100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 28, Fried Cauliflower at Roost

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

As I child, I always swore I hated cauliflower. Actually, I swore I hated it as recently as a few years ago, when my mother tried to substitute whipped cauliflower and celery root for mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. In my mind, cauliflower is that too-crunchy white thing on the veggie tray that even ranch dressing can't help.

But lately, people have been doing wonderful things with cauliflower. I recently tried the "cauliflower flan" at Osteria Mazzantini, which is really more of a cauliflower custard, but still wonderful. And then there's possibly the best cauliflower dish in town--the original star cauliflower dish--Roost's fried cauliflower with bonito flakes and a miso/mayo/Sriracha sauce with scallions and pine nuts.

Yes, all of that (and more) in one magical, mind-blowing bowl of cauliflower greatness.

It seems like a simple dish at first. When it's brought out to the table, all you can see in the low light of the small restaurant is a few florets of cauliflower, slightly browned, and long, tissue paper-thin miso flakes that dance under the slight breeze of the air conditioner and the steam coming out of the bowl.

Dig deeper and you'll find the sauce, so complex I had to stop the chef, Kevin Naderi, and inquire about what's in it. He spouted off half a dozen or so ingredients, but all I caught was miso, mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar and Sriracha. And indeed, when you dip each small, white floret into the sauce, you can taste the individual elements, the bit of spice and acid and warm, earthy miso.

As if that weren't enough, there are strings of sautéed scallions and pine nuts at the bottom of the bowl, adding new flavor dimensions and textural elements to what I initially thought was a straightforward dish. The pine nuts provide a crisp nuttiness, while the scallions contribute an extra bite that hits you in the sinuses like a raw onion.

And then, to bring you back down after every forkful, there's the lingering flavor of warm miso, vegetal cauliflower and ever-so-slightly fishy bonito.

This is one dish, Naderi says, that never leaves the menu. He completely changes the offerings every month, but he fears people would revolt should he ever remove the cauliflower or his signature donut holes.

The menu at Roost is changing next week, so stay tuned for our take on the restaurant's new March dishes, and look out for Naderi defending his title as champion of the Iron Fork competition at this year's Menu of Menus extravaganza.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.

The list so far: No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme

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