Rouge: Gutsy French In A Decadent Setting

Jody Pennette has mellowed. That's one way to interpret the closing of the dark, sexy, music-pulsing Lolita Cochina and Tequila bar and reopening it as Rouge Brasserie & Oyster Bar. Pennette's company CB5 Restaurant Group has designed and opened more than 150 restaurants for clients around the world, but there's something personal about this place in the funky Byram section of Greenwich, just across the bridge from downtown Port Chester. It's his restaurant. And CB5s offices are right upstairs.

If Lolita was a clubhouse for successful 35- to 55-year-olds, Rouge is where they can make date night exciting, while still hearing each other talk (background music plays low). The design is urban and contemporary — exposed brick walls, curving black leatherette banquettes, and drum shade chandeliers — with a decadent edge. The palette is worn, antique white and stark black, with a flourish of red glass chandeliers above the bar. No French vintage posters here. The dining room offers intimate white-clothed, paper-topped tables, and a long, bare, farm-house table. A ramp leads to a lounge-like room that emanates a white-washed Belle Epoque- meets-bordello vibe (if a bordello had a raw bar and a communal high-top table).

The menu at Rouge is gutsy French: garlicky, butter-drenched escargots on toast; thin-crusted pissaladière (French pizza) topped with onions and olives; and steak frîtes with thick, tarragon-flecked béarnaise sauce.

Yet at a recent tasting for writers and bloggers, the outstanding dish wasn't French at all: Fish Eggs & Chips is a take on nachos. Thin, crisp house-made potato chips are a base for a colorful confetti of eggs — trout and paddlefish roe, and sieved chicken egg, drizzled with crème fraiche. It's fun — crunchy, rich, salty, creamy and light, with the popping texture of fish eggs. It's a great dish to share at the bar with a group of friends over a glass of sparkling wine. The other standout was the frîtes. Long, golden brown, crunchy and salt-encrusted, they accompany the mussels and the steak.

Pennette is not a chef. He is a producer, a man steeped in the business of conceiving, running and managing restaurants.

And he doesn't build chef-centric restaurants. It could be argued that design, vibe and buzz are more important to Pennette than food. Yet he's a master of the alchemy of restaurants, the infinite details necessary to succeed in a notoriously difficult industry.

The Details: 230 Mill St., Greenwich, 203-813-3555.

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