Our Gourmet: Savoureux et chic - The Rouge Grille in Manchester

BY OUR GOURMET February 05. 2013 5:16PM

The Rouge Grille
860 Elm St.

Serving:11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday

The Rouge Grille, touted as a girly place, is a leading candidate for the best new restaurant in Manchester.

With the credo, "Ladies, this one is for you," the newest entry onto the local dining scene - managed by the same restaurateurs who run Ignite, Sizzle and Hooked - has flourished on Elm Street since its November opening and will wow you with its taste and service.

Dedicated to catering to ladies, "the most powerful growing clientele in America," the Rouge has put its plush, red-tinted mark on the space formerly occupied by Z, and offers a creative menu that caters to anyone who enjoys a great meal. Although women are treated preferentially when it comes to restrooms and titles on the menu, men will not feel out of place at the Rouge. We found the crowd about evenly split between men and women at an early hour on a recent weekend night, but the balance definitely tilted toward the feminine persuasion as the evening wore on.

Given that, one might think the Rouge would be overrun with single men, and while that may or may not be the case in the lounge as the nights grow later, our four dozen or so fellow patrons were mostly couples and small, diverse groups as prime time approached on this Saturday night.

And as for the food, we enjoyed the best appetizer we've had in years, two scrumptious entrees and a slice of Tiramisu that was delicieux!

One thing up front: The Rouge is not inexpensive for its finer offerings, but budget-conscious diners can still find creative sandwiches and burgers and spruced-up pub fare at very reasonable prices.

Don't go overboard

One must start with the drink menu at The Rouge, and it would be wise to give yourself time to study the nearly three dozen wines, 20 martinis and dozens of beers and various concoctions that are offered. There are a few lady-killing names (Red Hot Lover, Tall Dark & Dreamy, Menage a Trois), but those are in the "Happy Endings" group of after-dinner drinks. Most of the martinis offer inventive blends and are served in large goblets, justifying the $9-$11 price.

The start

We found ourselves smacking our lips, asking for extra napkins and using spoons to scoop up the classically decadent sauce when we dove in to a steaming, flavorful bowl of Madras Mussels ($11.99).

The shelled morsels were steaming hot, and splendidly over-splashed with a slightly spicy, wonderfully robust madras curry sauce, surrounded by plenty of herb-flavored slices of toast, which were perfect for soaking in the sauce and accompanying the seafood delicacies. We finished our martinis and dove in head first, coming up for air only occasionally.

Other tempting starters include Cajun shrimp, tuna wontons, Asian nachos and Japanese calamari, going miles toward international fusion cuisine.

The main event

A special this night was Grilled Blackened Swordfish ($21), which sounds like a seafood dinner until you absorb the entirety of the chef's creative approach. Rouge starts with a tender, moist, thick slab of swordfish, then flourishes the entire dish with a tequilla-flavored sour cream dressing around the edges, a nice spread of peach and avocado salsa atop the fish, and a deliciously flavorful and moist vegetable couscous on the side.

Wow, what a treat! The combination of serious seafood, tang from the salsa and soothing cream dressing, balanced by the hearty couscous, makes one wonder how so many sparkling tastes can come from just one dish.

On the other side of the table, a diner could hardly not order Spanish Paella ($20.99), since this particular diner has never seen that before on a Manchester menu. A vacation to Spain some years ago embedded the dish in our memory, and the next best occasion to sample it was right here in New Hampshire, of all places.

Paella is indeed a medley of many ingredients, and half of the entree was plenty for one. Mixed with the puffy variety of saffron rice was a bevy of sauteed shrimp, chicken, more mussels, Andouille sausage, carrots and peas with just enough of a hint of herbs and spices so to allow the saffron, poultry, meat and seafood flavors to maintain their integrity and balance on the palate. It was superb.

Also on the regular menu: Ribeye and strip steak, Guinness Irish Stew, souvlaki marinated chicken, Wasabi filet with Vietnamese noodles, and Vindaloo Curry Alfredo Haddock, which has got to be worth a return visit simply for the boldness of the idea.

The end

A slice of Tiramisu - like we needed more food - was the capper, and again, Rouge goes one better than most. This delicate cake is thick and substantial in texture, sliced large enough for two at $6.95, creamy and delicious and decadent and sinful.

In keeping with the Rouge theme, we could picture a table of four ladies, flushed with a night of great food and fun, crowding around a small plate with four forks and having that perfect dessert.

Enjoy, ladies (and you guys, too) - there are not a lot of places where you'll find this kind of quality.

Bon appetit, Manchester.

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