When it comes to greening your diet, often the easy part happens in your own kitchen. There, you can make your own nutritious food, with as many local and organic ingredients as possible. But, if you're like me, the whole endeavor can easily break down in the face of a mouth-watering menu item at a restaurant. Being a word person, I'm often seduced by the poetry of a menu's language before my brain even processes the nature of the ingredients, let alone whether the fish is on the eco-best list. Even if I consider the environmental implications of my menu choice, by the time I get around to ordering, I've either talked myself out of the item I really wanted, or overcome my guilt at choosing it anyway.
Which is one of the first pleasures of Rouge Tomate: the conscientious chefs have done the hard work before you arrive, leaving you with a menu of eco-friendly options to choose from without misgivings or nagging doubts. Designed to be environmentally, socially and nutritionally conscious, from its menu to its architecture and its decorations, Rouge Tomate opened at 10 East 60th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side in December under the direction of executive chef Jeremy Bearman in a beautiful (huge) modern space designed by Bentel & Bentel. The menu employs local and seasonal ingredients, which are given "genuine respect," as the restaurant's press materials put it. So are the customers, I might add. One example: the wine list is helpfully footnoted with definitions of "organic," "biodynamic" and the like for those who want to choose a sustainable option.
Rouge Tomate is one of just 75 restaurants featured in the new Clean Plates, a handsome little book devoted to highlighting "the healthiest tastiest restaurants in Manhattan." The publishers hope to extend the franchise to other cities, and we sincerely hope they do. It's a great resource for finding restaurants that let you indulge in a delicious meal out without checking your ethics (or your top button) at the door.
The Daily Green had lunch at Route Tomate on Thursday, May 6, in celebration of our successful Heart of Green awards, and we dined on Route Tomate's dime. (Thanks Courtney and Shannon!)
We started with a bottle of Shinn Estate Vineyards (Long Island) sauvignon blanc, which we chose for three very informed reasons: We wanted a local wine, we wanted a white, and one among us had previously tasted a Shinn Estate wine. It started with a peach color and nose, hit a mineral note in the mouth and ended with a peach taste on the tongue. We sipped it along with some fresh bread and asparagus puree that whetted the appetite just in time for...
I had the oysters ($16), Gloria Dawson the Tombo Tuna Poke ($17) and Brian Clark Howard the Leek and Potato Flatbread ($13) -- all of which were a hit in our family-style dining experience. The oysters -- gigantic, chilled on a bed of ice and served with pineapple vinegar, crispy ginger and mint -- were the best I've tasted. The combination of delicate curlicues of ginger, the tiniest sprigs of mint I'd ever thought to eat, and the pineapple vinegar enhanced the oysters and left me, as the best appetizers do (I'm not exactly a culinary snob), with the desire to continue eating oysters all afternoon and into the evening. (The wine turned out to be an excellent pairing for this superfood.) The Tombo Tuna Poke was a surprise, since none of us could remember what poke was (traditional Hawaiin fish dish) before asking our knowledgeable and very friendly waitress, Jesika. The raw tuna was served with sugar snap peas, tiny (adorable, really) Honshimeji mushrooms, jicama and sesame -- an "amazing party of flavors," as Gloria put it. The flatbread -- with sheep's milk feta, pine nuts, capers and grapes -- would have stood out in another context, but for me paled in comparison to the other two appetizers. The grapes, though, were a surprising and delightful touch.
I ordered the hazelnut-crusted Alaskan halibut ($31) with cucumber, jicama, radish and soba noodle. Brian, after a quick reminder from Jesika what a "ramp" is (an onion-like shoot, found easily in the wild this time of year) got the whole brook trout ala Plancha ($28) with ramps, broccolini and shelling beans. Gloria went for the English pea risotto ($24) with carrot, radish, Parmesan and lavender.
My halibut was meaty and good, though the bright flavors of cucumber, jicama and radish -- and the otherworldly green glow their broth gave to the dish -- stole the show. Still, I found myself envying my colleague's dishes. The risotto's lavender came in the form of a foam garnish (Gloria: "I'm into foam as long as it's not overdone; this is perfect.") on an inspired and flavorful risotto. Brian's trout was as beautiful (despite some misgivings expressed around the table about the presence of the fish head) as it was flavorful. Stuffed with the broccolini, ramps and beans, its flesh was tender and delicious.
By this time we were deep enough into our celebration that we started a second bottle of wine -- a cidery organic Gruner Veltliner from Weingut H.u.M. Hofer. It was a bit out of the local category, having traveled from Weinviertel, Austria, but had the benefit of coming in a green 1 liter bottle reminiscent of a Heineken (right down to the bottle cap).
Fortunately, the perfectly sized portions of our meal left us with a comfortable desire for ...
Brian went with the mango and pineapple carpaccio, with macadamia cake, coconut tapioca and mango & pineapple sorbet. His pronouncement: some of the best sorbet he'd tasted. Gloria went with the warm almond crepes with marzipan, grapefruit, kumquat and toasted almond milk sherbet. I believe there was a kumquat high-five involved, though there had been a spate of high fives that afternoon, some of them hard to explain. My local bleu cheese and dried fruit chutney (semolina-raisin pain perdue, fuji apple and toasted hazelnut) was my idea of a perfect dessert. It left me feeling a little like I did about those oysters, as I sipped French pressed coffee and hoped that wedge of bleu cheese would last a little longer.
Yeah, we liked it.
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