Jan. 30, 2007 - Issue #589: From the Notebooks of Dr Brain
It was a rocky meal but the salsa was perfection
Transformed from a geriatric watering hole into a sleek and sophisticated lounge, Michael’s Pub has become On the Rocks. And its fresh look is attracting more than just loyal regulars.
We walked into On the Rocks—one of Jasper Avenue’s quieter spots—on a chilly winter night and were welcomed by a spacious, chic and inviting atmosphere. We watched the final period of the Oilers game on one of the many gigantic plasma televisions while we waited for the Latin-infused salsa dancing to begin.
Sitting ourselves in a corner, we had a great view of the game and enjoyed pre-salsa beverages. I ordered a pint of Alexander Keith’s ($5.25) to emphasize the Canadian atmosphere of the hockey game, while my friend had a Corona ($5.75) to prepare herself for the Latin flavour post-game.
While we waited to shake what our mamas gave us, we enjoyed our own smorgasbord. Offering everything from pub classic wings to more exotic Thai-inspired dishes, their well-rounded menu offered safe choices for conventional palates and more worldly dishes for those who enjoy surprise and variety.
As we steadily sipped on our drinks, we ordered the stuffed mushroom caps ($7.95). Stuffed with baby shrimp and crab meat and topped with melted mozzarella, the mushroom caps were satisfying but lacked any bold flavour, even after we doused them with pepper. The mushroom caps weren’t a complete disaster, but weren’t a memorable dish that would warrant a second try.
Shortly after we finished our appetizer, we ordered our main courses. Wanting to play more on the safe side, I ordered a chicken club wrap ($7.95) with a side of potato soup ($3.50). The club wrap was fantastic, freshened up with honey mustard sauce and served with a nice range of vegetables.
However, my soup was runny and tasteless, the sour cream and cheddar cheese toppings overpowering what I thought was supposed to be a thick, cream-based soup. I was happy with the wrap but disappointed with my choice of side.
Taking to the more mysterious side of the menu, my friend was lured in by the Thai salad ($8.95) and topped it up with some spicy blackened chicken ($3). A note to staff: cooked spaghetti noodles are not Thai noodles. The pieces of blackened chicken were so small that they were easy to confuse for over-sautéed mushrooms. Essentially spaghetti with a few leaves of lettuce and maybe half an overcooked, over-chopped chicken breast, her meal was disappointing, especially for the price. We felt the need to have another round of drinks for dessert, and our final bill came to just over $50 before tax and tip. It seemed like On the Rocks was good at the pub classics, but had trouble living up to the more diverse dishes. It would almost be better if they tightened up their menu and focused on dishes they excelled at, rather than trying to expand the menu into unfamiliar territory.
Full but not completely satisfied, we were ready to start busting some sensual moves on the dance floor to work off our meals. As the dance instructor with a Spanish accent went from table to table recruiting dancers, we got in a line, men facing women, as we got ready to move to the music. Ranging in age from early 20s to early 50s, the salsa dancing crowd was diverse. The dancing itself was great fun and exercise for both young and young at heart.
Relentlessly encouraging more to join, the instructor asked a couple of middle-aged men, “Are you guys dancing?”
“Naw. We’re drinking,” the men replied jovially. The instructor’s look suggested that they had given her that answer several times before. Fair enough: salsa dancing isn’t for everyone.
The instructor then turned on the vibrant music and we began with a slow and sensual warm-up. Men and women stayed in their lines and the wallflowers watched from a distance. The instructor took the time to show first-timers (like myself) the required moves, but afforded every skill level insights on how to perfect their techniques.
After we were all nice and warm, it was time to find a partner. Like we were at a high school dance, the pairing up was a bit awkward and gave us the impression that the sandbox rules from childhood never really go away.
We began with a sister dance to the salsa: the merengue. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4: we flowed back and forth at a relatively quick pace. I occasionally found myself tripping over my feet, much to the amusement of my far more advanced dance partner. The instructor came around and kindly but persistently made sure that no one was completely in the dark.
Then, as quickly as we learned the merengue, we moved into a salsa step involving a turn. The music came on faster and more furious than before, only to leave me more confused than ever. I felt shown up by the other, more advanced (and probably weekly regular) pairs who were flipping and dipping more than strawberries at a fondue party. As I got over my frustration, the moves came more naturally and we began experimenting.
We danced and we sweated: finally, it was time for a well-deserved break.
The amateurs took a breather, the instructor collected her $5 fee, and the advanced salsa dancers took the time to show off their skills. Not long after, the music started up again and it was time for a new move.
The instructor’s knowledge and enthusiasm attracts a great crowd week after week for the best way to warm up a cold winter night in Edmonton. She made it easy to learn and enjoy salsa.
Even though On the Rocks’ menu struggles to reach the exotic flavours of the world, its Salsa Thursdays are right on point.
The atmosphere and enthusiasm makes it a great place for something new once a week—even if it’s just watching from afar. V
To 2 am every day
$5 Salsa Thursdays at 9 pm
On the Rocks
11730 Jasper Avenue
More info about On the Rocks →
New comments for this entry have been turned off and any existing ones are hidden. We apologize for any inconvenience.