As mentioned in our last Openings & Closings roundup, the much-anticipated venture from Michael Dei Maggi (formerly of Max's Wine Dive) and Robert Hall III (of the Robert Hall Winery) -- The Rockwood Room -- has finally opened at 5709 Woodway Drive. We heard good things from friends who had attended media tastings and dinners at the restaurant, and decided to make an unscheduled stop there this past Sunday morning to check out the brunch menu.
It started out promising enough: The brunch menu was compact, with only a few offerings -- a good sign that the kitchen isn't trying to be everything to everybody, and is instead focusing on what it does best. The dining room was splendid, with a fresh, throwback color scheme of mahogany, gold and peacock blue, interesting accents like gold chains hanging from the walls near the foyer and eye-catching chandeliers glistening from the ceilings. And we were one of the only tables in the restaurant, which almost ensured great service.
Ah, but how wrong we were. Although we were greeted immediately, it took an impossibly long time for the server to take our order, and our bottomless cocktails languished repeatedly at the bar where we watched them forlornly at a distance as the ice melted into the Bloody Mary mix. Instead, the table next to us -- where a family with an incessantly howling cackle of hyenas...er...children that ran amok nearly the entire time -- received stellar service and repeated visits while our coffee cups sat empty, our check undelivered. The family was clearly on the ins with the waitstaff and owners, and we thoroughly hope they enjoyed our portion of the service that they received on Sunday.
The brunch menu, despite being small, presented a difficulty in ordering. Everything sounded good. We eventually decided on The Chairman (a hand-formed Kobe beef burger), an order of French toast with berry syrup, a lobster omelet and a Kobe beef omelet. With all that Kobe on the menu, we had to make sure it was up to snuff, after all.
The good points stood out immediately: The bacon and potatoes that came with the French toast and omelettes were oustanding. Perfectly cooked and cripsy, both were the epitome of classic, well-executed breakfast sides. The French toast was thick, but not over-battered. The berry syrup that was served on the side (other options were Bananas Foster syrup and peach syrup) was so richly flavored that we found ourselves eating it with a spoon, by itself. And the Kobe burger was, as expected, a veritable ingot of hand-formed beef sitting pertly on top of a buttery brioche roll.
But all that good was quickly overshadowed by the bad points: The lobster omelet was fishy. Not in a good way (is fishy ever really good?) -- not in a briny, fresh-from-the-sea kind of way -- but in a let's-figure-out-how-to-use-this-leftover-lobster kind of way. And although one dining companion insisted vehemently that it was langoustine and not lobster, we are convinced that The Rockwood Room uses lobster -- just not very good lobster. The omelet was also wet inside, the kind of wet that comes from ingredients leaching too much moisture into the egg as they cook. Between the fishy lobster, the unwelcome moistness and the tough little asparagus stems inside, this was the low point of the meal.
The nubs of Kobe beef in the other omelet were cooked to a char, destroying any flavor the precious meat might once have had. And the burger was so salty as to be nearly inedible (although our dining companion who ordered it gamely ate the entire thing -- but we don't think his salt receptors work properly anyway). We aren't entirely sure about the name of the cheese on the burger -- the menu listed it as "Munster," which could be either Münster or Muenster -- but the it definitely tasted far too strong and salty for the beef and brioche, which makes us lean towards Münster. Not a good choice at all.
Despite all of this, it should be said that The Rockwood Room serves the finest Bloody Mary in town, something on which the entire table agreed. Even when judging the recent Bloody Mary contest, we didn't taste anything that came close to Derek Black's perfectly perky and refreshing concoction. And for only $15, bottomless Bloody Marys here are a steal. We would come back for those alone.
But for the brunch, which came to nearly $125 after tax and tip, we won't be returning. Although parts of the meal were excellent, the service left us feeling cold and we can make damn good French toast ourselves at home for less than $11. Here's hoping that lunch and dinner will be a better affair for the rat-packy Rockwood Room. To quote Sinatra, we have high hopes.
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