Image via Green Space Today
Rouge Tomate is an upscale, Michelin Star-winning restaurant situated in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But what sets it apart from the countless other restaurants that fit that exact description is a genuine dedication to achieving some bright green ideals -- there's a heavy emphasis on local foods featured on the menu items, the design standards sate the Green Restaurant Association's requirements, and, yes, they compost all biodegradable waste. Rouge Tomate is certainly the first restaurant that I've heard of that both boasts a Michelin Star and a composting room. Also, it's delicious.
I had just penned my defense of eco restaurants, which must have caught the folks at Rouge Tomate's eye, since they invited me to come down for lunch shortly after. I agreed, and headed to the restaurant, which is a stone's throw from Central Park, for lunch. Full disclosure: it was on the house. But I can say, without bias, that it's one of the best lunches I've had in a good while.
As I mentioned earlier, the menu has a distinct focus on local and seasonal foods. Nearly all of the produce is local, provided from New York farms. The same goes for some of the livestock -- the chicken and duck is from Long Island. This rule is by no means comprehensive, however, as some of the seafood and meats hail from various spots around the globe. They do say they make a commitment to supporting only those fisheries and farms that employ sustainable practices, regardless of whether it's local or not. It's also evident that Rouge Tomate strives to make their dishes as healthy as possible -- they have a nutritionist on staff -- while retaining the requisite sexiness that Upper East Side dining demands.
Consider my first course -- a refreshing gazpacho made with local tomatoes and uber-fresh veggies. It was absolutely delicious, and had a crispness I don't usually associate with gazpacho. To wash it down, I had a drink made from 100% veggies called the Green Tornado, and it was surprisingly brisk and smooth. Both are among the easiest recommendations I can make.
For the main course, I tried the Local Amish Chicken and the Sweet Corn Farrotto. The chicken was good, if unremarkable, while the farrotto was pretty stunningly flavorful.
With plenty of alluring vegetarian and vegan options, Rouge Tomate seems slated to become a destination for conscious eaters -- but it's liable to convince anyone who eats there that healthy doesn't have to be boring. Which brings us to the darker green stuff: The restaurant was evidently built out of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, it meets the energy efficiency and material requirements of the Green Restaurant Association, and uses a wide variety of products made from recycled materials. All good stuff, but none of it entirely groundbreaking. The composting, on the other hand, was what actually impressed me. It's harder than you'd think to run a composting operation in a large, upscale restaurant -- arranging for pickup and managing the waste can cause a number of problems. But the staff was amply trained to manage the compost, and the composting room was in full use and appeared well-managed.
All things considered, Rouge Tomate offered a great dining experience in a beautifully designed space. But it's certainly not going to save the world. It faces the predicament posed by so many other green-leaning restaurants -- namely, how far do you publicize green? While many criticize restaurants like Otarian for playing up the green card too handily, Tomate leans toward the opposite pole: Someone dropping by for a business lunch would have little idea that the restaurant held green ideals at all, aside from the local food focus. Which is still a very good thing, and the approach certainly has positive qualities -- let people judge the restaurant on the merits of its food and ambiance, and so much the better when they learn of the restaurant's valuable efforts.
I'm certainly glad Rouge Tomate is around, and it gets enough right about the green and local food movements to warrant praise. It's hardly the final word in green eating, but knowing that a restaurant as elegant as Tomate can operate a composter downstairs and keep its Michelin cred encourages me that the future of dining out may someday be sustainable indeed.