Sunday, June 12, 2016

Roister: "it's like having a taste orgasm in a room full of strangers"

Friends, Open Kitchen, and the Best Damn Fried Chicken Ever
A few weeks ago when I visited some friends in Chicago I had one of the greatest meals of my life at Roister--the new restaurant from the Alinea group. I've been drooling over their other restaurants (Next and Alinea) for a while now, and it seemed like fate when I found out that Roister was opening a few weeks before my Chicago visit. My friend and I immediately booked their Chef's tasting table. 

So, here is the first of what will likely be many restaurant reviews on the blog. Through these reviews I hope to share pictures of the food, plus both a descriptive and also quantitative analysis of the restaurant as a whole (food, ambiance, etc).

Plus, when possible, you will get a special guest poster--this time you get to hear from one of my best friends now living in Chicago. Let's call her SheWhoEats

Roister is the slightly more casual/home-style restaurant in the family, headed up by Andrew Brochu. Even though this place was not cheap (out the door cost including a couple drinks each and service charges was about 150 per person for the tasting menu), it is amazing for that special few-times-a-year meal. In fact, next time I want to go with three other people and just order some of their large format dishes which we got previews of during the tasting menu. Especially the chicken. You don't even know how good that chicken was.

The restaurant is built around the idea of celebration and the experience centers on a big open kitchen that is integrated into the dining room. From most of the tables, you have a partial view of the kitchen and get some feel for the kitchen. However, SheWhoEats and I went one step further--we got the tasting menu which sits us at the counter directly facing the kitchen itself.

the focal point of the kitchen is a huge wood burning oven
There are about 5-8 chefs working in there at any one point, and the focal point of the kitchen is a huge wood burning oven. Don't quote me on this, but I believe almost every dish we ate (except dessert) had at least one component from the wood burning oven. One cool thing is that they have these whole pineapples just hanging form a string inside the wood burning oven.

Those pineapples were first used for a house shot that was given to us as soon as we sat down. It was delicious and set a really nice tone for the rest of the meal. Overall, the service was fantastic. We were seated as soon as we walked in (it wasn't packed), and they were fairly attentive to us.

Our only real interaction with the host/server was being seated and our drink orders. Because we were doing the chef's tasting menu, our food was just handed to us by the chefs doing the cooking with no need to order. If I had a single complaint, it was that I would have liked a little more from the chefs who handed us our food. They were nice enough, and told us what they were giving us each time. But, it felt a tiny bit like a chore for them and sometimes it was hard to hear what they said. I can't fault them too much though, as they also have to be cooking and the music is a little loud.

BigMan: In terms of ambiance/dining experience/service, this was the most fun I've had in a restaurant, earning it a solid A in that category (After the jump below, I will also be grading all the courses individually and then giving an overall grade).

SheWhoEats: Our service was fantastic. This was the single best dining experience of my life so far. It's overwhelming to be able to experience someone else's creativity so intimately. It's uncomfortable and wonderful at the same time--it's like having a taste orgasm in a room full of strangers. A+ for ambiance/dining experience/service.

"First" Course - The Starters

The "first course" at Roister was actually three separate dishes. There wasn't a ton of cohesion across the three dishes, but some of it was absolutely delicious.
Roister's "fries" . . .blistery and crunchy, and . . . topped with an umami bomb--soy and bonito flakes
BigMan: A+

I thought the standout from the starters was Roister's "fries." They were like the most perfect fried potato wedges you've ever had. The skin was blistery and crunchy, and it was topped with an umami bomb--soy and bonito flakes. The saltiness and umaminess of the topping paired really well with the fatty outside and fluffy interior of the potatoes, and there was some kind of acid plus the chives on top providing a nice brightness. The tofu mayo wasn't super flavorful, but it provided an incredibly silky creaminess to the dish. Overall, I wouldn't change anything.

SheWhoEats: A

These were truly delicious. Although, they did lack a certain wholesomeness--the taste of the potato (seriously, the utopia of fried potato) was completely overwhelmed by all the other flavor.

In all fairness, I've never met anything covered in bonito flakes that I didn't adore. Without the bonito, these would probably get a B+ from me.

"Kimchi" and Roasted Pineapple

BigMan: B+

I'll be honest, I don't remember too many specifics about this dish except that it was good. It was almost like a chili marinated cabbage/lettuce with some acidity in the marinade. I love spiciness, and this was a really great little dish to pique my interest and get my taste buds salivating. However, I am scoring it a little bit lower just because it was a little simple and not super memorable in the context of everything else.

