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New Jamaican spot is not like the old one

Go with the jerk chicken

Bony goat and boring sides. Plantains shouldn’t be your favorite part of this plate.
  • Bony goat and boring sides. Plantains shouldn’t be your favorite part of this plate.

Rock Steady Jamaican Restaurant

2820 Market Street, Grant Hill

No sooner had I lamented the departure of my neighborhood Jamaican restaurant, Island Spice, to another part of the city that I noticed another had taken its place.

Rock Steady Jamaican offers a spruced-up dining patio and small finished parking lot, but in many other ways it resembles the old Island Spice, including the menu, which features large and generously portioned “small” plates at $12 to $14 dollars apiece. From what I gather, while the owner of the building has remained the same over the years, the owner of the restaurant has not, and when the Island Spice proprietors moved to Rolando their landlord took over the space with his own Jamaican concept.

A thatched roof storefront and new deck grace Rock Steady Jamaican, formerly Island Spice Jamaican.

A thatched roof storefront and new deck grace Rock Steady Jamaican, formerly Island Spice Jamaican.

I went in looking for the barbecue chicken plate that used to thrill me at Island Spice, but while curry, brown sauce, and jerk chicken remain, that option has left the building. Not that I mind, as long as there’s an oxtail plate available — which there is, except they were out of oxtail the day I showed up.

This too would have been fine, had I just gone with the jerk chicken. My friend did, and when I tried his I found it tender, juicy, and flavorful. I even liked it better than the Island Spice jerk, if I’m splitting hairs.

Unfortunately, that’s where the favorable comparisons ended. The side dishes served at Rock Steady look the same as Island Spice, but they don’t taste like it. The mostly-cabbage sautéed vegetables I had previously enjoyed were more bitter than savory, to the point I didn’t bother finishing them. The beans and rice were somehow more bland, while the plantains…well, honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference.

I know I’d have come away with a fuller belly if there’s been oxtail, because there’s not often a chance to devour the uniquely aromatic, almost floral tasting beef. Stymied there, I went with the second most exotic dish on the menu, curried goat.

I’m accustomed to finding some bone in stewed goat dishes — apparently it’s tough to avoid if you want to get all the meat off the lean animal — but this curry was more gristle and bone than flesh. I did my best to dig through it, to gnash what meat I could off the chopped up chunks, but I had to spit out splinters and other fragments with most bites.

It might be worth it for the flavor, but in this case the tepid curry didn’t justify the imperfect chew. I eyed my lunchmate’s jerk chicken enviously and proceeded to a last resort: I filled up on plantains.

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