Fried: Calamari at Rokerij

My favorite place, but not my favorite dish...

By Sarah Fenske

I have been in the worst mood lately. For some reason, fall always makes me depressed, in a "Remembrance of Things Past" kind of way. Like I can't stop thinking about past autumns -- better autumns -- and my present state of mind always suffers as a result.

And that's what I found myself thinking about at Rokerij on Monday. Normally I love, love, love this place -- generally, I'm never happier than when I'm sitting at the copper-covered basement bar, drinking a martini and basking in the fireplace's warm glow. As of last year, they have this wonderful menu of small plates, so you can sit there with your drink and nosh on a really nice steak tartare or even some blue crab tostadas. It feels great.

But in the spirit of getting out of my autumnal blues and into a better mood, I decided to eschew my usual tartare-and-salad combo and try the calamari. And I was reminded, sadlly, of why sometimes it's better to stick to one's hitlist: The calamari at Rokerij simply isn't very good.

For one thing, the breading is really heavy. I think it was cornmeal. But whatever it was, it was tasteless -- and completely overwhelmed the squid.

For another, there was the accompanying dipping sauce. When you think about it, calamari in and of itself isn't all that special. It's just little rings of squiddy flesh -- so it requires a good zesty sauce to make it zing. This one, described as a "sweet red chile sauce," was so heavy on the sweet and skimpy on the chile, it might as well as have been jelly. Not my cup of tea.

So after making it halfway through this so-so dish, I found myself going back to an old favorite and ordering a Rokerij salad -- a delightful melange of iceberg, tomatoes, Roquerfort cheese, and smoked bacon. They used to do a version with French dressing that I was enamored of, but after a year or so of eating it this way, I'm now hooked: Rokerij consistently does a superb job with finding the most flavorful tomatoes and getting the creamy blue cheese dressing just right.

Forget new and improved; in the autumn, sometimes, you can't help but return to the past. This salad is good enough that, at least on Monday night, I was happy to be there.