Rouge, the scenester Rittenhouse Square bistro that ushered in the city’s era of sidewalk dining two decades ago, has reopened after a 10-week renovation under the eye of its original designer.
It is serving dinner only, from 5 p.m., through Thursday, March 22, when lunch, from 11 a.m., will be added, taking walk-ins only initially. Weekend brunch service will begin March 30. Rouge ran two nights of cocktail-style tests last week to prime the pump.
Designer Meg Rodgers’ look-and-feel is similar to the one that she and founder Neil Stein created when Rouge opened in spring 1998 in the Rittenhouse Claridge, on 18th Street south of Walnut.
Notably, acknowledging that more bottoms in seats is better for the bottom line, owner Rob Wasserman has added 22 seats to the 40 seats in the microscopic 750-square-foot dining room by repositioning the bar to the rear wall under the existing chandelier.
The bar, which has the same scalloped Corian top that designer Meg Rodgers installed in 1998, is slightly larger but is square, not a semicircle. Overall, it is less a focal point of the room.
A releveling of the floor allows better views of the square from the rear of the restaurant. Banquette seating along the walls will allow for larger parties. Drapery on walls has given way to paneling and upholstering. Soundproofing has been added. Sidewalk tables and chairs are new.
Rouge also has a new chef, Sean McPaul (ex-Tangerine, Talula’s Garden, High Street on Hudson), whose all-day menu retains only the signature 12-ounce, gruyère-topped burger. The menu is primarily built on smaller plates, such as duck wings, seared scallops, and cauliflower croquettes. Only three larger plates are on the initial menu: a half-chicken, black bass, and filet mignon.
Owner Rob Wasserman also retained the cocktail services of Hop Sing Laundromat owner Lê, whose drinks use fresh-squeezed juice.
Stein, who died in October at age 77, had created a string of notable high-concept restaurants, including Marabella’s, Rock Lobster, Fishmarket, and Striped Bass before he leased a shuttered liquor store at 205 S. 18th St.
Stein ran into extensive financial and legal problems, and in 2006, his daughter and son-in-law, Maggie and Rob Wasserman, bought out the previous partnership and assumed control.