French-Vietnamese Flavors at Rouge et Blanc

Vietnamese Beef Cheeks, the best dish at Rouge et Blanc

Rouge et Blanc is a transporting French-Vietnamese restaurant in SoHo. The intimate stone and wood interior, illuminated by hanging lanterns, reminded me of the tranquility you can occasionally find in Vietnam, when you escape the throng of motorbikes just outside.

Despite a glowing two-star review in the New York Times a few years ago, the restaurant remains undiscovered, and it is rarely crowded. The menu, which changes seasonally, combines French techniques with Vietnamese ingredients and flavors — much like our French-Vietnamese beef stew. The service is attentive, and French-accented, helping patrons navigate the collection of shareable dishes. While the dishes range in size, there is no delineation between appetizers and entrees, and in any event, it’s best to order several dishes for the table to share.
Duck confit in a Phở broth

Cured arctic char with smokey pickles
The best starter on the menu is a cured Arctic char with smoked pickles and mustard vinaigrette, on crostinis with a spicy aoili. The dish looked subtle and refreshing but was quite the opposite after my first bite. The pickles were seriously smokey and the aoili mixed with the mustard vinaigrette packed a strong burst of flavor. 
Arctic char is not typically cured (the traditional preparation is to make salmon gravlax) but the milder char works as a counterbalance to the bolder accompaniments. 
Another excellent starter was a duck egg pissaladière with shallots, vegetables, and tomme crayeuse — a semi-soft French cheese. A pissaladière is a cross between a savory tart and a pizza, typically found in the South of France.  The addition of the duck egg, cooked just enough so that it’s runny, adds an extra richness to the Provençal dish. 
Duck egg pissaladière

A unique dish — that is hard to call French, Vietnamese, or really any cuisine — was a tempura dish with alternating pieces of frogs legs and lobster, in an incredible cilantro emulsion. I can’t say I’ve ever seen tempura frogs legs. Or frogs legs and lobster in the same dish. But even my dining companions who don’t particularly care for frogs legs gobbled (ribbited?) these up.

Tempura frogs legs & lobster

For the larger dishes, I had high hopes for a dish of duck confit with rice noodles in a phở broth. It’s a beautiful looking dish, but was a bit disappointing. The phở was too citrusy, which clashed with more rustic duck. The rice noodles were fine, but nothing spectacular. 

A better entree was Vietnamese beef cheeks with rice cakes, a green papaya salad, and roasted enoki mushrooms. This dish perfectly encapsulated the restaurant’s French-Vietnamese cuisine. The beef cheeks were slow-cooked in a French way, and were combined with Vietnamese papaya salad, rice cakes, and a sauce with ample amounts of peanuts, fish sauce, and other Vietnamese flavors. The dish is served with a grilled herbed flat bread.
Scallops with trumpet mushrooms

A grilled scallops dish with trumpet mushrooms and multi-colored cauliflower was also excellent, especially the flavorful mushrooms. But like many scallops dishes, you get a paltry few scallops for $24, and the plate looked half-empty.

All of these dishes are complemented by a solid selection of French wines, with an emphasis on Burgandy.  There are also some good values from the Loire valley, including some bottles from Charles Joguet.
Rouge et Blanc offers a small but fine selection of desserts, including a Vietnamese orange semifreddo with blood orange curd and ginger granita, and a gâteau au chocolat au lait, which essentially looks like a deconstructed smores.

A charred, puffed marshmallow was the highlight of the gâteau.

The gâteau

Oddly, while they will serve espresso after the meal, they cannot make lattes or cappuccinos. The waiter claimed that their espresso machine does not steam milk. We’ve complained about other restaurants’ odd coffee behavior in the past, and this one is equally inexplicable.  They will make a decent Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, however.

Rouge et Blanc
48 MacDougal St
New York, NY 10012 
(212) 260-5757

Recommended dishes: cured arctic char ($17), duck egg pissaladière ($16), tempura frogs legs & lobster ($15), Vietnamese beef cheeks ($29), gâteau au chocolat ($13)
Rouge et Blanc on Urbanspoon
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