Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rouge Tomate, New York NY

There is a part of my food ramblings that will unfortunately remain lost in the void – a handful of meals from a work-related trip to New York that are annotated and photographed but of which my memory has faded over the course of 5 months of work and trips to Paris, Boston, and Chicago. While it is somewhat unfortunate that these experiences will not be documented with my standard breadth of detail considering all were good and some were great, it is what it is and the most vivid memories still shine through. For the second of these meals, I give you Rouge Tomate – a place some had warned me would underwhelm compared to other heavyweights on my dining schedule, but a space I couldn’t overlook due to my beliefs about healthy eating (okay, not while on vacation, but the other 330 days of the year,) a business lunch prix fixe that just so happened to contain some of my favorite things, plus their philosophy stating: “Our seasonally inspired culinary offerings rely heavily on locally sourced ingredients and are prepared in consultation with our culinary nutritionist Natalia Hancock.” With reservations made I even contacted the restaurant in advance to ask if one of the dinner items could be made available at lunch – a request they granted without question.

Arriving at the surprisingly expansive restaurant on time for my reservation and making my way through the red curtain I was met at the hostess stand by a male and female who seemed to ignore my existence for a moment before looking up with a “can I help you?” With my name and reservation stated the demeanor quickly changed, however, and I was subsequently led to a two top at the very front of the restaurant; a seat overlooking the large decorated windows, a basement type area, and the entirety of the restaurant. With the room approximately half-empty, particularly in my section save for a group of six and a couple tables of business sorts it would be a short while before my server Caitlin – one of only two waitresses working the room from what I was able to see – would arrive tableside with water, a list of house-blended juices (outrageously priced, fyi,) and both the lunch prix fixe and standard lunch menu. A pleasant girl though not the most attentive I’d often find my water empty, but overall service as I recall it was about what I’d expect for such a restaurant.

With a quick browse of the prix fixe and bearing in mind that I had a conference to get back to Caitlin returned rather quickly after her original visit and confirming my dinner supplemental request I placed my order for the prix fixe, the supplement, and an extra dessert that looked too good to pass up – a five course meal with plates arriving approximately every 10-15 minutes providing for a nice pace.

With orders placed the first item to arrive at my table would be the house-made bread selection for the day and paired with Cilantro Olive Oil both the Sourdough and Sesame Poppy seed Bread were nice and toothsome and although the sourdough could have stood a bit more ‘sour’ it really did match up quite pleasantly with the fragrant and smooth oil.

Munching on the bread it would not be long before my first course arrived and as a matter of fact, I was told that knowing my request the chef had already started working on it before my arrival. With the dry plate served first and springing to life as a clean and clear Consommé was added tableside, “Chicken and Dumplings” featuring house-made gnocchi, Amish chicken sausage, Foie Gras, and Honshimeji mushroom looked and smelled fantastic – like chicken noodle soup all grown up and in a portion befitting a main course moreso than an appetizer…but unfortunately the mushrooms and vegetables fell flat while the five gnocchi were more dense noodle than buoyant dumpling. Largely disappointed by those aspects I will say that the spicy chicken sausage was quite good and small terrine of foie gras melting at the plate’s center added a great flavor to the broth.

Moving next to the prix fixe, my first course was a decision between bean soup and an egg dish; a ‘choice’ in name only for anyone who knows me and my love of all things featuring an egg. Another large portion and this time served loaded with both aroma and flavor provoking thoughts of an herb garden, Fresh Herb Risotto with Feather Ridge Farm Egg, Fennel, Parmesan, and Crispy Garlic was everything I’d hoped for with the risotto just slightly toothsome and texturally marvelous balancing with the creamy egg with notes of both the garlic and cheese poking though with each bite. Tinged with a little bit of mint this was the sort of natural cuisine I’d hoped Rouge Tomate would deliver when I made my reservation in the first place.

For the second/main course of the Prix Fixe another of my favorite items was offered and once again the portion and preparation were more than I’d have ever expected for a “business lunch.” Titled Long Island Duck with Red Cabbage, Crispy confit, Root Vegetables, Shallot-Pork Puree, and Thyme Juice this plate would prove the superstar of the dinner with a 6-7oz of grapefruit red duck with crispy golden skin atop a pile of smoky cooked red cabbage and topped with nicely prepared turnips, sweet potatoes, and rutabaga. With the breast delicious and the jus pairing nicely, the additional surprise of a crispy cube of confit paired with the savory puree of swine formed a flavor entirely unique – a bit funky, a bit smoky, and a nice textural balance to the rest of the plate.

With one dessert included and the other ordered off the lunch ALC menu Caitlin asked if I wanted them both at the same time or coursed out and suggesting I had time for separate dishes the first to arrive was that from the fixe in the form of Early Spring Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese, Walnut, Vanilla Milk Sherbet; the better of the two by far. Beginning first with the carrot cake – a nice rendition made with both carrot and rhubarb served in a small teardrop shape with a base full of spice and lovely cream cheese frosting in ideal proportion without being overly sweet. With the milk sherbet decent but unmemorable, the other aspect of this plate that wowed was the unannounced pile of vegetables and orange puree – identical in flavor and spice to the cake and consisting of golden raisins, poached carrots and rhubarb, plus plenty of cinnamon and sweetness.

Having not expected to order a second dessert my inability to pass on my favorite style of dessert led to an order of the Seasonal Warm Bread Pudding with Fuji Apple, Chestnut, Oat Streusel, and Parsnip Ice Cream – a decent enough example, but nothing really to write home about given the $11 price tag for what was actually a rather small portion of the nicely caramelized but largely unsweetened pudding. More impressive than the bread pudding, the apple/cherry amalgam was actually quite good while the Parsnip Ice Cream was actually quite tremendous with a surprisingly smooth texture and savory tones that truly did taste earthy yet pleasantly sweet.

With the plates now cleared and my time running low given the trek back to the Hilton I declined coffee, though Rouge Tomate’s offering of a number of ethically sourced artisan blends certainly trumped the free stuff back at the conference and paying the bill – just shy of $70 with tax and tip – I thanked the team for a nice meal that although certainly not the best in New York (and potentially a bit overrated by Michelin) certainly fit their promised vision, particularly with regard to the prix fixe.

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