Best-ever bison ... and a salad that sings
With so many restaurants maintaining the boring status quo, i.e. not changing menus or décor after years in business, or steadily sliding into a pit of indifference when it comes to the quality of their cooking, it’s nice to see a restaurant that has not lost the will to live.
Bison steak. — Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram
Redrock Bar and Grill has made several positive changes since I last visited and, since its ho-hum days as My Brother’s Place, seems to be going from strength to strength.
Credit for the impressive management of Redrock goes to the formidable husband and wife team of Jo-Ann and Tom Byrne. Since they unshackled themselves and their eatery from the strictures of chain restaurant franchisee (My Brother’s Place) they have built a strong independent restaurant based on consistently good food, excellent service and a willingness to respond to the wants and needs of their customers.
After introducing a streamlined menu a while ago, since January, the responsibility for cooking Redrock’s menu falls to chef Perseverance Meadows, or Percy as his friends know him. Apart from having the coolest name of any chef I’ve ever met, Meadows has excellent cooking skills. Most recently he was executive chef responsible for restaurant and catering operations at Bally Haly Country Club. I tasted his food there many times and saw equal care taken with simple and elaborate dishes.
Redrock is a large restaurant with booth and table seating. The booths are, by far, the most popular choice.
If you like to watch fish swim, go to the back of the restaurant. That’s where the aquarium is located. Mercifully (for those who like to hear each other) the drinking and dining parts of Redrock have been separated. The bar is a room to itself, along with flat screens showing the latest hockey or basketball game. Go Leafs!
We arrived at Redrock without a reservation just after 8 p.m. Thanks to a no-show, we were able to enjoy one of the comfy booths.
Guest ordered a glass of $8 Frontera sauvignon blanc. Most of Redrock’s modest wine list features New World selections, and not a single French wine. I ventured into spirits territory with something called a Revolver. For $8.40 I was served a mixture of bourbon, Kahlua and bitters in a salt-rimmed martini glass. It was velvety, round on the palate and boozy.
I noticed a blackboard at the entrance with the day’s specials listed. Rack of lamb caught my eye. Unfortunately there was none left. According to our server (who, by the way, did a fine job), the lamb had been more popular than anticipated.
This only made me want it more, but I settled for bison — still gamey if not as robustly flavoured. I consoled myself by reasoning that the bison most likely came from Canada and the lamb from New Zealand. Surely it was better to support the true north strong and free?
Pea soup is one of the oldest dishes on the planet and may have been one of the first meals prepared by European settlers in Newfoundland — after a feed of fish, of course.
Whenever I’m in a place where I sense I’m going to get really good pea soup, I order a bowl. No weak liquid versions, please. I had faith in Meadows and he delivered.
Newfoundland pea soup usually contains root vegetables, salt meat and sometimes doughboys.
Redrock’s had carrot, turnip and salt meat, but no doughboys. It was just salty enough to bring out the pea and vegetable flavours and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, a sure-fire test of correct consistency.
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A couple of straightforward starters followed. The curried apple scallop salad starred three or four tender, chubby sautéed ocean scallops that appeared to have been coated with a gastrique of pan juices and curry seasoning.
A spoonful of sliced caramelized onions was tucked in amongst the scallops and underneath all were pieces of Granny Smith apple, pecans and romaine. If the aforementioned ingredients were a choir, they’d be singing perfect harmony. Maybe Alleluia by Mozart.
Balsamic glazed steak rolls vaguely reminded me of a French dish I’d tried once in Labrador, alouettes sans têtes (larks without heads). The French recipe called for no larks, but a cheap cut of beef, pounded out, stuffed, rolled and braised.
Redrock used reserve Angus steak wrapped around julienne cut celery, red pepper and carrot. The rolls were then grilled and served with a drizzle of maple-balsamic vinaigrette. The steak was a little al dente, the filling a lot al dente. More developed flavours in the stuffing would have helped this dish enormously.
My $33 bison steak looked to be about 12 oz. and was grilled to medium rare. I was amazed that it tasted so much like beef, maybe better. I’d only tried bison twice before in my life and on those occasions the meat seemed gamier. It’s possible what I tasted years ago was wild meat.
I liked the Redrock bison. It was rich tasting, slightly sweet and subtly gamey. I washed it down with a glass of $9 Casillero shiraz.
Guest had Redrock’s pineapple-mango salmon. Mango and pineapple had been cut into chunks and made into a sort of fresh chutney. A cutlet of salmon fillet was lightly pan fried and then covered with the fruit. Salmon and some fruits actually do go well together.
Be careful, though. I had strawberries and salmon once and it was a dining low point for me. Broccoli, carrot and baked potato, all perfectly cooked, filled out the plate.
Redrock presents a dessert tray toward the end of the meal and I’m delighted to tell you that many of the items are made at Redrock.
I tried the chocolate hazelnut and Bailey’s cheesecake. It was low in profile but high in taste: chocolate rich, creamy, nutty and, yes, decadent. I suggest sharing this one with dining companions or you might just wake up several pounds heavier.
Rating: * * *
Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip: $170 (approximately)
Sound level: Moderate
* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent
* * * * Exceptional
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells.