The set-up: Raise the flag on the rebirth of the corner of Greenville and Goodwin as Rohst (phonetic for roast) opens in the spot next to Dodie’s (and across from The Grape and Blue Goose). Although this new eatery is still in the soft-opening phase, we paid a visit (undercover, of course) to find out how the new concept—one with a consortium of owners and (gasp) not one celebrity chef in the kitchen—would fare against the ultimate judge and jury: our taste buds.
First of all, hats off to the design team. Even though the frontage would benefit from lighter tint on the windows, the interior’s high ceiling and low lighting provide textbook relief from the oven-like heat outside. We love the mezzanine-style second level, two-story stone mosaic, rough-hewn wood accents, stone flooring, and drum-pendant chandeliers. (Although I wasn’t crazy about the upstairs mural, I do have to give the design team snaps for trying to create a back story involving ancient Korean cave drawings.)
jump for the rest…
On the evening we visited, the opening was so soft and under-the-public-radar that my date and I were the only guests for the early part of the evening. Investment partner/manager-on-duty Patrick Kelly (who did not know who we were) greeted us at the door and engaged us immediately. All the while, the waitstaff and support crew of bussers and barbacks never stopped moving—wiping surfaces, aligning chairs. Throughout dinner, my water glass has seldom stayed so full.
On the menu: Rohst is operating under the tagline of “fresh…marinade…grill” and with an acknowledged Korean influence. Some early reviewers have yelped that it’s not Korean enough, which is a shame given how delightful the fare is in its own right. The dishes are solidly constructed, and the ingredients are fresh and of notable quality (and in the case of the meats, admirable marbling). The combination provides a delightful window into Korean-fusion.
We started with the Korean BBQ beef balls—a bowl of scallion-garnished beef meatballs in a semi-sweet, dark sauce. The dish, which debuted as one single big ball and was changed a few days after opening to offer eight to 10 smaller balls, was dense, tender, and savory. A side order of crisp Asian coleslaw with julienned carrots, red cabbage, and scallions complemented the balls’ chewiness with its crisp tooth and tangy dressing.
Whether it was by design or by circumstance, the pace of our meal was waiter-driven as opposed to kitchen driven. As we neared completion of each course, he’d push the next, avoiding any untimely or awkward pile-ups at the table. Which means that (thankfully) we did not receive our Rohst house salad (mixed greens, asparagus, mango, corn, cucumber, grape tomato, peanuts, and red onions with a house-made Asian sesame vinaigrette) until we’d had adequate time to breathe and contemplate the recent flavors. The salad, with its cast-of-thousands ingredients list, came divided in two from the kitchen (another nice touch) and contained a memorably fresh mix of lettuces complemented by fresh mango (is there anything better?) and simple peanuts.
For our main course, we took the recommendation of our server, Chris, and changed our order from the spare ribs in a stew pot to the Rohst barbecue pork ribs—slow-cooked, hand-brushed, and char-grilled with sauteed onions. The recommendation could not have been more on-target. The meat released from the bone with virtually no effort and was coated in a sauce that was both roasty and sweet—complex without being overbearing. Our second entree, the pork lettuce wrap consisted of slices of spicy pork tenderloin, fried green beans, and sliced apple and was served with iceberg leaves for wrapping. The green beans were the first to disappear. The crispy, lightly salty crust over al dente beans is a combination so winning it’s easy to forget that they are fried. Regardless, they were ancient history by the time we got around to the pork. Our waiter hinted that other guests had found the pork too spicy; we found it just right. Thanks to the kitchen for not toning it down.
Thumbs-up to our server who was engaged and chatty, yet experienced enough to know the second it was time for him to get lost and let us eat. He was also the one who explained the concept to us—notably that the kitchen is not chef driven but functions more as an egalitarian nation. I have questions about how that will work in the long term; kitchens, as a rule, function as a hierarchy. But, for now, the restaurant’s structure of shared stewardship among the five ownership partners and the “we’re-all-in-this-together” kitchen philosophy seems to be working. However, the rubber will really meet the road once the word gets out and dinnertime traffic picks up.
Who was there: Neighborhood locals: groups of beshorted older men in for a beer; young families with babies in tow; 30-something dates.
Where to sit: If possible, sit along the rail on the second-floor overlooking the main floor. Not only is the perch primo for people-watching, but the distance from hard surfaces keeps any potential noise problems at bay. (Note: the soft, acoustic ceiling and abundance of natural materials bode well for keeping crowd noise from becoming overwhelming.)
Price: Quite reasonable. The BBQ beef balls ($7), Asian slaw ($4), Rohst entree salad ($9), pork ribs ($23), pork lettuce wrap ($16), and two cocktails ($6/$8) totaled $77.87 after tax/before tip.
Nice detail: The rooftop patio (if it doesn’t descend into doucheyness) looks like it’s going to be a prime spot to hang—especially come fall.
The takeaway: With roughly 300 seats at full capacity, Rohst may end up being your best bet for actually getting a table in Lower Greenville on a weekend.