French and Flirty: Rouge Brasserie & Oyster Bar Opens in Greenwich
Plus: What’s new at NoMa Social; corporate cafeteria dining at its best; Flaming S’mores Martini
In the good old days of 2003, there was a hot restaurant no one ever took me to called Bleu, on classy Greenwich Avenue (known in certain circles as “The Avenue.” Okay, I can buy a pair of riding boots now). The chef was Josh Moulton, cousin of TV Chef Sara Moulton and formerly of Manhattan’s Union Square Cafe and Monkey Bar. Music spilled onto the street, blue drinks were inhaled through blue straws, and the bathrooms had see-through doors. You have to wonder why it ever closed.
Well, fast-forward 10 years. In a nostalgic throwback to—yes—2003, the same resto-preneurs, cb5, have reunited pretty much everyone from bartender to chef to create Rouge Brasserie & Oyster Bar. But now the place is tucked away on a side street in Byram, a few blocks across the river from Port Chester.
What a difference a decade makes: that area is semi-cool now, being near recent successes such as Batali and Bastianich’s Tarry Lodge, bartaco, and the recently reopened Capitol Theatre. And let's play “What did this used to be”: cb5 tried Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar here first. Now they bring some welcome French cuisine, redecorating in less time than it takes to watch Sara's Weeknight Meals.
They painted truckloads of ornate mirrors. Curved banquettes were reconfigured, oversize candelabras deployed, the palette flipped from red to neutral (go figure), with red chandeliers remaining to rouge up the bar. Intimate spaces beckon: a dining room bordered by a wrought-iron fence, a bar-height banquet table bathed in mirror-reflected candlelight, a patio with roses in bloom. I mean, what do you want when you go to one of these brasserie-type places, anyway? This. This is what you want (classic but not hackneyed, romantic but not fussy, with a touch of glam).
Oh, and food that can make you feel like you're in France, but creative enough to show you that you’re in the hands of a hot chef. Chef Josh is back! (Says he, “I knew Bobby and Mario back when.” But you wouldn't know it to look at him.).
It opened a mere weeks ago, and this is just a First Taste—a nonjudgmental verbal amuse bouche—but the place looks to be a winner. Starting with the cocktails, some of which are a nod to previous restaurants. Air kisses from acquaintances to bartender. Pop Rocks, with rock candy, reprises the POP champagne served at Bleu. Several drinks feature raspberry, such as the Chanel No. 5 and Brigitte Bardot; the best, reflecting the place's incarnation as a tequila geekery, is the Broken Heart Margarita (tequila, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour, Cointreau, raspberries, grapes, and pink peppercorn). But most intriguing? The absinthe drip (awaiting the proper accouterments as of this writing).
The menu, mercifully limited in size, focuses on classic bistro fare, sometimes with a twist. A starter of “fish eggs and chips”—trout and paddlefish caviar served over house-made potato chips with crème fraîche—manages to be at once decadent, playful, and light. Crudités, including French breakfast radishes, are a pleasing accompaniment to rich dishes. Such as escargots bourguignon: pure garlicky, buttery blobs of tenderness on toast. We waited for the warm onion tart, expecting the usual puff-pastry-type thing, but instead got a cracker-thin-crust pizzette with Gruyère, plummy tomato confit, scattered dashes of caramelized onions and Niçoise olives, and a pile of arugula that had the good sense to stick to the middle and not take over like a Chia pet. And I am probably never going back without ordering it. (We owe the crust to a pizza oven remaining from That Little Italian Restaurant.) Steak tartare? Listen, it's not really my thing, but if you're gonna have it, have it here.
Don't forget this is an oyster bar, and get a few of the omg-fantastic Blue Point and Beausoleil oysters. Our plateau de fruits de mer also bore huge, meaty shrimp, raw clams, and lobster tail. Moules frites were what we expected, but I fell in love with the sauce, a “smoky rouille” with mayo, smoked paprika, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice.
Skate meunière, a wonderful classic made with what used to be considered a trash fish, brought me back to childhood, when this dish was the thing before everyone started ordering fish medium rare. It feels right for cold weather. And short rib bourguignon simmered in red wine with pearl onions and truffled potatoes was, simply put, outstanding, our brief joy being the result of a three-day cooking process.
