Sunday, April 26, 2009
America, meet Rouge Tomate - the latest European import straight off of Fifth Avenue. No need to window shop past this one. There's room for all styles and sizes inside - as long as you are willing to check all insecurities at the door. I do think this restaurant was strategically placed. This may be a first-time experience where you feel so good after eating a three course meal that you head straight over to Madison and try on those clothes you were eyeing earlier. Originating in Brussels seven years ago, the restaurant has finally found its second home in New York City. My only question is why it has taken so long to get here?! In an age where obesity headlines American news, this is just what the neighborhood, city, and country ordered.
Rouge Tomate is the spa of all restaurants - focusing on balance and health in its food. Their concept dispels the myth that high-end dining is bad for you. I definitely feel that eating out too much (basically not being able to control ingredients) is why Americans are so unhealthy. And, let's be realistic - who really goes out and stops themselves from finishing off an amazing dish even though they are well aware that the portion could probably feed a small family? Well, head over to Rouge Tomate and you no longer have to rely on willpower. You can finish off an entire meal and not feel guilty about it. The chefs, working with nutritionists on each and every dish and drink, prepare everything so that you no longer have to think about being unhealthy. For just one meal, you can turn off your brain and let your stomach do the talking. And, the chefs guarantee to answer with balanced, delicious, and even hearty dishes - a combination that is truly hard to come by.
The best part about the experience is that it's not in your face trying to be healthy - that would be a complete turn off for me. I still like to envision a chef with butter, oil, and sugar running between burners. While this may not be the case in this kitchen, the menu looks like any other - offering everything from red meats to pastas to foie gras. However, I did love knowing deep down that no matter what I ordered, it wouldn't haunt me on the beaches of Charleston the next weekend. Since I can get beer or wine anywhere, I decided to start off with one of their signature juices - the Green Tornado - tarragon, spinach, butter lettuce, fennel, mint and lemon juice. My curiosity took over and I had to order it. Since it was front and center on the menu, I guess I should not have been surprised when it was extremely refreshing and tasty - basically a crisp, green lemonade.
The starters were my favorite part of the evening. We shared spring pea risotto, tuna poke, and white asparagus. The Tombo Tuna Poke was served with sugar snap peas, honshimeji mushrooms, jicama, and sesame. This was delicious. The raw fish was extremely fresh and cut into large chunks mixed perfectly with the bold flavors of the vegetables. I also loved the warm white and green asparagus with black trumpets, farm egg, dandelion, and Banyuls vinaigrette. This was a very hearty and slightly deceptive dish - making me think twice about how they could have possibly prepared it in such a healthy manner and yet, taste so good. But, the key at Rouge Tomate is to trust the chefs - and this was my first reminder to keep doing just that. The mains continued to be almost as baffling. While they all were extremely fresh and well-balanced, it amazed me how the chefs truly brought flavors together, again allowing the mind to forget about the restaurant's underlying mission. For those who like whole fish, the whole brook trout stuffed with wilted arugula and served with french green lentils, capers, and citrus gremolada is an excellent option. While served whole, the fish is deboned and extremely delicate and moist. I was also really impressed with the fettuccine with morel mushrooms, fava beans, parsley mint pesto, and toasted almond - spring is in the air (and plate)! It's impossible for me to pass up anything with the combination of fava beans and mint.
Now, at this point in the evening, some diners may claim to be full. Others, like myself, will admit to being full, but with a tiny section open for dessert. I recommend making room for a taste or two more - as the final touches are very good, yet modest in size. As mentioned earlier, stop thinking and just enjoy. Have faith in the chefs of Rouge Tomate as you can certainly handle one last innocent splurge. For the fruit lover, go for the Meyer lemon custard on olive oil cake served with frozen yogurt parfait and blood oranges. The chocolate lover should opt for the caramelized banana napoleon served with roasted banana sorbet and hot cocoa. Both are great, but certainly will not set you over the edge - and that's a promise. That dress down the street is still calling your name.
Like any great spa, there were numerous personal touches throughout the evening that made the entire experience memorable and borderline addictive. Yes, I will definitely be heading back to Rouge Tomate for more pampering in the near future. While the amuse-bouche at the start of the meal definitely set the stage, the palate cleanser before dessert certainly sealed the deal. Since I can admit I will never be able to rely on willpower when in the face of gourmet food, it's nice to know I can head to a spot where I can turn my brain off, but still be kept in line. Spa and dinner for the price of one. Now that's a recession deal if I've ever heard one.
10 E. 60th st.
New York, NY 10022
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):