Dining Tidbits: Rocq Café in Lake Forest
At lunchtime, Rocq Café is packed with diners devouring panini, nibbling pastries and sipping cappuccinos.
Chef Eddy Rocq and his wife, Deborah, frequently stop to chat with customers as they bustle between the kitchen and dining room in the small, airy restaurant. Elegant macaron cookies – which Rocq also sells through Williams-Sonoma – are displayed alongside buttery croissants in a glass case at the counter.
It's a scene that would be at home in any trendy neighborhood, but Lake Forest residents are lucky to have it tucked in their back yard. The cafe opened in a quiet strip mall in February, and already word is getting out that this is one of the most gourmet affordable lunches around.
Rocq's French training and previous stints at Tradition by Pascal, Aubergine and Pinot Provence are easy to spot in the European menu. Most notable of the entrees is chicken cordon bleu ($10.95). The plump, breaded chicken breast comes covered in a peppery gravy. With the touch of a knife, molten cheese oozes out. Each bite is salty and savory, and I try to mop up every bit of gravy with the already moist chicken. Greens in a simple vinaigrette round out the plate.
Similarly satisfying is the quiche Lorraine ($6.95) – even a manly man won't be able to resist the creamy egg filling that's chock full of smoky bits of bacon.
The quiche and sandwiches each come with two sides of the café's selection of salads.
Tabouleh that's heavy on the couscous is full of fresh flavor from veggies and mint. Broccoli is sautéed with something like jicama. Lentils become a treat with the addition of bacon. Perfectly firm beets look and taste like bite-sized candy. None of these have a whiff of ordinary about them.
The prosciutto sandwich comes on a chewy sphere of a roll. The filling isn't stacked high like a typical American deli sandwich's, but the rich meat – along with mozzarella, tomato, basil and a pesto spread – bring plenty of oomph in each bite.
Across the menu, portions aren't immense, and you'll want dessert. In addition to the goodies in the pastry case, the cafe serves a decadent take on bread pudding. The warm treat is made of chocolate and croissants, so each bite is sweet and fluffy. With vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, it's more indulgent than I expect from the often mundane dessert.
In another sweet option, a pyramid of chocolate ($5) masks a whipped nougat and fruit filling. Not to be missed are the cafe's macarons ($1.60), the colorful French sandwich cookies. Rocq offers about 15 flavors, from pistachio to rose. Each manages to be a puff of flavor with a crackly exterior and a rich creamy filling.
With great food like this, it's easy to linger over the last bits of dessert and coffee. By the final bite, I'm convinced I must come back for one of the evening cooking classes, a $55 tutorial (and dinner) on dishes from braised short ribs to tiramisu. With this kind of culinary know-how and lunchtime prices competitive with the chain spots in the area, it's no surprise the little cafe is quickly finding success.
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