Too busy, too hectic, too busy, too hectic, we’ve all been there but this has been the norm for the Sweet Willie household for too long. I wanted our 12th wedding anniversary celebration to be a relaxed, away from the cares of the day event, with the exception of a vacation one can’t be much more relaxed time than a 4.5 hour dinner. So bring on Trio’s Tour de Force Tasting Menu! A 16 course dining extravaganza w/wine pairings if one wishes and as I would certainly suggest as they were terrific choices by the wine staff. Again make it easy for me, this is “relaxedville dining event” night. A bit of info on the chef Grant Achatz from the Trio website http://www.trio-restaurant.com “Achatz’s roots are firmly set in food. His family owned several restaurants in Michigan and he decided early on to pursue a career in fine cuisine. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he spent time at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and at Cygnus in the prestigious Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Michigan before settling in with his mentor, Chef Thomas Keller, as Sous Chef at the French Laundry. Keller writes that "Grant’s food speaks with a global assertion and a visual elegance translated from his culinary experiences around the world." While in Napa, Achatz also spent a year as assistant winemaker at the La Jota Vineyards. His knowledge and experience in both fields make an exceptional marriage of food and wine.” It was a beautiful warm sunny day for mid April in Chicago. The restaurant is located in The Homestead, a small gracious hotel in Evanston, IL ( http://www.thehomestead.net ). Traffic was light and we arrived sharply at 5:30 for our seating. We were shown to a table in a smaller room adjacent to the main dining room. Seeing as there was a very loud group already seated in the main dining room we were glad to be in the more intimate section. Even though we have already informed the restaurant that we will be enjoying the Tour de Force, they show us the menu so that we can start to drool over the offerings. A Pommery “Brut Royal” champagne was served from Reims. Lovely. The wine pairing list is at the end of this write-up, as I can not remember exactly which wines were paired with what dishes, the list is in the order that was served. Some wines covered more than one course. With 16 courses we limited our consumption, but Trio will pour as many glasses as you want to go through. We did enjoy multiple glasses of the two sherries at the end of the meal as at that time we were not concerned about having an intoxicated pallet. Caramelized Sri Lankan Eggplant – encased in a thin, clear sugar casing, resting on a spoon. Crunch sweet sugar, rich caramelized earth eggplant, cilantro, pepper, mustard seeds. Amazing tastes from one bite of food. If one remembers Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, one of the brats Violet Beauregarde bites into a piece of candy that incorporates the flavors of a 7-course meal. This is what one can expect with most courses at Trio, a journey of flavors, one right after the other. Wild Steelhead Roe – sake, tosaka seaweed, cucumber. The sake is actually mixed with some pectin to form a clear pouch that the roe and cucumber (cut to the same size of the roe) are put in. The briny flavor of the roe/seaweed and fresh cucumber bites. We enjoyed this but the sake piece of this Achatz food puzzle was not present. Chilled English Peas – ramps, eucalyptus, ham. My wife and I are both carnivores, we really like meat! So I usually slump when I read about a course that contains mostly vegetables. I did slump here, but when the intense fresh flavor of the chilled pea soup, mixed with the salty dry ham, ramps (kindof like green onions), and the small eucalyptus balls, my tastebuds danced. Tempura of Maine Shrimp – vanilla, cranberry, Meyer lemon. Picture a solid cylinder of stainless steel (about ½ the size of a roll of quarters) with six 6” thin pieces of wire protruding from one end. These six pieces of wire hold the piece of tempura that was molded around a long thin vanilla bean. One is instructed to grasp the bean, bend one’s head back and use one’s mouth to pull the piece of tempura off of the vanilla bean. Warm crunchy rich shrimp tempura flavor, now molten cranberry with finished zest of Meyer lemon. Black Truffle Explosion – a ravioli filled with black truffle consume and some black truffle shavings on top. Unlike a soup dumpling from Chinatown, one is to put the whole ravioli in the mouth so there is an “explosion” when bitten into. Explode it did with luxurious truffle flavor. I was surprised at my positive reaction to this course as after a horrible New Year’s Eve meal at Trotter’s where every dish had some sort of truffle (usually too much) I had pretty much been turned off by truffles. Maine Lobster – flavors of Thai ice tea, aromatic bread. Full chunks of lobster set atop a piece of aromatic bread in a bowl. Warm Thai tea is poured over the lobster, the bread soaking up the wonderful brew. Missing course – can’t remember what it was!!!! So obviously just