190822OCTANE

During a recent visit to Octane in Rockford, Ill., The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes enjoyed this order of pan-fried dumplings that were served with coconut teriyaki, citrus ponzu and raspberry sriracha sauces.

ROCKFORD, ILL.

I have walked by this place so many times and thought I missed out on its 22-year history. I am now spot on with the new changes.

Octane Interlounge is now just Octane, with fresh and exciting menu items developed by new owner and head chef Patrick Alberto.

The atmosphere, decor and menu are new. Midnight blue and vibrant orange decorate the dining spaces, and a large S-shaped bar with retro hanging pendant fixtures adorns the lounge. One-of-a-kind artwork also provides a point of interest.

Getting down to the food, the pork dumplings ($12) were the obvious starter once our waitress told us they were house-made.

We chose to have them pan-fried instead of steamed and couldn’t quite decide which of the three sauces we liked best. I favored the coconut teriyaki but was outvoted by my tablemates, who preferred the citrusy ponzu. The raspberry sriracha also was quite nice and not as hot as we were expecting.

For my entree, I referred to a chalkboard at the restaurant’s entrance that listed the evening’s specials. I went with the summer burger ($15) on a brioche bun, which came with arugula, queso, sun-dried tomatoes and pickled radishes. All the toppings were fun, but the meat ... I have never had a burger like this. It was melt in your mouth buttery and soft—the best burger of my life, hands down. The back of the menu mentions the local farm sources Octane works with, and I definitely need to explore this one.

There also was a varied salad menu, and you could select any one of them as your side. I had the Octane salad with just the right blend of Gorgonzola, candied walnuts, shredded apples and cherries. The honey balsamic was perfect to top it off.

Helene chose two items off the specials board, starting with a bright, cheery cup of carrot bisque, which we all tried. It was wonderful with a silky smooth, creamy carroty flavor.

For her meal, she ordered the mussels ($14)—a new menu item. She was served two large bowls—one for the discarded shells and the other holding about a dozen steamed mussels. The sauce was a flavorful lemon and white wine broth, and it was surrounded by enough triangles of grilled garlic toast to soak up the au jus after the meaty mussels were consumed. It was a completely filling and delicious meal.

Nikki decided to try the seafood pasta ($22). The wide, flat noodles, which our server told us were homemade, were in a simple garlic-butter sauce and came with shrimp and lumps of crab meat. Sprinkled with shredded Parmesan and parsley, it was not a complicated dish—but every ingredient was a treat. The fresh pasta was definitely a highlight.

Jennifer selected the garlic mushroom sammie ($11) as her entree. Served on grilled sourdough with a pesto goat cheese spread, it was jam-packed with mushrooms and fried, shredded Brussels sprouts. She adored the earthy flavor from the mushroom/garlic mixture and loved the taste and texture the Brussels sprouts added.

Jennifer’s meal also came with her choice of potato wedges, soup or salad. She opted for the low country salad, which featured mixed greens, orange sections, toasted almonds and dried cranberries in a light, citrusy lemon-poppyseed dressing. It tasted like summer in a bowl.

Once we finished our entrees, we sampled an after-dinner drink—the Boot Strap ($9). Rimmed with turbinado sugar, the iced espresso was strong—almost hiding the Grand Marnier and whiskey. But it went well with our desserts.

We also were intrigued by the Japanese bao ($8), a steamed bun filled with a creamy mixture of Nutella and peanut butter. To play off the velvety texture, there were crunchy, fried cinnamon sticks inside (think churros). It was a surprisingly complex array of flavors that worked well together.

Our favorite dessert, the cereal brulee ($7), had a frosted cornflake topping. I can’t believe we ordered it, but it was fun. When it arrived at the table, it looked like a simple bowl of cereal with the cornflakes hiding a wonderful caramelized sugar layer.

When we dug in—with some of the crispy cornflakes flying onto the table—we were rewarded with an absolutely sublime dessert and the accompanying nostalgia of lazy hours spent watching Saturday morning cartoons as children.

After the last bite was taken, we weren’t quite ready to go home. It was a Friday night, so we walked a few blocks across the river to explore the Rockford City Market. With live music, vendors and lots of happy people out enjoying the summer evening, it was a perfect way to end our trip to Rockford.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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