45 Rockefeller Plaza
City: New York, NY
Site: Visit the restaurant site
2nd Cuisine: French (Brasserie)
Area: Rockefeller Center
Entree Price: $20-25
Inspiration can come from many sources. For restaurateur Jean Denoyer, who owns such popular Manhattan spots as La Goulue and Orsay, it was his vast collection of the work of Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann that provided the spark for Brasserie Ruhlmann, located on the northern reaches of Rockefeller Center. The décor is true to the artist’s spirit, with rich faux-ebony walls, plush (and decidedly comfortable) red velvet seating, charming nickel-plated sconces, and a virtual hall of mirrors. It’s fairly easy to believe you’re in Paris and not in one of Manhattan’s most commercial neighborhoods. That statement applies equally to the menu, which focuses primarily on truly classic Gallic fare, without so much of the funky fusion or uninspired reimaginings found elsewhere around town. (Note that the restaurant is open for both breakfast and lunch, but we only sampled dinner.) For example, could there be any more traditional starter than soupe a l’oignon? If you’re ordering this dish simply because you adore bread and melted cheese, look elsewhere; but the soup itself is deliciously hearty and full-bodied -- and a perfect antidote for the late-winter chill. A more recent addition to the menu, grilled leeks served with a warm black truffle vinaigrette was an exemplary and mouth-filling rendition of this underappreciated French favorite. Oysters on the half shell were pleasing if unremarkable, but they offer a nice opportunity to sample one of the many white wines served here by the glass. I often like to judge brasseries by their version of steak frites, and Ruhlmann passes the test with flying colors. The steak was a truly fine piece of sirloin (instead of hanger or strip as might be sampled elsewhere) full of beefy flavor; the pomme frites (French fries) where a bit thicker than might be expected – but they were perfectly greaseless and unbelievably addictive. Adding to the cholesterol count, the dish is served with a ramekin of yummy béarnaise sauce – and I suspect there was even some butter in the otherwise healthy mound of spinach that added color and texture to the plate. Far healthier, and no less delicious, was an exquisitely grilled piece of loup de mer served atop a delicious mélange of vegetables (labeled here as an artichoke barigoule) in a brilliantly executed sauce. It’s been so long since I’ve seen crepes Suzettes on a menu that I had to try them (they’re a frequent special). They were very good, heady with orange flavor, but ultimately a tad austere. Much more fun was the house’s signature dessert – a “Liegeois trifle” that’s composed of layers of coffee ice cream, hot fudge sauce, and crispy rice cereal in a parfait glass. It sounds a bit silly to be sure, but I dare you to leave over even one bite.
Review By: Brian Scott Lipton