Sweetwater’s Rock & Rye brings some candy to Mill Valley

Since 1972, Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley has been galvanizing people to enjoy great music. Now, with Chef Rick Hackett in the newly reopened Rock & Rye kitchen, the food is what Cajuns call “lagniappe” to the music. Lagniappe is a French Cajun word and means something extra. And in this case, Hackett’s Pan American menu offers plenty of extras.

Hackett’s travels in Latin America, Mexico and Louisiana are the inspiration for Rock & Rye’s menu. It’s a celebration of foods indigenous to the Americas featured on all of the menu: ashiot, corn, chili peppers, tomatoes, avocados, winter squash, beans (excluding favas), potatoes and quinoa. All of these originated in the Americas and spread all over the world. Can you imagine Italian food without polenta or tomatoes?

Let’s start our cocktail evening. My friend Laura chose one of the in-house seasonal cocktails ($14 each), the rocapulco, which is tequila-based with ancho chile liqueur and fresh herbs served over a large ice cube. I’m a fan of Manhattan rye, so, given the name of this place, I went in that direction, but found it odd that there was a limited selection of rye.

Skewers of Peruvian beef ($12) and salmon steelhead tostadas ($14) were welcome appetizers with our cocktails. The beef wasn’t the beef heart skewers I’ve had in Peruvian restaurants, but rather five cuts of tender, mildly seasoned beef with a little roasted piquillo pepper puree and fresh cilantro.

Normally, salmon tostadas come as one tostada per serving, but our server asked the kitchen to divide the layer of salmon and vegetables between two smaller tostadas. A tinge of barely spicy habanero sauce on the grilled salmon was full of citrusy flavors that added an interesting contrast to the juicy, ripe, room-temperature roasted veggies mixed with chunks of avocado. The flavor and texture of roasted vegetables can satisfy very well even without salmon.

Laura, who has a wonderful eye on color and composition, was impressed by the bright, vibrant food colors that mimic the flavors. Sitting in the entrance to the Music Hall, just one step from the pier, is an enclosed patio with fireplaces and a retractable roof—stylish casual. When making a reservation, you are given the option of a heated patio either at low or high tables, or a few seats within the bar area. We chose a regular height outdoor table with comfortable seating. The noise level and seating in many restaurants often seem designed to deter sluggishness. After several months of not eating out at all or dining in open gardens in the fickle weather of Marin, I had the pleasure of being in a comfortable spot to catch up with my friend.

This New Orleans-inspired lobster étoufée ($25) draws on a medium brown, velvety roux with an added kick of Peruvian aji rokoto, chili. Pepper adds flavor to the deep flavors of a thick, custard-like roux studded with lobster surrounding a petal of brown jasmine rice garnished with pea sprouts.

The menu features several vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free offerings. Each of the vegetarian dishes we chose was creative and delicious: a plate of roasted cauliflower with roasted sweet potatoes ($11) on a lemon-spinach sauce with a scattering of Peruvian corn kernels, called cancha, and spinach, tomato, and winter squash coconut stew ($16) with Roasted pumpkin seeds have the feel and brightness of Southeast Asian coconut dishes.

The Nola burger ($19) is served on a brioche bun with cheddar cheese, mushrooms, and green onion sauce on a wooden board with French fries. I don’t know what makes it New Orleans style, but it satisfies a craving for burgers.

Campeche-style Mexican Mixed Oyster ($26) features heirloom grains from Tlaxcala, Mexico. When cooked, these earthy-tasting beans fill up and hold their shape giving them a starring role in this dish. The hues of this soup of beans, tomatoes, mussels, shrimp, and squid, topped with cilantro-mint salsa, resemble the brightly colored buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Campeche on the southeast coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve enjoyed many of the ultra-cooked seafood stews along this coast. Add inspired beans.

There was no place for dessert ($8 to $10). But the coconut panna cotta with mango compote ($8) sounded tempting. another time.

Rock & Rye’s menu is guided by the seasons. Apart from the cocktails, there are many interesting non-alcoholic menus and unusual beers and wines at reasonable prices.

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

Rock and rye

Tabuk: 19 Corte Madera Ave. , Mill Valley

phone: 415-388 3850

website: sweetwatermusichall.com

dishes: for Pan American

noise level: medium to high

Liquor selection: full tape

corkage: Unavailable

vegetarian dishes: yes

Gluten-free options: yes

Membership offers: Not mentioned in the list

Dogs are allowed: service dogs

parking: Street and public parking across the street

hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday; Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM on Friday and Saturday

the prices: From $12 to $27

Reservations: yes

Summary: Delicious Pan American menu by a talented and experienced chef.

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