Grilled skirt steak with cauliflower gratin and sauteéd spinach

Even here in Portland, a stronghold of casual dining, food can become exhausting, showmanship trumping flavor and gimmicks overshadowing enjoyment. But in September, when Megan Henzel opened her 43-seat Roost on the corner of SE 14th Avenue and Belmont Street, the Klamath Falls native took a very deliberate step in a different direction.

?After working at high-end East Coast restaurants and jet-setting as a personal chef to celebrity clients, Henzel was primed for a return to minimalism.

Decorated with only strips of wooden coat pegs on spare white walls, and furnished in black and blond woods, Roost recalls classic British brasseries of yore; places where simple, well-prepared food and pleasant company take center stage. In this quiet, unadorned setting, Henzel showcases an old-school, New England style of comfort food, but with modern touches and the flavorful boost of Pacific Northwest ingredients.

Starters are a must. Brussels sprouts are deep-fried to a satisfying, salty crisp, sealing in a burst of flavor, and cauliflower fritters arrive with a lovely golden coating, paired with a luscious mustard cream. Anchored by comforting classics, entrées rotate with the seasons and Henzel’s whims. Pork stew is a highlight—tender, falling-apart meat with carrots, mushrooms, and braised giant beans in a shallow pool of mustardy broth. Skirt steak is grilled to a perfect medium-rare, dressed with a boisterous red wine sauce, and paired with a creamy cauliflower and potato gratin. Ironically, the menu’s flashiest item is the “burger”: braised beef, shredded and wrapped in caul fat, is seared and served on an open-faced bun with watercress, aioli, horseradish sauce, and a braising jus on the side—a kind of playful, high-end sloppy joe that forces diners to get messy. “I wanted to make seriously good food,” says Henzel, “but not serious food.”

This article appeared in the January 2011 issue of Portland Monthly Magazine.

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