Sunday, February 19, 2017


On a block in Chelsea better know for furnishings than feasts, the New York off-shoot of the original Belgian Rouge Tomate inconspicuously nestles itself in, an unassuming storefront with large, plate glass  frontage and a heavy wooden door the right.  Thick lumber planks inspire much of the decor, giving the room a sylvan feel, which also informs the very veg-centric, super-seasonal menu.  The first attempt at a Rouge Tomate in the city opened on the Upper East side and earned a Michelin star, but "economics" forced them to shift elsewhere, and the new Chelsea locations, while adhering to salubrious, wine-informed cuisine, is less formal and more intimate.  The decor is minimalist: an
 open kitchen looks stark and industrial in contrast with the cabin-like feel of the dining room.  But the  plates coming out of it masterfully combine the elements of sophisticated and soulfulness, ever an eye for the appeal on the plate as well as the palate.

Servers circulate throughout the dining room in attractive, custom-made leather aprons, their heft not slowing them down a bit, and with a pleasant countenance as they do so.  The menu is full of greenmarket-friendly goodies and cycles with the season, so don't play favorites- they probably won't last long.  But that provides an easy excuse to return frequently, as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts shift out in favor of fiddleheads and ramps.  But execution,
regardless the season, is en pointe: a Small Plate of mushroom tartare may have looked sightly
 diminutive on its plate, but it's savory richness made it just the perfect amount.  The mushrooms were minced and molded into a brick, rife with umami, spiked with garlic, and crowned with lilliputian potato chips for crunch.
It's a small serving, like you would want for something so powerfully flavorful: consider it a vegetarian's take on fois.  Not a mock meat-there would be nothing so silly here- but a vegetable concoction commensurately rich and luscious.    Snacks could precede this, like icy-fresh oysters with a gingery apple mignonette embellishing
 each, although depending on how many you order at three dollars each, you could determine the dent they make on your appetite.

Vegetables are stars here, main courses can be had of broccoli or acorn squash, but not to the extent of disparaging any carnivore.  Rustic beasts like wild boar can be found roasted with cabbage, spaetzle and, less traditionally, avocado, or thick medallions of venison with a inky, savory jus.  A skate fish entree   perfumed with vadouvan and a flurry of nutty bulgar lounges over a puree of sweet carrot, with vibrant radicchio, braised but retaining its signature bitter kick, bookending the main components.  And vegetables on their own shine, too:  roasted Brussels get a subtle sweet and
 sour glaze, but mostly they are just expertly roasted nuggets, tender until the centers where they resist with just a hint of vegetality.  Whatever is in season might grace the menu, though, depending on when you visit.  So radishes, that can be so sharp and fiery raw are roasted into submission, cooled with lime and pear and zipped back up again with peppery cress.

Desserts are equally modern, a carrot pie riffing on traditional pumpkin, creating a looser, pudding-like filling in a gingered crust, imbedded with toothsome bits of pineapple and topped with daubs of creamy yogurt.  Lemongrass parfait skirts the locavore theme, but capitalizes on the peak of the tropics in a lightly sweet, fruity mousse topped with a zesty mango sorbet and a chunky fruit salad of kiwis and banana.

If Pascaline Lepeltier is wandering the floor, flag her down and take her recommendations.  A sweeter soul could not be found, and as a Master Sommelier, her wine expertise is beyond compare.  She pretty much embodies the integrity and charm of the restaurant itself, which even bereft of her immediate presence, is a place that defines what restaurants are intrinsically for: nourishment, both of the body and the spirit.  Rouge Tomate has a way of restoring both.

126 W 18th Street 

Saturday, February 18, 2017


People love to ask me what my favorite restaurant is, and it's a question I cannot answer.  As a default, I used to say ABC Kitchen, which would actually have been in the running if I were to choose one upon which to award such laurels   But then Chef Dan Kluger left that building, and while I'm sure it is still a a fine destination, some of its cache certainly ebbed upon his departure. So I eagerly, eagerly awaited him opening his solo venture. And then I waited some more.  And some more, with the typical, inevitable New York-style delays and postponements, until finally in November it quietly swung open its doors.

