|The name Rouge connotes all sorts of things, especially in Canada. Oh sure, its "red" in French, but dont you associate it with old-lady makeup? Or, if youre a politico, the Liberal Party? Or, if youre a CFL football fan, a single point?
This isnt to say that all the diners at Rouge (1240 8th Ave. S.E., phone 531-2767) are ancient Liberal ladies in fur hats cheering on the Alouettes, although that does make for an appetizing image. No, the place is Rouge because they painted the old Cross House rouge. Fire-engine rouge to be specific.
The owner, Olivier Reynaud, and chef Paul Rogalski, have created a French restaurant with Canadian influences. This isnt a faux-French bistro with checkered tablecloths, Jacques Brel on the sound system and photos of Jean-Paul Belmondo everywhere. Instead, theyve taken the Cross House in Inglewood, former home of A.E. Cross (one of the Stampedes Big Four), and made it speak with a French accent.
Our first impression of the restaurant was slightly off-putting. The waiter asked, "Do you wanna drink?" Now, I aint no snob, but I aint at the Legion neither. We settled for a couple of glasses of Veuve Clicquot ($12 each). The fact that theres excellent champagne by the glass is a very good sign, although it was the most appealing wine on the "by the glass" list. The main list is much more expansive. You cant bring your own wine to Rouge.
The evening started with some lovely bread from Manuel Latruwe bakery, and some oil and homemade raspberry vinegar. This is a very nice idea and enhances the bread beautifully, but if one were drinking expensive wine, youd want butter rather than vinegar, as the latter would mask the flavour of the wine. Presumably the kitchen would have provided it if asked.
Our appetizers showed off local produce beautifully. The spinach, tomato and basil salad ($7) was dressed with an intense vinaigrette and the tomatoes provided a blast of summer. This is my favourite type of salad, for sure. The appetizer special ($12), a crab salad, was served in a pool of thinnish carrot purée (the waiter described it as a type of soup). The crab was delicate and tasty, but the carrot masked its flavour. One wonders if something simpler, and perhaps with some marked acidity, would have made it more balanced.
The main courses were well-prepared and interesting: the star of the show, no question, was the roasted guinea fowl ($28). This is pintade in French, a classic Sunday-night dish, and was perfectly prepared, rich, moist and intense. Theres also a ton of food in this dish so much so that the two of us had difficulty finishing it. It was served with a medley of potatoes, what appeared to be puréed parsnips and the most delightful asparagus Ive ever had in a restaurant.
I opted for one of the other French classics on the menu: veal kidneys, or rognons de veau ($26). These were served in a light, mustard-y sauce (which could have been a bit more intense), with the same medley of vegetables as the fowl and, most impressively, a little toast with a great hunk of foie gras on it. The kidneys were good, but a bit tough, the vegetables were very nice, and the foie gras was out of this world.
The desserts were excellent. The pepper cheesecake ($8) was made in the French style; it was light and charming, while the dacquoise, a layered dessert of meringue, custard and fruit, was lovely.
We enjoyed our dinner at Rouge very much, and the place was crammed, so phone ahead if youre going for Saturday-night dinner. And one tip: Rouges official parking is east across 12th Street if you park in the neighbourhood, youll get a ticket.
A TIME FOR REJOICING
After the Blackfoot Market closed, thousands of Saturday shoppers were worried that theyd never see the purveyors again especially SK Gardens from Vauxhall, and many of the Hutterite colonies. Fear not: many of the stalls have relocated to the Calgary ABC Farmers Market (H6 Currie Barracks, 4421 Quesnay Wood Dr. S.W., phone 244-4548). The market opens June 18.