This is a review of my dining experience at Rapscallion Rogue Eatery.
I had cycled past this place for weeks on my way home-finally peering in, in the former "Street Meat BBQ" digs, I saw the words "foie gras" reflected, like strange mirror-writing, on the window & chalkboard menu. Excitement all around.
Given the restaurant's "Sunday dinners only," reservations proved a bit hard to come by. Owners and reservationists were welcoming, cheery, not snobby or "holier than thou." This can be a problem in other tiny, chef-driven places. But not here.
Our party of four were cheerily greeted by Erin, Rapscallion's co-owner/server. She sat down at our booth to explain the lovingly-crafted menu, and to offer helpful suggestions of wine pairings. There are few pretensions about this place. The finest points about this restaurants, besides some of the issues with food and a new menu detailed in this review, is the fact that Rapscallion tries new things, bravely, generously. It's a new way of doing Hamilton restaurants.
Menu items shared by our party included the following:
Rapscallion Trio- a double portion of well-seasoned beef tartare, and a portion of chicken liver brulee. If you've ever wanted to eat chicken liver mousse with the candied brulee top of a custard dessert, here is your chance. Heavenly, though not too rich/heavy on the butter.
Rapscallion charcuterie plate- ambitious of a restaurant this size, in Hamilton, to do charcuterie. But I guess this restaurant has guts, literally. From a chef's perspective I can totally see the appeal of venturing into this type of cuisine. The trick is, I think we'll need a bit more time in Hamilton to help something like this stick-maybe even written descriptions of what the house selections include, would ease people like my less-adventurous dining companions into trying the meats. And the garnishes-more garnishes, please.
Deboned chicken wings with glass noodle stuffing and mango-mint salad-now maybe it's just me, but I am totally grossed out by the little claw piece that is not removed from chicken wings. The stuffing was ambitious, but a tad too oily owing to the way that rice noodles suck up oil and stick together. Mango-mint salad could use more chilli, and the use of ripe sweet mango, and not green mango, was a bit unusual and not entirely successful. Wings could use a spicy-sweet dip, perhaps, to up the flavour contrast.
Pork belly tacos-a lovely riff on pork belly. The meat was skillfully cooked, soft, yet with a crisp exterior. Fatty-crispy goodness. Taco shells could be kept more moist-as it were the edges were dry, not sure if it was an attempt at "crisp." Radish slaw and lime wedge garnish was just perfect.
Tongue in Cheek-braised beef cheek and beef tongue slices. This place has a thing about meat-in case you missed that. The beef cheek was lovely, supple and full of beefy flavour. The tongue could have benefitted from a gentler preparation-perhaps a longer braising with spices or sous-vide-to bring out the flavour. Tongue needs de-veining, also. Don't serve veiny tongue, that is weird. The dish, overall, could use a bit more brightness/acid/earthy balance-perhaps more peppercorns, or something.
Salad made me sad. For $5, the plate consisted mostly of romaine heart/red leaf, but the salad was tossed whilst wet, and the resulting balsamic dressing was a bit of a wet mess. It was a large portion, good enough for two to share, which would be a plus. Maybe the availability of local greens will spruce this item up a bit come summer. But hey, there was more room for dessert/meat dishes/dessert masquerading as meat dishes.
Bacon Bread Pudding and Pie Duo-
Bacon Bread Pudding was an old-fashioned, southern pudding, somewhat stodgy, with a proper southern white gravy, likely laced with bacon drippings. I would order this for breakfast, perhaps, but as a dessert-so, so heavy. I've had bacon desserts at restaurants like WD-50, and Alinea-both of which were more subtle on the bacon. This is BACON and BREAD front and centre. I definitely preferred the more conservative Pie Duo-a sugar pie and a chocolate pie. Both pies were lovely, with a flaky, toothsome crust, and thick, sweet filling. Lovely.
Finished the evening with lovely conversation at a neighbouring table.
Reviewing my thoughts and dining experience, what I think I need to do is soak up the fact that this isn't just a "better than driving to Toronto" alternative. This is a place with roots down the street-providing Hamiltonians with the culinary ambition and hospitality that true restauranteurs like Matt and Erin offer so generously. The feeling of eating here, far beyond the cumulative effects of individual dishes, is excitement. Excitement for the present accomplishments, and the ones to come.
Dinner for 4 with a bottle of wine was about $160, with tax and tip. That said, I could easily stop by and eat one or two small dishes, for under $20. I look forward to the changing menu and continued evolution of Rapscallion. Curious diners should, nay, must try Rapscallion to experience it.
Thank you, Rapscallion, for being rogue, and one-of-a kind. We look forward to many more meals with you!
Note: On the Sundays-only dinner-the current business model was to start up a nice place where restaurant industry folks could grab a nice bite to eat. Plans to expand to Friday-lunch and dinner, and Saturday-Sunday dinner service are in the works.