Entries in Rouge Tomate (3)


Rouge Tomate

[Horine via Eater]

Note: Rouge Tomate closed in August 2014, due to “economics.” The huge space was never full, but somehow, Rouge Tomate eked out a Michlein star and held onto it for five years. As the review notes below, we weren’t impressed at all, but perhaps the restaurant improved. The owners re-opened in 2016, in a new space dubbed Rouge Tomate Chelsea.


It’s a coincidence that we dined at Rouge Tomate just days after Frank Bruni’s one-star review came out—we made our reservation weeks ago. I went in suspecting that Bruni had been too stingy. I went out convinced he was too generous.

Rouge Tomate is a health lecture disguised as a restaurant. Its “mission” is to provide “a harmonious alignment of balanced cuisine, well-being, and social and environmental consciousness.” It adheres to the principles of Sanitas Per Escam (S.P.E.), a Latin phrase meaning “Health Through Food.”

Perhaps a better principle would be, “Avoid restaurants with mission statements.”

There’s a serious chef: Jeremy Bearman, who has worked for Joël Robuchon and Daniel Boulud. You almost get the sense that if he could toss the S.P.E. rule book, Bearman could rustle up a a memorable meal.

But almost nothing we had at Rouge Tomate tasted very good. With the exception of one dish, it was all very bland and forgettable. And it doesn’t come cheap. Although a $72 prix fixe was wisely jettisoned in the restaurant’s early days, dinner for two still set us back almost $175 (before tip), including cocktails ($12 each) and a $42 bottle of wine.

The bread service (above left) was typical of the many culinary blunders at Rouge Tomate. The bread itself was wonderful, but puréed spinach was a poor stand-in for butter. We love spinach—truly, we do—but in this role it was miscast.

The trio of amuses bouches (above right) were a mixed bag. Puréed beet leaves were awful. A beet gelée tinged with horseradish was arguably too intense, but at least it had flavor. A “beet tartare” had very little flavor at all.

Market Potato and Farm Egg (above left; $15) got a boost from a poached egg, but the potato hash and a streak of “foraged mushrooms” contributed no excitement on their own.

The mushrooms were a more welcome presence in a faux risotto with barley, winter truffles, parmesan, and a Maderia wine reduction (above right; $19). This was the only really enjoyable dish we tasted at Rouge Tomate.

In the Daily News, Restaurant Girl gave Rouge Tomate an improbable four out of five stars. Among her standout dishes was the Rabbit Fleischnacke (above left; $27), a concoction of minced rabbit, chestnut pasta, apple and celery root. But we discerned no flavor at all in the rabbit, while the poor chestnuts proved a poor substitute for flour in pasta.

Duck (above right; $28) was competently prepared, and served in an ample portion. It came on a bed of root vegetables and barley with all the flavor cooked out of them.

The stunning bi-level décor makes an instant impression, but after a while it seemed as soulless and sterile as the food. We were at the far end of the dining room, cut off from whatever warmth the space might have had. Another couple seated near us had to ask twice to be moved. We couldn’t imagine why the staff hesitated, since there were plenty of empty tables to choose from at 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening.

With that curious exception, the service was excellent, to the point of suffocation. We appreciate being asked if we’re enjoying ourselves, but various servers and managers must have asked the question eight or ten times.

Eagerness to please is not the problem at Rouge Tomate. The “mission” is.

Rouge Tomate (10 East 60th Street between Fifth & Madison Avenues, Upper East Side)

Food: Fair
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Sterile
Overall: Disappointing


The Payoff: Rouge Tomate

Today, Frank Bruni damns Rouge Tomate with faint praise, awarding one-star:

…for all its glimmer and good intentions, Rouge Tomate falters somewhat. While about a quarter of the dishes are knockouts, at least as many are overly calculated and fastidious, suggesting there’s such a thing as too much balance.

The review is fair enough on its own terms, given that Bruni wasn’t going to fall in love with this type of food, no matter how well it was done. However, one comment seemed off-key:

There’s a super-deluxe grandness to its setting that suddenly seems dated in the extreme, a vestige of headier, more hedonistic times. It had a fin de siècle feel…

Of course, Bruni knows that the over-the-top décor was planned in better times. He also knows that most recessions last no more than a year or two, after which Rouge Tomate could be suddenly ahead of its time. Perhaps this recession will be worse—nobody really knows—but it’s no reason to be condemning excellence.

As we noted yesterday, there were ample reasons for believing Frank Bruni would not love this place, along with ample others for believing—as Eater and I both did—that he would grant a second star. The uncertainty was reflected in the odds, wherein any outcome from zero to two stars was reasonably likely. That doesn’t happen very often.

We and Eater both lose $1 on our hypothetical bets.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $106.50   $125.67
Gain/Loss –1.00   –1.00
Total $105.50   $124.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 47–22   49–20

Rolling the Dice: Rouge Tomate

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Rouge Tomate. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 3-1
One Star
: 4-1
Two Stars: 3-1 √√
Three Stars
: 60-1
Four Stars
: 20,000-1

The Skinny: This week’s Eater odds reflect real uncertainty about this restaurant. In many ways, it’s not the kind of place you’d expect Bruni to love.

Rouge Tomate is like an upscale health spa. It serves the nutritionally balanced meals your mother always told you to eat. There’s no evidence that Bruni likes this type of food. This is the guy who once ate two porterhouses in one evening. It’s also a Belgian import, and Bruni doesn’t love Northern European food. Lastly, it’s on the expensive side, and Bruni tends to weigh price heavily in his star calculations.

Yet, anything lower than two stars would be an insult for this glitzy place. Bruni doesn’t mind delivering a smackdown, but he doesn’t usually choose targets that most of the other critics ignored. The only MSM review to date is four stars from Restaurant Girl, and while I don’t think RG is a good index to Bruni’s thinking, it shows there’s at least one person who likes the food—even if it’s a bit too preachy for its own good.

In hiis new year’s post, Bruni lamented “how under-served and shortchanged the Upper East Side is.” When he wrote that, he probably knew that Rouge Tomate would be his first review of 2009. Now that Bruni finally has a chance to review a restaurant on the UES—something he has rarely done—it’s hard to imagine that he would say, “Don’t bother.”

The Bet: Will Bruni come to praise Caesar Salad or to bury it? We agree with Eater that Bruni will award two stars to Rouge Tomate.