Now that I have officially updated my blog layout and my watermark, it’s time to get back to writing about my travel and food escapades! First up is Roister, Grant Achatz and Nick Kokona’s brand new establishment in the West Loop. Walking in, I reminisced about the late Homaro Cantu’s iNG, which we had frequented to try the imaginative tasting menus. But I love what the Alinea Group did with the space, renovating it into a modernized bistro with a sprawling open kitchen.
We had purchased the Hearth Menu tickets, which are at the kitchen counter. When we were seated, I knew at once that this would be an internationally inspired menu as there was a pair of chopsticks tying together our silverware set. As we stared in awe at the sous chefs working delicately with tweezers to prep our appetizers, our astute and thoughtful waitress, Aleichia, brought our starter cocktails. The Resurrected Panda is a very fruity twist on a pisco sour while A Sour in the Key of Raffi blew us away with the rich curry flavors. I would never have imagined curry to go well in any cocktail, and it’s definitely a drink I need to come back for.
The first dish placed in front of us was probably the most stunning of the evening, with its vibrant colors that suggest it is already summer outside. It is amazing how the fibers of the squash pull apart so easily, and the sweetness of this ingredient almost makes you think that it is actually pineapple. Each bite of this dish is refreshing and light, with a tiny little kick at the end from the chilies.
Concurrently, we were presented with a scallop crudo and Yukon fries. The acidic punch from the passion fruit really surprised me and got my taste buds going and prepared for the rest of the meal. The acidity was suitably matched by the tofu mayo that accompanied the fries. I couldn’t help but immerse each fry in the creamy dip. And then my husband used a spoon and pretty much wiped the bowl clean.
Then came a griddle with our miniature pancakes topped with mussels and baked beans. The bit of crunch on the exterior of the pancakes was just enough to contrast with the softer textures in the rest of the dish. I wish I could make perfect pancakes like these, but for the sake of my blood vessels, it’s probably a good thing I don’t.
At this point, we needed some more drinks, so we ordered the Simon Says: Drink This (I mean, how could you not order a drink with a name like this?) and a Ballast Point pineapple flavored beer. The Simon Says was right down my alley – it was sweet and fruity yet complex. As for the Ballast Point IPA, all I have to say is that it is phenomenally better than their jalapeno flavored one, which I had the displeasure of having last year.
The next courses were the salads. I am thankful that I tried the asparagus salad first because I may have been overwhelmed had I taken a bite of the other first. What really made an impression on me in the asparagus salad was the bok choi because I have never had it prepared in a way that left it so crunchy. With the crispy rice kernels, these ingredients were ideally combined with the rest of the "softer" ingredients.
The other salad is what I would describe as a Korean-Italian fusion. The ‘nduja dressing with the romaine really made me think of a meaty kimchi. The heat in this was spot on, and the slices of country ham provided just the necessary relief from the spice.
Then came the main courses, first of which was the A5 wagyu. The delicate pieces were cooked a perfect rare, but for some reason, this particular dish did not impress me as much as the previous dishes. Maybe it is because the meat itself did not taste as rich as I was expecting due to the luxurious sea urchin butter. Or perhaps it is because I was a bit spoiled during our trip to Japan in November, where we consumed beautifully marbled wagyu throughout the country (including A5 Kobe in Kobe), prepared solely with salt and pepper. But my husband loved this wagyu, and the both of us wiped the plate clean of that uni butter.
I normally do not order chicken when dining out, but boy am I glad the chicken dish was included in the tasting! The chicken comes braised, poached and fried. Naturally, I headed for the fried chicken first, and after my initial bite, I was already wishing the poached pieces were fried. This is THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN I HAVE EVER HAD. And of course it’s at a place where I cannot just walk in and order fried chicken, although Nick Kokonas said that it may be served when (and if) they start opening for lunch! I was a bit worried when I went for the braised chicken since I was obviously comparing the taste to the fried version. But I was fretting for no reason because the braised chicken is infused with so much flavor! Oh, and don’t forget about the little bowl of sun choke hot sauce, which adds requisite excitement to the simple poached chicken.
Of course a meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert and an old fashioned that smelled like a dessert itself. We were presented with two pieces of what looked like chocolate but was in fact hiding a good chunk of foie gras! I have not had foie gras with chocolate before, and it is truly a pair made in paradise, especially topped with specks of salt. And to finish off the entire meal, strawberry ice cream topped with all sorts of goodies. We left the bowl looking like we had just washed and dried it.
- Order the Hearth Menu because it is a much better deal than the a la carte menu (I did the math).
- You should probably purchase tickets to dine here, although some walk-ins are available each evening. Compared to Alinea and most of the Next menus, the price is manageable and very fair.
- This is a casual restaurant, so no need to dress up.