A new neighborhood has made all the difference for Rouge Tomate. The beloved restaurant that focused on vegetables before they became the darlings of the fine dining world left its glitzy Upper East Side digs about a year ago. Unlike many other rent-related casualties, it’s found a new home in Chelsea.
Rouge Tomate Chelsea (126 W. 18th St.) remains, at heart, a serious wine bar with an extensive list of 1,600 bottles. The more rustic, forest-inspired interior — the entrance feels as if you’re walking through a hollow tree trunk to get inside — suits chef Andy Bennett’s new menu.
The best example is Rouge Tomate Chelsea’s mushroom tartare, one of the few items Bennett transferred from the Upper East Side. Now, my vegetarian dining companion and I tried several dishes over the course of the evening — a delicately filleted anchovy in a pond of broccoli puree, crispy florets of cauliflower paired with surprising bursts of fall grapes — but we didn’t expect a mushroom dish to be the big hit.
“Earthy” is what mushroom lovers (me) use to laud such dishes, while detractors (my friend) wield the word as their reason for avoiding it. Bennett’s dish, though, earns that title without being either truffle rich or funky.
In texture, the dish very much echoes beef tartare, but exceeds it in texture: The portobello is finely chopped, but cooked just to the point of tenderness. The usual messy skillet egg has been replaced with dollops of poached egg dressing, and the kitchen now makes its own Worcheshire sauce and ketchup to cut out much of the sugar that would clash with the portobellos.
Topped with crunchy roasted garlic chips, it’s as if the dish had been scooped whole from the forest floor. I felt closer to my food and understood where it had come from in a way I didn’t think anyone but magical forest creatures could.
Welcome back, Rouge Tomate, and keep making farm-to-table feel fresh again.