Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 3: Kevin Naderi of Roost - The Tasting

We've been chatting with Roost's chef/owner Kevin Naderi the last couple of days, learning how he found and opened his restaurant in two months flat, and about the intricacies of his cuisine, which, in addition to being farm-to-table, contain little touches of Persian and Asian flavors.

It's been three days since I tried his Japanese-inspired roasted cauliflower, and that makes three days that I've been singing its praises. I think I've told everyone I've come in contact with about this simple dish, the one he said he would not be taking off the menu because customers love it so much.

It was the first item Naderi let me taste, and it left a long-enough-lasting impression that I can still practically taste the flavors as I'm typing this now. I want to say that it was the flavors that made this dish, but truly, the execution was flawless. Creamy, warm and savory miso cream dressing coated each cauliflower floret, which had been roasted the perfect amount, so that there was still a firm, yet elastic bite to its flesh. Pine nuts and green onions added texture and a slightly nutty aroma, while the wispy pink bonito flakes gave the dish that added burst of umami, or savoriness. Order one for yourself because you won't want to share.

I told him to hold the Slow Dough bread service because it was simply too much for me to eat alone, but every time the large, glossy pretzel stacks passed by, I craned my neck to get a look, my mouth watering because I knew it would be delicious and because I wanted to try the spam butter and the foie gras butter. He also had red beet butter, honey butter, and blue cheese butter that night.

A tomato salad of creamy burrata cheese and verdant arugula juxtaposed against a vivid-red slice of vine-ripened tomato, was beautiful as it was delicious, the ingredients so fresh that they needed very little to make them shine, and Naderi kept it simple with just a bit of salt and pepper, chili flake, garlic, and basil vinaigrette.

Another very pleasing dish was the Angus flatiron steak, also benefiting from simple, unadulterated preparation and skilled execution. The steak was pan-seared to medium-rare, and sliced into several pieces at an angle. Underneath lay a bed of golden potatoes, some soft and roasted, some crispy like a potato chip, adding a nice element of crispiness.

It was the sauce that brought the whole thing together, a dark brown fish sauce vinaigrette made with Birdseye chili, shallot and garlic. It's one of the first times I've seen fish sauce used in such a way outside of a Vietnamese or Thai restaurant, and though it was a simple preparation, I was impressed with Naderi's adept manipulation of the fish sauce into a tangy, savory steak sauce. Bonus points for creativity.

For dessert, I had been eying the banana pudding, and it came out in all its glory, looking like something conjured up from my childhood. Naderi opted for a more soupy consistency to the pudding, which had strong notes of fresh vanilla and fresh banana that screamed homemade. Lovely.

Even more delicious was the coffee and donut holes, what he described as a slightly sweet beignet topped with dulce de leche and coffee ice cream. The fried doughnut holes were doughy and crisp, reminding me of a heartier version of Italian zeppole. What I liked about both desserts was that they weren't overly sweetened, they were large enough to be shared, and they were a departure from what I've been seeing over and over elsewhere. I didn't see creme brulee or chocolate cake anywhere on the menu, and I was perfectly fine with it.

In the end, I enjoyed everything about my visit to Roost -- the chat, the tasting, the ambiance. In between chatting with me and letting me taste his food, the affable Naderi was walking the floor, visiting with customers, serving food, working behind the scenes to ensure that everything came out the way he wanted. And that's what you'll get when you visit Roost. Obviously fresh food, often with unexpected flavors that will turn a simple dish like cauliflower into something you can't stop talking about.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham