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Roost Bistro Debuts New Dishes

You say tomato, I say delicious.
Jodie Eisenhardt

On the Menu

Maybe it's because it's nearly spring and more and more wonderful fruits and vegetables are coming into season. Maybe it's because chef/owner Kevin Naderi celebrated the restaurant's two-year anniversary back in December, so now he's really pulling out all the stops. Perhaps it's because he's practicing for the Menu of Menus®'s Iron Fork competition, which will pit Naderi against Kevin Bryant.

Okay, maybe we're giving ourselves too much credit there, but whatever the reason, the newest menu at Roost is pretty spectacular. We checked out the new offerings recently and were very impressed with the unique brand of comfort/fusion food Naderi has to offer. From his take on oysters "Rockefeller" to a Korean-inspired hanger steak to not-quite-classic poutine, the March menu has a little something for every palate.

Perhaps the best dish I tried there is the plate of sweet potato samosas topped with cilantro chutney and a mild tamarind yogurt. The samosas are almost like fried pies, with a perfectly crisp and flaky crust and an orange filling with a surprising bit of warmth from Indian spices like cumin and coriander. The chutney and yogurt drizzles provide a cool counter to the thick, warm sweet potato filling, and the outer shell remains firm enough to hold the potato and toppings. The only thing I could have asked for more of? Extra chutney for dipping, because that stuff is seriously addictive.

By the time I got to my main course, I was pretty full from the samosas and a lovely salad of heirloom tomatoes from a Texas farm. The salad features arugula and frisée with generous portions of funky blue cheese and beautiful, jewel-like sweet tomatoes. It was wonderful, but it was no cast-iron-seared scallops and shrimp, which I couldn't help but eat far too much of, even though I was no longer hungry.

The seafood dish is incredibly soothing, with two large shrimp and two large, wonderfully tender scallops, both of which had been lightly seared and placed atop a non-traditional New England chowder with soft chunks of potato and raw cherry tomatoes that burst in your mouth with a refreshing pop. The chowder broth is thick and hearty with just enough seafood flavor that it tastes like a great seafood soup without being overwhelming. Swimming throughout are strips of chorizo, which add some heat and a great textural element to the dish. It's even good cold the next day.

Another standout from the selection of larger dishes (though two smaller ones make a great dinner as well) is the Szechuan-spiced hanger steak, which comes with kimchi fried rice topped with a whole egg that cooks as you stir it into the rice. The steak is tender and juicy when ordered medium rare, and the spices really come alive from the nice sear on the outside. There's also a drizzle of sweet soy sauce, which goes great with the Szechuan peppers and funky kimchi.

I also loved the poutine fries, partly because they're hard to come by in Houston, especially now that Hay Merchant has taken them off the menu, and partly because these are made with venison chili and topped with scamorza cheese and bright-green, vinegary pepperoncini. The peppers cut through the richness of the chili, cheese and hand-cut fries, and I found them to be a necessary addition.

That sort of balance of acid, fat, spice and umami is what sets Roost's dishes apart from those at other great restaurants in Houston. You know that Naderi spends time making sure every dish has all the elements it needs. That's why there's kimchi with the steak and ripe red tomatoes with the chowder. That's why there's blue cheese with the tomato and vinaigrette salad and cool yogurt on the samosas. And that's why the oysters are so great, too. They're balanced — literally and figuratively.

The oysters "Rockefeller" (in quotes because they're fried with Rockefeller-type herbs rather than being baked or broiled) is a stack of a half-dozen oysters with a thick herbed breading that doesn't get soggy, even while sitting in a pool of tangy creamed spinach. To top it off, the whole dish is sprinkled with bacon bread crumbs, because bacon makes everything better.

The menu still features Naderi's famous cauliflower and doughnut holes, neither of which can ever be removed because the public outcry would be too great. If you want a sneak peek at the type of food Naderi might be creating for Iron Fork — or if you just want a great meal in a cozy setting — Roost is the place to be. And good luck saving room for dessert.
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Local Spotlight

Truffles, Wine & Italian Hospitality
The Angelini family brings a bit of Umbria to Houston.

Mai Pham

It happens more often than not: I taste a dish and it transports me to somewhere far away, to another country and another culture, to the place where I'd tasted that dish before. I recently attended a wine dinner that had that same effect, but it wasn't because of the food. It was because of the Angelini family — Roberto; his wife, Daniela; his son, Luca;and his daughter, Irene, who took me on a trip to Italy through their wine and hospitality.

