Far from being a ruse and just short of going rogue, the quiet launch of Rouge steakhouse in downtown Naples debuts the latest local dining concept from longtime restaurateur Chef Vincenzo Betulia. Just keep it under your hat.
While not entirely a secret, of course, the 18-seat Rouge debuted Friday night. Inspired by a Prohibition-era speakeasy, the tiny clandestine restaurant is accessible only through a back door off the mid-block alley behind Chef Betulia’s The French restaurant at 365 Fifth Ave. S.
Betulia clearly had some fun with this one, finding a better use for a secluded space that has its own entrance in the back corner of The French.
“The space has been used for overflow dining and semi-private events, but was otherwise full of possibilities,” he said. “My creative wheels started turning.”
Betulia’s intimate speakeasy concept within a concept is open only for dinner four nights a week. A password, secret handshake or unique knock is unnecessary to enter Rouge, but diners must text or call a special phone number for reservations.
Rouge is spelled out in red neon in a window by the restaurant’s entrance. Inside the dimly lit restaurant, diners will find red velvet drapes and red leather banquettes.
It’s not surprising that red is a dominant color for Rouge, the French term for red. Red also has been a prominent accent color at The French since it opened in 2017.
Red meat, of course, is at the center of Rouge’s menu of contemporary, haute cuisine, underscoring the chef’s initial idea to create a classic steakhouse and beef up dining options on Fifth Avenue South.
“I saw the opportunity, and I felt that a steakhouse was lacking,” Betulia said. “I won’t put something on the avenue that’s already there.”
Rouge’s entrees of Wagyu and prime cuts include filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip steaks and a veal rib chop. Two beef entrees — a prime porterhouse and a Wagyu tomahawk — are large enough to share. Steakhouse sauces include au poivre, bearnaise and bordelaise.
“While beef is the paramount focus, there are also composed entrees like Mediterranean branzino, Poulet a la Basquaise (roasted chicken Basque style) and beef short rib bourguignon,” Betulia said.
Alternative entrees include Maine lobster tail, roasted bone marrow canoes, seared foie gras and an extravagant seafood tower with oysters, shrimp, crab legs, tuna tartare, salmon crudo and lobster. The menu also features classics, such as The French’s acclaimed steak tartare, as well as shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque, baked onion soup, Caesar salad and wedge salad.
Rouge’s spirits aren’t bootlegged, as they might have been in the 1920s, but rather are openly savored with an elevated wine program developed by Campagna Hospitality Group beverage director Marcello Palazzi and sommelier Alain Rabault.
“The wine selection will focus on full-bodied wines that have more complex flavors and a richer mouthfeel. Examples include red blends from Napa Valley, Italy and Bordeaux,” Palazzi said.
Wines will be rotated regularly by vintage, production and style. Initially, six wines – two Italian, two French and two Californian – are featured by the glass, including Damilano Barolo 2015, Chateau Latour 2014 and Opus One 2018. Diners may also order wines by the bottle.
Classic cocktails, served in cut crystal, gold-rimmed rocks glasses, include gin gimlets, Manhattans, sidecars and vesper martinis.
Reservations for Rouge, which is open 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, may be made by calling or texting 239-315-3368. Reservations may not be made online nor taken at The French restaurant.
Rouge will be the sixth culinary concept in Naples developed by Betulia in the past decade, starting with Osteria Tulia in 2013 and Bar Tulia in 2014. All are part of Naples-based Campagna Hospitality Group, owned by a small group of partners and foodies, including Betulia.