Children of the '80s forever have the Hard Rock Cafe logo seared into our memories. The Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt was de rigueur for most every suburbanite through much of the late '80s and early '90s: a sign that we -- or someone we knew -- had vacationed in the kind of cosmopolitan city that could play host to such a worldly destination.
Much of what drew people to Hard Rock Cafe in those years remains in play at the restaurant inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. The walls are lined with glass cases filled with the sequined jumpsuits, butt-hugging acid-washed jeans, and leather pants that graced the sweat-slicked bodies of rock stars in their glory days. The service is enthusiastic and familiar. The menu, however, has recently been given a subtle face-lift.
Though still populated with the types of nonthreatening crowd pleasers that appeal to a touristy client base of all ages and tastes -- lots of burgers, salads with grilled chicken, and the like -- the company has incorporated a selection of more modern dishes.
My friends and I asked our server -- a cheerful young blond -- to give us a rundown of all of the new menu items, something we were loathe to do since she'd said earlier that it was only her second day and she was in the process of shadowing a senior server who was tied up with a large party at the next table. Kudos to Hard Rock's training and hiring processes on this point: Our server nailed it, taking us through each page of the menu, telling us at length about every new and revamped dish.
To start, we split the Hard Rock nachos ($10.95), a mainstay item that has been updated to include queso among other toppings like chopped green onions, sliced pickled jalapeño, pinto beans, and sour cream.
For my main course, I tried the new Cajun shrimp and poached pear salad ($14.95), a mixed green tossed with a very sweet Dijon pear dressing and crumbled goat cheese and topped with poached pear slices, grilled sweet Cajun shrimp, and not-as-spicy-as-I-would've-liked pecan bits. It comes with seasoned chopped bacon, but I ordered without. Our server said it's her favorite, and it seems to be one of the more-buzzed-about changes to the restaurant's menu. A smokehouse chop salad (greens with smoked chicken, spicy bacon and pecans, pico de gallo, and a smoky citrus vinaigrette) also is new. Our server described it as "definitely [having] a kick to it."
My friend gravitated to the "lighter" fare, ordering the eight-ounce grilled wild salmon ($19.95) with the Merlot-garlic butter on the side. Served with rice and green beans, it's the kind of meal one would see at a nicer wedding reception. Nothing out of the ordinary but certainly more health-conscious than the platter of nachos we'd had to start the meal. The salmon is not one of the recent additions to the menu. My other friend paused over the new Shock Top beer-battered fish and chips but also wound up with a carryover from the previous menu: the twisted mac, chicken, and cheese ($16.95).
Other changes include the option to sub in a piece of grilled chicken for beef in any of the "legendary burgers," plus the introduction of a goat cheese chicken salad sandwich (poached chicken salad on a hoagie roll, topped with dried cranberries and goat cheese), and the Shang Hi [sic] smokehouse sandwich (with Asian five-spice barbecue sauce and an Asian-style pickled cucumber slaw with sriracha mayo).
As we were wrapping our meal and I was putting down the last few sips of my Heineken (don't judge -- I was feeling nostalgic), the party at the next table also was coming to a close. A male server bellowed instructions to the dining room to join the serving crew in wishing the family a congratulations in unison. We obliged, and the guests beamed. The manager swung by our table: "Where are you folks from?" He grinned when we said we were locals. On the way out the door, we passed the gift shop. There in the front was a display of logo T-shirts, just like in the days of yore.
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