The Rooms Café review

Grown-up grilled cheese sandwich and tomato bisque

The Rooms Café
9 Bonaventure Ave.
St. John’s
Ph. (709) 757-8014

In a single visit to The Rooms – with its galleries, archives and café – it’s possible to nourish our cerebral and corporeal halves. Prior to having a meal at The Rooms Café, I spent a wonderful hour viewing paintings and drawings by William Alderdice, who, according to my brochure, “began painting when he retired as a professor of geography.” He taught economic geography at MUN.

Alderdice lives at The Battery and paints what he sees there, as well as memories from his youth – and not just any memories. He used to be a cowboy. Kids of my generation wanted to grow up and be cowboys. Little Joe Cartwright comes to mind. In addition to the subject matter – i.e. cowboy life – I was impressed by the naïve quality of William Alderdice’s paintings, the colours and sincerity.

The View from The Rooms Cafe

Red Oak Catering continues to operate The Rooms Café, providing a food and beverage service with fairly broad appeal and with enough reboots to keep somewhat in pace with the changing gallery exhibits of the complex in which it resides. I did note, however, that vegetarians receive short shrift, with only a few menu choices suitable for them: salads and a veggie roast sandwich. A restaurant in a modern museum with so many international visitors should be doing a little more for vegetarians.

Brandade de morue
There’s a beautiful salt cod dish invented in France called brandade de morue or purée of salt cod. It’s made using cooked flakes of salt cod, milk, olive oil, lemon juice, pepper and, if you like, a little nutmeg. Everything is mashed together and the resulting purée is usually served on toasted bread or croutons. That’s the classic way. Some chefs like to add potato for smoother texture and more product. Of course, if too much potato is used the dish cannot legitimately be called puréed salt cod – puréed potato maybe.

When I saw brandade de morue on The Rooms Café menu I was excited, but as I read the description of the dish my excitement waned a little. Among the listed ingredients was potato. I decided to order it hoping that the amount of potato would not be so out of proportion as to affect the integrity of the brandade de morue. Sadly, The Room’s Café brandade de morue was mainly puréed potato with a small amount of cod and Newfoundland savoury stirred through. In other words, it was a spreadable Newfoundland fish cake, or perhaps I should say potato cake.

The Room’s Café balsamic house dressing effectively accomplished what a salad dressing is supposed to do. It made the garden slaw salad sing. Field greens, shredded carrot, tomato and cucumber maintained their unique qualities – freshness, flavour and texture – but became parts of something bigger, more exciting and more delicious.

Bisque with bang
It was refreshing to hear that the daily soup was tomato bisque. As much as I like them I get weary of the split pea, turkey vegetable and beef barley soups trotted out at many local cafés. The tomato bisque was deep in colour and strengthened by rich, ripe tomato flavour. It tweaked my nostrils and prodded my taste buds. As with Alderdice’s paintings, I found plenty of joy but no subtlety in this soup.

How could I resist trying a sandwich called, “Grown-Up Grilled Cheese”? I imagined two slices of supremely buttery grilled bread unable to contain a flood of melting cheddar. What could be better? The Rooms Café grown-up version featured Swiss and cheddar cheese, molasses braised pork belly and sweet onion marmalade. (Does anyone make relish anymore?) This was one of those sandwiches where you suspect that every morsel of filling was carefully weighed on a scale beforehand to make sure the specified amount, and not a gram more, was used. It was a very good sandwich but not near cheesy enough and not what I’d call a grown-up grilled “cheese” sandwich. Unless grown-up refers to restrained and slightly parsimonious. Where’s the fun in that?

More fun was The Rooms Café noodle bowl. Rice vermicelli noodles in a woodsy miso broth – highlighted with chili bean and ginger – became the perfect medium for slivers of tender braised beef, mushrooms and temptingly wilted bok choy. Gleaming Korean style stainless steel chopsticks accompanied the dish and made the dining experience even more entertaining.

Not my idea
The Rooms Café “Traditional Cabbage Roll” wasn’t my idea of Mom’s cabbage rolls. Instead of being wrapped in a blanket of cabbage juicy with cooking liquid, the café’s version was wrapped in cabbage that was dry and a tad tough. Inside the leaf I found a shriveled, unpalatable plug of ground pork (and beef according to the menu).

In contrast to the rather sad cabbage roll, the plate contained a generous portion of meaty Bolognese sauce. It was succulent and satisfying. Speaking of appetizing additions, I also liked the single toasted crouton smothered in goat cheese. It was an entirely appropriate garnishment.

A cut of fresh apple pie made a bright ending. Plated enhancements included a dollop of fresh whipped cream, strawberries, a small pour of crème anglaise and droplets of caramel sauce. Layers of fresh apple, redolent of ripe apple flavour, were encased in a golden, flakey crust. It would have been difficult to improve on The Rooms Café apple pie.

Price A meal for two with appetizers, wine, tax and tip costs approximately $135.

Service Amiable with consistent professionalism.

Ambiance Bright, positive and energized.

Sound level Moderate to high.

Open Sunday: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. All other days: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reservations Walk-ins are welcome.

Credit cards All major.

Parking Parking lot or street parking (with a five minute walk).

Beverages Wines are sold by the glass or bottle. Most are popular mass produced New World selections. Domestic and a handful of imported beers are available. You can also order a very peppy Caesar with spicy sausage.

Wheelchair access The Rooms is accessible.

* Fair  * * Good  * * * Excellent  * * * * Exceptional