Fleur-de-Atmosphere

Richard and I had to make a daytrip to NYC on business, so to speak, so I decided we needed a little pleasure while we were there. I emailed my nephew Wille, culinary nutrition grad from Johnson & Wales and no stranger to this blog, and asked him to make lunch reservations at the restaurant where he’s been working for the past year, Rouge Tomate.
We met Wille in Bryant Park and wove our way through the crowded sidewalks of Fifth Avenue. The cacophony of Manhattan in full summer flower assaulted the senses: the launching of Maria Sharapova’s SugarPova gummy candies, too much scent wafting out of Abercrombie & Fitch, and the sketchy knowledge that just hours before gunshots echoed in front of the Empire State Building, with many injured.
All of that slid into oblivion as we sat at our table enveloped in the tranquil beige décor of Rouge Tomate. “The Deal” at the restaurant, Wille told us, is the prix fixe menu where, for $29, you get to choose one selection from each category: Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert.
We decided to skip the cocktail menu—Wille was scheduled to work the evening shift, Richard is underage, and I had a five-hour drive ahead of me. Tap water was fine. But that’s not what the manager thought.
She brought three of her favorite fruit juice drinks for us to try “on the house”. We couldn’t argue with her.  One was a concoction of cucumber and watermelon, the second was passionfruit, yerba mate, and something else, and the third, lavender and honeydew melon. These were not heavy juices, more the essence of juice with lots of ice chips for ultimate refreshment.
For our starter we chose Long Island Fluke Ceviche dressed with cubes of honeydew melon, chameh (Korean melon), cucumber, and wisps of kaffir lime and mint, served on long, thin baguette-like plates. Accompanying this was crusty bread with garlic infused olive oil. The dishes were cleared.
Then I heard four of the finest restaurant words in the English language: “Complements of the chef,” as our waiter placed bowls of Cow’s Milk Ricotta Gnudi in front of us. “Gnudi” are basically gnocchi with ricotta cheese replacing the potatoes, making a light dumpling that is boiled and then seared in olive oil and placed in a nest of roasted tomatoes, okra, sweet peppers, summer squash and basil. The chef came to our table to see how we liked the surprise, and I honestly told him that one dish was worth the five-hour trip!
Next came our entrees. Wille chose Whole Brook Trout a la Planche (with quinoa, beans, sweet corn and a tomato-peach salsa). For me, it was Long Island Duck Breast (with plum, ginger, horseradish potato, Japanese eggplant, and a honey-tamari glaze) and Richard went a la carte with Maine Lobster Salad on a bed of endive and tossed with avocado, beans, peaches, pecans and ginger-peach vinaigrette.  We shared bites.
Another on-the-house round of juices, with all of us going with our favorite, the cucumber-watermelon. I’m sure it had an exotic name, but I wasn’t taking notes at the time, I was simply enjoying.
Wille had to report to the kitchen, so Richard and I were left to fend for ourselves during dessert, with plum cake and peach cobbler on the way. But when the waiter brought the plates, there was a third…and those wonderful words, “Complements of the chef.”
Do you remember the first time you saw an onion volcano or choo-choo at a Hibachi steak house, the thrill of a little flame, puff of steam, and edible entertainment? Well, multiply that tenfold, throw in chocolate, lots of chocolate, and you’ve got the Chocolate Atmosphere.
In the middle of a white plate is a chocolate sphere, the size and sheen of a billiard ball, sitting on a low cake throne. The dessert assistant, who is 6foot-5, towers over us with a tiny pitcher. He explains that it is filled with “hot chocolate”.  He pours the hot chocolate over the sphere, which erupts and melts, spilling treasures: black pearls of “compressed banana seeds”, medallions of bananas, and nuggets of chocolate. Richard and I look on in amazement. Then we pick up our spoons. Mmmmm, we were catapulted out of this world and into Chocolate Atmosphere. Laurie Lynch
Encore: We dawdled, finishing the last of our coffee and tea, waiting for the check. Then our waiter appeared and said,  “Didn’t he tell you? Wille took care of the bill. And I was crowned Queen for a NYC Day.
Two RTs: Rouge Tomate (USA) is at 10 E. 60th Street, NYC. The first and only other Rouge Tomate is in Brussels, BE.
Latin Class:Rouge Tomate applies the principals of SPE, inspired by the Latin phrase Santias Per Escam, “health through food”. Founded in 2001, SPE is a holistic approach that focuses on health as well as gastronomic pleasure. Rouge Tomate’s executive chef and pastry chef collaborate with the restaurant’s culinary nutritionist to enhance the nutritional quality of meals without compromising taste. The restaurant supports local farms, fisheries and producers with an emphasis on freshness and seasonality, using whole grains, fruits, vegetables, quality protein and healthy fats.
Bon Appetit: A week before our visit to Rouge Tomate Wille told me the restaurant was featured in the September issue of Bon Appetit.  I bought a copy and tried out the recipe for Corn Farrotto (a butter-free take on risotto), a perfect August dish.
Corn Farrotto
(Serves 4)
Corn Puree
1½ c. fresh corn kernels
½ c. minced onions
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Fine sea salt
2 c. (or more) vegetable broth
Farrotto
2 c. (or more) vegetable broth
1 c. whole-grain farro
Fine sea salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
½ c. minced red onion
1/3 c. ¼-inch cubes red or yellow bell pepper
1 c. fresh corn kernels
¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
½ c. chopped tomato
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
Corn Puree:Combine corn, onion, oil and pinch of salt in medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until onion is softened and translucent, 6-7 minutes (do not brown). Add 2 cups broth, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, until corn is softened and cooked through and liquid is reduced by half, 20-25 minutes. Let cool slightly. Transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth (when pureeing hot liquids, start with the lid slightly ajar to release steam; cover with a kitchen towel to catch any splatters).
Strain puree through a sieve into a 2-cup heat-proof measuring cup. Add more broth, if needed, to measure 1½ cups. Set aside.
Farrotto: Bring 2 cups broth, farro, a pinch of salt, and 1cup water to simmer in large saucepan. Cook until farro is tender, 30-45 minutes. Drain and return to pot
Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown, about 5 minutes longer; keep warm.
Add corn puree to farro and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by ¼-cupfuls if dry, until farro is creamy, 5-6 minutes. Stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir tomatoes and basil into vegetables.
Divide farrotto among bowls. Top with vegetable mixture, dividing equally. Serve immediately.
Closer to Home:Seeds planted in my garden this week: arugula, China Jade baby bok choy, mesclun mix, and Matador spinach (for next spring).
Written on Slate:“The world is full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings (and queens).” – Mostly Robert Louis Stevenson
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