Edit: Ronin’s Broadmoor Kitchen and Taven is now closed. But feel free to enjoy this review, anyway!
Oh, my darling bud of June! I’ve been the worst blog owner ever. It’s been almost a month since you’ve heard from me, and yet…my daily hits are at an all-time high! I’m up to 32 fans on Facebook. When did that happen?
In the spirit of…camaraderie? Knowledge? Can you leave a comment here with how you found me? I’m actually really curious as to what chain of internet events led you to my humble corner.
Anyway, realizing that I am woefully behind, companion and I set out to try somewhere new last night. The result? Ronin’s Broadmoor Kitchen and Tavern, on (where else?) Youree Drive. Now, if you’re just now hearing of Ronin’s, you’re not too far out of the loop. The restaurant itself has changed hands several times in the last few months, and it seemed like every time we drove past, it had a new, vaguely familiar name.
Ronin’s has very mixed reviews on the popular restaurant review site Urbanspoon. As recently as May 6, people were complaining of a “God-Awful Smell,” the prices, and the quality of the food. Luckily, I didn’t read the reviews until after I came home. As I’ve learned in the past (Madison Square Garden, I’m looking at you), restaurants have highs and lows, and experiences can differ greatly depending on a number of variables.
We ate at Ronin’s early in the evening. So early, in fact, that we were the only ones there. Our waitress was a bubbly, girl-next-door type. Not always completely knowledgable about the menu, she pulled off her ignorance with charm. Had it been a pricer, fancier restaurant, it would have bothered me. But I was sitting there in jeans and sneakers; I didn’t mind a bit.
After spending a few solid minutes perusing the enticing but…um…intercontinental menu, the decision was made. To start: Korean BBQ Beef Skewers. When these arrived, there were no skewers to be found. Instead, they were something like “steak fingers” (which, regrettably, sounds like a nickname that a group of high school girls applies to a creepy man who hangs out at the Cumberland Farms around the block). The Korean BBQ flavor was definitely there, however. Sweet and smoky, with a delightful “not-quite-American” exotic tinge, they were exactly what they said they’d be; except, you know, for the skewers part. The “fingers” were served with a generous scoop of “Asian slaw.” The slaw was a refreshing, vinegar-based melange of Napa cabbage and black sesame seeds.
Our dinners came out shortly thereafter: sweet potato gnocchi with Rosa Maria Sauce for the gentleman, and blackened tilapia with sides of purple hull peas and twice-baked mashed potatoes for me.
Okay, first, I’ll let the concept of sweet potato gnocchi sink in. For those uninitiated, gnocchi are little grub worm-shaped pasta made of potato instead of wheat flour. They have a texture that’s somewhere between regular pasta and compressed mashed potatoes, and a modest bowlful leaves you with that full, comforted feeling that only complex carbohydrates can offer. The only thing that can improve gnocchi? Making them with sweet potatoes, naturally. These particular gnocchi were generously portioned and just the slightest bit gummy (confession: I like them that way). The gnocchi came with a choice of two sauces: San Marzano, a tomato-based sauce, and Rosa Maria, a cream-based sauce (which he ended up choosing). The Rosa Maria sauce was pleasant and worked really well with the gnocchi; the tomato-based sauce, I think, would have competed with the sweet potato flavor in an extremely unpleasant fashion. The Rosa Maria sauce was mellow, and just thin enough — similar to an Alfredo sauce without the assertive kick of Parmesan. Overall, a solid dish — and definitely enough for three people.
Growing up in Florida, tilapia was basically the default dinner on at least one night of the week. It was on every menu in the state, quickly gaining popularity over the once-ubiquitous (but decidedly eco-unfriendly) grouper. My mom, in fact, went on a tilapia kick sometime during my high school years. I’m pretty sure it was Shake-and-Bake. Or even Oven Fry, the poor man’s Shake-and-Bake. Mom, I love you, but I’m glad the tilapia stage is over.
Anyway, I actually surprised myself when I ordered the tilapia. I really wasn’t that hungry, but I wanted to try Ronin’s sides without committing to something outrageous like a chicken pot pie or meatloaf. I was even more surprised to find that the fish itself was cooked perfectly. A hearty (but not overwhelming) dose of what I believe to be creole seasoning and a few cursory capers (more for decoration than anything else) made it a pretty exceptional piece of fish. But I could be a little rusty. I haven’t really had seafood (I’m talking seafood here, not riverfood or mudfood…both good, but not seafood) since I moved here, 13 months ago. The side dishes were homey, without being sloppy. Served in tin cups (similar to the ones, I imagine, old-timey prisoners would grate against their cell bars), I appreciated that they weren’t crammed onto the plate like an unhappy family flying coach. The twice-baked potatoes were just that; garlicky and creamy, skins-on, with that nostalgic twice-baked flavor. Remember the frozen twice-baked potatoes that came in a box? Yeah…
The purple hull peas were similarly good. A little undercooked, only by some people’s standards, each pea was its own individual. Visible bits of bacon made the cup of beans a little less like, well…a cup of beans.
Dessert-time rolled around, and my gnocchi-stuffed (yet mysteriously thin) companion wanted a crème brulee. His favorite. Our waitress looked at him, the twinkle suddenly gone from her eyes. “Are you sure? They’re like this big.” She positioned her hands to make a circle, sized somewhere between a silver dollar and the circumference of a child’s sippy cup.
Well, damn. He reconsidered and chose the bread pudding instead. This seemed to please the waitress. She assured him he’d love it and bounded back to the kitchen. She returned minutes later with piping-hot bread pudding, overflowing out of a novelty margarita glass (you know, the ones with the cactus base?). Yeah, we’re not really sure how it made its way in there, either.
At any rate, the bread pudding was absolutely divine; gooey and rustic, it left an alcoholic kiss of rum on our lips in the sexiest way possible. The glass? Not so much. But we were willing to overlook that.
The dessert ended up being on the house. Apparently it was their last pudding of the batch and would have just ended up being eaten by the waitstaff anyway. (As an aside, I don’t ever get free food when I go out; I’m not nearly that well-known, and if I do decide to mention the blog, I always do so after I’ve ordered, eaten, and paid.)
With a 20% tip, our bill came out to somewhere around $42. Not too bad, and right on target for a restaurant of Ronin’s caliber. Someone on the aforementioned Urbanspoon complained that it was “overpriced,” but I really beg to differ; this ain’t Chili’s. Ronin’s offers live music on Thursday and Friday nights, plus trivia challenges during the week. Events like these keep the wood-paneled restaurant from seeming too full of itself. Classic, hummable tunes on the radio help, too. (Throughout our dinner, we heard the likes of Bobbie Gentry, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Dylan.)
Urbanspoon users would advise you to stay away from Ronin’s, but we had a genuinely good experience. It seems that people often approach restaurants like Ronin’s with expectations that are either too high or too low; both result in disappointment. Ronin’s is a good, middle-of-the-road neighborhood tavern; an extensive wine list, big portions, and unique, uncategorizable menu make it a quirky, crowd-pleasing pick for dinner. But their nightly events, cozy atmosphere, and unpretentious staff make it a fun place to relax with friends, too.
Ronin’s Broadmoor Kitchen and Tavern
4460 Youree Drive