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There I was, sitting all alone at tiny Houston restaurant Roost, fielding frenetic text messages from three friends. A sad litany of flat tires, run-on meetings, and road closures explained their conspicuous absence. At many another place, a seriously incomplete party would have been getting the ol’ stink eye right about now. Not here. My waitress just cruised by periodically, gave me a big smile, and offered to fetch more wine. Classy. So, yes, I liked Roost before I took a bite. And after everyone appeared and we finally ordered? I liked it even better.
Open seven months, modest, inviting Roost is one of a growing category of restaurants that I have started to think of as Beyond Eclectic. On the frequently changing menu of chef-owner Kevin Naderi, you can find dishes that call on Japanese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Italian, Mexican, and American Southern flavor profiles. It’s as if the 26-year-old proprietor, formerly of Haven, were building a culinary United Nations. Happily, though, he has the skill to avoid a confusing, directionless hodgepodge. In time-honored American melting-pot style, Naderi takes disparate traditions and makes them his own.
Excellent evidence of his skill was the seared almaco jack, a white-fleshed relative of amberjack. When I heard my pal Susan, a.k.a. the Pickiest Woman in the World When It Comes to Fish, exclaim, “This is great!” I knew the kitchen had managed to hit that sweet spot where a piece of fish is flaky and moist, with just a whisper of translucency. A mild, nutty-flavored tahini sauce set the filet off nicely; unfortunately, it also swamped the side of tabbouleh.
Continuing in a seafood vein, we tried the lightly curried crab cakes with a creamy cilantro-and-jalapeño coulis. Gorgeously browned, they consisted almost entirely of pristine, pearly crabmeat. If only they hadn’t been slightly soggy inside, they would have been perfect.
Switching to fowl for our other principal proteins, we dove into moist mustard-honey-glazed duck with a roasted-beet panzanella salad. And we couldn’t resist fantastic, succulent cornmeal-crusted fried quail on a falling-apart biscuit sweetly drizzled with Steen’s syrup.
But it was a side dish, the toasty-brown roasted cauliflower (pictured), pumped up with pine nuts, scallions, and a miso dressing, that brought a unanimous “Wow!” from the table. Covered with a lacy cap of bonito flakes gently undulating in the rising steam, it was an umami flavor bomb. When we looked around, every table had an order.
As our meal wound down, the frustrations that had threatened to sabotage the evening had been erased in the glow of wine and the lingering spicy scent of warm pistachio-studded doughnut holes with coffee ice cream and a slice of midnight-dark chocolate tart topped by ancho-chile crème fraîche. Flat tires and road closures—who cares? Beer & wine. 1972 Fairview (713-523-7667). Dinner Mon–Thur 4–10, Fri & Sat 4–11. Closed Sun. $$ W+