With a dash of Vegas, and a whole lot of down home Asian flavors, RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen is an experience one will want to savor. Located in the busy Century City mall, RockSugar features cuisine from Southeast Asian countries like, Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam. Bring your appetite and a few good friends, to enjoy these dishes served family style. The elegant décor, with indoor and outdoor dining, incorporates a luxurious feel of Southeast Asia, welcoming all with a friendly wait staff, and plenty of parking. Come try some of these tantalizing dishes such as Singapore Hainan pork or roasted Thai Chilean sea bass. RockSugar stimulates all the senses, and leaves you wanting more.Read More ...
Welcome home … if your ideal home is a fabulous and glitzy Las Vegas showroom that serves great food. Visiting RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen, which is located on Santa Monica Boulevard, is an experience that will stimulate every one of your senses. The brain child of Cheesecake Factory, impresario David Overton and Executive Chef Mohan Ismail, RockSugar is a memorable dining experience. Chef Ismail's menu brings all the flavors of Asia to bear, from Vietnam to India and back again, one thing is clear – this is not fusion cuisine. These are traditional, down home Asian dishes, spun with Chef Ismail's own considerable talents. The food will certainly delight your palate, but the design and architecture of the restaurant will have your head turning all night.
Located in a busy Century City outdoor shopping complex, RockSugar lets you know right off the bat; you are entering into a different kind of eatery. Just walking up to the front door is like going into a Disneyland attraction. RockSugar greets you with giant pillars of royal blue and gold inlay. Not to mention the 10 foot tall Buddhas that stand on each side of the doorway. With such dramatic ornamentation, I wasn’t sure if I was going to eat or to visit the Dali Lama.
Upon arrival at RockSugar, the first stop is the open air lounge. This ornate area is as comfortable as it is visually stimulating. There are several tables that can seat four to six people and each has a gas fireplace covered in rock. The walls, which reach 40-feet into the night sky, are covered with rock sculptures and the whole scene is expertly lit. RockSugar’s cocktail menu features exotic twists on martinis, mojitos, and margaritas. Immediately, the Coconut Mojito caught my eye. My dinner companion (otherwise known as my mom) ordered the Holy Basil Vanilla Twist Martini. Both were excellently prepared. The Coconut Mojito is a variation on the classic, only made with coconut milk, spiced rum, and topped with fresh coconut shavings. Light and not too sweet, it's the kind of drink that would be ideal for a cool summer afternoon. Made with Thai basil and vanilla, the martini was equally as tasty and refreshing.
When entering the restaurant, it takes a moment to take it all in. The hostess table, like everything else, is quite a sight. A dazzling blue glass fixture stands about nine feet high as it also doubles as a candle votive. The bar, located just behind the host, is punctuated by three huge golden Buddha heads grinning down on patrons. RockSugar features a daily Rocktail Hour (happy hour) from 4-6:30, with drink specials and a section of appetizers offered at discounted prices.
We are seated promptly in the main dining room and the design is completely breathtaking. When I ask about the inspiration for this room, I am told that it is modeled after a palace in the Maldives. The main dining room is filled with vibrant colors, a towering ceiling and a host of Asian art and sculptures. Carved wood columns and beams help give age to otherwise modern room. Overhead, lining the walls, are dozens upon dozens of Buddha statuettes, seemingly watching over the crowd, enjoying the scene. And that scene is lively. The full dining room is bustling and noisy, but not too much to spoil the mood. I found it a good fit with the family-style dining that RockSugar specializes in.
If you prefer a more subdued atmosphere, there are other room options. Away from the hustle and bustle of the main dining area is RockSugar’s Buddha Room. Adorning this aptly named room is a beautiful fifteen foot tall painting of Buddha. I was later told by Chef Ismail that this piece of art was the highlight of their grand opening party. This space is ideal for business meetings, where privacy may be appreciated, or if you just prefer a quieter dinner.
RockSugar also has an outdoor patio area with a more relaxed and casual feel. There is little that can compare to sipping a cocktail while listening to the sound of one of RockSugar’s waterfalls. Located on the north side of the restaurant and overlooking Beverly Boulevard, the patio is a nice spot for a lunch on a warm summer’s day, or better yet, a romantic dinner at night. This area is definitely the place to be for more intimate encounters.
