Rox City Grill
Wine with Dinner
More about St. Charles
Dining Out for Less: 5 Tips
longer than I can remember, the
Hotel Baker in St Charles,
has stood guard
on the west side of the Fox River, watching the water tumble over numerous dams,
the first of which was constructed in 1836. That year also saw the
completion of the first bridge in town (also followed by numerous others, many
destroyed by fire), a gristmill and sawmill... The dam was a crucial
element in the establishment of what was then the town of Charleston.
Fires ravaged more than bridges across the mighty Fox River:
Hanes Mill on the west side of the river succumbed to flames in 1919 and was
subsequently used as a dumping grounds for the next seven years. A local
resident -- Edward J. Baker -- didn't particularly care for the idea of a
dumping ground as a focal point in the middle of town. He had a vision.
His dream was to build "an elegant, 55-room resort" that would be the finest
small hotel in the world. He bought the property in 1926, and two years
later -- in June of 1928 and at a total cost of more than a million dollars -- the
Hotel opened its doors. Baker had realized his dream.
Many things have changed since 1928, both inside and outside
of the hotel. But the ambience that is reminiscent of its formal
splendor remains unchanged. And just the other night, Yvonne and I had an
opportunity to experience not only that ambience, but an excellent dinner as
Yvonne had been saving a
Restaurant.com coupon for quite some
time and, since neither of us had any ideas about what to make for dinner, it
seemed like the perfect excuse to dine out and use the certificate, too.
We had been to Rox City Grill on a couple of other occasions, but only for
cocktails and entertainment from a local musician; after checking out the
website and its menu, we were convinced that it would be the perfect time to try
Once again, we were surprised to see that an almost empty
restaurant; there was only one other table occupied when we arrived and only one
other table was seated just before we left. Normally that would be a red
flag... But Rox City Grill's menu finds itself on the upper end of
pricing structure, and dining out is an activity that -- in these times of
economic stress (especially right after Tax Day) -- often lends itself better to
a lesser-priced menu. Too, the soft jazz set at a low volume, along
with upholstered chairs, white table cloths & cloth napkins and uniformed staff
all lend themselves to a soothing ambience more conducive to couples than to
families with young children in a dining room configured to hold no more than
fifty or so diners.
We began the evening with a cocktail and glass of wine as we
checked the menu. Turns out that it was a new, spring version with a few
new items. The appetizer list had an item that caught our eyes: Twin
Lobster Rolls -- new england lobster salad, bacon, celery, espelette
pepper. At $15, these would likely be considered as quite extravagant,
but I have to say that, with a healthy helping of lobster claw meat, these rolls
were about as good as the ones I sampled in Boston last year!
Yvonne's dinner choice was the Ahi ($30) -- seared
rare, jasmine rice, lobster pot stickers, wakame, basil-ginger glaze.
For an additional $7, she added a Caesar Salad -- romaine heart
leaves, classic dressing, aged parmesan, sourdough, tomatoes, bouqerones.
The description didn't mention the tiny little pair of anchovies that graced the
construction, but there they were: only a hint of salt and a necessary addition
to any Caesar worth its salt (pardon the pun)! The tuna was seared
perfectly rare, the portion size was large and the flavor was excellent.
I hadn't had it for a long time, yet the new iteration of the
menu included Lamb ($29) -- roasted aussie rack, calamata
mashed potatoes, poached tomatoes, gazpacho. I followed suit with a
salad and, for an additional $7, I chose a Little Gem Wedge --
blue cheese dressing, tomato, croutons, applewood smoke bacon. This
was definitely one of the very best versions of "the wedge" I have had.
The lamb was served as a pair of double-cut chops from the rack, taunting each
other from the ends of the mashed potatoes on which they sat; it was quite
tender and quite tasty.
To be fair, less expensive items are available on the menu:
farm-roasted Chicken and pan-seared Tilapia at $17
and $18 respectively... But there also some pretty high end items, too: a $43
New York Strip Steak and a $29 pair of Blue Crab cakes.
This I think, gives opportunity to a variety of budgets.
I liked Rox City Grill. The menu was varied enough to
catch the attention of a variety of taste buds. The service was
well-timed, relaxed and professional. Our waiter though, did not ask my
preference for how I would like the lamb to be cooked; as a result it came out a
bit on the too well done side. And an extra charge was somehow mistakenly
added to our check total, but the correction was easily effected.
All the flavors were interesting and the food was
well-prepared and well-plated and portion size was large. Dinner plates
themselves could have been much warmer; the only real missed opportunity
was my mashed potatoes, which were almost cold. I didn't really get a
chance to tell our waiter until after dinner, as he didn't ask about the
dinners, only if we needed anything else...
When one considers the entire evening, it was a very pleasant
experience. Even without the coupon -- which really came in handy -- the
price wouldn't have been outrageous. As a fine dining destination, Rox
City Grill is more of a special occasion kind of place, and unfortunately
would not be a restaurant I would be able to return to enjoy on a regular basis.
I will however, look forward to a return visit.
In the 1830s, a trip from St. Charles to Chicago typically
took at least three days. Approximately one hundred and seventy-five years later, it
sometimes feels like it will take that long just to get from one
side of St. Charles to the other -- especially on a Friday night at 5:00 pm. But I bet that if you took the time to
relax and enjoy dinner at Rox City Grill, the commute might not seem quite as