Picking up the trip reporting again . . . on my second night in Chicago, we had tickets for a late seating at the counter at Roister. We left Side Street Saloon, the bar where we were watching the Cubs secure their berth in the World Series during the last inning, concerned that traffic might delay us reaching our next stop if we waited until the end. It was a blast to have the windows down and hear the cheers emanating from everywhere along our route. Easy to tell when the next run was scored!
Roister's counter surrounds the wood-fired hearth station in the center of the open kitchen. We were happy with our choice of seating as it was easy to converse and we had ringside seats to watch the kitchen in action. We took to calling the table seating in the front of the restaurant, "The Pit", due to the close spacing and the amount of noise emanating from that area.
I liked having chopsticks as a routine part of the place setting. I did use them several times during the meal.
Glassware is simple and inexpensive. The sommelier said that frees up more money for ingredients that hit the plate. Wine-wise we started with sharing a glass of the Reichsgraff von Kesselstaat Mosel riesling and then with our entree, Champagne brut Henri Mandois.
Food prep and plating happens right there on the other side of the counter, inches away from one's nose. No sightings of tweezers in action. The presentation style at Roister does not rely on micro elements.
We started with the Aged Cheddar Rillettes, $15, combining truffle essence and teensy florets of cauliflower glued together with liquified cheddar. The fry bread was the lightest and non-greasiest puff I've encountered in this genre. The snipped scallions and fresh jalapeño chiles contributed just enough biting contrast to the sweetness of the cauliflower. i whispered to my friend that I would to try to replicate this at home. He replied that if I'm successful, he'll be coming over all the time.
Then Smoked Oysters, $25, topped with garlic butter and bread crumbs. Sounds simple, but the concept and execution elevated this dish to the sublime. Cooked on a bed of smoldering, smoky apple wood chips and fresh seaweed, the oysters in a hot skillet were delivered to our place by the chef de cuisine. Those two elements imparted a delicate, haunting suggestion of smoke that harmonized without overwhelming the briny mollusks. Custard-like in their jiggly tenderness, the oysters were uniformly on point and trimmed of the tough scallop muscle. The extra fine bread crumbs added a gentle crunch and a garlic butter delivery mechanism.
We went high line with the entree, White Truffle and Lobster Biscuit, $125, following assurances from our wonderful server that this would be large enough for two to share. It was fun to watch the truffle shaved not far from us, as we used all our mental will to try to telepathically induce the cook to keep shaving off more. He did look a bit dismayed on weighing the beautiful truffle again after portioning out our serving and we suspect that we received more than typical. As much as I'd loved the biscuit at the Loyalist, this was better, lighter and even more tender and airy. In fact, the one on the bottom almost turned to mush soaked in the sauce, the most delectable mush imaginable in the truffle butter, madeira and parmesan goo. The lobster pieces appeared to be all claw meat, one thing I'd ding this dish on, but cooked exactingly to sweet tenderness.
For dessert, Cookies & Milk, $9. Yes, it is real cookie dough with a raw egg warning for the immune-compromised served in frozen chunks and also baked and blitzed into crunchy, golden crumbs. This kitchen seems to be the master of crumb-making. We loved the ice milk base too.
At the end of service, we watched the crew indulge in a toast and a shot. No idea why, but we suspect celebrating the Cubs victory that night.
My friend, who staged at a Michelin 3* in Paris, declared this 2* food. I felt it was 1* level, meaning everything was executed beautifully but not quite exciting enough to hit the next level. At that time we wondered if Michelin would give Roister the nod, and it did a few weeks later awarding 1* to a restaurant that had opened less than a year ago.