The excitement I feel about this one is still radiating through me.
Remember when I barely shared my experience dining at Blue Hill in New York? And remember it was more about sharing my love for the Netflix series Chef’s Table? Well shortly after, I whipped through season two and I am now more obsessed with making every single restaurant a bucket list bullet point.
Now, the second season starts off with a bang by featuring Grant Achatz, the mastermind behind Alinea in Chicago. To call what he is doing at Alinea a dining experience is an absolute understatement. I can’t even begin to recount what it would be like to dine at Alinea because it is just beyond. There they offer a plate that is served on a pillow, and the pillow is popped and the aroma seasons the dish. Hello!? I would LOVE that. Just go watch the episode, you’ll die.
Anyway, Alinea is not where we dined while in Chicago this past weekend (because it is roughly 300 dollars a plate with a reservation waiting list miles long), but we were able to secure reservations at Achatz’s new fast casual restaurant, Roister, which Bon Appetit just named one of the best new restaurants in the midwest. I am not kidding when I say this, everything about it was exciting – the reservation time, the courses, where our table was located (the table that is being cleared off in the above photo), the company of friends, the perfect temperature that night – everything. I’ll do my best to try capture it all.
One from our party (Seth) had the good fortune of dining there once before, so he was loaded with recommendations. We followed his lead and decided on at least one item per course to share. We started with the aged cheddar rillettes, which were rich and satisfying, and an option that felt perfect and indulgent. To call this a cheese dip is insulting, but it was an awesome nibbler to have among the rest.
The second from the second course was the buttered pipe pasta and clams. Prepared with green chili ragout and assorted limes, this was one that everyone else loved the most. That ragout was delicious – light but pungent, with the right acidic balance from the limes. Definitely a flavorfully fresh pasta dish.
My favorite from that course though was the hamachi. Accented with raspberries, a bite with all the accoutrements was exciting and new, but the hamachi alone was just ridiculous. It was so buttery and fresh and it blew me away. I could have eaten a hundred pieces.
We then went for two big plates. The first was the whole chicken and chamomile. Let it be known that a chicken dish would never be something I would order because I feel like chicken is just not that big of a deal (plus you all know how much I like seafood). But this whole chicken dish is what Roister is known for and it is totally deserved.
While this was a whole chicken, it was prepared and served three ways – braised, poached, and fried. The thighs were boned and fried, the breasts were perfectly poached and roasted, and the rest of the chicken was then braised and prepared as chicken salad. I cannot say that one preparation was better than the next. The chicken salad is not even in the same league as your deli counter or picnic preparation option. The fried thighs were succulent while also being light, and then the breasts were so simple and juicy that it was laughable. We all agreed that something as simple as chicken can be absolutely amazing when it is top quality and prepared honestly. Describing it as simple makes it feel like I’m belittling the skill, but I do think it takes unbelievable talent to make something taste so right. This chicken and all its ways was just so right.
But then there was the waygu. The absolute splurge A-5 Japanese waygu. This came out on a pipping hot cast iron skillet, atop sea urchin butter and spices. There was nothing but satisfied and silent nods around the table as we all enjoyed this delicacy. This too was simply a dish that said, let me just show you how good I can be just being me. We all were blown away.
And then as if we hadn’t treated ourselves enough, we ordered one of every dessert. The trio included a foie gras candy bar, cookies and milk, and a watermelon sorbet. The foie gras candy bar was intense – impressive, but intense. The cookies and milk were killer, exactly what you’d hope for and expect in something so classic. The watermelon definitely worked more as a palate cleanser, but having that option was actually super clutch, especially with the meal that was the foie gras.
This trip was more than just a treat. I absolutely love experiences like this. It is about so much more than just going out to eat. It is about the artistry and the care, the thought and the skill. Fine dining is as much of an experience as attending a concert for me. I am someone who seeks to travel in order to go to certain restaurants. Getting to try Roister with friends in Chicago this past weekend encapsulates everything I like to do with my time and money. And I cannot say this enough – this was time and money well spent.
(Now who wants to plan a trip to do Alinea with me? I’m not kidding…)