Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rouge et Blanc: French meets Vietnamese in SoHo

Having heard few (but mostly positive) reviews and craving something original, MW and I found ourselves in SoHo on a rainy Friday evening. Our destination was Rouge et Blanc the relatively new French-Vietnamese restaurant by former Chanterelle and Beacon sommelier, Thomas Cregan. Given his previous role, it only seems fitting that the restaurant's name would be a nod to the restaurant's wine list comprised of French "reds and whites." Although we had made reservations, they hardly seemed necessary as the dining room was never more than half full throughout the course of our meal.

Upon checking in, we were immediately seated at a table in the rear dining room. Decorated with hanging lanterns and ornate wooden screens, the dimly-lit restaurant possessed both the look and feel of a "French colonial tavern from 1940's Saigon." Our server, dressed in a French maid costume, seemed confused and unfamiliar with the menu. Fortunately, Mr. Cregan managed to answer any and all of our questions and helped us select a Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurtzraminer that paired wonderfully with out meal.

But as much as we enjoyed our wine (and we did), the main purpose of our visit was to sample the fare of Chef, Matt Rojas, whose resume includes time at both Eleven Madison Park and Degustation, two restaurants we've enjoyed very much. We passed on the seven-course tasting menu which now requires 24-hour advance notice, and instead, chose to sample a number of dishes from various parts of the menu.

Our meal began with two options from the portion of the menu entitled, small plates. First was Squash Blossoms with Chevre, Rehydrated Shrimp and Shitake Mushrooms. As expected, the squash blossoms were stuffed with a chevre-shrimp-mushroom mixture and were deep fried. Light and not greasy, the tangy goat cheese, sweet shrimp and earthy mushrooms packed quite the flavor punch.

Another tasty treat were the Razor Clams with a Charred Leek Confit. Served on the half-shell, these slid effortlessly into our mouths as the sweet leeks married perfectly with the briny clams.

An appetizer of Soft Shell Crab with Nuoc Mam, Fine Herbs and Glazed Peanuts was the closest thing to authentic Vietnamese that we ordered. The crab was a textbook example of how to properly fry seafood but it was the fish sauce laced with spicy red chilies, cilantro and peanuts that really elevated this dish.

The most interesting dish of the evening belonged to the Bone Marrow with Baby Octopus, Pickled Plum and Shaved Fennel. A creative play on surf-n-turf, a marrow bone cut lengthwise was studded with baby octopi in a sea of jiggly marrow. Dressed with yuzu and a fennel salad, the marrow was carefully spread on a housemade Scallion Soy Bun. The octopi were beautifully cooked and weren't the least bit chewy, and turned out to be a superior version of a similar dish at M.Wells.

More Southeast Asian than Vietnamese, MW's Banana Leaf Pork Belly with Rice, Morel Mushrooms, Baby Shitakes and Homemade Sambal was good, but nothing great. Arriving still wrapped in banana leaf, the sticky rice was perfumed by the scent of banana leaf. The pork belly was unctuous and full of flavor, and was even better when cut by the surprisingly bold sambal. But we both questioned the decision to include the mushrooms, specifically the morels, which seemed strangely out of place other than to make the dish seem more French.

More intriguing was my Barigoule with Spanish Mackerel, Scallops, Fat-Wrapped Blue Prawns and Sunchokes. Traditionally, a barigoule is a Proven├žal dish of braised artichokes in a warm and slightly tangy white-wine broth with seafood. Here, chef Rojas combined seafood and sunchokes in a red sauce. From the mackerel to the seared scallops, each piece of seafood was cooked very well. The tangy sauce accentuated the sweetness of the sweet prawns and nutty sunchokes that helped round out the dish.

Having had my eye on this particular dessert, I coaxed MW into splitting the Caramelized Foie Gras with Peaches, Cocoa Nib and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Pastry Chef Melissa Chang, who worked previously at Shang, hit a home run with this dessert. Best when eaten with a bit of each component, the buttery foie with warm peaches and cool ice cream made for an essential sweet indulgence.

While service was still spotty, both of us were encouraged by the food we ate. I for one will be particularly interested to see how the restaurant evolves. Unfortunately, it seemed that we were in the minority as the restaurant remained disturbingly quiet on a Friday evening and continues to go relatively unnoticed on the interwebs. Described as a "SoHo Sleeper," Rouge et Blanc is starting to gain some traction on at least one food forum, which hopefully signals a sign of things to come. 
Rouge et Blanc
48 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 260-5757

To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.

Rouge et Blanc on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. When we went to Rouge et Blanc in July, we had a different experience. The Tasting Menu didn't require advance notice then, but it might have been a good idea. We had an entirely different reaction to the soft shell crab/nuoc mam dish, which was badly cooked and over-spiced in our opinion. We also loved the foie gras/peaches dessert created by Melissa Chang. She was also our server and so we received excellent service. Our full report is at where we concluded that, aside from the crab and fluke courses, "the other courses were notable for their well executed, imaginative combinations, all in the framework of French-Asian fusion."