Some changes at Rocket. The “matrix” menu has been dropped in favor of a more traditional menu. Also missing are most of the once hyped items like the tongue hotdog and scrapple. Unfortunately, if anything the food has gotten worse. I can’t find a single good entree on the menu. Even more interesting is the changes in the crowd. For the short time Rocket has existed, it has been known for an active scene. I wondered what would happen when the weather changed and people couldn’t hang out on the patio. Recent visits show the weather and the less than stellar reviews have had an impact. No one is there. Even on weekend nights the crowds have gone. Another bad sign… the website has been under construction since they opened. Usually a indication that they don’t care, or don’t have the money to finish.
A restaurateur once told me “Portlander’s are stupid. They don’t care about the food, they go wherever they are told is trendy.” Rocket proves him wrong. They aren’t pulling it off, and Portlander’s have figured it out.
I agree. Portlanders may be gulible (i.e. taken in by the hype surrounding new and trendy places), but they are not stupid. If the food is bad, it doesn’t take to long for them to figure it out and move on. And in defense of the hype-iness of the Portland food scene, the restaurants that get this sort of attention often do so because of the track record of the chefs and owners. Rocket may be a bust, but if the high hopes were based on Mr. Storrs’ previous success, they indicate some logical thinking. As a contrast, Washington DC (where I currently live, much to the chagrin of my palate) is full of restaurants that attract initial hype and then continue to be successful with food that is only just decent enough for no one to think much about it. Portlanders may make some bad food choices, but at least they care about the choices they make.
Are you kidding me? Since Rocket opened, no one has given them a chance. It’s been nothing but vicious reviews that really aren’t even that close to the truth. I personally find Rocket’s menu rather inventive and their concept refreshing. The food is certainly better than many restaurants who have drawn rave reviews from this website and other publications. Why do people love to hate Rocket? Is it not Italian/French enough? Must everything be rustic? Real foodie cities support innovative restaurants like this. I’m not saying that Rocket has not had a few glitches, but I will say it’s one of the 10 best places in town. I’ll also say that while the food scene has grown and progressed by leaps and bounds over the past 2 years in Portland, the food writing has not! If anything, the food writing here and in the Oregonian has gotten more catty and less intelligent. Come on. “Failure to Launch”? “Circling the Drain”? That’s just rude, food dude.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Let’s see, Food Dude eats there several times over a couple of months before he reviews it, and continues to eat there these days looking for improvement. Willamette Week waits several months after Rocket opens to review it and gives it a lukewarm review. Portland Monthly waits until after the summer to run their review and they give it a fairly critical review. The Oregonian waits even months longer before K. Brooks gives it one of her rare negative reviews just two weeks ago. In a town where the media regularly praises several new restaurants (just look at the Portland Monthly’s Best of this Year alone to see how many new comers are getting kudos, Or the Oregonian’s almost always gushing praise for just about everything) it must simply be mean people picking on poor Rocket for no apparent reason other than their own viciousness, right? Right?
Wrong. I too have eaten at Rocket approximately 5 times, with the most recent being just a month ago. While some dishes have been fine, I have had one too many things continue to come out undercooked or overcooked, cold, weirdly seasoned, or just plain wrong with bad kitchen pacing, etc. Honestly though the FOH seems to have improved dramatically and I can’t really blame them for the kitchen’s issues.
I’m sincerely glad that you like Rocket and think it is better than most restaurants in town. Tell your friends! Perhaps they will agree with you and start filling up the empty tables that seem to haunt the place now that the weather has turned cold and the patio is no longer an enticing party central destination.
In addition, there is something to be said for a restaurant that wants to push the envelope with their concept, and I’m all for innovation as I too have seen and tasted it in “real foodie cities” all over the world, including Portland. But Rocket has been getting the same criticisms from a wide variety of places (where again exactly is all that good press in print and online? I’d sure love to see it) and has had several months to listen and pull it together. My gut tells me that as long as they were still packin’ ’em in with their bitchin’ patio and big old alcohol profits, they weren’t interested in listening.
