Restaurant review

Sweetwater’s Rock & Rye brings lagniappe to Mill Valley

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Since 1972, Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall has been bringing people together for great music. Now, with chef Rick Hackett in his newly reopened Rock & Rye kitchen, the food is what Cajuns call the “lagniappe” of music. Lagniappe is a Cajun French word meaning something more. And in this case, Hackett’s Pan Am menu offers so much more.

Hackett’s travels to Latin America, Mexico and Louisiana inspire Rock & Rye’s menu. It’s a celebration of the native foods of the Americas found throughout the menu: annatto, corn, peppers, tomatoes, avocados, winter squash, beans (except favas), potatoes and quinoa. All originated in the Americas and have spread throughout the world. Can you imagine Italian cuisine without polenta and tomatoes?

Let’s have a cocktail to start our evening. My friend Laura chose one of the seasonal house cocktails ($14 each), Roccapulco, made with tequila with ancho chili liqueur and fresh herbs served over a big ice cube. I’m a fan of rye manhattans so given the name of this place I went in that direction but found it odd that there was a limited rye selection.

Peruvian beef skewers ($12) and rainbow salmon tostadas ($14) were welcome starters with our cocktails. The beef wasn’t the beef heart skewers I’ve eaten at Peruvian restaurants, but rather five pieces of tender, lightly seasoned flatiron beef topped with a little roasted piquillo pepper puree and fresh cilantro.

Normally the salmon tostada comes as one tostada per serving, but our server asked the kitchen to split the salmon and vegetable tostadas between two smaller tostadas. A smear of lightly spiced habanero salsa over seared salmon was full of citrus flavors that added an interesting contrast to the soft, chewy, roasted, room temperature vegetables tossed with chunks of avocado. The flavor and texture of the roasted vegetables could very well satisfy even without the salmon.

Laura, who has a great sense of color and composition, admired the bright, vibrant colors in food that are as appealing as the flavors. The seat at the entrance to the music hall, a stone’s throw from the sidewalk, is an enclosed patio with heaters and a retractable roof – elegant and relaxed. When booking, you have a choice of the heated patio at low or high tables, or some seating inside the bar. We chose a regular height outdoor table with comfortable seating. Often the noise level and seating in many restaurants seems to be designed to deter lingering. After so many months of not eating at all or eating in parklets open to our temperamental Marin weather, it was a pleasure to be in a comfortable space to reunite with my friend.

The New Orleans-inspired crawfish etoufée ($25) is based on a velvety medium brown roux with the added kick of Peruvian aji rocoto, chili peppers. Peppers add punch to the deep flavors of the roux’s thickened custard sauce sprinkled with crawfish surrounding the mound of jasmine brown rice topped with pea shoots.

The menu offers several vegan, vegetarian and/or gluten-free offerings. The two vegan dishes we chose were creative and delicious: a mix of grilled broccoli rabe with roasted sweet potatoes ($11) sits on a lemon spinach sauce with a scattering of Peruvian corn nuts, called cancha, and the Spinach, Tomato, and Winter Squash Coconut Stew ($16) with toasted pumpkin seeds has the texture and sheen of Southeast Asian coconut dishes.

The NOLA burger ($19) on a brioche bun with cheddar cheese, mushrooms and green onion vinaigrette is served on a wooden board with fries. Not sure what makes it New Orleans, but it satisfies a burger craving.

The Campeche-style Mexican Shellfish Stew ($26) features the heirloom beans from Tlaxcala, Mexico. When cooked, these earthy-tasting beans plump up and hold their shape, giving them the starring role in this dish. The colors of this stew of beans, tomatoes, mussels, prawns and squid with dollops of cilantro-mint salsa resemble the brightly painted buildings of the UNESCO-listed city of Campeche, on the southeast coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I have tasted so many super fresh seafood stews along this coast. The addition of the beans is inspired.

There was no room for dessert ($8-$10). But the coconut panna cotta with mango compote ($8) sounded tempting. Again.

The Rock & Rye menu is guided by the seasons. Besides the cocktails, there are several interesting non-alcoholic lists, unusual beers and wines at reasonable prices.

Ann Walker is a freelance food writer. Send him suggestions, comments and questions at [email protected]

rock and rye

Address: 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley

Call: 415-388 3850


Kitchen: Pan American

Noise level: Medium to high

Selection of alcohol: full bar

Corkage: N / A

Vegan dishes: Yes

Gluten Free Selections: Yes

Organic offers: Not mentioned on the menu

Accepts dogs: Assistance dogs

Car park: Street and public parking across the street

Hours: 11.30 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Sunday to Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Prices: $12 to $27

Reservations: Yes

Summary: A delicious Pan American menu in the hands of a talented and experienced chef.

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