Those doors are deceptively humble- there's really no evident signage, so it seems sort of clandestine and exclusive.  They open into vast space, double-wide and two floors deep,  taking advantage of what must be extremely expensive real estate.  The decor is just as simple: pale exposed brick upon which are hung some scenic black-and-white farmscapes, which make the illuminated picture windows showcasing glowing masses of frondy greens that comprise the back wall an alluring detail.  

There have been made myriad comparisons about ABC Kitchen and Loring Place, most of which are grounded in the fact that Kluger is a master of Greenmarket fancy, so the successes for which he became notable at ABC are also flourishing at L.P.  Perhaps even more so, in fact.  It deliciously showcases the region's finest seasonal bounty as well as his extraordinary talent.  Each dish we tried had some unexpected little sensation ... beyond how good they looked and sounded just from the menu descriptions.  That menu, as your server will inform you, is divided up into several categories, all of which are best enjoyed shared- mostly just because in that fashion you can try greater
 number of dishes.  And just because there is a celebration of produce here doesn't mean you can't find your fair share of decadence and substance.  Our server recommended the baked ricotta and kabocha squash, gooey and sweet on thick slabs of grilled sourdough and a decidedly filling was to start.  A bit of heft is given to an ample plate of scarlet and golden jewel-toned beets bedecked with chunky granola and interspersed with chewy nubs of sweet membrillo and tangy, crumbly ones of vivace cheese.  The granola, fashioned from quinoa, has intermittent sparks of novel spices and shreds of various herbs making each bite its own little unique adventure.  Brussels sprouts
 escape from their usual accoutrements, glazed with honey-mustard and joined by crunchy bits of apple and smooth chunks of cool avocado.   Leeks are woven into a raft fanned over with thinly sliced pears, toasted walnuts and subtly tangy vinaigrette of yogurt and sherry.  The symbiosis of fresh sweetness, earthy allium, tang and crunch is masterful.

But we can't just eat vegetables, not here.  I mean, you could, and quite well, and no-one would fault you, but Large Plates offer the same elements of ingenuity and playful flavor profiles, and frankly some of the most wonderful dishes.  An innocuous-looking filet of halibut with braised mushrooms and chiles harbored an incredible punch of sumptuous umami, and more than just a hint of smokiness from the wood-burning grill that is used to cook a majority of the food here.  It permeated the fish and fungus with its potent essence, seductively bound to the supple flakes of fish.  The broth alone was spoon-worthy.  From the wood-burning oven, on the other hand, came a hunk of roasted short ribs, less tender than those braised, but magnificently beefy and with a welcome bit of chew: the flavor of the meat is so pronouncedly bovine and hearty that the extra nanosecond of mastication gives you time to savor the excellent meat.  It's nestled into buttery pureed potatoes, and for a spark of vibrancy, a sward of horseradish-spiked gremolata brightens the homey dish, cutting the richness with just a smidge of zestiness.  There are three intriguing pastas as well, and novel pizzas such as one topped with Brussels and cheddar, or the Dates Pizza, a snacky devils-on-horseback version.

Dessert riff on classic American standards, from a chocolate "hostess cupcake" with tangerine sherbet  and a baked apple pied up in puff pastry, to a that Dairy Queen phenom, the Blizzard.  Rich with salty caramel and crunches of nutty toffee, it could be described as nothing short of delicious, but I suppose I prefer a cheffier dessert.  All the sweets seem to rely more on nostalgia rather than the ingenuity found in the previous courses, which is absolutely the only thing I could even begin to whimper about throughout the entire evening.  And as the menu changes so often anyways there are already some different selections currently that might have appealed to me more.  In fact,  I may have found my answer to that nagging question that started this post, after all.