 

The Angelini family owns Enoteca Properzio, the third-oldest wine shop in ­Italy, founded in 1800 in the small town of Spello in Umbria. The family has been in the business for seven generations — they are experts in Italian wine, with more than 2,200 labels in their shop. I knew none of this before meeting them at the truffle wine dinner they hosted at Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel, but I felt their warmth and generosity immediately when I set foot inside the restaurant. 

It was Luca Angelini who greeted me first. Clad in a light-colored jacket and bow tie, the smiling host stood just inside the entrance, coming over to offer a taste of olive oil that the family had brought from Italy. "This is the same olive oil that is served at Alain Ducasse in New York City," he said as I bit into a crostino drenched in a vibrant, boldly flavored extra virgin olive oil.

We exchanged pleasantries before I was seated, and that was when the magic began. The Angelinis travel all over the world for three months out of the year, putting on special wine dinners to which they bring their own wine — carefully curated, top-notch wines from Italy — hoping that they'll introduce you to something so extraordinary that you'll fall in love and want to order it. That's where Enoteca Properzio comes in.

Any wine that you want can be ordered directly from their shop, shipped directly from Italy to your doorstep in just two weeks. Many of the dinners are held in private residences, the homes of people who have been to Enoteca Properzio or who know the Angelinis personally. In these cases, the chef and matriarch of the family, Daniela, cooks an authentic Italian meal, while Roberto and his children pour the wines and walk you through the unique properties of each.

For the Enoteca Properzio dinner at Quattro, executive chef Maurizio Ferrarese had prepared a special five-course black truffle menu; each dish was finished with black truffles from Umbria.

The meal was excellent (how could a black truffle dinner be anything less than spectacular?), but beyond the meal were the wines, each and every one the kind that makes you look in wonder at your dinner companion and exclaim: "Wow! That was fantastic, wasn't it?"

This is what happened even before the first course was served, when I took a sip of an organic, biodynamically produced 2012 Grechetto by Tili, a white wine that knocked my socks off. I like white wine well enough, but I typically prefer reds over whites, and very rarely do I drink a white that makes me want to buy a case. The Grechetto was one such wine — smooth and supple, with a fruity-floral bouquet and a lasting finish that resonated deeply on my palate. Paired with a starter of bufala mozzarella on pappa (potato) pomodoro, topped with freshly shaved black truffle, it was the first of several wines that captured my fancy.

That night, the Angelinis poured a dizzying array of wines — so many that I almost lost track despite having a list in front of me: a Novelli Sagrantino sparkling Rosé; a 2011 Redigaffi Tua Rita Merlot; a 2009 Sassicaia Super Tuscan; a 2009 Arnaldo-Caprai 25 Anniversario Sagrantino; a 2004 Tili Sacreterre Sagrantino; a 2009 Fendi Pinot Noir (only 300 bottles produced); a 2011 Oasi Degli Angeli Kurni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; a 2011 Tili Delicious Sagrantino-Merlot blend; and a Grappa di Barolo. I fell in love with the 2009 Sassicaia Super Tuscan, known among wine connoisseurs as the definitive Super Tuscan, the Italian grande dame of Bordeaux-style blends. It was my first time tasting it, and when I took a sip I immediately wanted more. I tasted it against the other wines presented that evening — it stood out as the one that I liked the most — and it was lush and full-bodied, complex yet smooth on the finish.

The Fendi Pinot Noir (from a winery owned by the fashion house of the same name) and the Kurni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (described as the No. 1 wine in all of Italy) were also noteworthy, but every wine that was poured was of inarguably high quality — the kind you could collect, give as a gift or save for a special occasion.

From the kitchen, Ferrarese offered classic Italian dishes created to enhance the wine experience: an aphrodisiacal handmade strangozzi pasta with wild mushroom, black truffle and cheese fondue; a dish of beef three ways, with braised short rib, strip loin and crispy beef-stuffed agnolotti; aged Italian cheeses (Sottocenere, Pepato, Grana Padano) with black truffle honey; and panna cotta with fresh berries in a mixed-berry wine sauce. Each dish was finished tableside with freshly shaved black truffle.

