower, swiss chard, lemony garlic topped with a farm fresh poached egg, draping over fresh pasta. But I found the flavors vague and uninteresting and wished I had ordered the wild striped bass a la plancha.
It was fascinating to see that out of the five baked desserts, four of them were fruit forward and all of them included fruits of the season.
I opted for Huckleberry Crepes and delighted in the whole grain flavor and texture of the crepes. I can’t remember when I last tasted huckleberries! A modest scoop of buttermilk-lemon ice cream quickly melted and created a tasty puddle to play in.
The most decadent item on the entire menu is the bittersweet chocolate sphere, a perfectly round shell of dark chocolate which collapses into itself when a warm stream of more chocolate is poured over it. The drama is cute and the interior is revealed, offering banana, frangipane, and bits of almonds. If you come to the end of this beautifully designed meal and wish you could have just one bite of something sweet, Rouge Tomate offers that option too.
For anyone who loves a genteel but not too serious dining room where the food is very modern and the team in the kitchen is looking out for your well being, Rouge Tomate is a great experience. I’ll be back before the next snowfall.