SheWhoEats: A-

This dish made up for what the fries lacked in balance. There were grilled pineapple slices underneath the kimchi, and the combination was delicious.

[the pineapple was from the wood burning oven]

crudo . . . too many raspberries . . . could've used a pinch of salt

BigMan: C+

One of the only misses of the night for me was the crudo dish. You can't quite see it in my picture, but the fish itself was really nice--some kind of firmer white fish, great texture and flavor on its own. And, on the positive side, when you got a bite of everything on the plate in the right proportion, it worked. However, there were way too many raspberries on the plate and their tartness overwhelmed anything else. The abundance of raspberries also made the plate taste like it was missing salt and something bright to bring it all together.

SheWhoEats: B-

This could've used a pinch of salt, maybe?

Second Course - Veggies

sourdough pancake . . . muscles . . . mutant peas

BigMan: A

The second course was  a sourdough pancake topped with peas, muscles (I think), and some sort of creme fraiche. Normally I do not really like peas, but these were incredibly--giant, fresh, and really sweet. I also think they included some of the pea shoots with the peas which added a slightly different layer of flavor. Overall, the dish worked really well--the sourdough had a nice tanginess that was balanced by the creme and complimented the fresh peas. My one criticism is that the texture of the pancake was a little soft--I would have liked some crunchy edges or a crunchy bottom.

SheWhoEats: A-

I agree with BigMan on all counts. Those mutant peas were delicious.

Third Course - Salads

The third course was once again  multiple dishes--this time a duo of salads.

Asparagus salad . . . tasted like a sloppy joe
BigMan: A

There was something about this asparagus salad that completely mesmerized me. A lot of times I find asparagus kind of bitter and unexciting. However, the asparagus in this was amazing. I don't know if it was the way the asparagus was roasted in the wood burning oven or if it was the fennel, but there was such a wonderful meaty and smoky flavor to this salad. There was also some really nice crunch to the salad from the macadamia nuts. Hands down, a great salad.

SheWhoEats: B

BigMan, the reason you liked this asparagus is because it didn't taste like asparagus, it tasted like a sloppy joe.

Romaine Salad, Korean Spice, Ham

BigMan: B-

This dish was very nearly there, it was just a little out of balance. On the bottom was a good puree/dressing, reminded me of a brighter green goddess dressing. Then some spicy marinated romaine hearts. Sort of like kimchi, but a little earthier and much less pickled/fermented than even fresh kimchi. This was topped with some paper thin slices of the ham. I think if there had been twice as much ham on the plate, it would have been amazing. The saltiness of the cured ham balanced really well with the earthy spiciness of the romaine when you constructed the perfect bite. However, after about three of these perfect bites, you were left with a ton of romaine hearts and no ham . . . souring the experience.

SheWhoEats: B-

This was good, but uninspired. The only reason I'm not giving it a C is because that green sauce was BOMB.

Fourth Course - Meat

BigMan: A-

So let's get this out of the way--you can't go wrong giving me some beautiful dry aged beef, especially when you top it with a perfect uni butter. But, I don't know why, this was just ok. The piece was tiny, which is always a disappointment, but more than that it just didn't feel exciting. Maybe a tiny bit less of the uni butter would have let the steak shine. Or maybe the steak just needed more of a char. Whatever it was, there was just a tiny something missing.

SheWhoEats: B

The steak was overdone. This was delicious, but a slight metallicy-bitterness would've rounded out the flavor and made this incredible.

Fifth Course - Chicken

This is why you go to Roister. Even if you do nothing else but walk in, order the chicken, eat it, and leave, you should go to Roister to try this dish.

On the large format menu, this is actually full chicken in one dish. On the tasting menu, we got half a chicken. Basically, they take all parts of the chicken and do three different things with them. First, all the odds and end are used to make a chicken salad with a creamy dressing and a bunch of seeds added for texture. The breast is then lightly poached and finished off in the wood burning oven for a perfect roast. Finally, the thighs are boned and deep fried. All of this is served with a sun choke hot sauce, and what I would call a gravy.

Chicken and Chamomile

BigMan: B+ for the chicken salad, A for the roasted chicken

The chicken salad was good, but I've also made chicken salad myself that was almost as good. Maybe it's just my bias, but chicken salad seems a little boring. With that said, this was incredibly well done--perfectly tender chicken, great crunch from nuts/seeds, and a creamy dressing that wasn't super heavy.

