100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 28, Fried Cauliflower at Roost
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg There's so much flavor hiding under the layer of wispy bonito flakes.
As I child, I always swore I hated cauliflower. Actually, I swore I hated it as recently as a few years ago, when my mother tried to substitute whipped cauliflower and celery root for mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. In my mind, cauliflower is that too-crunchy white thing on the veggie tray that even ranch dressing can't help.
But lately, people have been doing wonderful things with cauliflower. I recently tried the "cauliflower flan" at Osteria Mazzantini, which is really more of a cauliflower custard, but still wonderful. And then there's possibly the best cauliflower dish in town--the original star cauliflower dish--Roost's fried cauliflower with bonito flakes and a miso/mayo/Sriracha sauce with scallions and pine nuts.
Yes, all of that (and more) in one magical, mind-blowing bowl of cauliflower greatness.
It seems like a simple dish at first. When it's brought out to the table, all you can see in the low light of the small restaurant is a few florets of cauliflower, slightly browned, and long, tissue paper-thin miso flakes that dance under the slight breeze of the air conditioner and the steam coming out of the bowl.
Dig deeper and you'll find the sauce, so complex I had to stop the chef, Kevin Naderi, and inquire about what's in it. He spouted off half a dozen or so ingredients, but all I caught was miso, mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar and Sriracha. And indeed, when you dip each small, white floret into the sauce, you can taste the individual elements, the bit of spice and acid and warm, earthy miso.
As if that weren't enough, there are strings of sautéed scallions and pine nuts at the bottom of the bowl, adding new flavor dimensions and textural elements to what I initially thought was a straightforward dish. The pine nuts provide a crisp nuttiness, while the scallions contribute an extra bite that hits you in the sinuses like a raw onion.
And then, to bring you back down after every forkful, there's the lingering flavor of warm miso, vegetal cauliflower and ever-so-slightly fishy bonito.
This is one dish, Naderi says, that never leaves the menu. He completely changes the offerings every month, but he fears people would revolt should he ever remove the cauliflower or his signature donut holes.
The menu at Roost is changing next week, so stay tuned for our take on the restaurant's new March dishes, and look out for Naderi defending his title as champion of the Iron Fork competition at this year's Menu of Menus extravaganza.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.