Me and my +1 were going out to a show in Chicago and needed to get dinner before hand. Since we were on a bit of a schedule, this meant we couldn't go to a longer tasting menu and had to find something a bit more casual. My first thought was to hit up the famed Girl & the Goat, but reservations were already taken (> 1 month ahead too).
I considered a few other options, including The Publican, but eventually settled on Roister. It's the casual restaurant by the folks from Alinea. So I figured why not.
The restaurant offers a very simple a la carte menu and concentrates on many items being grilled in their wood fire oven. Here's what we ended up getting.
1) Hearth Grilled Shishito Peppers - yuzu, togarashi aioli
We got this starter almost exclusively because we regularly bake sweet peppers when they are in season. When I bit into these peppers, all I could think is "I can't do this at home". Throwing these onto their wood fired oven to get that really quick char makes these really good. Add into the aioli and lime, really good.
2) Mediterranean Octopus - fennel, nicoise olive, aleppo chili
This may be the best octopus I've ever had, but with an exception. I assume many other gourmet restaurants sous vide their octopus or braise it in some slow cooked way to make it so tender. It's not clear to me if Roister does that beforehand and chars it at the end, or cooks it all the way on the oven, but the char from the oven gives the octopus that extra flavor. It was still very tender and delicious along with the sauce.
The exception to everything I said above is that parts of the octopus were overly charred, especially the "skinny" parts of the tentacle. Still an overall net win, but it is what it is.
3) Chicken & Chamomile - braised, poached, fried with sunchoke
I did a bad job photographing this dish. This dish comes with chicken prepared two ways. One is the fried chicken thighs you see in the front. The other way is the grilled chicken breast underneath. As you can see, it's accompanied by some hot sauce and gravy.
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical of ordering this dish because, well, it's fried chicken and grilled chicken. However, the dish is highly recommended per reviews online. I will say that the fried chicken did not disappoint. I don't know that it was about it, the crust, the juiciness of the chicken, or the gravy, it was just delicious.
The grilled chicken breast was also very good, although a slight notch below the excellent roast chicken I recently had at Mourad. The charred skin was delicious, but it just didn't quite have the same juiciness as the one at Mourad or the fried chicken.
Overall, I loved the gravy and was a little meh on the hot sauce, but I'm not a big fan of hot sauce overall. My +1 enjoyed the hot sauce more.
4) Grilled Asparagus - jambon de bayonne, meyer lemon vinaigrette
Similar to the shishito peppers above, these are simply excellent asparagus. The vinaigrette really stood out and my immediate thought is "how come my grilled asparagus doesn't come out like this". Are they picked at their peak? Is it simply shaving the fibrous parts on the ends? The vinaigrette brings out some flavor? I have no idea, but it was really good.
5) Hearth Roasted Banana Split - passionfruit, macadamia nut, caramelized white chocolate
Finally, we decided to share this banana split. It comes with a brown butter ice cream, some dried banana chips, roasted honeycomb, macadamia nuts, and chocolate pearls. I'm mildly allergic to tropical fruit, so the passion fruit was not included. I really liked the roasted banana, giving it this creaminess to go along with the ice cream. I felt there were too many crunchy textures going on (honeycumb, banana chips, nuts), but perhaps that's just my quirky tastes. My +1 loved it.
Overall, I really enjoyed Roister. Nothing here is going to wow you with originality, but you can really taste how many dishes are just elevated and better than your average restaurant.