photo credit: Christina Slaton
If Alinea is haute couture, then Roister is the streetwear collection from the same designer. And when Roister opened, it was great. The atmosphere was casual and fun, the food was interesting and delicious, and unlike its counterpart Alinea, eating there didn’t require booking a year in advance and/or taking out a personal loan for a table. But over time things have changed (including the chef), and not for the better. Now a meal at Roister feels like a disappointing fashion show, with a parade of confusing looks you can’t quite figure out.
We’ll start with one thing at this restaurant that has stayed the same, and that’s the all-over-the-place menu. Similar to a spring collection at New York Fashion Week, eclectic combinations work when everything is expertly prepared and assembled. But that’s no longer the case at Roister. At best the food is fine, and at worst it’s kind of weird and not very good. The appetizer of aerated clam chowder feels like eating an Old Bay Yoplait Whip. The General-Tso-flavored beef and broccoli is topped with small dried pieces of wagyu that stick in your teeth. Even the roasted carrots are overly complicated and hard to eat, served in a small bowl with something that looks like astronaut ice cream but is actually large chunks of aerated dried pistachios. Like a dress made entirely out of sleeves, you’ll spend some time figuring out just what to do with what’s in front of you, and you might wonder if the bewilderment you’re experiencing is the fault of your unrefined taste buds. It’s not.
The food isn’t the only thing that seems off. The service is also a disjointed production. Dishes are dropped off with no explanation of what’s in them, extra plates appear and are whisked away for no apparent reason, and no one can answer simple questions about what you’re eating - not that you’d be able to hear the explanation over the incredibly loud chorus of a Linkin Park song, anyway.
A high-fashion runway show might be full of avant-garde clothes no one wears in real life, but even if you don’t really “get” what you’re seeing, you figure the experts know what they’re doing. That is, until a Lisa Frank-inspired Yeezy line begins parading down the aisle to dubstep, and you realize some looks really are just silly and not very good. A meal at Roister is like this, too: if you’re confused by what’s happening, it’s not you. It’s them.
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Clam Chowder Dip
The dip comes with lavash crackers and has no discernable clam flavor - it tastes primarily like Old Bay seasoning. It’s also aerated, giving it the thick and foamy texture of a Cool Whip dessert. The novelty doesn’t add anything to the dish and comes across as unnecessary, like someone really wanted an excuse to use an air canister.
Aged Cheddar Rillettes
This is pretty tasty. The cheese dip is rich and salty in a good way, and the fry bread it comes with is well-baked. There’s some roasted cauliflower sitting on the cheese that doesn’t need to be there, but it’s easy to eat around it.
Cresta Di Gallo Pasta
If you made pasta in a dorm hall kitchen, it would probably taste like this. The noodles are overcooked and the bland white sauce (made with mushrooms and snap peas) tastes like a recipe in the back of People magazine.
Beef And Broccoli
The roasted broccoli is tossed in General Tso sauce and topped with jerky-like crumbles of A-5 wagyu. This is a waste of high-quality steak and tastes like what you’d scrape out of the pan after cooking a burger.
This dish involves stalks of asparagus sitting in a pool of spicy lemon vinaigrette that’s too acidic. It’s topped with very thin slices of ham, and like the wagyu, this feels like a waste of high-quality meat since its flavor is overpowered by the sauce. It’s unpleasant to eat and unpleasant to pay $19 for.
Hearth Roasted Carrots
There’s a lot happening with these carrots. They have a strong wood-fired smokiness and are served with smoked labneh, orange slices, an orange sauce, and two large chunks of aerated and dried pistachios that add no flavor to the dish, just confusion.
Salsify is a root vegetable, and at Roister it’s caramelized and served with a truffle cream sauce, parmesan, and an egg. It won’t surprise you that all those ingredients taste good together. But what might surprise you is that a side dish has a price tag of $26.
The lasagna noodles are overcooked, and the arrabiata sauce is way too salty. Skip it.
The duck breast is simple: thin slices cooked medium rare with crispy skin. However, the strong cheap-beer flavor of the PBR-braised barley it comes with tastes like making out with a stranger at a dive bar.
Chicken & Chamomile
This platter is one of Roister’s signature dishes and has been on the menu since this place opened. You can get either a half or full chicken, and it comes with fried thighs and braised and poached breast. Other than the batter being undercooked in some spots, this is a solid option.
Cookies And Milk
This dessert is a sweet cream ice cream topped with pieces of chocolate chip cookies and cookie dough. The best part are the chunks of cookie dough, which is reminiscent of a Pillsbury tube - and we mean that as a compliment.