Kevin Naderi – long of the farm-to-table destination Haven after years of kicking around impressive kitchens in Texas, California and New York – opened his simple comfortable place called Roost in the Montrose area some months back. The place got excellent reviews, comments and responses and now seems poised for a busy fall season. All that, and Naderi is only 26. You’ll thank him for every one of those years when you taste these salt cod fritters (far less salty than you’re used to with Italian bacala or Portuguese bacalao) with parsley salad, saffron aioli and chorizo vinaigrette.
The restaurant this Persian-American chef – a Houston native – cobbled together has a good bit of history to bolster its overall comfort and unpretentious love of eating and drinking. The space was a small, largely unnoticed Cuban restaurant for a couple years, after more than four decaces as a Cuban neighborhood grocery – the kind of grocery that doesn’t exist anymore. After leaving friend and mentor Randy Evans at Haven, Naderi ended up buying the old building with a loan from his parents. And to think, he was only scrolling around Craig’s List to find an apartment to rent.
One of Naderi’s favorite things is taking stuff off the single-page typed menu – so he can put new stuff on. In these first few months, he’s only created one dish that his customers won’t ever “let” him take off: this roasted cauloflower with bonito flakes, miso dressing, pinenuts and scallions. The whole thing is mildly Asian, but mostly about the caramelizing of cauliflower. I suspect Naderi, as the months roll into years, will come up with more dishes he’s not allowed to “repeal and replace.”
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, he has at least one more of those already. You know the trend in crabcakes, right? More crab, less breading? Sometimes I think the dogma is way too harsh, since seasoned breading (sometimes dismissively called “filler”) actually tastes really good in intimate relationship with crab. Naderi replaces that taste around his lush lump crabmeat with what your Grandma would call “curried mayo.” I’m not sure what all is in it, but it’s welcome to show up at my table at Roost anytime, along with very non-Grandma things like jalapeno coulis, chayote squash and cabbage slaw.
Considering the dining quirkiness of the Montrose area, Naderi has had a great response to any vegetarian dishes he has tried, or any dishes that can be “made vegetarian” by simply leaving out the meat. I’ve never been fond of tofu, buying it at the store only when I make Chinese hot and sour soup; but after tasting this young chef’s “black pepper tofu lettuce wraps,” I’m a lot more open to the whole tofu thing. These wraps are as good (without meat) as the ones we all first tasted at P.F. Chang’s (with meat) so many years ago, happily minus the drunken pickup bar.
You know how it is when you eat too much tofu… you need some kind of carnivore fix. And that arrives bigtime at Roost anytime you order the braised beef cheeks with Vadouvan potatoes. The latter, which seem to be “in” with chefs right now, are regular potatoes given a kick with Indian spices. Specifically, the style comes from the Pondicherry region of India. And if I didn’t know I could get them at Roost, I’d be “leavin’ on a jet plane” any moment now.
Friends who go on dining adventures with me know I’m not fond of dessert – as a concept or as an experience. In fact, friends who love dessert (a group that takes in virtually every woman on earth) find that one of my most appealing qualities, making up for so many failings and flaws. Still, even I kept poking fork and spoon into Roost’s most popular dessert, the “coffee and donut holes.” There’s donut holes involved for sure, which is lure enough, but there’s also coffee ice cream, my beloved dulce de leche and some crushed pistachios.
And speaking of donots, and not just because I love them… we also got to sample a new dessert special last night: bread pudding made with Shipley’s donuts. As a bread pudding purist, I’ve always resisted the movement to, say, replace the bread in bread pudding with croissants. Too freakin’ much butter, I’d always protest. But when some demented young chef starts replacing the bread with Shipley’s donuts, or putting Indian spices in his cake-free crab, or caramelizing cauliflower, or making even tofu have a taste AND a texture I like, I am a wee bit powerless to resist.