The idea that it’s diners in town and not Rocket itself is silly:
Nonsense again. Pok-Pok restaurant of the year in Oregonian – THAI. Toro Bravo – Restaurant of the year in the Oregonian – SPANISH. Paley’s Place, in Portland Monthly – REFINED AMERICAN, Le Pigeon – TRULY INNOVATIVE TWIST ON THE CLASSICS, 23 Hoyt (Esquire’s recent Top Pick and a great example of how one can turn a problematic restaurant around in a short time frame) – REFINED AMERICAN, Ten-01 (Another comeback kid now headed to James Beard House to cook) ….the list goes on and on.
Logic sucks, doesn’t it?
See though, there is one little problem with Rocket that Rocket needs to seriously address: You need to be able to get the basics down before you start experimenting with stuff. Or as my mama said, you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk. If you can’t consistently properly cook a chicken for example, why the hell do you think it’s going to be any different as a sous vide version? If you can’t get fried potatoes to turn out crispy and get them to the table hot each and every time, what makes you think you’ll be any better with a lamb corndog? That’s not innovation, that’s just a gimmicky menu.
Look, I like Leather and enjoyed his cooking at Noble Rot (I leave others opinions on whether or not he can cook as just that – their opinions), I love the space at Rocket, and I wish, I truly wish it was a good restaurant. I am glad that they are tweaking their menu again and rethinking things but Food Dude is correct, they have been doing this since they opened and with 5 mediocre meals behind me there they are going to need to PROVE and not just ANNOUNCE that things are changing. And Lunchlady, you may not agree with me (or the legions of others whose opinions are out there in publications and online) and that is fine, but hopefully Rocket will not take the scapegoat route and blame others (its always the media or the Portland Diners who just don’t recognize their genius, isn’t it?) for their empty tables, and finally address them in a true and professional way that is not just another press release.
Lunchlady, your posting inspired me to respond because I agree with you and I also disagree with you. I am hoping that those of us who explore restaurants do so out of curiosity and personal taste. I have no idea who reads PFD, but I really expect that most readers will use their brains, apply their own decision-making process and visit a restaurant (or not) regardless of what a website says.
I am not sure why Food Dude has been so hard on Acadia and Rocket and a few other places that he didn’t like. But, for whatever reason, that is his position and I know he’s trying to save the rest of us from suffering through bad meals by “taking the grenade for us”. We may not always agree with him or the other reviewers.
My wife and I had dinner at Rocket in September and it was fun to explore the menu. Some of the menu items were good, some were not so good. I felt like we tried enough items to form an opinion of Mr. Storrs’ kitchen. This, in addition to some of the PFD contributions allow me to decide if I would like to revisit Rocket in the future.
Portland has a small number of restaurants that are not following the mainstream, chain restaurant, always-the-same type of food service. I applaud those chefs that try something different. Their experiment may work or it may not, but I’m glad they are willing to spend money to find out.
I will go to these restaurants and see what the chef is excited about, even if I go alone. Others may decide to stay safe at PF Chang’s or Macaroni Grill. PFD reviews may indicate I am foolish, but given that food is a personal experience, there is no way to know for sure unless you go yourself.
You know, Cuisine Bonne Femme, it’s not so much the silly criticisms that I dislike or disapprove of, it’s the tone of the reviews and the idea of critic as soothsayer.
By the way, I really like the restaurants you mentioned – but you must admit, they are toeing a more traditional line than Rocket. They are, for the most part, either Mediterranean/French in concept and technique, rustic bar/peasant food, and/or leaning quite a bit on fats in their menus. Rocket is simply in a different category than these other restaurants. Again, I’m not saying Rocket is perfect – but I do think it is exciting. What I am afraid of is that reviewers and others are prejudiced against Rocket because they’re doing something quite different than Portlanders are used to.
Cuisine Bonne Femme says
Well Lunchlady, this is where you and I disagree.
It’s not the concept at Rocket that’s the problem, it’s the execution.
