Take It Back, Please!
Rodz of South Beach, a restaurant and lounge nestled in the center of Española Way, serves cuisine that is self-described as Pan Asian, Continental, and Mediterranean, with an American influence. Whenever I come across such globally ambitious concepts, a little warning flag pops up: cooks of all countries, masters of none. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and I always hold out hope that the international team of Iron Chefs has been secretly hustled into the kitchen through the back door. A perusal of Rodz's menu quickly dampened such dreams, and indeed only served to compound my skepticism. It's not that maple-tandoori chicken, crab- and shrimpcakes with chipotle-wasabi coulis, and Latino-spice-encrusted yellowfin tuna with wasabi-balsamic vinaigrette couldn't turn out to be eminently edible. And it's also possible that my revulsion toward wild berry penne pasta with key lime; and berry marinated chicken, artichokes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and roasted garlic broth was unwarranted as well. Usually, though, questionable food combinations such as these are harbingers of less-than-solid culinary credentials.
As it turns out, the mismatching of ingredients is just one of Rodz's problems. There are so many others that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the spotty, sometimes neglectful service. On our first visit, the waiter was a trainee, which would be fine if they had at least given the poor guy a clue as to the menu and the workings of the restaurant before sending him out to the tables. They also might have instructed him to pick up menus and plates after the guests are through with them. Can't fault him for serving our salad with the appetizers, however, even though we had requested it to be brought afterward; he probably couldn't hear us over the Madonna CD that was blasting away in the background. Because there was nobody else in the room at the time, we asked if they could lower the volume. They obliged us by a fraction of a notch.
A trio of beef-filled empanadas were homemade and flavorful, the fried dough casings greasy. Each was cut in half and served with slices of vinegared cucumber and red onion (referred to as salsa) and a cloying sweet-and sour-sauce, which, in the guise of spicy dipping sauce, was pooled under crispy mahogany salt-and-pepper curry chicken, eight not crisp curried drumettes. So far, so mediocre, but things took a turn for the worse with Bimbay Bombay Bites, wherein some cubes of beef filet were served raw, others cooked okay, all coated in Far Eastern spices that tasted just like the old-fashioned Lawry's paprika/MSG seasoned salt. To say there was enough gristle to hog-tie a steer would be exaggerating, but there surely was a sufficient amount to handcuff a half-dozen Barbie dolls. A promised mango-guava-horseradish coulis never made it to the plate. It couldn't have salvaged the meat anyway.
A main course of Kansas rib-eye steak with wild mushrooms, artichokes, and rapini cabernet sauce arrived at our table about five minutes after we ordered it medium-rare. It can't possibly be done yet prophesied my companion. I sent the raw meat back, but not before noticing a distinct lack of wild mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and cabernet sauce. When the rib-eye returned, it was still bereft of the garnishings; in their place were so many branches of fresh thyme, along with a rosemary sprig, that you couldn't see the steak for the trees. It also was topped with a few slices of white mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and too much garlic. On the side were bland hunks of yellow squash and zucchini, some of which were raw, and pale French fries arranged in a vertical stack. Thank goodness they didn't just toss the hot potatoes from fryer to plate, or we'd never have that reassuring knowledge that some cook in the kitchen personally handled each and every fry.
The miscues continued with tandoori salmon, cooked to a moist, flaky consistency but sabotaged by a heavy-handed use of salt. An accompanying Rangpur lime tandoori sauce tasted like commercial yellow curry powder and had dabs of grease streaked throughout, probably drippings from two oil-soaked rounds of waferlike pappadam that were supposed to be curry biscuits. It's ironic that I was anxious about the menu, when in fact the kitchen puts out food with absolutely no regard to what that document says.
It's disappointing enough when your meal is missing a sauce or garnishes, but even more problematic are unwanted add-ons. Take the pizza -- might as well, because we sure didn't eat it. Of the four varieties offered, we quickly eliminated the three-cheese pie, both of us agreeing that Gorgonzola on pizza was an abomination. Instead we went with one topped with vegetables, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, olives, red onion, tomatoes, mozzarella, and goat cheese. The thin, brick-oven crust wasn't bad, but the artichoke hearts, olives, mushrooms, red onion, and goat cheese were left behind, replaced by cumbersome cubes of uncooked yellow squash and zucchini, carrot spears, tomato sauce, and ... a blanket of melted Gorgonzola. We each took a bite, nibbled on the crust, and left the pie otherwise uneaten. This took place on a second visit, so we had a different waiter, one presumably trained to spot a problem and react accordingly. Not too hungry, huh? he said, whisking away the pie without waiting for a reply.
Caesar salad was noteworthy: It was the worst I've ever had. It's debatable whether there was any caesar dressing, though the droopy lettuce leaves were drenched in something oily. Add four large wedges of unripe tomatoes, a blanket of cheap Parmesan, and brick-oven citrus marinated croutons, which tasted like orange turkey stuffing, and you've got your recipe for disaster. Well, not quite -- we ordered ours with the addition of wasabi coconut-milk shrimp and scallops. The shrimp were tender, the scallop nubs chewy as pencil erasers. And sour. The wasabi-coconut dressing was some unidentifiable concoction that may have had sesame oil, and definitely had more than enough garlic.
The waiter didn't know what today's special dessert was, but he did manage to check with the kitchen and quickly return with a definitive answer: We don't have any. So we chose key lime pie, a commercial wedge with cream cheese topping and cocoa powder dusted on the plate. We also tried Dutch American apple pie, even though our waiter emphatically warned us not to. Just my luck -- turned out to be the first time he knew what he was talking about. It was hard to tell if it was from Publix or Sysco, but the weak-crusted pie obviously was well refrigerated and nonsensically drizzled with chocolate syrup.
Blame executive chef and general manager Pingle Reddy for not having the proper ingredients on hand, sending out undercooked meats, soggy salads, and so on, but he is, puffy title notwithstanding, just an employee. It's the owner (at Rodz there are four owners) who ultimately is responsible for how all aspects of the operation are run. Or, in this case, run into the ground.
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