When you think of neighborhoods, the sprawling, traffic-gagged morass of Kendall doesn't exactly leap to mind. Neighborhoods are bucolic little areas with quiet, tree-lined streets, full of quaint old buildings and cute new boutiques, where everyone knows everyone and says hi when they run into each other at the store. Neighborhoods are not suburbia grown and multiplied like Death Star bacteria until it covers the land with shopping malls, ticky-tacky housing developments, and roads that have been impassable since the day the asphalt dried.
But though Kendall might not seem like much of a neighborhood — in the idealized sense, anyway — judging from the vibe of the surprisingly charming Rock Fish Grill, it does have at least one very neighborhoody restaurant.
Rock Fish — the name echoes its seafood-oriented menu and the restaurant's collection of rock and roll memorabilia lining the walls — is, of course, in a shopping mall, one with an infuriatingly obscure entrance that, when missed, will send you right back on that curse of Kendall, Florida's Turnpike.
Rock Fish Grill
12042 N Kendall Dr, Miami; 305-271-1251. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
So you'll likely be in need of a little TLC when you finally push through the front door into a cramped rectangular dining room, rescued from mall generica by signed photographs of assorted rock gods, posters announcing various concerts, and all manner of rock-theme knickknacks, with a steady stream of rock's greatest hits — everyone from Carlos Santana to the Grateful Dead — playing at a judicious volume in the background.
Like I said, you might need a little TLC, and you will get it. At least half the patrons here seem like regulars, and you'll be treated like one too. By the time you leave, you'll be chatting up the bartender, bantering with the quip-wielding servers, and acting like, well ... neighbors.
To be honest, that neighborly spirit trumps the food, but then the Fish is more in the neighborhood of chicken wings and coconut-crusted shrimp than Hudson Valley foie gras and stir-fried butterfly lips. So, for example, if those wings — which can be had heavily breaded or "naked" with a bucketful of different sauces, including three heat levels of Buffalo — taste suspiciously like the prebreaded and frozen kind, at least they are greaselessly fried and each is approximately the size of a Louisville Slugger.
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And if you have the same suspicions about the fish and chips, again, the portion is huge and the fish is fried golden and crunchy, though this time it's not quite enough to make you forget the bottled-tasting blue cheese dressing on the complementary salad, the equally forgettable tartar sauce, the limp and pallid fries, and the truly awful coleslaw.
Away from the fryer, things get better. "Down South" peel-and-eat shrimp channel the fabulous "barbecued" shrimp beloved in New Orleans. Steamed with pale ale and lots of salt and fistfuls of spices, they aren't quite the decadent ménage à trois of shrimp, cholesterol, and cayenne served at, say, the old Mr. B's, but they're still tasty enough that licking your fingers is almost as satisfying as chomping down on the plump little crustaceans.
As for a thick slab of skirt steak, it gets a surprisingly refined teriyaki glaze, neither too salty nor too sweet, and arrives with a properly crusty surface and rosy-red interior, plus a mound of nicely sautéed veggies and quite fetching chive-flecked mashed potatoes.
Desserts offer no surprises, though a fat wedge of passable cheesecake topped with underripe fruit does satisfy a certain need for moderately sweetened closure and, like Rock Fish Grill, is good enough — if you're in the neighborhood.