Chelsea wine destination Rouge Tomate has shuttered. After a rocky few initial years and a move downtown, owner Emmanuel Verstraeten has decided to take a pause on the Michelin-starred European restaurant to figure out what’s next.
Chef Matt Aita left a few weeks ago for a big new corporate job, and with Michelin season on the horizon, Verstraeten decided to just close in the absence of a chef. Now, he’s deciding whether to reopen in the same space or return to the UES as a more formal venue — a return to its original ethos.
Verstraeten opened Rouge Tomate in New York in 2008 as a grand fine dining restaurant on the Upper East Side. From the outset, there was a focus on health in the menu, and it quickly became a divisive space. Former Times critic Frank Bruni awarded the restaurant a guarded one star, spurring a menu overhaul into small plates territory. People also began to take notice of then-wine director Pascaline Lepeltier’s smart wine list. Things then turned around as a Michelin star followed for several years, but “economics” forced a move downtown in 2016.
That move soon proved perilous, Verstraeten says. The more casual iteration of the restaurant wasn’t in line with what it was uptown, and diners noticed, he says. Plus, the executive chef and revered wine director Lepeltier left. Verstraeten then brought on Aita, who he “adores,” but his recent departure spurred Verstraeten to do another analysis on the business.
“I might be better off to sell this business and find a chef and reopen with the right format on the Upper East Side,” he says. “We know the right format for Rouge Tomate is the former format. We lost a little bit of the soul of the former one; something was lost in translation.”
Indeed the downtown location seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis. Recently, the bar area became a fast-casual cafe during the day — an interesting move for a restaurant more known for playing to the Michelin-seeking crowd with a deep, geeky wine list and focus on Euro-centric, seasonal fare.
Stay tuned for more.