By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Anyway you shuck it, Rockfish is as enjoyable as Shell's, only better.
It seems almost comical that a restaurant boasting authentic Caribbean fare would sprout up in a dry area of Dallas. Almost as funny as the emergence of lush, green golf courses and waterways filled with bickering pirates in ships in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. Of course, most people would agree that Las Vegas is a virtual warehouse club of value-priced comical irony.
While Vegas creates an atmosphere of fun that drives you to stuff your kid's lunch money into quarter slots, Caribbean Grill creates a festive atmosphere that makes you want to, well, eat Caribbean food. Plugged into the former Benavides Restaurant space on Forest Lane, Caribbean Grill pounds with reggae and calypso music (live music will be featured shortly after this writing) and is bright with aqua-washed walls, island murals, acid-yellow trim, purple woodwork, and booth seating. The tables in the center of the dining room are surrounded with thickly padded chairs in a coral hue with backs in the shape of clamshells.
And this tone carries over to the menu, a hodgepodge of dishes from Jamaica, Cuba, Antigua, and the Virgin Islands. Plus there are some island beers here (Red Stripe, Carib-Dragon), so bring your Unicard.
Caribbean Grill's conch fritters were crisp on the outside and light, but a little doughy, on the inside. A lively cilantro vinaigrette, a variation on a traditional recipe from St. Martin, supplied a good shot of spice and tang that counteracted the slight fritter doughiness.
With chunks of golden yam, glue-like dumplings, green bananas, and a broth rendered from a fish-head (eat 'em up, yum) stock, the fish tea was slightly spicy, with a rich fish taste, though there was little fish meat to be found. Jamaican beef patties, flaky yellow pastry turnovers filled with finely ground beef that's stewed down to a paste, were delicate, spicy, and rich at the same time.
Caribbean Grill's stuffed crab is a welcome twist on the ubiquitous crab cake. A pair of crab body hulls are stuffed with shredded crabmeat, bread crumbs, onion, pepper, and garlic, coated with more bread crumbs, and deep fried. The flavor is full and rich, even if the stuffing was slightly cakey.
A real surprise is the grouper fillet in a wine, cream, and garlic sauce. This generously thick portion of fish was moist and flaky, with a sauce that amply complemented the mild sweetness of the flesh. But the accompanying sauteed cabbage and yellow squash were a bit over-buttered, while a side of overcooked saffron rice offered little flavor.
Cuban black beans over rice with a side of roasted pork had perfectly prepared beans with a slightly smoky flavor over flawless white rice. And the slices of juicy pork were slathered in a sauce rendered from orange juice, oregano, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil that worked smoothly with the meat, bringing out its delicately rich nuances.
Parched, mealy, and falling off the bones, the jerk chicken was as big a disappointment to this menu as a cloudy day with a cold front is to the beach. A cup of dipping sauce had potent spiciness with a sweet undercurrent, but even this girding of hearty flavors didn't stand a chance of rescuing this inferior bird.
The rib eye marinated in jerk seasoning also had some serious problems. Infused with a sharp sourness and a bitter spike, the meat--marinated in a concoction of onions, peppers, thyme, ginger, vinegar, and caramelized sugar with jerk seasoning--was plagued by a preponderance of fat and a mushy, stringy consistency. It was cooked to a reasonable semblance of medium rare, but the boisterous marinade tang crushed what rich meat flavors this cut possessed while a cup of red beans and rice was dry and pasty.
Housemade Key lime pie, however, was a serious treat: a gripping tang over a fresh, crunchy piecrust.
Opened last November by Roland Frederick, a former mechanical engineer who hails from Antigua, Caribbean Grill has all the right stuff in place: decor, ambiance, interesting menu. With a little tighter focus on menu execution, this might end up in the top tier of island eateries in town.
Rockfish, 4701 W. Park Blvd., Plano, (972) 599-2190. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; open Friday & Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; open Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. $$-$$$
Caribbean Grill, 3068 Forest Lane, Suite 111, (972) 241-9113. Open for lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Open for dinner Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Friday 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Open Saturday noon-10:30 p.m. Open Sunday for brunch 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $$