I was in Chicago this past weekend, and one of the highlights was going to Alinea Group’s latest restaurant, Roister. Alinea Group owners – Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas opened Roister only a couple of months ago, and have been getting rave reviews. I was actually hoping to get a reservation at Alinea, and was very disappointed when I couldn’t get one, so I was very happy when I scored this 10PM reservation @Roister.
The executive chef is Andrew Brochu, whom prior to this, was the exec chef at another Alinea Group’s restaurant, The Aviary. Roister’s concept is an open kitchen, a more casual and approachable fine dining from the group. But as Nick Kokonas said…. casual doesn’t mean simple… from the ambiance to the food, Roister is so much more than a consolation prize as it deserves to be anyone’s first choice!
Big open kitchen where you could see the food prep, and the chefs’ interactions – with the food, with the servers, with each other, and for those of us who were lucky enough to be seated at the kitchen counter – they also interacted with us. I read in one of their released statements, that the word ‘Roister’ means ‘to engage in noisy revelry’ – the openness of the kitchen and the bar area definitely supports that concept, but they also do that with their selection of music. They pick music that’s fun and relatable. From Alicia Key and Jay Z’s “New York” to Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” (yes, you read it correctly!! This was towards the end of the evening – to which people sang along!) to Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” – Roister proves that it is not too cool for school!
They have great selections of wines and cocktails. I stuck with what I like and has worked for me for years… champagne. My friend Isa (yes… her name is also Isa :)) got a cocktail ‘The Resurrected Panda’ – which has pisco, mescal, port, brandy, lemon, and lychee juice. It was very good!
And when our tasting was about to start, instead of the typical fine dining “amuse bouche” to open up your palette, they sent us each a shot of pineapple infused vodka (I think it’s got a taste of ginger as well) – this shot… was amazing – it was slightly sweet with a kick and very refreshing!!
So let’s get down to business… food!! Roister does have an A La Carte option – when you purchase a ticket. For their A La Carte, it’s $20 per person, and this will be credited towards your final bill. They have 2 different tasting menus – the Roister Menu (which is the one we got – where we’re seated at the Roister Kitchen counter), and there’s one called Prep Kitchen at Roister (the description said it’s in their basement prep kitchen) – the both are $85-$95 per person (depends on the day and time). The chef’s tasting menu options are served in family style. No menu was given to us, so we didn’t know what we were expecting or how many courses in total (for us- we had 12 total). I was pleased that they didn’t give us a basket of bread or something like that since I probably would have been too full (we were starving when we got there, our seating was at 10pm! So very European of us, I know!).
So let’s start –
First, three dishes came out at the same time – a crudo – it was fish with raspberry sauce and fresh raspberry… this dish was a solid A. Another dish was kimchi, it was quite good. The third one was a dish that’s also on their a la carte menu, yukon fries – this was really really good – it was served with bonito flakes and tofu mayo which was very delicious.
Second was a hot plate dish – it was a play on etouffe on a piece of thin sliced buttered toast. Rich crab meat with a spicy sauce that had a kick, it was very good!!
Third, they served their salad/vegetable dishes. So…. this is where our experience took an unexpected turn. Two dishes came out at the same time – a celery dish with prosciutto, and a white asparagus dish (I believe this is also on their a la carte menu). The one with the prosciutto was not good, and the asparagus dish was just bad! The one with prosciutto was saved only because the dressing was spicy, so it wasn’t saved by the prosciutto which was thin, greasy, and unappealing. The white asparagus dish was just a dish of blandness. We didn’t finish either of them. These two dishes were simply bad and unnecessary.
At this point…. we both were a bit worried on how the rest of the experience would be… so, I drank my champagne…. anxiously anticipating.
After those vegetable dishes fiasco – we were told that main courses were next!
The first main course is their 30-day dry aged NY strip with a sea urchin butter. The beef was cooked medium to perfection, and the creamy sea urchin butter on top of it… amazing!
Isa and Isa – we looked at each other and smiled… sigh of relief because we now had hope again!!
Roister continued the streak with their signature dish, the one they’ve been getting great reviews for – their whole chicken cooked 3 ways – brined 24 hours in chamomile tea then they also cooked them with sunchokes. Breast – poached and roasted (skin was perfect!), thighs – fried, and the rest of the chicken – they put in the chicken salad dish. They served the chicken with two different sauces, served on the side. One tasted like a vinaigrette, I ate some the poached and roasted chicken with it, but it’s the other sauce that was the winner. I could eat that sauce like a soup – it was creamy and you could taste the chicken broth they probably used in it.
So … that saying “it is now how you start, it’s how you finish” Well, Roister started out great – hit the ground running…. but then a quick dip, then they picked up their pace again…. and they certainly sprinted to the finish line with their duo desserts.
Both desserts came out almost at the same time. First one was this milk ice cream sitting on strawberry jam, with some clear jelly, and these pink opaque looking little balls (turned out to be strawberry iced daiquiri), and these tiny green mint cookies, and these “crumbles” which tasted like a delicious cookie). We thought “What?! That’s a lot going on!!” Right?! We took every components in that bowl in one spoon – we had some doubts as we weren’t sure how everything would go together… then we took our first bite – oh it felt like falling in love. It was sweet, it was exciting, and everything did go together very well.
We both looked at each other again and smiled! It was unbelievable. So good!
We had a couple of more bites when their signature dessert came out. Their “foie gras chocolate”. The size is tiny – we each got like a 1/3 of a snicker bar. They explained that it’s foie gras, chocolate, and a salty pretzels in it. I decided to stop eating the ice cream to taste this one because I thought – if this wasn’t so good, then I’d like to have the ice cream as the last thing I tasted from this restaurant. Just like with the ice cream dish, we weren’t sure how it would taste like… took the first bite, and it was … heaven. The foie gras was smooth, and the combination of the sweetness of the chocolate and the saltiness of the pretzel – it was perfection!
Then we finished the ice cream dish!!
So happy we Roister-ed!!
We couldn’t be happier with how things were going at this point… but, there was one more thing…. They gave us the same shots they did at the beginning of our dinner, and Chef Brochu came over with his own shot glass, thanked us, cheered, and we drank our shots together.
By now, the staff had started their cleanup process, and that was when “Glory of Love” – my favorite song in 1986 came on… and the sing along happened!!
So my friends…. if you’re either in Chicago or going there, this place is a must-go (just don’t order their vegetable dishes!). I am planning to visit Chicago again, and this definitely will be on my list. The next time I got though, I may go with their A La Carte menu option instead! But if it’s your first time, I’d say do the tasting menu, for $85/$95 – it’s a steal!