The roasted chicken on the other hand was great. Perfectly tender and juicy, not a hint of dryness, a little smokiness from the roast. Dipped in either the gravy or the hot sauce, it is near the top of my list of roasted chicken.

SheWhoEats: C for the chicken salad, A for the roasted chicken

It was just really good chicken salad. The roasted chicken was tender and perfect and delicious.

The best damn fried chicken you'll ever eat
BigMan: A+

I don't even know where to start. Either magic does exist or they just put crack in the breading, but this was the most absolutely perfect fried chicken you can imagine. In fact, it was better than I ever imagined fried chicken could be. Impossibly crunchy but still thin breading. Meat so juicy it almost squirted out when you bit into it. PERFECTLY rendered fat inside the thigh. There wasn't a single bite that felt gristly or chewy from unrendered fat. When it was dipped in the sunchoke hot sauce, it really was perfection.

SheWhoEats: A+++

OMFG. This was the best fried chicken I've ever had in my life. I'm afraid it has ruined fried chicken for me forever. And those sauces. Mmmmm.

Sixth Course - Dessert

Strawberries and Cream . . . there was just something magical going on in that plate

BigMan: A+

This is the dish that reminded me I was at an Alinea group restaurant. A simple Strawberries and Cream according to the description but, again, there was just something magical going on in that plate. The complexity and thought that went into this really blows me away. So many textures and flavors and even temperatures, my mind did not even know what was going on. It just knew that it was unbelievably satisfied.

I can't even remember everything in there, but there was a beautiful strawberry jam, some strawberry ice balls, some milk ice cram, some dehydrated cake, a shortbread crumb, and probably other stuff I can't even remember. Dishes like this remind me that food really is art.

SheWhoEats: A+++++

I took my first bite of this dessert, and immediately, I felt the muscles in my face relax in a wave of pleasure as I tasted this most pure and perfect strawberry shortcake. This flavor was totally familiar, but better. It's the way all strawberry shortcake is supposed to taste. Just totally immaculate. But as I was experiencing this insane sense of flavor-awe, I suddenly realized that I was also confused--it completely snuck up on me--this felt nothing like strawberry shortcake in my mouth. The textures and temperatures and sensations were SO interesting. There was soft creaminess and fluffy crunchiness and icy tartness and chewy toffeeness and ohmygod. I don't even know the words to describe how interesting this dessert felt in my mouth. And my mouth is watering so much that I can't even think straight.

Seriously, this is the strawberry shortcake of the gods. The single most perfect and interesting dessert I've ever had in my entire life.

Foie Gras "Snicker" Bar

BigMan: A+

I thought nothing could compare to the strawberry dessert, but these little mini "snicker" bars came damn close. I'd never contemplated having foie gras in a dessert (in fact, I'm not sure I'd ever eaten foie gras before at all), but it absolutely worked in this. The chocolate shell was nice and thin, perfectly tempered. The foie was fluffy and creamy inside, there was a beautiful caramel, some crunchy pretzel-y pieces, and some salt to finish it off. A great two-bite dessert.

HomeSkillet: N/A*

*does not eat foie gras

BigMan: A+

We each had two cocktails and overall, they were delicious. We had their old fashioned made with apple brandy (not traditional, but really good), an amaretto sour made with black truffle, a sour made with roasted banana, and the resurrected panda. I don't know too much cocktail lingo, but they all tasted amazing and I was intrigued by their combinations of flavors.

SheWhoEats: A+

Delicious. Creative. Not too sweet.

In Closing

As you can tell from the description above, we both thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Roister. We were especially picky about the food because it is such a high end place that perfection is really expected, but even with a few misses the meal was stunning. 

Overall, BigMan gives it an A and SheWhoEats gives it an A-.

BigMan SheWhoEats
Ambiance/Service A A+
"Fries" A+ A
"Kimchi" and Pineapple B+ A-
Crudo C+ B-
Peas A A-
Asparagus Salad A B
Romaine Salad B- B-
Meat A- B
Chicken Salad B+ C
Roasted Chicken A A
Fried Chicken A+ A+++
Strawberries A+ A+++++
"Snickers" A+
Cocktails A+ A+

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Welcome to my blog, where you can join me as I revel in my love of food. Eating it, cooking it, baking it, watching it on TV and even learning about it. If it has to do with food, I am probably interested.

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