Roister is a contradiction. Music plays so loud that you can hardly hear your dining companion compliment the richness of A5 Wagyu smothered in uni butter. $1,000 bottles of wine are poured into what might as well be red Solo cups (they are actually glass tumblers). And fried chicken is the most popular dish prepared by a chef whose resume includes The Aviary, Graham Elliot, and Kith & Kin.
Roister is Alinea Group's attempt at going casual. Yeah, those guys who just took the number 15 spot on the World's 50 Bet Restaurants list. In doing so, they created a dining experience that feels like a tug of war between raucous open-fire cooking and the "tweezer food" that earned the group countless accolades. "Having the fried chicken dish on the menu speaks to that," says executive chef Andrew Brochu. "We are going casual. We weren't just bluffing. And we weren't just saying it."
The dish, which quickly distinguished itself as a signature at the three-month-old restaurant, starts with whole chickens from Green Circle Farm. The Hudson Valley farm is famous for feeding its birds scraps from Manhattan's most prestigious restaurants, including Per Se, Daniel, and Gramercy Tavern. Each chicken—the team is going through about 50 per night—is butchered and brined for 24 hours in sweetened chamomile tea. Then, the real fun starts.
Roister's play on the classic whole chicken involves serving the bird three ways. The thighs are deboned, brined in buttermilk, and fried. Breasts are seared in a cast iron skillet in the 900-degree hearth until juicy on the inside and charred almost black on the outside. "The first time we did it, it looked burnt," Brochu says. "Then, the more we tasted it, the less we cared, because it tastes good." Legs are sous vide in chicken fat before they are tossed with sunchokes, onions, celery, and sunflower seeds to make chicken salad.
The star, and what has made the dish a must-try on Roister's menu, is the fried component. Brochu has been making it the same way since his Kith & Kin days. He'll happily share the recipe with anyone who asks for it, but doubts they will be able to replicate it. The secret to his perfectly crispy fried chicken is in the technique. A double dredging in seasoned cornstarch, buttermilk, and flour ends with a deep tissue massage for each thigh. "For me, this stage of the process is what separates ours from other people's," he says. "You have to get the flour in all the crevices, and the buttermilk in all the crevices, so you know you are really adhering it."
The result is a firecracker effect of crispy bits exploding around chicken. Some of which fall off in the frying process and are served as a garnish on pasta or over donut ice cream to special guests. The final touch is a sprinkling of spice blend made with chamomile tea, salt, MSG, sugar, and pepper. It is served alongside the seared breast with a garnish of fresh chamomile flowers. It also comes with a side of sunchoke hot sauce and chicken gravy, for a true Southern fried chicken experience served with fine dining flair.
Due to the chicken's popularity, Brochu says it will be one of the few dishes on the menu year-round. However, given the group's affinity for innovation, don't expect it to look the same for long. The flowers that adorn each serving will change with the seasons, in conjunction to the tea brine and seasoning. In the fall, oxalis might garnish apple-cranberry rooibos tea-scented chicken, and roses dried in the hearth will accent chicken seasoned with black tea for winter.