At midtown restaurant Rouge Tomate, less is more
Tuesday, December 2nd 2008
There are 393 calories in the rabbit Fleischnacke at Rouge Tomate. The nutritionist counted. How many restaurants do you know that have a nutritionist?
Fleischnacke is German for minced meat rolled in pasta and cooked in a stock. At Rouge Tomate, this means farm-raised, braised rabbit rolled up in chestnut pasta and sautéed in rabbit jus. None of the ingredients requires quotation marks.
There's not a mock anything anywhere in this dish. Those 393 calories also include a celery root purée, roasted celery root, roasted chestnuts, chestnut foam and a salad of apples, celery leaves and tarragon.
And that's one of the more caloric dishes on the menu.
My favorite appetizer - the celery root and almond panna cotta - is only 155 calories. The panna cotta is made with unhomogenized whole milk and topped with lots of peekytoe crab, grapefruit segments and fresh tarragon. The calories matter, but only because the food is so exceptional.
Usually the thought of self-consciously healthy food makes me depressed - so depressed I get the urge to curl up with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon.
But I don't feel that way at Rouge Tomate, even though they've replaced most of the fats we associate with haute cuisine. Take butter, cheese and cream away from most chefs and they would throw their hands up in despair. But Jeremy Bearman, chef at Rouge Tomate, has had a few good mentors, including Joel Robuchon and Daniel Boulud.
Here's how it works: Take the lobster à la plancha with green fennel risotto. Usually, what binds a risotto together is butter and cheese. Instead, Bearman uses fennel stock, fennel purée, fennel juice and fennel-fronds purée - the quintessence of fennel. He finishes the dish with sauce Americaine, a brandy-spiked lobster stock with a splash of Pernod. These are robust flavors and you never pine for the absent fats.
Rouge Tomate adheres to an 85-page S.P.E. charter - Latin for Sanitas Per Escam. That means health through food, a phrase that comes from Emmanuel Verstraeten, the founder of the original Rouge Tomate in Brussels. What this really means is sourcing, preparation and enhancement. It's the cult of culinary balance - the balance of taste and nutrition - not a bad cult to be in. But it's bigger than that.
Rouge Tomate may be a prototype for a restaurant of the future - a new way of thinking, a new way of eating, a new way of dining out.
Let me just point out some of the highlights of this wonderful menu: squab and slow-roasted faro salad; Arctic char with smoked sea salt and Asian pear sorbet; and yellowtail amberjack crudo with vanilla salt, a mung bean salad, crispy ginger, kaffir lime and fresh tropical fruit.
There's also dessert, which is where you would really mourn the missing calories. Except you don't here. The chocolate and banana tasting is 272 calories - a chocolate and caramelized banana napoleon, roasted baby banana split and a teacup of rich hot cocoa. James Distefano, the pastry chef, makes a terrific parfait with yogurt, fresh huckleberries, candied lemon and a chamomile crisp. In fact, the only dessert that doesn't work is the Hudson Valley apple soup.
I hope Rouge Tomate is going to be here for a long, long time. Especially if Jeremy Bearman stays in the kitchen.