Thursday, September 30, 2010

Iron Chefs and Red Tomatoes

You may recall my virtual date with Iron Chef Michael Symon last week, when we sipped our toasted marshmallow milkshakes together over candlelight.  Well, I have an interesting follow up to that story.  A couple days ago I was at work, doing my thing in the editorial department, when Anne Burrell came over to offer us some tiramisu.  That's not the story, there's more.  I took a plate from her, but then gave it up to another employee because I felt like that was my duty as a good intern (bottom of the totem pole, haha).  It occurred to me that there would probably be more tiramisu in the kitchen, so I quickly headed over there and discovered a large dish of it! Yes!! As I scooped some tiramisu onto a plate, I exclaimed to myself out loud, "Yum!" Just then, a spoon reached out from my left and stole some tiramisu, the spoon's owner responding, "Yum is right! This is so good!"  Wait! I know that voice.  I glanced to my left and saw none other than Michael Symon swooning (yes, Iron Chefs DO swoon) over the tiramisu.  We were swooning simultaneously over tiramisu, elbow to elbow!  Yeah, that's a true story.  As crazy luck would have it, I had made plans to have dinner that night with Joanne, Michael Symon's #1 lover fan.  I think it was fate.  Perhaps somehow her love for the Iron Chef beckoned him to me, stronger than the power of tiramisu.  Who am I kidding? Nothing is stronger than the power of tiramisu.

Rouge Tomate
10 E 60th St
(between 5th Ave & Madison Ave) 
New York, NY 10022
(646) 237-8977

Rouge Tomate, or Red Tomato for those of you who don't parler français, is conveniently located across the street from Barney's New York.  Nothing works up your appetite quite like overpriced retail therapy. This one star Michelin restaurant is truly unique in a city housing over 20,000 other dining establishments.  Rouge Tomate's dedication to producing healthy, local, seasonal, and sustainable cuisine is highly commendable.  On staff is a nutritionist, ensuring that all the dishes are created to a particular standard, maintaining the nutritional integrity of the ingredients, while creating Michelin star-worthy food.  In addition to its gourmet health food, the space itself is quite outstanding.  Designed by architectural firm Bentel and Bentel as a soothing and modern urban oasis, it balances well with the small, refined dishes offered on their menu, which is basically a create-your-own tasting menu experience.

There's Barney's across the street from Rouge Tomate!

A cocktail was much needed by both Joanne and I, and we both opted to try the fig margarita, a completely unique invention I've never noted on the million margarita menus I've seen before.  It was great, and didn't taste strongly of alcohol, just what I look for in a good margarita.  We were also offered two different kinds of bread from a large tray, sliced sourdough and wheat rolls.  We tried both, which were served with a curried cauliflower puree instead of butter (healthy, remember?).  Okay, so here's where I'm going to say the only negative thing I have to say about the meal.  The curried cauliflower puree was bland and reminded both of us of baby food, in flavor and texture.  There.  I said it.  I'm sorry, Rouge Tomate, but it's true.  Moving on to better things...

Fig Margarita - Tequila, Fig Purée, Lime $14

The seasonal toasts!  There are several varieties, but we chose three to share: The Heirloom Eggplant Caponata with La Quercia Prosciutto, and Golden Raisins, the Local Corn and Avocado with Maine Crab, and Cilantro, and the Market Squash Ratatouille with Sheep's Milk Ricotta, and Thyme.  All of them were very fresh and delicious.  The eggplant one had a great sweet touch from the caponata and a bit of saltiness from the prosciutto.  The corn and avocado one has inspired me to add corn and crab meat to my next guacamole!  Amazing flavor combination!  The ratatouille was bright and fresh, with a great creamy ricotta base rounding out the flavors.  I enjoyed them all, but maybe preferred the corn and avocado one the most, although it's difficult to pick :)

Seasonal Toasts (Three for $13):
Heirloom Eggplant Caponata / La Quercia Prosciutto / Golden Raisin
Local Corn and Avocado / Maine Crab / Cilantro
Market Squash Ratatouille / Sheep's Milk Ricotta / Thyme

We then decided to order two dishes from the pastas and grains section to share as our second course: Maine Lobster Agnolotti with Sweet Corn, Tomato, Sea Urchin, and Basil, and also the Heirloom Eggplant Risotto made with Carnaroli Rice, Lemon, Parmesan, Garlic, and Herbes de Provence.  The agnolotti included three small pasta squares, several pieces of lobster, the tomatoes, corn, and sea urchin foam.  It's meant to be a tasting portion, so it shouldn't be filling.  I thought the flavors were very good, delicate, not overwhelming at all.  We both used our bread to soak up the delicious sauce!  The risotto was exquisite.  We both preferred it slightly over the pasta dish.  I've never considered using eggplant in risotto, but have been convinced now that I must try it!  It too was very delicate, with a great eggplant flavor, perfect consistency for the risotto and its surrounding "sauce."  I loved the eggplant on top too!  Overall a really great dish.

