I have been posting fewer restaurant reviews, and there are a couple of reasons why. The first reason is that I was traveling for most of November and December, and the second reason is that it is really challenging to take good photos at restaurants during the dark winters. But a recent meal at the new West Loop eatery, Roister, was so fantastic that I have to tell you about it.
Roister and Alinea are share owners but that is where the similarities end. Roister is far more casual. This became clear when I walked through the door and 90s rap was playing, and a staff member was wearing a Sublime tee shirt. I instantly thought: this is more my vibe. While Alinea is prohibitively expensive for many people, Roister is not. In fact, almost every item on Roister’s lunch menu is under $20. The dinner prices are slightly higher, but it is certainly possible to spend under $100 on a full meal and a glass or two of wine.
The space manages to pull rustic elements, like wood grained tables and textured gray walls, together in a way that is modern. The open kitchen is the centerpiece and heartbeat of the restaurant, and I enjoyed watching the chefs rhythmically move through the kitchen as we ate. Roister is a place where seriously delicious food can also be seriously fun, and I hope this is a new trend. There ought to be a place where diners can taste forward thinking cuisine while also listening to rap music. In some ways, this juxtaposition reminded me of Schwa, which is a good thing.
Roister’s menu is a la carte, and features globally influenced food with a nod towards comforting meals like lasagna, fried chicken, and grits. We began our meal with a trio of appetizers. The first was the Aged Cheddar Rillettes with cauliflower and fry bread, and it was phenomenal. The fry bread has a texture that is somehow soft with a slight bit of firmness, and it is completely hollow on the inside. It is perfect for scooping up the cheddar rillettes which are made with the creamiest cheddar imaginable. This is something you must order; it was a highlight of the meal.
The Smoked Oysters were are topped with wonderfully buttery breadcrumbs. The Chicken Liver Toast with pickles was an umami delight and I loved the flavor combination of the chicken liver and pickle slices.
Roister’s signature menu item is the Whole Chicken which is served both fried, braised, and poached. The fried chicken is extra crispy on the outside and perfectly tender and juicy on the inside. The poached braised chicken is equally delicious. The chicken comes with two sauces, a sunchoke hot sauce and my favorite, a thick gravy. The third preparation of chicken was a chicken salad, but I focused my attention on the other two. The chicken is enough food to feed two people if you only get a couple of small appetizers or plenty to share with a group if you order a few things.
The lasagna is served deconstructed, which was unexpected. I liked the way that the cheese was melted and extra crisp on the top, and it gives you the option to mix everything together or to taste the individual ingredients.
One of the most interesting and creative dishes was the Buttered Pipe Pasta with clams, a green chili ragout, and limes with a kick of spice. The combination of flavors is bold, to the point where we questioned if people ordered it often, but it’s a dish that really works – even if you don’t believe so when you read it on the menu.
For dessert, we ordered the foie gras candy bar and the milk and cookies. The candy bar had pretzels and foie gras layered in chocolate providing a contrast of sweet and savory flavors. I preferred the milk and cookies, which combined homemade milk ice cream with chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough and bits of cookies. The ice cream was extra creamy and I liked the contrasting textures of the cookie dough and cookies.
I loved the meal from beginning to end. The staff was attentive and knew to spend just enough time at your table, and was well versed at explaining the menu. The wine list was wonderful, we had two bottles of Rhys wine, first the unoaked Chardonnay – it was marvelous, and then the Pinot Noir which was also a treat.
I loved Roister so much that I returned for lunch a few weeks later. We ordered the Cheddar Rillettes, and along with the Beet and Endive Salad with blue cheese and tangerine slices. The Rillettes were just as wonderful as I remembered, but it’s worth mentioning that at lunch it comes with buttered bread instead of the fry bread. The salad had contrasting flavors of citrus and cheese with the slight bitterness of the endive and I think it worked very well. The kitchen sent out an order of the hushpuppies which has a smokey cheese sauce and the fried corn fritters were a satisfying four-bite snack.
The fried chicken sandwich is not to be missed. It’s very similar to the fried chicken that is served at dinner. It’s fried in an extra crispy batter topped with sunchoke hot sauce served on a brioche bun with lettuce and pickles.
The Yukon Fries come in the form of potato wedges that are dusted in bonito flakes and served with a light refreshing tofu mayo. It was a nice side to go along with the fried chicken sandwiches.
Roister’s lunch menu is really affordable, and it wasn’t too busy. The staff informed me that it is easy to walk in during the week, but you should make a reservation on weekends.
Roister uses an online ticketing service to book reservations. The tickets hold your table, and the price of the ticket is deducted from your bill at the end of the meal. Roister serves both lunch and dinner, and they do save tables for walk-ins.