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 

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