190404CLARK

The Four Dishes, The Gazette’s restaurant review team, enjoyed this serving of creme brulee during a recent visit to Tavern on Clark in Rockford, Ill. The star-shaped dish made it difficult to get every last bite, but the sweet taste was enough to encourage the Dishes to do so.

ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS

I have been hearing about Tavern on Clark for several years. My expectation of the place was as a noisy sports bar, so it was a treat to find an elegant, modern restaurant with a varied, upscale menu.

We made reservations before heading down, just to be on the safe side. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and we weren’t quite sure what to expect as far as a crowd was concerned. When we arrived, it was fairly busy, and the jaunty Irish tunes playing in the background set a festive mood.

Dark wood and stacked brick encompass the spacious, dimly-lit dining room, giving it a supper club feel. Large booths line the walls with an abundance of tables housed in the center. Tavern on Clark also offers an outdoor patio with seating, and now that winter is finally behind us, it won’t be long before visitors can take advantage of the extra space to soak up the sun and enjoy the fresh air.

The restaurant’s wine menu offers a wide selection in types, vineyards and prices. If you can’t find anything, you aren’t trying hard enough and might want to head to the beer selection, offering several tap beers and a surprising number of sour beers.

Tavern on Clark also has a nice list of craft cocktails. Helene opted for a Margarita Tavern ($8), a pleasant pick-me-up served in a 12-ounce glass, while I went with a blood orange mule ($8). It was a good thing I didn’t see the Japanese whiskey flight, as I’m always up for something a little different. That would probably be a better choice for kicking off the weekend rather than winding one down.

For our appetizer, we selected baked brie ($9). It was the softest and best brie I’ve ever had. Topped with rhubarb gastrique and black walnuts, I expected a strong black walnut flavor, but I had a hard time picking it out. Slightly sweet, it was a wonderful combination, so I didn’t look too closely.

There were several dishes I wanted to try, but I craved the blue cheese crust option ($3 extra). It added a salty bite to my Tavern steak ($23), an 8-ounce, char-grilled sirloin. It was served perfectly medium and came with crunchy vegetables, which is exactly how I like them. I also chose sidewinder fries, which were battered and served up crispy. They looked like they had been cut with an apple peeler.

The Vegetalien ($19) was Helene’s choice, and the presentation was striking. A good choice for those on a gluten-free diet, the zucchini were stuffed with bits of bell pepper and soy ricotta cheese.Alongside the earthiness of grilled portabella mushrooms, the sweetness of the roasted bell peppers and a light touch of tomato sauce, the flavors melded to enhance this dish.

Helene also opted for the soup of the day, which was a St. Patrick’s Day-inspired corned beef and cabbage. It was so tasty that I hope it stays on the menu year-round.

Nikki ordered one of the featured entrees—the seared scallops and risotto ($25). Decorated with bright green asparagus sliced diagonally to expose the lighter interior of the stalks, the risotto was a cheery visual reminder that spring has arrived. The scallops had a nice crust on the top and bottom but were still silky and tender inside. They were served accompanied by a creamy lemon butter sauce.

With so many new dishes and old favorites appearing on the menu, Jennifer wished she had been more hungry. She opted for the chop shop Cobb salad ($13), and at the last minute she added a bowl of baked French onion soup ($6). The soup had a nice, thick layer of melted white cheese covering a savory, oniony soup base that provided comfort food at its best.

Beautifully presented, the salad had a plethora of bright, healthy veggies layered in a diagonal pattern. It featured fresh mixed greens topped with chunks of grilled chicken breast, chopped crispy bacon, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado slices, crumbled blue cheese, red onion and egg. Packed with protein and rich in vitamins, it was delicious.

When our server came to the table with an enormous tray featuring all of Tavern on Clark’s luscious sweet treats, we couldn’t resist.

The creme brulee ($7) was served in a cute, star-shaped dish. It was somewhat difficult to get the last of it out of the corners, but don’t worry ... we managed. We also split the Moscato berry cake ($7), a rich, multilayered pound cake with fresh berries baked inside and then topped with a buttercream frosting. It was divine.

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

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