Stepping into Rock'N Fish is like stepping into a time warp with the décor reminiscent of an old San Francisco saloon: red brick walls, dark woods, leather booths, elaborate deco-like light fixtures, wrought-iron grilles on the windows and the requisite picture of a reclining nude, which in this case is a huge mosaic of a recumbent mermaid along one wall. Red velvet draperies pulled back with sashes separate the dining areas. Painted signage in the bar area advertises beer and the men's room. We hope we won't be accused of sexism if we label the character of the space as masculine.
The menu is a bit of a time warp as well. The food is classic regional American fare with the emphasis on grilled fish, steaks and iceberg lettuce. Starters include shrimp cocktail and oysters on the half-shell. Soup is clam chowder and your wedge of iceberg comes with blue cheese dressing. Seafood specialties include beer battered fish'n chips and a ¾ lb lobster tail. And of course there are the steaks: top sirloin, New York and filet.
Venturing into more adventurous waters, there is food from the American South like seafood jambalaya, Memphis-style barbecued ribs, and shrimp and sausage gumbo. Pacific Rim influences are represented by hibachi teriyaki chicken, macadamia crusted mahi-mahi, Kapalua rib eye and sesame seared ahi tuna.
Two very plump, lump crab cakes were all meat, moistened with mayo and lightly crusted with breadcrumbs. The generous amount of mildly flavored crab had no particular seasoning but the two house-made sauces were terrific. The creamy remoulade (mayonnaise-based with mustard, herbs and spices) had a real kick and a great balance of sweet, sour and salty flavors. It was so good we saved it to put on whatever might come next. Equally good and completely different was a light tartar sauce.
On a more contemporary note was the Napa Sonoma salad, which comes as a side salad or as an entrée. Baby greens are combined with an almost equal amount of sun-dried tomatoes as well as red onion, cucumbers and pine nuts in a nice balsamic vinaigrette. The only off note was a chunk of fresh mozzarella that was very watery and had no discernible taste. (Note: The starter salad was so large that we were afraid to dig in before confirming that it was indeed the "small" one.)
Besides four choices of simply grilled fish, there is a menu category of seafood specialties. We selected the macadamia nut-crusted mahi-mahi, served with pineapple beurre blanc, fresh mango salsa and your choice of two sides. Although the fish was nicely cooked, the rather thin piece was overwhelmed by the taste of the fried crust, which had lots of breadcrumbs and few macadamia nuts. The butter sauce was slightly sweet but pineapple was undetectable, while the mango salsa had no zip at all. Two skewers of seasonal vegetables came nicely grilled. The mac 'n' cheese was more creamy than cheesy and didn't have any particular character.
Although the restaurant is named Rock'N Fish, they also call themselves a steakhouse. Their signature steak is the Kapalua rib eye marinated for 72 hours in pineapple soy marinade and served with "Hibachi" teriyaki sauce. There are two burgers, one straight and one gussied up with bacon, gruyere, blue cheese, caramelized onions and garlic aioli, served on a French roll. We were interested in tasting the meat, so we ordered the oak-grilled Angus burger. The medium sized patty was hand-made from good quality beef and came on a freshly baked sesame bun that had a pleasantly sweet flavor.
We don't often get excited about dessert but the highlight of our evening was their sticky toffee pudding. When it arrived it looked as though it was going to be ridiculously sweet…glazed and slathered with glistening toffee sauce; but in fact, it was all caramel-y, buttery and not too sweet at all but sinfully luscious.
Our waiter told us that Rock'N Fish will be adding more items to the menu soon and will be opening for lunch some time this month.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 422 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
When: 7 days: 5 p.m. to closing (lunch service to begin at 11:30 a.m. Saturday)
Appetizers: $3.95 to 14.95
Entrées and Sandwiches: $9.95 to $34.95
Bottles: $25 to $500
By the glass: $7 to $19
Corkage Fee: $15
Information: (949) 497-3113 ROCKNFISHLB.com