It’s not the critics or media that are the problem, brace yourself, it just might actually be the experience of diners there. (I mean if Rocket is so darn good then where are all the repeat customers that were packing the place from the summer?). Or, are Rocket’s diners so sheepish that they hang on the every word of critics and would ditch a place in a heartbeat (even if they really like it) if someone like Food Dude or Willamette Week gives them a so-so review? Excuse me while I spit up my nightly glass of Port because I’m having a good chuckle over that idea. For the power of repeat customers and their word of mouth recommendations is more mighty than any piece of print or online media.
Finally, I don’t think most critics are prejudiced against Rocket nor are they critical of them because Rocket is (trying) to do something different – I know the big gun critics at least have some very sophisticated and refined palates with experiences dining all over the world and would be thrilled to have something you can only find in LA or Catalonia, or Berlin or whatever (I know I would) here in little old Puddletown. But I think the critics are just being honest about their experiences at Rocket. If so many people that that do not share the same approaches, likes or dislikes, editors, publications, and palates (oh, us critics, trust me we don’t always, in fact , we usually don’t see eye-to-eye) are saying similar things then chances are it is in fact the restaurant and not the other way around.
In my humble opinion this is what Rocket needs to do. A) HONESTLY figure out what is working and what isn’t B) Fix it C) Do the best they can and keep doing it D) Do some PR and Media events (such as special dinners)to get the ball rolling again (I mean, other than Press Releases telling everyone the menu is changing why don’t they have a few invite only dinners or a couple of friends and family dinners where friends and family can give some honest feedback?) and E) Make sure they continue to do the best they can. If the food is good, the location good (it is), the service is good, it is a fair value for the money (will people spend 30 bucks on an entree? Yes, and they are, all over town), and it is exciting and innovative (oh and did I mention the food needs to be good?), then people will probably come to Rocket or come back to Rocket, rave about it, tell their friends, the blogs will be gushing, then the press, and there you go…But you can’t expect it to be the other way around.
Anyway, just my opinion. I wish Rocket the best of luck. Pf&D readers, let me know if you feel the food is getting better…
Lunchlady (love your name btw!): Pok Pok is toeing a more “traditional line than Rocket”? Really? Northern Thai street food in PDX?
You remind me of the Bush administration, which blames their failures on critics, messengers, and media.
An exciting, non-traditional failure is still a failure.
Nancy Rommelmann says
From today’s NY Times’ Dining section, a review of Tailor, titled, “Artist at Work: Taste if you Dare“, which begins by repeating owner/chef Sam Mason’s words (printed on the menu) regarding what’s in store for diners:
Aside from the “gonna”s, which drive me insane — only a fourteen-year-old would believe they transmit iconoclasm — there’s his belief that, you will come around to his way of thinking, and if you don’t, feh! Frank Bruni does not — he gives Tailor one star. And yet, alas, the world is often remade by people such as Mason (and Storrs, and yes, I’m saying it, even the Hebb) who push ideas/ideals we’ve yet to consider. Maybe the food Rocket is serving has a point; maybe it doesn’t. My two cents echoes CBF’s: cook that food, sucker, and cook it strong, and also, pay attention to people’s ideas as dutifully as he’d like us to pay attention to his.
Okay, I respect all of your opinions; and I especially like it when you are polite. I agree with you all on many things and I agree that Rocket is not perfect. But I just wanna say that I think they’re doing some neat things with their menu, their rooftop garden, and their concept of rethought cuisine in a green urban environment. If you’re not sure about the futuristic food, go have the steak with creamed greens and fries and a glass of Hale’s Ale while looking out the window at the whole city; it’s fantastic. I sincerely hope that Leather will continue to work hard, hone his craft and vision, weather the storm, and regain your excitement and admiration.
Oh, and by the way, their new website is fully functional now, the menu looks good, and they still have scrapple.
“Futuristic” food? Is it prepared by robots?
Food Dude says
I was just looking at the menu, and didn’t see anything that looks “futuristic” to me.
I think it is interesting that this little post is still getting comments from defenders. The first week it posted, it only got 8,300 reads, but every time it has been commented on since, it has gotten more. Now it’s over 21,000. If it hadn’t kept coming up, it would have long been forgotten.
Nancy Rommelmann says
I don’t think the menu looks futuristic, either, but it does look really good.