An incongruous menu and mix-n-match dÃ©cor leave diners wondering if this Purchase Street eatery will sink or swim.
It was one of those situations where the similarities creep up, vague and incidental, uniting in a sledgehammer of the obvious. My son and my assignment, Remy and Ruby, comrades in incongruity: Remy, 9 years old, seems torn between being an astronomer and a pastry chef; Ruby’s, 4 months, seems torn between being a bistro and a Victorian saloon. Both of them fledgling, unsteady, feeling their way.
But 9-year-olds have the luxury of time, restaurants don’t. Oh, the bistro accouterments are all there: long, gleaming zinc bar shipped from Paris, mosaic tiled floor, French poster art, mahogany woodwork, exposed brick, red banquets. But there’s also red drapes dripping with gold brocade, fringed lampshades, embossed scarlet wallcoverings, crimson glass-beaded chandeliers. The waitstaff looks right, cinched in butcher aprons; the chalkboard, though far in the rear, looks right, and so does its specials: ribeye over lentil shiitake stew with fingerling potatoes, multitudes of oysters from the raw bar, pan-roasted snapper.
But with the stratospheric noise level, the hordes of thirtysomethings and young families, the cavernous room was more brasserie than bistro, the menu, haute as homey. Yes, there’s the perennial French bistro classics: sautÃ©ed calf’s liver, grilled filet mignon with Bordelaise, onion soup, patÃ© and charcuterie, steamers and pommes frites. But the swordfish special featured pistachio oil, appetizers involved foie gras and a goat cheese quesadilla, and the pan-roasted snapper came with a shrimp and corn pancake.
Corn, in fact, popped up again and again: in the spicy corn and crab chowder special, well-balanced with tomato and chunks of lobster, clams, shrimps and sausage, and roasted on the cob in the Provencal clambake (we couldn’t figure what was Provencal about it).
I’d never heard of the raw bar’s Dartmouth oysters, but our waiter convinced me to try them and their brethren, the Cape Cod variety. Verdict: silky and plump, yes; briny, no. And while we’re on the subject of waiters—their skills could use some plumping. Too many arms diving between us, too many finished plates snatched while others were still eating.
My husband, an unrelenting duck liver addict, pronounced the interior of his seared foie gras with caramelized apples unevenly cooked, and so it was, perched in its oversweet, cloying glaze. Ruby’s special salad was delectable consolation, though, its baby greens riled up by a tangy vinaigrette, sweet dried cherries and crunchy toasted pine nuts and soothed by mild, creamy chÃ¨vre with roasted pears.
The clambake was more abundant in size than flavor; its roasted corn bland, its lobster blander. Only its lusty andouille sausage was out to party, carousing with cliques of clams and mussels. Two swordfish dishes arrived and were ravished, one by the foie gras addict, who happily strays from organs when presented with gems like the horseradish-crusted special with baked artichoke and its sautÃ©ed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.
The other swordfish, this one grilled with a balsamic reduction, was declared excellent by my usually underwhelmed friend, Aileen, and promptly devoured, though her husband—he of the tepid clambake—hungrily foraged among her bed of overcooked baby vegetables. But oh, the ribeye! Paired with a glass of deeply fruity French pinot noir, it was a paragon of beefy flavor, perfectly rare and tender. And who needs baby vegetables when the pommes frites are so divine?
Great steak and frites—Ruby’s may do its bistro moniker proud, but a patisserie ce n’est pas.
Our desserts were mediocre: an adequate crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, an uninspired chocolate-bottom cheesecake, and a molten-chocolate cake that wasn’t the least bit molten. Maybe we should have tried the apple dumpling, a relative of that bistro classic, tarte tatin.
Now about those fringed lampshadesâ€¦
RUBY’S OYSTER BAR & BISTRO
45 Purchase Street, Rye
Lunch from 11:30 am everyday but Sun.
Dinner from 5:30 pm
Reservations taken for lunch; dinner reservations taken only for parties of 6 or more.