Rockwell's International poses a dilemma for a restaurant reviewer.
The high-end restaurant in the historic Oliver House on the southeastern edge of downtown Toledo features five-star steaks, appetizers, salads, and desserts with a first-rate dining experience. Our visits featured highly attentive, smart, affable waiters and a warm, relaxed atmosphere, so there's nothing to complain about in that regard.
The problem, though, is weak side dishes. While it might seem like quibbling, a five-star restaurant should not have three-star food sitting next to fantastic entrees, especially at this price point.
Rockwell's is justifiably proud of its USDA prime, aged steaks and the servers go out of the way to tell you that the meat is cooked in a 1,800-degree double broiler and served on plates that have been heated to 500 degrees. On separate visits we tried the petite 6-ounce filet mignon ($30), the New York strip ($45), and the surf and turf ($28), which featured a top sirloin.
Each cut was absolutely perfect in every way you would expect. It's a cliche, but the New York strip really did pretty much melt in your mouth. Rockwell's also smartly lets the flavor of the meat work on its own without adding distracting seasoning that ruins the flavor of an excellent steak. The cuts are generous -- the New York Strip is 14 ounces -- so you get your money's worth and when Rockwell's touts its steaks, the restaurant is not bragging, just telling the truth.
Other entrees were the seared ahi tuna ($26), which is exceedingly rare on the inside and which our waiter made clear to us before we ordered. The result is a sushi-like dish where the grilled flavor of the skin and outer layer of the slab of fish complement the almost raw meat in the middle.
We also had the pan-roasted chicken ($19.50), which featured two breasts of chicken stuffed with prosciutto and boursin cheese. The combination of the prosciutto and cheese brought the mild flavor of the chicken to life.
We can rave about Rockwell's original salad ($8 for two people; $15.50 for four), a fresh mix of greens, crumbled blue cheese, finely chopped tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and zucchini. We doubled up on the blue cheese with our dressing choice and the artichoke hearts added a creamy richness to the texture of the salad.
Appetizers included sea scallops ($13) that were seared and glazed with Dijon mustard and given a pistachio crust. The scallops were served with a red pepper infused honey, which allows the spicy Dijon to merge with the honey in an intriguing marriage of disparate flavors. We also enjoyed the apple crisp baby brie ($12). Three miniature brie rounds with an amaretto almond apple crisp mixture baked on little rounds of toast seemed almost like dessert before the meal, which we don't consider a bad thing.
Finally, the desserts are prepared at the neighboring Petit Fours Patisserie bakery, which gives Rockwell's a trump card over virtually any other local restaurant. Our selections included a massive slab of chocolate cake ($12.50) that could provide dessert for five people. The slightly bitter flavor of the chocolate contrasted with the sweetness of the icing for a dessert that was truly decadent.
The Key Lime pie ($7) was light and airy rather than creamy and had just enough fruity zing to keep it from being too sweet. We also ordered the New York cheesecake ($8) on a different night. Our waiter made it clear that the cheesecake comes from a baker in Chicago rather than Petit Fours, and it was a bit generic and not up to the quality of the Key Lime pie or chocolate cake.
Our other complaint was the unremarkable sides. Rockwell's serves its sides family style, which means you pay extra for them when they accompany other dishes, such as the steaks. We were underwhelmed by the garlic mashed potatoes ($7). There was nothing overtly wrong with them and they were served piping hot, but to our taste buds they weren't all that different from something you'd find at a lower-priced restaurant.
The French beans ($6.50) were under-cooked, making them too crunchy, and they lacked much flavor. The sauteed wild mushrooms with baby spinach ($7.50) provided a strange mix of tastes that didn't work well together and distracted from the rest of our food. The tuna was served on a bed of rice with asparagus that, once again, was just OK, but nothing special.
As it stands Rockwell's is an excellent restaurant with strengths that outweigh its weaknesses even though the issue of the sides is a bit perplexing. It's as if so much thought has gone into the appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts that a creative approach to the complementary dishes was washed away in the process.
Address: 27 Broadway.
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$$$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: oh-rockwells.com
Contact Bill of Fare at firstname.lastname@example.org.