The Rookery, the newest venture of the Travail trio (Mike Brown, Bob Gerken, and James Winberg), evokes a suburban gastronomic Disney World: over-stimulating, exciting, and unapologetic. It exudes personality while keeping you on your toes, dishing up one micro-plate at a time, either a la carte or via the $30, 11-micro plate “Bite Flight.”
Sharing a space with nationally recognized (tasting-menu only) Travail, the 54-seat Rookery and its counterpart are distinguishing themselves from their more “reserved” competitors in town by making their restaurant a theme park, with the food as the main entertainment: Gratuitous hair band music blaring from overhead. Non-stop commotion.
An open space with quirky embellishments: peculiar teddy bears stuck in the rafters and a toy car in the back; it’s aggressively quirky without a cohesive theme throughout. Gimmicky, perhaps? Not really. Delivering something other than food and having people pay for it is a business model – and seems to be a smart one at that.
So, with an open mind, we sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The Violette Pilot ($10, pictured at top), a bright, candied, floral-note combination, made for an inventive, complex gin creation. The presentation alone was quite whimsical; we didn’t know whether to drink it or pot it. However, the smooth operator of the night belonged to Pisco the Night Away ($11). Consisting of four ingredients — Pisco (a South American grape brandy) and egg with an apricot and black pepper fruit leather garnish — this soothing, well-balanced, sweet-sour libation packed a mean punch. Don’t let its modesty fool you. (Downfall: Thanks to the name, the infamous Chumbawamba song was stuck in our heads. And now it’s in yours.)
Let us preface this by saying that our edible adventure started out on a pretty good note. Enter the oysters ($2). Much to our chagrin, they didn’t serve your typical oysters — not by a long shot. Silly us for thinking otherwise. Instead, in a petite porcelain cup, was oyster pot de crème with compressed cantaloupe. Despite its richness, it still had a lift to it, and the cantaloupe garnish was a nice texture contrast to the custard’s silkiness. However, the cantaloupe itself tasted out of place. The combination of the two flavors resembled an arranged marriage: forced. We didn’t like it. We didn’t despise it. We respected its intentions.
Our next bites were meticulous. Immersed in a seaweed and mushroom broth lay a mini oxtail hamburger ($4, above) surrounded by togarashi, carrots, and peppers. The cutting technique and precision of the vegetables left us almost speechless. The rich flavor held on even with the raw beef texture, with the perfect amount of salt.