 

If you missed this dinner, there's always next year: The Angelinis have agreed to come back to Houston for another collaboration dinner with Ferrarese during their next annual tour.
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Local Spotlight

Like That Chain Restaurant?
Try this local one instead (Part II).

Brooke Viggiano

Maybe your friend is obsessed with Cheesecake Factory. Maybe your kids scream for nuggets every time you pass Chick-fil-A (we don't blame them), but you don't exactly agree with their politics. Maybe you're just in one giant, chain-restaurant-filled eating rut.

We've urged you to step away from the big chains in lieu of local alternatives once before in our first "Like That Chain Restaurant? Try This Local One Instead" post.

Well, we're back at it again with another chance for you and your loved ones to try something new and support the community at the same time.

Check out these local alternatives to popular chain restaurants:

If you like: KFC

Try:Haven

After getting a taste of Haven, you'll never want KFC again. You can get a family-size pack of chef Randy Evans's heavenly buttermilk-fried chicken — along with two pint-size sides, six rolls with butter, and andouille cream gravy — for $35. The restaurant even offers "Kirby-side" pick-up, which delivers the meal-for-four straight to your car, every day of the week after 5 p.m. Try sides like creamed mustard greens with tasso ham, fried green tomato croutons, or pecan-smoked bacon spaetzle alongside some of the best fried (or herb-roasted) chicken in town. Even better? The incredibly juicy and tender chicken is both free-range and organic...this is Haven, after all.

Alternate choices: Al ­Aseel, ­Frenchy's, ­Funky Chicken

If you like: In-N-Out Burger

Try: The Hay Merchant/Underbelly

Don't yell. Some people do love In-N-Out burgers despite there being a perfectly amazing Texas-born-and-raised chain available all around town. That's no doubt because of In-N-Out's infamous double-patty burger, the Double-Double...but you don't have to leave town to get it. That's because chef Chris Shepherd unknowingly re-created the burger at Underbelly.

Never having been to In-N-Out, Shepherd named his double-meat, double-cheese burger "The UB Double Double." That is, until the restaurant received a cease-and-desist letter from the California-based chain demanding a name change. Lawsuits aside, the "Cease and Desist Burger" is now available at Hay Merchant and occasionally during lunch hours at Underbelly (the menu changes often). And in true Chris Shepherd fashion, the lusciously legal burger is made with locally grown produce.

Alternate choices: Christian's Tailgate, Hubcap Grill, Whataburger (obviously)

If you like: Subway

Try: Spec's Deli

Skip the sad, limp sandwiches at Subway and "eat fresh" at Houston-owned and family-run Spec's Deli instead. Yes, the unlikely sandwich shop is located inside a liquor store, but we can assure you this deli whips out some of the best sliced-to-order sandwiches in town. Build your own sandwich or go with house favorites like the Reuben to Die For, stuffed with hot corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing; or the California Dreamin', with sliced turkey, Havarti, avocado, cucumber and sprouts. Both sandwiches are loaded with one-third pound of meat for a reasonable $7.99.

Alternate choices: ­Antone's Famous Po' Boys, Re­vival Market

If you like: Chick-fil-A

Try: Super Chicken

Good news! This homegrown chicken joint is just like Chick-fil-A, only better. That's because in addition to using fresh ingredients and being open on Sundays, they make a mean crispy chicken. Get the tenders on po-boys or in made-to-order salads, or order three to six pieces alongside dips like creamy horseradish and the namesake "super sauce." But the fowl play doesn't stop there; grilled chicken sandwiches, soups and chicken salad round out the menu, while sides like jalapeño-studded Texas slaw and fresh broccoli salad with bacon, almonds and raisins wow. And screw Chick-fil-A's wimpy waffle fries; Super Chicken makes the cross-hatched spuds in sweet potato form.

Alternate choices: fried chicken sliders at Lankford Grocery, Max's Wine Dive

If you like: Cheesecake Factory

Try: Liberty Kitchen

Do you need options when dining out? Love a place with a larger-than-life menu, huge portions and fantastic desserts? Skip the played-out Cheesecake Factory and head straight to the Heights's Liberty Kitchen.

In addition to a stellar selection of raw and wood-grilled oysters (take that, Cheesecake Factory!), the restaurant offers a huge menu of Louisiana-New England hybrids — including soups and gumbos; appetizers; big-bowl salads; fish, chops, beef and chicken plates; sandwiches and burgers; mac and cheese; daily specials; vegetables and sides; and even an all-day breakfast plate. And that's before we get to the custard, shakes, cakes and pie from local favorite Petite Sweets. There is certainly something for everyone here.

