Red tomato, blue tomato. I have never actually eaten a blue tomato…only purple heirlooms that my roommate grows on our neighbor’s roof (shhh). But I have eaten at Rouge Tomate which opened their ecologically friendly doors to the public yesterday.
Last week I ran into a cook friend with whom I used to work with at Eleven Madison Park. We all called him Sweaty, for obvious reasons, but I refrained from using this term of endearment when introducing him to other cook friends who ended up meeting round a root vegetable vendor. We were all chatting about restaurants and how they have been affected by the economy. Mason, the chef de cuisine at Corton, assured me that things have been in full swing and look as if they will remain that way throughout the busy season. I turned to Alex (Sweaty) and asked how his new gig was going. He left EMP back in July and I had assumed that he was already elbow deep in whatever his new job was. Instead he replied that his restaurant was just finishing up friends and family…and would I care to join in on the experience? I had to think about it for all of 2 seconds, and then answered with a giddy “oui chef!”
I invited three friends to accompany me to dinner. Two lady friends who are in the industry, one pastry cook, one front of the house, and a manly friend who is a lawyer. I had to instruct the manly friend on some dinner regulations. Though this dinner would be free, it was his obligation to evaluate the food and service in several categories. Was the food brought out in a timely manner? Was it seasoned well, and was the temperature correct? How was the presentation? And did servers reset silverware, clear dirty dishes, refill water glasses and clearly explain dishes? He heard “free dinner” and hopped on board a train that was steered by three ladies into conversations that questioned: gellan, guar or xantham, cooking techniques, and alternative flavor combinations.
He didn’t know what he was about to get himself into and neither did we. When we sat down, there was a card at each place setting that announced that this restaurant was following the ideas of S.P.E, or Sanitas Per Escam (Health through Food). Supposedly it is the only restaurant in America that is S.P.E certified…or more likely it’s some catchy trademark that uplifts healthy, organic, and sustainable food to a new level of existence. S.P.E’s approach revolves around sourcing, preparation and enhancement. They only use seasonal and locally grown ingredients, there is no frying nor grilling, and each three course meal is supposed to optimize nutritional value through “the synergy of product combination and menu diversity.” People are going to go nuts for this restaurant. Diners already love reading menus that explain that lettuces were picked from the garden only hours earlier that day, that the bacon comes from pigs on the neighboring farm, and that only love and worms protect the heirloom variety of an Old World corn. Now that Rouge Tomate has a Latin trademark announcing their restaurant’s approach to food, they’ve one upped every other sustainable and organically driven restaurant in New York.
We each had the three course prix fixe dinner (normally $72) and a couple of cocktails (juices freshly squeezed to order). The food, for the most part, was tasty. The amuse was a bit lackluster; every item was cold, or room temperature, and a bit under seasoned. Now that Fall is moving quickly towards Winter, I want warmer, heartier options. A beet jello lacked salt and the potato soup would have been lovely warm. The appetizers were more promising, though seasoning remained an issue, and all entrees were hearty and rustic. Lara ordered a cassoulet of root vegetables and lettuce that outshone all other dishes on the table. It was stuff vegetables must dream of. I managed to eat all of my overly sweet duck dish–quince and mejool dates overwhelmed any savoriness on the plate, and I ended up feeling as if I had two desserts that night–but I have to say that knowing you’re eating a well balanced meal makes the guilty pleasure of eating out less guilty and more pleasurable.
We finished with desserts, which definitely were not your typical, indulgent finales. I had a yogurt parfait with huckleberries and a meringue tuile. The pre-dessert of fresh apple juice was the best (and healthy, mind you) part of the dessert experience. Next time I will be sure to request two pre-desserts, please and thank you!
The entire dining experience was roundly enjoyable, minus the fact that we ended up paying out the nose for what we had assumed were free cocktails. Oops. Next time we will double check on what is and isn’t complimentary before we try every cocktail on the menu. Also, I strongly recommend adhering only to the cocktails that are familiar. The obscure sounding ones were all a flop, and some were even undrinkable. But as I mentioned, this was friends and family, and the minor kinks will surely work themselves out. So drinks aside, for a healthy, tasty dinner alternative, opt for an affordable meal in either the café or dining room at this new, fruit-inspired restaurant.
Rouge Tomate 14th East 60th. Street