The holidays can try the limits of even the most dedicated gluttons. Rouge Tomate, which opened just as feasting season kicked in, is a great place to recover from all those five-alarm meals. The restaurant is based on a novel conceit in these pork-belly-loving times—why shouldn’t food that’s good for you also taste good?
Despite boasting an in-house nutritionist, Rouge Tomate is hardly a fat farm. In fact, if the place didn’t spell out its self-conscious “health through food” ethos on its cultish brochures, it could easily pass for a standard-issue Greenmarket restaurant.
An import from Belgium (the original is in Brussels), it has a menu that owes more to the mid-’70s cuisine minceur of three-star French chef Michel Gurard than the tempeh-driven American health-food movement. For his second outpost, owner Emmanuel Verstraeten had the sense to hire a classically schooled chef—Jeremy Bearman (L’Atelier de Jol Robuchon, DB Bistro Moderne)—and ask him to scale back on fat, but not flavor. Whatever caloric corners he is cutting, the dishes don’t suffer at all.
Decor by Bentel & Bentel (the firm behind most of Danny Meyer’s New York restaurants) also reflects the feel-good premise without conjuring a yoga retreat. The enormous bi-level space seems more like the lounge in a very cool airport, serviced by an efficient staff in retro-flight-attendant uniforms. The ground-level casual caf, with its plush couches and blond-wood wraparound bar, entices midday shoppers to unload their satchels and settle in for a bit. From this area’s menu, an appetizer of potato-leek and goat-cheese flatbread makes a fine light meal. If that’s not enough fuel for scouring the sale racks at Barneys, you might try the heartier venison entre—skewered cubes of medium-rare meat in a delicious savory North African rub—served with bulgur wheat and chunky cucumber raita.
In the more serious subterranean main dining room, a backlit tableau of sun-dappled foliage and a glass-enclosed kitchen pod where the chefs are hard at work loom over the diners. Don’t expect tiny portions of effete spa creations. Bearman and his team work up generously portioned, boldly flavored, seasonal fare. Their handiwork features haute cuisine flourishes like a playful amuse bouche (a cauliflower trio on the night that I dined) and a complementary palate-cleansing shot of fresh apple cider. An arctic char starter—featuring pristine raw slices and diced tartare with smoked salt, trout roe and Asian pear sorbet—is a perfect example of a clean, healthy dish. Beet “cannelloni” follows in the same vein, with chilled beet sliced into faux-pasta sheets rolled around a tart beet-green filling, beautifully presented with toasted pistachios, a rainbow of baby beet quarters and a thin veil of sheep’s-milk yogurt that coats the plate.
Bearman’s meat entres are even more deftly seasoned and bountifully portioned on the formal dinner menu. A succulent rabbit roulade wrapped in a layer of chestnut pasta reclines on a creamy puddle of celery root puree. Duck, served in an oversize crimson crock, features a whole ras el hanout--crusted breast roasted perfect pink and served with a North African medley of shredded leg meat, nutty farro, and slivered dates, olives and apples.
Desserts are as bright and lively as the rest of the meal—and just as creative in covering up whatever skimping there may be on butter, sugar and fat. A sort of nutty crpe suzette—pistachio-studded crpes with warm orange marmalade—is nearly as rich as the classic it’s based on. A chocolate-banana dessert quartet is lighthearted yet decadent, with caramelized bananas on chocolate “soil”, miniature scoops of chocolate and banana sorbet, a triple-decker banana bread and chocolate ganache “napoleon”, and a small cup of extra-dense hot cocoa.In the end, one question remains: Can food this good really be healthy? Until the mayor begins forcing all restaurants to post calorie counts, we’ll just have to take their word for it.
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