Recently I went to a dinner with a bunch of people at Rook—I had been wanting to try dinner here for a while, but just hadn’t made it happen. I was excited to get to go with a lot of people, knowing I could pick a little off other people’s plates and get to try a bunch of things.
To start with, Rook’s food is certainly unique to Indy. There are a couple of sort of “appetizer” portions of steamed buns and dumplings. Then, there are larger items that run in the $8-12 range. For a larger appetite, you may want more than one of the larger things, as they are moderately portioned (and reasonably priced in my opinion). For two people, maybe 3 of the larger plates would be ideal.
Hubby and I started with the two flavors of buns-the pork bun ($3.50) and the avocado bun ($3) (each order is one bun). Both of these were very good. The pork bun had that melty pork belly in it and was topped with pickles, cilantro, and a sprinkling of ground peanuts. It was a great proportion of savory/salty and the tangy/acidic with a decent dose of spiciness. The avocado had similar flavors—the pickle part here was kimchi cucumber though. I loved the slight crunchiness from the outside of the avocado, which had been lightly fried in a tempura batter. This was great combined with the creaminess of the avocado itself (let’s face it, avocado in my mind is one of the world’s most perfect foods). Both of these buns were worth ordering again for sure. I was a little sad I managed to miss out on the dumplings though—as I saw them come out of the kitchen, I wished I had ordered some.
As far as mains, we sampled several things—the pig face hash ($10), the Japanese fried chicken (karaage) ($8) and the shrimp toast special ($10). The pig face hash was good—lots of small pieces of shredded pork with pork cracklings and pickled peppers and topped with a runny egg. It felt like an Asian breakfast dish. Hubby loved this dish and ate every last bite. The pig face certainly has a concentrated, pork flavor and I enjoyed it, particularly with a bite of the egg, and a squeeze of the accompanying lime, but I sort of wished for another egg—the dish was just a little dry when you didn’t get some egg on it. I think I would just ask for an extra egg, extra runny, and see if they’d do that.
The karaage (fried chicken) was probably my favorite main dish of the evening. It is bite-sized pieces of chicken thigh that are fried very crisp, with a spicy seasoning and served over rice and topped with onions, peppers, sweet chili oil, cilantro, and a bit of mint. I love the tenderness of using thigh meat (as well as the extra depth of flavor that you don’t get with white meat). I loved the freshness that came from the crunch of onions and cilantro—this is one of my favorite things right now, the balance of fresh raw herbs and other veg (onions, bean sprouts, etc.) in Asian dishes.
The shrimp toast was a bit of a miss for me—maybe I am particular because I make a version at home myself that I really like and this was very different. The biggest problem for me was the size of the bread—it appeared they were just using the bread from the Banh Mi sandwiches and it was just too thick for the light shrimpy topping. I was excited about this dish when I read it on the menu (with bone marrow too!) but it just tasted like very lightly shrimpy bread with some of the fatty marrow on top. The recipe I use says that the bread layer should be the same thickness as the shrimp layer and I sort of like it that way. And while there were some sliced shallots on top, I missed the freshness and acidity that was part of most of the other dishes. I also had a quick bit of a friend’s rice bowl, which had a lot of nice things in it—the bite I had was sausage and a bite of a beautiful poached egg.
I like Rook, and I like the creativity that’s coming out of the kitchen. Chef Salazar is incredibly talented and inventive. My biggest question about this place is whether it is just a little too unfamiliar for many people to be a regularly frequented place. It also has quite an austere interior, which to me lends itself better to lunch (although you can’t get the wider menu at lunch, just the banh mi sandwiches and some of the dumplings) than it does to dinner. Also, while a friend pointed out to me that the target market here is probably beer drinkers, I miss the fact that they don’t serve wine. I understand it’s a small place without much more room for wine, but a couple of well-paired selections would be nice. We’re lucky to have Rook though, and hopefully there are enough adventurous eaters in town to keep them going!
719 Virginia Avenue