Before we even ordered, Chef Mohan Ismail graced us with a visit. He was extremely friendly and gracious with his precious time. I asked him the genesis of his menu, and he told me, “I wanted to make food like my mom used to make.” Needless to say, my mother was happy to hear that. Chef Ismail had arranged to bring us a sampling of his favorite dishes from the menu, dishes that he says are “from the home, from the heart.”
First out of Chef Ismail’s kitchen was a selection from RockSugar’s hot appetizer menu, Crispy Chicken Samosas with cilantro yogurt. Two tasty samosas were fried to a crisp golden brown and filled with a ground chicken mixture that really had some spice behind it. The cilantro yogurt serves as a great way to balance and cool the otherwise spicy dish.
The Crispy Sweet-Hot Shrimp was next, RockSugar's version of tempura. The bite-sized pieces of shrimp and eggplant were plenty for two to share. The star of this dish was the chili-sugar sauce, a sweet n' spicy dip that blended well with the smooth tempura batter.
Next we sampled the Indian Stuffed Flatbread. If you've never sampled one, I would describe this dish as a quesadilla done Indian-style. The flatbread is filled with a mixture of beef and onions and served with a spiced homemade ketchup.
The final appetizer, Lacquered BBQ Ribs, was quite simply fantastic. Six ribs cooked expertly and covered with a chili-caramel sesame glaze. The sauce was sugary sweet, with just a hint of burnt caramel and chili flavor. The cut of the meat was fatty, luxurious and fall off the bone tender.
The first of our entrees came out quickly after our appetizer platter was gone and that is how it happens at RockSugar, fast and furious. On the table: the Indonesian Grilled Cilantro Shrimp, Nyonya Sambal Eggplant and the Shaking Beef. The Indonesian Grilled Cilantro Shrimp is six huge, delightfully smokey prawns, expertly grilled, and covered with a cilantro paste. The shrimp was served on a bed of corn, sweet potato and pea niblets in a coconut gravy.
The Nyonya Sambal Eggplant is a generous portion of eggplant cut into strips, served over a sweet soy sauce and topped with chilies. The eggplant is melt-in-your-mouth good, and the sweet soy sauce was mild, not overpowering at all. The red chili peppers could be added to taste, depending how hot you like it.
The Shaking Beef is a generous portion of cubed filet, tossed with green and red onions, accompanied by a side of garlic and watercress dipping broth. The filet was prepared as a gorgeous medium rare with a bit of char on the outside. Juicy and tender, the Shaking Beef was as good as any filet I've had at a steakhouse, only served in bite sized portions. The dipping broth created a new experience by mellowing the onion flavor, while still leaving all that was great about the meat intact.
The second selection of entrees then landed on our table, starting with Asparagus and Green Beans in a black bean sauce. Growing up eating Chinese food, this preparation is very comforting and familiar to me. The vegetables had the right amount of snap, and the black bean sauce had that earthy saltiness that I know and love. This is a traditional, simple and well-executed dish.
A good old-fashioned Ginger Fried Rice topped off our main course selections. This dish was finished with an egg, cooked over-medium, on top. Our server graciously cut up the egg and mixed it into the rice, where it then finishes cooking in the heat of the dish. A basic recipe, with Chinese sausage, leeks, sesame, and crispy garlic all minced finely into the rice. RockSugar’s recipe is not salty or greasy, and I thought the egg added at the last minute added some smoothness to the texture.
After a moment, dessert arrived to assault our busting waistlines. One of the best sweets I've had in recent memory was the Caramelized Custard Banana Cake. Think of the best banana bread you've ever had and then top it with a brittle layer of caramel. The soft cake combined with the slight crunch was a great textural surprise. It is served with a homemade chocolate ice cream that pushes the whole dish over the top. It's a single slice of cake, but it's rich, so you can split it and still be satisfied. Whether you decide to split it or indulge by yourself, just make sure this dessert lands on your table.
Lastly, we come to the Warm Coconut Donuts. Two large donuts, with the holes playfully placed back in the center, and on the side a passion fruit sauce. It sounds decadent, and it is, but it's also delicious. The donuts were warm and chewy, but not overly sugared. The passion fruit sauce was like an extra glaze, and the fruit flavor played well against the fried donut. The Warm Coconut Donuts provided an unusual but welcome end to our meal.
As we gathered our thoughts and began to depart, we realized that RockSugar delivers on two fronts. The first is its ability to capture the many flavors of Asia without trying to reinvent them, just tweak them a little bit, resulting in really good food. The second is RockSugar’s reputation for providing one of most visually stunning spaces this side of Vegas.
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