Most Philadelphians are familiar with Rouge, a Neil Stein creation that, in many ways, put Philadelphia restaurants "on the map." Whatever that means. For me, living "around" Rittenhouse Square (um, ten blocks or so down), it meant that thanks to Mr. Stein's push for sidewalk seating, I now had to step around seemingly pretentious diners and their poodles. But Rouge's prime location invites these visitors, situated directly across from the square, near enough to Walnut to be visible, small enough to feel exclusive. Over the years, I've made my peace with it and grown to enjoy the food.
So I found myself there after work on these days where spring seems genuinely eager to break through winter. With the daylight savings adjustment, my entire time there was spent in twilight, a perfect break after work. The drink selection was equally perfect; I ordered the "Bluecoat Martini" cocktail with some combination of gin, cointreau, ginger ale, and sour mix. Delicious and refreshing without being summer-y.
The menu is divided into small and large plates, which I confess I have begun to loathe in terms of deciding what to order. As a group, we went the multiple small plate route. I ordered the risotto, described as "crispy potato, parmesan, garlic butter & chives." Although offering a larger portion than the "small plate" as described, it nonetheless reminded me more of potatoes au gratin with a risotto texture. Pleasing, but missing the mark. The shrimp and lobster spring rolls, pictured below, were devoid of any discernible taste of shrimp, lobster, or mango as promised in the menu. I trust that it was in there, but it tasted more like a pleasant vegetarian spring roll to me. Pictured above was one last onion ring, deep fried in tempura batter (more were actually served with the dish, and quickly eaten). One last dish was the shrimp served with small diced underdone potatoes and what purported to be white wine foam, but tasted like ... nothing. Ah, foam. The star of Top Chef and the overpraised trend of the past five years. I am still not sold.
We ordered the chocolate chip bread pudding with vanilla gelato, which was unfortunately served with a berry sauce. My rule is never to mix fruit and dessert; pick one or the other. The bread pudding was good, but a bit dry. The chocolate, however, was the perfect darkness.
My review? I've had the burger there before and tend to think it's one of Rouge's stronger offerings. Stick with drinks, soak up the atmosphere and location. And enjoy spring.
Rouge is located at 205 S. 18th Street, Philadelphia, Pa., 215.732.6622.