If you haven’t already noticed, there’s a culinary powerhouse operating from the pointy end of San Marco at the junction of Hendricks Avenue and San Marco Boulevard. Rue Saint Marc – known as “Rue” by its loyal followers – is a contemporary French bistro offering considerably more than you’d expect.
Rue’s most remarkable attributes are its approachable and comfortable setting coupled with a well-conceived, adventurous and esoteric menu. “This is not your typical French restaurant,” says Executive Chef Scott Alters. It’s unlikely you’ll find classic French dishes such as Foie Gras or Escargot at Rue: “Our menu consists of remarkably flavorful dishes that reference the position France once held in other countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Vietnam, and the French West Indies,” Alters explains.
In the restaurant industry, the laid-back setting and innovative approach to French cuisine embraced by Rue is known as “bistronomy,” a hybrid that blends the casual nature of bistro operations with remarkable gastronomic prowess.
The idea of bistronomy started in France during the economic downturn of the early 2000s. In order to survive, snooty restaurateurs and elite chefs were forced to change how they conducted business. The outcome was a new crop of significantly smaller, less stuffy, and considerably more affordable bistros led by some of the country’s top culinary talents.
Chef Alters, along with Rue’s beverage director, Gabrielle Saul, credit their experiences in California at some of Napa Valley’s most exclusive eateries, coupled with culinary insights developed while living and traveling throughout Europe, with enabling them to bring bistronomy to the tony neighborhood of San Marco.
Keeping in mind that France has a cocktail heritage that rivals its culinary accomplishments, decision making at Rue starts with its extensive selection of craft cocktails. Favorites that have patrons coming back for more include the lightly sweet and somewhat spicy Peter Piper (made with Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka, Ancho Reyes, cucumber juice, lime, ginger beer, and pickled Fresno chili peppers), as well as the sparkling Dahlia Blossom (made with Darvelle Freres Brandy, lemongrass, Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur, Cleto Chiarli Sparkling Rosé, and lemon). Rumor has it the Aviation, Monkey Business, and Pimm’s Cup are also quite satisfying. Of course, there’s a healthy wine list that gives patrons plenty of choice when it comes to the perfect accompaniment to whatever dishes they select.
It was revealed that, during their time in Europe – specifically Rioja, Spain – Chef Alters and “Boss Lady” Saul (yes, that’s the title on her business card) became engaged. In light of this news, the pairing of a Spanish influenced Patatas a la Riojana with a bottle of Carlos Serres Reserva 2011 from Rioja is not terribly surprising. In fact, their willingness to stray off the contemporary French path, if only for a moment, is a praise-worthy romantic gesture.
If you are unfamiliar with Carlos Serres, this century-old Spanish winemaker merges techniques imported from France with local terroir – effectively preserving its historical and traditional heritage while maintaining the Carlos Serres avant-garde style. The wine is 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, aged for twenty-four months in a combination of American and French oak barrels, and a minimum of twelve months in bottle. It is full bodied, cherry red, with aromas of mature ripe black fruit, toffee and balsamic. Undeniably smooth and velvety with a fresh finish, this is an elegant wine not to be missed.
The selected entrée – Patatas a la Riojana – is a richly satisfying stew of potatoes, Spanish chorizo sausage, choricero peppers (a dried Spanish chili pepper), red bell peppers, onion and garlic. We found this brightly-hued dish of red, yellow and orange lent considerable vibrancy to the table.
Since our culinary adventure would not be complete without full investigation, we asked about the house specialties. Based on Chef Alter’s recommendations, we sampled their exquisitely spiced Muhammara Spread, a flavor-forward purée of roasted red peppers, walnuts and pomegranates, followed by the Forager’s Terrine and Eggplant Beignets. At every turn, each of these dishes dazzled our senses and expanded our culinary vocabulary – introducing us to inventive methods of preparation as well as surprising new flavors and textures.
If you’re eager to have your own adventure, open to new taste sensations, and are ready to learn more about bistronomy, then head over to Rue Saint Marc, say hello to Gabrielle and Scott, and check out all the goodies they have to offer. Whether you seek out entertainment from drinks alone, or prefer something more substantial, you will find your time exceptionally well spent.
Rue Saint Marc, 2103 San Marco Blvd., www.ruesaintmarc.com. 619-0861.
By Jeffrey Spear
Get the recipe for Patatas a la Riojana here, and pair it with:
CARLOS SERRES RIOJA GRAN RESERVA 2008
Grapes: 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano and 5% Mazuelo
Description: Its bright red and garnet color, with a rim turning to brick, shows its extended aging in barrel and bottle. Complex aromas from its development and aging include mature ripe black fruit, vanilla, and cinnamon spice, with a deep mineral core. Velvety smooth and harmonious with a fresh finish, this is a great match for roast meats, foie, game, aged or even blue cheeses.
All the Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes for this wine come from a selection of the different parcels of the Finca El Estanque vineyard, a 60-hectare vineyard owned by the winery in the best areas of Haro. The vines are 35 years old on average. Fermented in concrete vats after destemming and gentle pressing, the juice macerates in the skins before fermenting for approximately 15 days. Then the wine ages for 36 months in a combination of American and French oak barrels, followed by a further 36 months aging in the bottle.