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 heat 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 more I could have asked for? 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 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.
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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.
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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 ones 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 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.