While most of us love a gorgeous ocean view, a seaside restaurant doesn’t always mean a great meal. There’s always that nagging question: was the food as good as the view? Joe Guarino, the new head chef at Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott, is taking on that challenge with gusto. Together with owner Paul Petersiel, Guarino has revamped the menu, re-thought the wine list, and lowered prices overall.
The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily, along with a Sunday jazz brunch from 10:30 to 3:00. The new menu has a Mediterranean influence but covers a broad range of tastes. The wine list features 40 wines by the glass, with most around $8. We enjoyed the two cocktails we tried: a refreshing Cool as Cuke with Hendricks, St Germain, cucumber, mint, and lime ($11) and a grown-up version of a lime ricky ($9.50).
While we usually visit restaurants anonymously, in this case we were invited to meet Petersiel and Guarino and sample some items on the new menu. Although Guarino took over as head chef in August, the restaurant hasn’t promoted that fact until now to let him get his sea legs, so to speak.
We applaud that approach, which seems to have paid off, as we enjoyed many of the dishes we tried, including the duck confit egg rolls (crispy with a great flavor, $9), the short rib bomb (spicy chipotle mayo, chorizo, and pepperjack, $8), and the bucatini with clams (wonderfully garlicky and spice, with perfectly cooked pasta for $16). We liked the flatbread pizza with shrimp, which was richly flavored and crispy, and a great value at $13. We also recommend the highly addictive peanut butter and banana ice cream cake ($8).
While we ate, we learned that Guarino grew up in East Boston and previously worked in the kitchens of Boston’s Church, The Butcher Shop, and Bonfire and was a sous chef a few years ago at Red Rock. We also heard Petersiel’s tale of buying the restaurant (then called Dale’s) in 1999 on a whim after The Barnacle in Marblehead refused to serve him a lobster roll late one afternoon.
Since the large bar is well lit and welcoming at night, and the restaurant’s views are extraordinary any time, we hope Guarino continues to give the North Shore crowd consistent, quality food at reasonable prices. We look forward to trying brunch, which features standards like omelettes, french toast, and bagels with lox along with more unusual choices like lobster eggs benedict and short rib hash with poached eggs and rosemary aioli.
We may also stop in for bar snacks and live music (Thursday through Saturday nights) or for a Tuesday tasting (December Dec 21 is Piper Heidsieck champagne with oysters and caviar for $35; February 8 is USA craft beers for $25).
Red Rock Bistro
141 Humphrey St, Swampscott