It's not often that a small restaurant becomes an instant hit, but from what I could see on a busy Tuesday night with a small line forming at the door, neighborhood eatery Roost possesses everything it needs to make it -- a small, cozy space; warm, friendly service; and well-priced, memorable food.
The two-month-old restaurant, owned and operated by 26-year-old native Houstonian Kevin Naderi, is the quintessential neighborhood watering hole you can walk to if you live in the neighborhood. It's a place to stop by on a moment's notice in the hopes of snagging a table (they don't accept reservations), where the staff are affectionately called "roosters," and where the motto is "food and drink amongst friends."
We caught up with Naderi for a chat on the day he was nominated as one of Eater Houston's "Hottest Chefs of 2012."
EOW: When did you open? It was very recent.
KN: It was December 13.
EOW: It was a really quiet opening, it just snuck up on us.
KN: It was, because it was a quiet purchase, and because I didn't think I was going to open up a restaurant. I was on Craigslist looking for an apartment, and this property came up, so I came over here and talked to the lady, who was the owner at the time. She was a Mexican lady running a Cuban restaurant -- Latina Cafe. She said it was the whole property, and I saw the potential there, so I jumped on it. My parents were really supportive, they went halves with me on it.
EOW: So from the time you found it on Craigslist to the time it opened...
KN: I bought the property on October 5. I was in Chicago on a trip at the time, I came back, renovated it, and opened it on December 13.
EOW: You're from Houston, aren't you?
KN: I'm from Houston, my ethnic background is Persian. I'm one of the only Persian chefs in town.
EOW: And did you go to culinary school?
KN: I did. I went to the CIA for a couple of weeks, but decided to come back and go to the Art Institute.
EOW: I heard it was expensive there.
KN: They're all expensive. It was a good stepping stone to work in their kitchen, and learn how to work with numbers and stuff. But I've been working in restaurants since I was 15. First professional kitchen was the Hilton on Post Oak when it was The Doubletree. Since then, I've worked at Brennan's, obviously Haven, a short stint at Reef, staged at Picholine in New York, worked under Robert Gadsby at Soma. I've been in Houston for a while, I went to Memorial High School.
EOW: So you grew up here, went to culinary school, worked in all these restaurants. And so, when bought this, were you working in a kitchen?
KN: I was consulting for Saint Genevieve in West Ave. I still work with those guys, they're good friends. I'm actually meeting with them tomorrow to work on their spring menu. I was doing that, and yeah, I left Haven on good terms -- everybody thinks I left on bad terms.
EOW: How long were you there [at Haven]?
KN: Since opening. It was almost 20 months. I was the Executive Sous Chef. It was just Randy and I. I kind of just wanted to grow as a cook and as a person, and I had a good opportunity doing the consulting thing, and I kind of jumped on it. It was funny because I never figured I would open up a place like this. I thought 50 seats should be a good transition. We'd all geared up for six months of loss, but we've been doing 160 a night. It's wild. It's been good.
EOW: Well, the location couldn't be better...
KN: The clientele, the neighborhood is awesome. Everyone's been very supportive. Technically, it's Montrose, but River Oaks is just right over Shepherd.
EOW: Do you get a feel for the demographics here?
KN: It's funny because you definitely get the hipsters, they come in and hang out. You get a more mature crowd, which is really loyal to what you're offering them -- reasonable priced stuff. You get a lot of young families, couples that just had a kid. Early thirties, just moved into the area. It's a great neighborhood.
EOW: Is it mostly word of mouth?
KN: A lot of word of mouth. We've been lucky, on Yelp and Urbanspoon, the reviews have almost been too good, where I'm like, "Oh my god, the bubble's going to pop."
EOW: I actually Yelped you before I came, and the reviews have been 4.5 stars, which is really high.
KN: Yeah, 4.5 out of 5. Every now and then there are a couple of reviews that are not too happy. They think you're doing something too casual, or they just don't like how small the room is, but they're things we can't fix, because if I was to do more fine dining, it wouldn't have that price point, and it wouldn't have that comfortable feel to it.
EOW: So today you're not in the kitchen, are you normally not in the kitchen?
KN: I'm normally not at night. I have a prep cook in the morning with me, we kind of go through everything. I do most of the sauces, taste everything, so the consistency is there because I'm checking on everything all the time. All the charcuterie I do, cutting fish, all the butchering -- but at night, I have really good cooks that have worked for me in the past. They do a really good job to get it out.
Check back with us tomorrow as Naderi describes his cuisine, why he named his restaurant Roost, and who he thinks is the hottest chef in Houston.