Maine Lobster Agnolotti / Sweet Corn / Tomato / Sea Urchin / Basil $15

Heirloom Eggplant Risotto / Carnaroli Rice / Lemon / Parmesan / Garlic / Herbes de Provence $12

Next onto our main course choices: Whole Brook Trout a la Plancha with Dandelion, Cauliflower, Pine-nuts, Capers, Raisins, and Concord Grapes, and also the Grimaud Farms Duck with Moroccan Spices, Heirloom Eggplant Agrodolce, Mint, and Beldi Olive.  Our favorite dish from the evening was the brook trout. It was recommended to me by a friend who used to work at the restaurant, and damn was he right! Thanks, Harold!!  The fish was cooked perfectly, and best of all, the bones were removed! Yes, that's right, it was cooked whole, but without the bones, skin on, nice and crispy, over a bed of dandelion greens and cauliflower, and topped with pine-nuts, capers, raisins, and grapes.  The sweet flavors with the slightly bitter greens, and the flaky fish made for a great whirlwind experience on the palate, especially with the varying textures.  Such a wonderful balance of flavors, I can't even begin to tell you.  It was served with what we guessed was a parsnip puree, which was also very good.  A masterful dish, absolute nirvana.  Our duck was also really delicious!  The skin on the duck breast had a wonderful flavor from the Moroccan spices, and was nice and crispy.  It was served over agrodolce (sweet and sour) eggplant, along with some delicious smoky eggplant puree on the plate.  A mound of what seemed like duck confit (but was probably a much healthier preparation of the duck leg meat) sat beside the sliced duck breast pieces in a perfect square.  The meat was tender and juicy, and all of the components were spot on.  These dishes (unlike our baby food-type spread for our bread) is why Rouge Tomate has a Michelin star.  Extraordinary, unique, fresh, seasonal, local, sustainable, beautiful, delicious.

Whole Brook Trout a la Plancha / Dandelion / Cauliflower / Pine-nut / Caper / Raisin / Concord Grape $27

Grimaud Farms Duck / Moroccan Spices / Heirloom Eggplant Agrodolce / Mint / Beldi Olive $22

We still had room for dessert (or at least made room for dessert): Honeycrisp Apple Spiced Cake with Horchata Ice Cream, Ancho Chile Sauce, and Coffee, along with Molten Chocolate Cake with Banana, Malt, Peanut, and Vanilla Milk Sherbet.  Both were great!  The apple cake was nicely spiced, served with an actually-spicy Ancho chile sauce!  I loved that chile sauce with the dessert, what a creative idea that definitely made the dish pop.  The horchata ice cream was sweet and delicious, a good play off the spicier notes in the rest of the dish, and a pile of cooked apple added another sweet dimension to this dessert.  We needed a bit of chocolate too, of course, so the molten chocolate cake was the perfect choice!  It was ooey gooey delicious, nice and rich.  The sauce beneath it tasted like a bananas foster sauce, which was perfect to streak banana slices through.  The crispy plantain chip added a great visual element and a crunch factor, to the otherwise "soft" dish, as did the tiny chocolate malt balls.  The sherbet was lightly sweet and was made with milk instead of cream, a very refreshing and not-heavy addition to the richer chocolate cake.

Honeycrisp Apple Spiced Cake / Horchata Ice Cream / Ancho Chile / Coffee $10

Molten Chocolate Cake / Banana / Malt / Peanut / Vanilla Milk Sherbet $10

Our incredible meal would not have been the same without the attentive, friendly, and professional service that we received.  Just like any restaurant of this caliber should do, our silverware was replaced between every course, brought to us on a tray, while bread was also replenished one piece at a time from a server carrying a bread tray.  While the service was always a consistent part of our meal, refilling water, replacing silverware and so on, it never interfered with our meal or our conversation.  This is how a dining experience should be, every single time, as far as I'm concerned.  The atmosphere was both modern and soothing.  The sparing touches of red were vibrant and warm.  The bathroom was also pretty awesome :) See the marble sink below!


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