FOR MORE THAN four years, New York Times food critic Pete Wells has been singing my favorite song: Don’t give me a “small plate” that’s meant for sharing.
Even as an only child who likes to eat, I don’t inherently dislike sharing food family-style; I just want to get my fair share. Most places render this nearly impossible by bringing a table of four a $10 plate with two scallops on it.
Rue, a new French-inspired, vegetable-forward upstart on the ground floor of one of inner Southeast’s latest apartment build-outs, avoids this downfall. Our recent table of four hungry eaters got two dishes a person and waddled away satisfied that we got more than a nibble from each plate.
Chef/owner Jason Roberts graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and has spent the better part of the last decade working with farmers. His play with the late summer harvest shows a deft hand for plating, texture, and flavor. A dish of multi-colored carrots roasted to a sweet perfection before getting a nutty brown butter, puffed grain, and a healthy shower of manchego cheese ($11) is worth ordering every visit (at least while it stays on this highly seasonal menu). Zucchini ($11) is just touched by heat, sliced into ample ribbons, and dressed with feta, pistachios, and basil.
When the restaurant was out of burrata ($12), I almost shed a tear into my artichoke spritz ($11), a bitter blend of cynar, Punt e Mes, grapefruit oil, and soda. It’s worth noting that the cocktails are uniformly adventurous and well executed, with several surprise additions, like banana or fernet and huckleberry soda, all working surprisingly well. But back to that heaping mound of Italian cheese: Its thick, creamy center perfectly matches crispy kale and salty anchovies to spread over slices of bread like a picnic-goer’s dream.
Typically, there’s also room to spread out—there’s 55 seats and some very high ceilings that serve to amplify sound when there’s a crowd (which hasn’t been often when I’ve gone there). The quieter back half of the restaurant, just past a chalkboard with a rotating selection of the first pages from some of the chef’s favorite books, offers a peek into the small kitchen. Rue’s got a nice dining room, if a bit sterile (although the painting near the kitchen of a naked, reclining and redolent Burt Reynolds is a good start).
Meat offerings are a bit more hit-and-miss than the lovely veggies. But a rare duck breast ($21) was expertly rendered of its fat, leaving a crispy skin, and served with a bit of confit leg with plum and chicories; I usually find the latter too bitter in most applications, but it was a nice wrap for the sweet fruit and rich protein. A steak tartare ($14) was also generous and well balanced—nothing to visit Rue for specifically, but a fine addition to the mix.
Seasoning is also a bit of an issue—the rockfish ($15) with smoked wheat and fried cauliflower lacked salt, while new potatoes ($10), with a cabbage cream and a colorful splash of yellow arugula flowers, were too salty to finish.
Rue isn’t out to break any culinary barriers, and it needs more time to give both its menu and space a bit more soul. But those unexpected touches—here’s looking at you, Mr. Reynolds and banana cocktail—make me hopeful that it will come into its own.
Wed-Sun, 5 pm to 11 pm; accepts reservations. Larger parties are a possibility, but vegans might have a rough go of it.