INDIAN ROCKS BEACH
It isn't entirely clear how many restaurants are being reviewed here.
On the Rocks is a cheekily named restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach that opened in October in the spot that used to be the cheekily named My Place. The dining room got a makeover and sports a moody decor, more traditional and formal than might be expected after coming in through an entrance of blue-glow lighting and dolphin sculpture.
But to get to that dining space, you have to walk through, or around, an indoor-outdoor sports bar area. The double-sided bar serves both the indoor customers watching games on flat screens and the outdoor patio patrons listening to live music several nights a week.
Stylistically and conceptually, they seem like separate entities. But there is just one kitchen, and the menus heavily overlap. The biggest difference: The sports bar menu has sandwiches; the dining room has more entrees. But when we went to the sports bar, we were given both menus.
Let's start in the dining room.
We ordered the housemade potato chips ($5.95), flavored with Parmesan and garlic and with a side of blue cheese, and a standard-issue shrimp cocktail ($8.95). A few of the chips hadn't reached a crisp state, but those that did were well seasoned and tasted good with or without the dip.
Among the entrees, we had the best luck with seafood dishes. The Seafood St. Jacques ($13.95) had still-juicy scallops and shrimp in a creamy champagne and mushroom sauce, all over a huge bed of linguine that dared us to finish it. Salmon ($15.95) came with bacon and a tomato-avocado accompaniment. And a thick cut of mahi-mahi ($13.95) was fresh and nicely blackened, and came with two sauces — a minted mango peach remoulade and a sweet vermouth cream — that were both very sweet. Together, they are intended to evoke a piña colada, but they didn't work well together. Either was fine individually with the fish, but when it was by itself, the fish was at its best.
I had trouble with the stuffed pork chop ($18.95). Mine was quite dry, and its stuffing of Brie, apple and Canadian bacon was problematic, as it was a slice of bacon and a slice of apple. When stuffed into the chop with the soft cheese, everything just slid around, and when the knife went in, the stuffing became a side dish. Chopping the elements of the stuffing may have solved this.
Then we got to dessert, and the gloves came off.
There are four options, and we tried the first two, if only because they sounded like something that someone put a lot of thought into: the Key Lime Calypso Kiwi Coulis and the Marquise and Chocolate ($7.95 each). Each cost almost twice as much as the other dessert options. Could they live up to that?
They came to the table as works of art. Each was a variation on a theme: a molded mousse with the profile of a familiar dessert. The colors of the key lime dish were arresting, and the dish was a little sweet and a little tart and not too much of either. The kiwi seemed there mostly for color, but it certainly didn't get in the way. The chocolate option was a baked mousse with raspberries. Each was presented with a degree of vertical panache, and colorful squiggles in a creme anglaise sauce on the plate.
On another visit, we tried the outdoor area to compare the experience. It was cold that night, but the booths are protected from the elements, and temporary walls surrounded the exposed area to keep in the heat. During more temperate times, the booth area and a patio dining/live music area are more open air, and separated only by the bar.
The cold night called for a cup of the smoked sausage and seafood corn chowder ($4.95). That's a lot of words for what should be a simple dish, but the chowder works, with the sausage an accent to shrimp, clams and scallops. The quesadilla ($7.95) was a bit of a head-scratcher. A tortilla filled with apple, wine-poached pear, candied pecan and smoked Gouda, it was a scoop of ice cream away from being a fine dessert. Nothing wrong with it, but it was an awfully sweet starter.
The trio of sliders was fun and a deal at $9.95. The sandwiches are bigger than a standard slider. There's a crab cake, a salmon cake and a piece of mahi. Each came on a soft roll, which works well with the delicate fish and cakes — no squishing. And the three together would be more than enough to share.
The pastrami melt on pretzel bread ($8.95) was an interesting take on a Reuben sandwich, with sauerkraut and melted Swiss.
And the other good thing about the bar menu: Both the key lime and the chocolate desserts are there. It really doesn't matter where you're sitting, as long as you end up with one of those.
Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.