 

Alternate choices: Kenny & Ziggy's, Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette

If you like: Buffalo Wild Wings

Try: Pluckers Wing Bar

Just like B-Dubs, Austin-import Pluckers is known for its expertly fried chicken wings and spice-leveled, mouthwatering sauces. But unlike the nationwide chicken chain whose sides and sandwiches often disappoint, Pluckers's other offerings — like stuffed jalapeños, Texas patty melts, or house-made mac and cheese — are just as delectable as the chicken. Get the wings bone-in or out and tossed in sauces like the medium-spiced Dr Pepper, sweet honey barbecue or super-flaming "Fire in the Hole." Add taps of local beer, plenty of seating and a great TV setup for watching the games, and we have ourselves a winner.

Alternate choices: Lucky's Pub, Pub Fiction, Saint Dane's

If you like: Panera

Try: Local Foods

If you love Panera for its relaxed-and-easy combos of sandwiches, soups and salads, look no further than Houston-born Local Foods. But you won't find your typical sandwich-shop offerings here. Instead, you'll find truffled egg salad on a pretzel bun, scratch-made lemongrass chicken soup, or shrimp-and-pecan arugula salad — all made with fresh local ingredients.

Sandwiches range between $9 and $13 and come with the choice of two sides (think Tuscan kale with roasted pine nuts and a pistachio beet salad) or a soup. The selection of "Mom's homemade" desserts and Texas-made beers and wines doesn't hurt, either.

Alternate choices: Carter & Cooley, Kraftsman Cafe
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Restaurant News

Openings & Closings
It's the year of the bakery.

Molly Dunn

Hubbell & Hudson Market closed on March 9, but CultureMap's Eric Sandler writes that the Bistro will use part of the market's space to add private dining rooms and a chef's table for chef Austin Simmons.

Given that this is the "year of the bakeries," it's no surprise that this week's openings and closings report has news about three ­bakeries.

First up is the third location for Three Brothers Bakery. Rather than a new bar opening up on Washington Avenue — which seems to be the trend lately — Three Brothers now has three locations after the opening of its third on March 3. Just like the other two (Memorial City and Braeswood), this one doles out Three Brothers's staple custom-order cakes and wedding cakes. According to a press release, the new location has a coffee program and an area for customers to make personalized cake parfaits (layers of icings and/or fillings, cookie crumbles and/or cakes). Bring your pup to the bakery, order him or her a gourmet dog treat, and get something sweet for yourself, then sit outside on the dog-friendly patio.

Next up is Tout Suite, the soon-to-be sister bakery of SWEET in CityCentre. Eater Houston reports that Tout Suite will open at 2001 Commerce near the end of March or the beginning of April. Along with a selection of baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and morning pastries, Tout Suite will offer soups, salads and sandwiches. The bakery and cafe will serve a selection of coffees from Green­way Coffee and will use Slow Dough Bread Co.'s bread for sandwiches­.

The rumors about Pondicheri adding an upstairs bakery are true. CultureMap reports that chef and owner Anita Jaisinghani will open a bakery on the second floor of her restaurant this summer. Soon, Jaisinghani will have more space to make pistachio cardamom cookies, brioche, and her blueberry, pistachio and lemon scones. She tells CultureMap that her work space for baking has been limited to "a cramped small table with two ovens behind it."

The original Pico's Mex Mex held a 30th-anniversary celebration on March 8, which was also the restaurant's last day at the Bellaire location. But the Bellaire location will not be closed entirely, just for daily restaurant service. In a comment on Pico's Mex Mex's Facebook page, the restaurant notes that the site will be used for banquets, catering and Fajita Delivery, a concept from Pico's chef and owner Arnaldo Richards.

Sylvia Casares will open her third restaurant, Sylvia's, in May of this year. She's dropping the "Enchilada Kitchen" portion from the restaurant's name and hopes that customers will order her other items as well, such as her carne asada, quail and mesquite-wood-fire grilled fajitas.

Torchy's Tacos will open a fourth location in Houston this summer, as reported by Culture­Map's Elizabeth Rhodes. The new location is expected to be at the LaCenterra shopping center off Highway 99 in Katy.


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