Considering the man in the kitchen is an alumnus of Eleven Madison Park and Degustation, the new Soho neighborhood eatery Rouge et Blanc opened with very little fanfare. Perhaps this has to do with its impressively laid-back and congenial atmosphere, its desire to appeal to a quieter and less trend-focused crowd, or even its own lack of comprehension of how good the product it’s offering really is. A Vietnamese-French fusion concept restaurant that harkens back to Saigon in the ’40s, Rouge et Blanc is a quirky sort of place that, without question, presents some of the best food I’ve had in the past few months.
The restaurant is small, located on a quiet stretch of MacDougal Street on the south side of Houston. It’s the sort of place you notice only by walking past it. In the summer, the wide windows open to the street, beckoning to passers-by; the siren song of vintage Parisian tunes and the crystal clink of wine glasses draw them in. At the front of the restaurant are a few round tables with plush antique upholstered chairs for the lucky few diners who get to watch the world go by over steaming plates of lamb ribs and duck confit. Then, a bar, congenially tended by a well-suited man and packed with couples enjoying a bottle of bordeaux or burgundy. In the back is an intimate and sultry dining room – a blend of French bistro and Vietnamese tavern with soft light filtering through paper lanterns, separate cubicles with dangling red light blubs shedding a crimson glow over dinner, scarlet wooden chairs pulled up to dark and rough hewn tables, and curated elements of Parisian nostalgia dotting the walls.
The menu, created and executed by chef Matt Rojas, nods to both classic French and Vietnamese dishes. It is divided into three parts: a lamely-titled ‘wee plates,’ ‘small plates’ and ‘large plates.’ The wee plates are snacks – a fresh watermelon salad with goat cheese, house cured salmon with basil oil and crunchy glazed almonds, or briny razor clams with smoky charred leek conft. The small plates are like appetizers – flavor-packed and tender skewers of Vietnamese sausage with sweet onions and rice noodles, fresh green papaya with whole-fried prawns, and luscious strips of bone marrow with baby octopus and pickled plum. The large plates are, you guessed it, entrees (note: why they can’t just call them snacks, appetizers and entrees is beyond me – a quirk of this quirky spot). The green curry with roasted and grilled summer vegetables is remarkable – the house ground green curry paste is simmered long and slow with coconut milk until it’s thick and silken – it’s so good that if given the opportunity, I would gladly take a bath in it. The vegetables (turnips, yams, potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots and zucchini) are soft and flavorful, salty and cooked just right. Also wonderful are the lamb ribs – cooked until they’re falling off the bone and served in a pool of roasted red pepper puree. The hand-made roti offered alongside is hot and oily, an upgraded version of fried dough.
Rouge et Blanc is an excellent restaurant disguised as only a good one. It’s not often spoken about; it’s not swamped with foodies and trend-setters; it’s not pretentious or self-important. It’s just quietly marvelous – a pleasant surprise to all who dine there expecting a solid comfortable meal and receive instead a remarkable one. The food served is obviously beloved by those cooking it in the kitchen – it is cooked with care; the atmosphere is utterly devoid of irritations – it is relaxed, quiet but not somber, personal, and convivial; the service, though slow every now and then, is friendly and informative. Rouge et Blanc is a diamond in the rough, obscured by the flashier new arrivals nearby (I’m thinking of you, The Dutch) yet peacefully truckin’ along.
Perfect For: later in the game dates, Soho locals, a quiet dinner with friends, older new couples, non-ostentatious foodies, cool fall nights