To step outside of the daily routine, our party decided to check out Mama Rouge, a restaurant by the waterfront that specializes in French-Asian fusion cuisine.
The two of us were easily impressed after weeks of constant excursions to Leo’s and intrigued by the restaurant’s theme — we came in with high hopes. Unfortunately, the inspiration of the restaurant did not come through in the food that was served, and several technical problems resulted in an unspectacular meal.
Our party decided to order family-style to allow for more variety in the meal. The pork belly in bao buns ($6) was probably the best dish of the night. While this was a technically well-executed dish, the simplicity of the dish makes simple execution an unimpressive feat. That said, the pork belly was rich and tasty. The cut of meat is essentially a slab of bacon prepared char siu style, which is meant to develop a barbeque-like crispness in the outer fat of the protein.
The fishmonger sriracha stew ($19) has a name that sounds bold, but the dish failed to deliver any punch. From a technical perspective, the dish had several issues. The seafood was not cleaned thoroughly and was, as a result, somewhat sandy. At the same time, the dish included a seemingly random mix of vegetables which did not seem to fit together and detracted from the dish as a whole. Furthermore, having sriracha in the name is very misleading because the dish simply had no spicy kick. Instead, the curry was more of a watery tomato sauce. The restaurant does not follow the Thai style of using coconut milk in their curries, leaving the curries thinner and less rich than would otherwise be expected. In this case, the lack of spice and richness really left the stew rather flat.
The other curry we tried, the yellow pumpkin squash” ($16), ran into the same problem, as it was lacking any real discernible taste given the simplistic nature of the curry and the chef’s inability to draw out these classic flavors. The curries came with both jasmine rice and a baguette, which was rather superfluous. It seems the baguette was a forced attempt to inject a French element into the dish. In general, neither curry exemplified a distinct type of Asian cuisine, nor did the restaurant successfully utilize any elements of French-bistro dining.
The offered beverages attempt to draw on Mama Rouge’s fusion concept by providing a diverse selection. The drinks themselves did not combine any Asian or French flavors, but there were interesting options from both styles. For one, there was the “thai iced tea,” ($5) which was pretty standard but definitely worth getting if you prefer less-sweet drinks. The “French soda,” ($5) however, was very underwhelming. For one, it was simply far too sweet. The small glass was half-filled with an airy, almost-tasteless foam.
Dessert was good, but not great; it’s important to note that every dessert on the menu lacks any Asian element whatsoever. The eclairs were not as rich as one would hope for from a French restaurant, and the cream filling was really not satisfying. While not awful, the eclairs did little to impress. Similarly, the crepes were rather only mediocre in taste and selection, despite the flashy presentation that includes a waiter flambeing the crepe before setting it down on the table.
The decor of the restaurant did not incorporate any noticeable Asian elements. The restaurant looks like a bistro with the shelves of liquor and French style furniture. But even with the bistro design, Mama Rouge prominently displays its bar, which has a modern feel to it with TVs showing “Sportscenter” and sleek furniture that flows well into the dining area.
The restaurant purports to fuse French and Asian styles in its cuisine. However, it neither effectively utilizes the richness of French dining nor packs the punch of distinctly Asian spices and flavors. The fusion aspect seems relatively sloppy and confusing, as if someone just threw several French and Asian dishes onto the same menu.
Mama Rouge — which replaced Bangkok Joe’s and was meant to be an update —was not a terrible dining experience, but it just didn’t do anything to make it very worthwhile either. The hopes of an interesting fusion menu may draw customers, but the restaurant fails to deliver in that department. Ultimately, Mama Rouge’s lack of innovation and confused concept cannot justify the above-average price.