Even if I hadn’t visited Le Rouge on a night when the temperature was frigid, I still would probably describe it as cold. Le Rouge is a new tapas and wine bar on Restaurant Row, in the group of small storefronts between Seasons 52 and Roy’s. (It’s in the same grouping that held the recently closed La Nuova Cucina but it did not take over that space.)
It’s possible that on a hot summer night the concrete floor and steely glare of white halogen pin spots might add a welcome cool -- both in temperature and hipness. The red walls and red and blue accent lights are indeed, collectively, stylishly chic in a South Beach sort of way. But warm, no.
The food menu features a rather extensive list of small plates, panini and crostini. Most of the items are priced at or below $10. But, as is usually the case in tapas restaurants, it isn’t difficult to rack up a big check (especially when the server is prompting that the selections we’ve made are really small, but I won’t get into that).
The big check at the end of the meal wouldn’t be nearly as stinging if the food were outstanding. But my guests and I all agreed that only one dish rose above average. That was the scallops, which were prepared with diced chorizo sausage and crispy kernels of corn. The scallops, though not diver quality, were good enough themselves, but even better when served with the sausage and corn.
From there it was just a table full of meh. Pork belly crostini was sufficiently fatty, as pork belly should be, but offered little beyond the textural experience. A plate of bresola, speck, tallegio and camembert was downright boring (and the cheeses were too cold). And wouldn’t you expect a plate of meats and cheeses to be served with bread? None was offered, and when we asked a server if it didn’t come with bread, she said no. (And wouldn’t you expect the server to then ask, “Would you like me to get some?”)
The lamb sausage was withered and had practically no flavor, and the white bean puree the links sat on was as tasteless as it was colorless. The mahi ceviche as served in piles, diced fish on one side, diced fruit, jalapeno and cilantro on the other. Mix them yourself. And garlic prawns -- and by the way, they looked like shrimp -- were downright boring without even a hint of garlic or any other kind of seasoning.
There was at least flavor involved with the crab cake sliders, though I think it’s odd to serve crab cakes on bread when most judge a good crab cake by the lack of filler or breading.
We hadn’t planned on having dessert, but after hearing one of my guests express an interest in the Nutella, banana and homemade marshmallow panini, the manager sent one over to the table. The marshmallow was the best part, although I did like the chocolate and banana together.
The wine list offers a greater variety to those looking to purchase a full bottle; by-the-glass selections are limited. The wines, by the way, will do more to jack up the final bill than the tapas.
A better deal can be had during the restaurant’s happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 to 6:30 p.m. (although we were told they generally honor the prices until 7). Here there’s a limited number of small plates and 14 wines offered by the glass for $4 to $7.
When we started our meal, the sound system was playing an insistently pulsing music that fit the decor but was ultimately overbearing. Later, a performer played at the front of the restaurant in a more varied style of music.
Le Rouge is an interesting concept, but the execution needs a little work.
Le Rouge is at 7730 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and dinner daily. Late night until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. This link will take you to Le Rouge Wine Bar’s Web site. The phone number is 407-370-0909.