Dessert was a chocolate pot de crème served with a little spoon. My dining companion instructed us that this kind of dessert is to be eaten with the spoon upside down so that the first thing hitting your tongue is the dessert, not the spoon, and we all tried it, feeling just a little bit rude. But if you're going to try it, try it here. Your etiquette might be reflected in ten different mirrors on three different walls, but there’s so much candlelight bouncing around that no one will notice. Go here to eat French, and maybe to be a little French. Go here to flirt. There are no more see-through bathrooms, but the doors are still good for a raised eyebrow, then a smile.
In Search of Cool: New Drinks and Dishes at NoMa Social
Some places are just plain cool. We don't usually think of them as being in hotels, but forget that NoMa Social is in the Radisson (well, unless you want a room) and step in. I was here two restaurants ago and it was already intrinsically cool; must be the feng shui. It turns into a dance club late at night. And I'm sorry to say this, but cool can be in short supply around here, No of Ma (north of Manhattan).
But you're here for other reasons—and if you've been here, you know that one of them is the drinks. For cold weather, try some of the killer new specials: a S’mores martini that’s lit on fire, a Pumpkin Pie martini that you're not gonna find at Starbucks, or Coquito, a Puerto Rican eggnog-like drink from the mixologist's family recipe—they’ve got a big vat of it going in back. If you're watching your holiday waistline, the “skinny” drinks will set you back only 150 calories; for other priorities, there’s the infamous Panties Off. And here’s a deal: their new 4 x 4 weeknight happy hour at the bar features four choices of wine, cocktails, beer, and tapas for $4 each from 4 to 8 pm.
To go with, foodies will never go hungry or bored, and Chef Bill Rosenberg has added some new dishes to the cosmopolitan, tapas-centric menu. Flavorful butternut squash soup benefits from a pop of floating fresh cranberry and crushed ginger snaps. Blue-crab-stuffed piquillo pepper with lemon pepper aioli and baby arugula is delicious and refreshing (I came back and had it again); crispy baby artichokes with basil mayo will make you forget your table manners. Add a little aioli-slicked tosta topped with sobrasada and a runny quail egg and you’re in Spain. For something more substantial, fresh potato gnocchi with long-braised Painted Hills beef cheeks, wild mushrooms, and Coca Cola Rioja guazzetto, topped with fresh ricotta, will warm you up, all elements holding their own and uniting in the sauce. And for a fun ending: a banana-Nutella dessert empanada with cinnamon ice cream.
Now Open: Kitchen 555, Westchester’s Company Cafeteria
Monday through Friday, breakfast 7 to 10, lunch 11 to 2
Those gleaming corporate buildings set back from the sides of suburban roads, Oz-like in their remoteness...could dining possibilities lie within? No, not usually. But when a sign points to a “Now Open” eatery, freezing bike riders take notice. So it was that we pedaled up the drive of the International Corporate Center, past lawn sculptures, to visit Kitchen 555, a cafeteria open to the public. At one table, the suits huddled; other people ate solo or brought food to back their desks. Behind the curtain: Chef Ross Goldflam, French Culinary Institute grad and caterer who took over and upgraded the kitchen over the summer.
The menu rarely repeats itself, so sign up for the daily e-mail. Choices include two under-$10 entrées with starch and vegetable (poblano chicken, shrimp cakes, celery root and parsnip purée…) and a salad bar with freshly cooked veggies—we had grilled peppers, beet salad, and breaded cauliflower with a curry aioli that made me sorry they change their menu so often. The soup that day, potato leek with rosemary and thyme, was especially good. Get the sandwich of the day for $7.95, or build your own with unlimited toppings (including house-cured pickles) for $6.75. Condiments, sauces, and dressings are homemade; I got up for more pesto and habanero sauce. For dessert, grab a homemade s’mores bar. The dining room looks onto an outdoor dining courtyard where an herb garden is planned. It’s oddly peaceful—at least, if your boss isn’t waiting for you to get back upstairs.
S’mores Martini and Pumpkin Pie Martini at NoMa Social
Don’t ask me to choose between these—I couldn’t possibly. Will it be the S’mores martini, rimmed with chocolate and crushed graham crackers, garnished with a marshmallow set aflame before your eyes? With s’mores vodka, Godiva milk and white chocolate liqueurs, and swirls of chocolate sauce? Or will it be the Pumpkin Pie Martini: rimmed with whipped cream and crushed sugar cookies, with vanilla vodka, pumpkin spice and white chocolate liqueurs, cream, nutmeg, and cinnamon shaved on top? Yes.