Sherman's Food Adventures: Rockford Revisited

Rockford Revisited

Rockford again? Did our car break down in front? Or was I in search of the Canadian version of PF Chang's? Neither. After my original post, I was contacted by Rockford's corporate executive chef Harley Darnel. He was pretty concerned that our large party did not enjoy our food that night. I must give it to him that he stood behind his food and offered his apologies regarding the rice. He assured me that they do indeed know how to make rice and what I had that night was a one-off. He then invited me to come back on their coin. He would be there and the manager on duty would be aware as well. Furthermore, he added there was no pressure to blog about it whether it was good or not. As much as the offer was generous, I thought the visit might be a bit too contrived. Hence, I suggested he just send me a gift card (so I could visit randomly) and not only would Viv and I return to give it another shot, we'd bring Costanza and Elaine as well (since they were there for the original visit). A few more opinions and different tastes would make it fair.

So just like last time, we brought the kiddies with us. Despite the snazzy decor and hip atmosphere, the place is kid-friendly believe it or not. They don't outwardly advertise it, but they have a children's menu. Now for full disclosure, we were given a $100.00 gift card to use on this meal. Since we wanted to try more than just an entree each, we ended up exceeding the gift card by over $60.00 including tip and tax (which we paid for ourselves). Now as for the food itself, we had 3 appies starting with the Crisp Lettuce Cups. This consisted of minced pork with vegetables, hoisin sauce, crushed peanuts and crispy noodles served with butter lettuce. Personally, I love butter lettuce, yet for this application, iceberg would've probably worked better. The reason for this was twofold. First, iceberg would've been actually crisp unlike the smooth butter lettuce. Second, the filling had far too much moisture. The sauce was thickened, so it wasn't exactly watery, but it easily leaked out of the lettuce wraps we made. It was too bad really because the filling actually tasted quite good. Moreover, the minced pork was moist while the corn added a nice texture and sweetness. Our second appie was the Palmito Dip consisting of hearts of palm, spinach, soy beans and three cheeses mixed with charred tomato salsa and served with crisp tortilla chips. For me, this reminded me of Milestone's spinach & artichoke dip to a degree. The dip itself was cheesy and quite pleasant in texture and taste. The freshly fried large tortilla chips were indeed crispy albeit slightly greasy. The Rock Salt Five Spice Wings served with chipotle mayo was probably the best of our appies. Although they were a touch on the dry side, the flavours were spot-on. There was just enough five spice to create that distinctive flavour without going overboard.

On my previous post on Rockford, I had forgotten a dish which was had by all the kiddies and by another adult at the table. This time around, the kiddies had it again. The dish in question was the Fettuccine Alfredo. The picture shown is of the regular-sized portion which curiously was not much larger than the kid's version except for the addition of a grilled chicken breast. We found this to be a very creamy, yet mild dish. The kiddies seemed to like it, so who are we to judge? Onto our mains, Costanza went for the Kung Pao Chicken, which allowed us to try the steamed rice again. Well, I'll admit it, the rice was better this time. It was slightly chewy, not dry and did not clump together. As for the chicken, it was moist while the veggies were crisp. The sauce had a bit of a kick and overall, this was a decent North Americanized version of kung pao chicken (if not a tad too saucy). Viv ended up with the Mongolian Beef Noodles consisting of seared beef, bell peppers, carrots, bean sprouts, bok choy, fresh ginger, green onions and chow mein noodles in a black bean-hoisin sauce. While the individual parts of the dish were prepared correctly, such as the crisp veggies, tender beef and slightly chewy noodles, the sauce was quite salty. A little less seasoning and this would've been alright. Now Elaine's order of Mushroom Chicken which was a pan seared double breast topped with a portobello, shiitake and crimini mushroom cream with fresh basil and spinach, wild rice, broccolini and grape tomatoes, was a touch too mild for her liking. On the bright side, the chicken was seared nicely while being tender and the veggies were vibrant. However, there was just a bit too much sauce, it completely drowned the mash potatoes. If I had to draw a parallel here, the Portobello Mushroom Chicken at Milestone's has a much more balanced flavour profile.

For myself, I had to give their Bacon & Blue Cheese Burger a try. Costanza wasn't too impressed last time due to the dry egg bun and dry burger patty. For me, the burger patty was not too bad. It wasn't exactly juicy, yet it wasn't dry either. The bacon was crisp and the blue cheese provided all the sharp flavour. However, the bun was indeed a bit dry. On the other hand, Costanza did concede that if the bun was too soft, it would fall apart. The accompanying Yam Fries were good though. They were crispy outside and soft inside. Lastly, despite the large number of dishes which had practically made us burst at the seems, I had to get an order of their Fried Rice. You see, on our last visit, it was one of the worst renditions of restaurant wok-fried rice we've ever had. This time around, it was much better. Now, it will never be confused with fried rice ordered at a Chinese restaurant, but that is not the intention here at Rockford. With that in mind, the rice was chewy, veggies were crisp and it wasn't oily. It was, however, still quite mild. I decided to used some soy sauce and that seemed to help alleviate the problem.

So was our 2nd visit to Rockford better? Well yes. It couldn't have been any worse than the first time. The most important thing is that the rice was much improved. To be honest, all of us at the meal were probably not Rockford's intended clientele. We're Asian after all and we do know our Asian food. So were we too critical? Probably. Yet, in a city that boasts some of the best Asian food around, any establishment with even the slightest hint of Asian influences needs to step it up in order to compete. So there is really no choice but to compare even if we didn't want to. In all honestly, even though this visit was better, there wasn't enough here to make me want to return.

The Good:
- Service is good, just like last time
- Hip decor and ambiance
- Validated parking

The Bad:
- Other than the standard dishes (ie. wings, burger etc...), I still believe food needs some tweaking
- It's not cheap (but not dissimilar to any other chain restaurant)

Rockford Wok|Bar|Grill on Urbanspoon


KimHo said...

I commend the chef for defending his menu; however, we must keep in mind that, in the restaurant business, consistency is key. One night off (regardless if it is the kitchen or the wait staff) could mean a customer might not go back. Or, as I like to say: given there are so many restaurants and only that much $$$, you only have one chance to impress me before I move to the next place...

I have wonder one thing: are Western-type restaurants using Asian influences in their cuisines to directly compete against Asian restaurants or rather to entice non-Asian people to come in (you know "we have X or Y dish but you don't have to deal with the language barrier and have the Western type environment and service you are used to!")? The fact you mentioned you are not their clientele answers the question but what about non-Asian's perspective.