Rock steady

November 2018 View more

Knowing that RockSugar was created by the same restaurateur as its Oakbrook Center neighbor the Cheesecake Factory, I certainly didn’t expect anything about it be understated. After passing the massive signage and imposing red double doors off Spring Road, I was surprised to find the interior less ostentatious than I assumed. The high-ceilinged dining room is a bit dramatic, but it’s actually quite romantic, with golden lantern-style lights and date-worthy booths draped in sheer curtains.

RockSugar opened last winter, and as of presstime, had just added a handful new dishes to its menu, which is multipaged but not as encyclopedic as the Cheesecake Factory. I munched on black sesame-studded rice crackers with tomato chutney as I browsed the lineup of specialties from Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore created by chef Mohan Ismail, who also heads up RockSugar’s original location in Los Angeles. “It’s like taking a tour of Asia … without having to leave the country,” he says.


Before diving into the family-style curries, noodles, or platters of meat and seafood, there are plenty of appetizers to stoke the appetite, from spring rolls to samosas to pot stickers. The chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt were nicely crunchy, though not particularly memorable. On the other hand, I’m still thinking about the tangy, saucy squares of pork belly sandwiched in cushy bao buns with shallot mayo, pickled onion, and carrot wisps. The salmon tartare also packed plenty of crisp texture with pomegranate arils, pistachios, daikon radish, and taro chips for scooping.

In addition to a grilled rib eye and Malaysian-style steamed sea bass, one of the newer dishes is nyonya laksa, a favorite of Ismail’s from his native Singapore. It’s similar to ramen in composition, with a broth base, egg noodles, plump shrimp, fried tofu cubes, and a halved soft-boiled egg; however, the flavor is all its own. The coconut milk–based broth gets its ruby red hue from fresh and dried chilis, and the rich, deep flavor comes from shrimp stock, lemongrass and a Vietnamese herb called rau ram. Though it packed enough punch for my taste buds, it’s served with a side of sambal for those who want to crank up the heat.


If you secretly wish specialty martinis never go out of style, they’re alive and well at RockSugar in all their sugar-rimmed, garishly garnished glory—and no one’s going to throw shade if you order one. I preferred the fruity, potent Asian pear martini to the lemongrass cucumber martini, which was garnished with a giant cucumber plank and tasted so light in flavor it bordered on watery. If you’re into more current-feeling cocktails, there are trendier attempts, too, such as the Black and White Sour made with activated charcoal and topped with Malibu rum-infused coconut foam. If not for the Malibu—which tastes like suntan lotion and college, regardless of form—it might just work.

I was glad I stopped short of full during the entrée course, so I still had room for the butter cake, crowned with crunchy caramelized sugar and ice cream. If you’re with a group (or you’re just the go-big-or-go-home type), don’t leave without ordering the coconut doughnuts, a heaping pile of fresh-from-the-fryer puffs served with passionfruit sauce for drizzling and dipping.