Asimov Finds a ‘Fresh Approach’ at Rouge et Blanc; Cuozzo Wonders About Ellabess

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Part joy, part conundrum, Rouge et Blanc defies expectations, begins Eric Asimov in his two-star review of Rouge et Blanc, a Soho bistro that takes a fresh approach to combining France and Vietnam. Wee plates, to start, include a gorgeous heirloom tomato salad and melt-in-the-mouth fragile slivers of octopus dishes that dont fit with the French-Vietnamese theme, but should be consumed with no complaint. The most brilliant dish is lightly fried rouget served whole, and another good pick is the rich, unctuous bone marrow. Main courses are not as consistent, but try the meaty lamb ribs that fall off the bone and the mix of seasonal vegetables the rare dish aimed at vegetarians that will satisfy anybody. Overall, Asimov determines that the restaurant is hampered by a lack of polish and consistency, but Im swayed by its creativity, vision and, yes, that wine list. [NYT]

It's Chinese for people with money who are scared to go to Chinatown, writes Lauren Shockey of Redfarm. Instead of hanging ducks in the windows, the atmosphere here is imbued with rustic charm, but the buzz does result in a less-than-charming 30-minute wait. Once youre seated, get an order of the crispy beef; crispy is an understatement: The sweet, lemongrassy, sesame-studded meat shatters between your teeth. Other star items include the comforting, Pac-Man-shaped pork and crab soup dumplings, and the diced lamb with Chinese broccoli. Many entres recall fancified versions of sweet-and-salty takeout staples; avoid the shrimp and cashew nuts, the three chili chicken, and the oily rice noodles with duck. [VV]
Related: Barnyard Chinese [NYM]

Steve Cuozzo visits Ellabess in the theoretically trendy Nolitan Hotel, and deems it another erratic bistro in another also-ran hotel. The room itself is stark noir without romance. Some items on the menu reveal real talent, such as the monkfish and the lamb loin, but most leave him questioning: Who goes there when a dozen more attractive places are within two blocks? [NYP]

Id say that La Mar is a fair, forgettable restaurant serving family-friendly, generic versions of Peruvian cuisine, writes Ryan Sutton in his one-star review of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. The signature ceviche ($19 hamachi) tastes as though it had been marinated not in lime juice but Hawaiian Punch. There are a few standouts on the menu: a sweet and musky scallop and uni ceviche, fried fish belly, and barely grilled lobster. And the pisco sours are good. But mostly, the food will neither offend nor inspire. Its the Andean equivalent of TGI Fridays. [Bloomberg]

Robert Sietsema is slightly more impressed by La Mar, which he says has perfect ceviches and mediocre everything else. Anything made with raw fish is spectacular, especially the La Mar hamachi tiradito there's no better raw fish in town. Beyond that, many of the entres disappoint, and, once into the arena of traditional peasant fare, the menu founders badly. Your best bet is to forgo the hour-long wait, sit at the bar downstairs, and enjoy a pisco sour and a ceviche. [VV]

Tables for Two checks out Kajitsu, a restaurant that serves shojin ryori, devotion cuisine based on a premise of not taking life. Meat and fish are prohibited, and vegetables, nuts, and legumes are served strictly and respectfully within season; the menu changes each month. The pursuit of enlightenment is evident even in the sparse décor and hushed atmosphere, which is not unlike entering a spa. The food, which comes in four- or eight-course prix fixe options, is tasty and artful: a terrine of fall vegetables, red miso soup on a bundle of silky, sweet eggplant, nama-fu, a doughy dish that could easily be consumed by the plateful. Its one thing to walk away from an eight-course dinner feeling enlightened; its another altogether to leave feeling revitalized. [NYer]

Birreria is no ones idea of an Italian restaurant, writes Julia Moskin. Its a convivial rooftop beer garden with a focus on meats and a rowdy bar crowd that threatens to take over at prime time. Skip the undrinkable housemade beers, and try the rarer finds on the suds menu. As for food, the meats and cheeses are "impeccably handled, a pile of fried shiitakes is the high point, and the steak and market fish are perfectly cooked. However, service is brisk: Birreria is built more for speed than hospitality. [NYT]
Related: Dont Call It Bar Food [NYM]

Jane Black visits Bien Cuit, a new bakery in Boerum Hill turning out baguettes with a crisp crust and airy but still-chewy crumb. The baker, Zachary Golper, bakes three times a day, a too-rare and wonderful routine that means customers can get a truly fresh loaf in the morning, and even after work. At lunch, the shop offers up a small, excellent selection of sandwiches, including a rye version with caramelized garlic, zucchini, and olives. The pastries here are excellent, too, from the delicate almond-pear danish to the croissants which shatter, as croissants should. The prices are steeper than many other neighborhood bakeries, but such is the price of having something eminently well done. [NYT]