ok. Hot Fava Bean and Cold Black Truffle Purees – olive oil, lavender. Again a course with truffles & vegetables and again a tremendous course. Chicharrones con Salsa. Mexican!!?? Yep. A curly chicharron with a full flavored salsa. Flavors we love and found amusing in the setting we were in. Tenderloin of Venison – banana, celeriac, malted barley. The combination of the venison and celeriac was wonderful, surprisingly the banana added immensely to the dish. The malted barley added body to the bites but was not a flavor player. Cheese ‘n Cracker Tomato soup ‘n Cracker. Wife is a no dairy person so she had the Tomato Soup ‘n Cracker, I the Cheese ‘n Cracker. Both “exploded” in the mouth when bit into. The cracker being a crisp container (think the way ravioli encompasses the ingredient) containing the sharp cheddar cheese or soup. It was wonderful how crisp the cracker remained from the kitchen to our palettes. Moulard Duck Foie Gras w/blueberries, cinnamon tapioca, sorrel. The presentation was served in a clear glass tube. The mousse of foie gras “plugged” one end, the cinnamon tapioca the other. We lifted/tilted the tube, put one end to our mouth and then sucked the whole tube’s worth into our mouth. Silky, luxurious foie gras mousse w/the other components. Raisin Soda. We liked raisins, so we like this one but not really special. Kiwi Seeds – Young Coconut – Lime. The seed packets of the kiwi, with strips of young coconut, lime and some passion fruit seedpods made for a tart crunchy course. Very enjoyable. Charred Pineapple – smoked salmon, shichimi togarashi, soy foam. A highlight, the char pineapple and smoked salmon work wonders with the sweet salty soy foam providing a finishing touch. Confit of Melysol Melon – proscuitto, catmint, sherry vinegar. Not a memorable dish Virtual Shrimp Cocktail. Think shrimp cocktail essence in a small, iced spray bottle. One sprays the essence into the mouth. We thought it was quite amusing. Green and White Asparagus – shellfish, apricot, pickled asparagus, parmesan crispies. Warm clarified butter is ladled over the dish at the table just before one eats. The shellfish was a sashimi of gooey duck clam. Wonderful dish. Elysian Fields Farm Lamb – sunflower plant, bag of crispy texture. The bag contains crisped garlic, onion, sunflower seeds and other crispies. The bag is also labeled “Trio bag of crispy texture”. Sprinkle on the dish and enjoy. Lamb was cooked sous vide and was full of flavor. Frozen WillaKenzie Verjus – Thyme. A small frozen disk of WillaKenzie juice with a small leaf of Thyme. Sweet/tart juice then Thyme. Quite refreshing. Ribeye of Prime Beef – spring lettuces, morel mushrooms, smoked tongue. Plate is served with a glass full of smoke inverted over the smoked tongue with a sliced morel mixture on top. Glass is then lifted and left at the table to provide smoke flavor seeing as smell is a large part of tasting. “Salad” – red wine vinaigrette. The mixed greens and vinaigrette are frozen to form a granita medley. Wonderful, fun and refreshing. Carrot-Mandarin-Smoked Paprika Leather – fruit roll up. Nice combination, but nothing special. Australian Finger Limes – Sugar. A lollipop comprised of a clear crystal sugar pop containing the red and white juice packets of the Australian finger lime. Fun. Red Wine Braised Rhubarb – strawberries, violets, sheeps milk ice cream. A highlight, a bowl is served with a tube containing the items. In the bottom of the tube is the warm braised rhubarb, next layer is cool strawberry froth with strawberry bits. Into the strawberry froth is placed the cold sheep’s milk ice cream. The tube is then picked up by the waitstaff and all the items mix into the bowl. Warm Ocumare Chocolate, yeast, pistachio, flax seed. We were divided on this dish. I really liked the toasted flax seed “cookie” that the warmed chocolate sat on. The flax seed disk was on a jelled disk of Sierra Nevada beer. Wife thought the flaxseed was overpowering. Tripod Hibiscus. A frozen ball of hibiscus tea propped up by three wire legs. The wire legs come together after you pick it up to form a lollipop. Bubble of Serveral Unusual Gums. A balloon filled with the gums. A pin is provided for one to pop the balloon to get at the gums. Wine pairings: There was only one that we did not appreciate at all, that was the Pasqualino di Prisco Fiano di Avellino, Campania, Italy 2002 Cusumano “Angimbe” Insolia/Chardonnay, Sicily 2002 Birgit Eichinger “Strasser Gainsberg” Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal, Austria 2001 Europvin Falset “Laurona”, Montsant, Spain 2000 Ochs Blaufrankisch Eiswein, Neusiedlersee, Austria 2001 Luis Pato Maria Gomes, Beiras, Portugal 2002 Argiolas “Argiolas” Vermintino, Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia 2002 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2000 Chateau la Rouviere, Bandol 2000 Oloroso “Pata de Gallina”, Juan Garcia, Jarana, Jerez, Spain Forteto della Luja Brachetto “Pain dei Sogni”, Piedmont 1998 Vinhos Barbeito “Special Reserve” Malmsey, Madeira Ok, the reality of dropping a mortgage payment sinks in when the bill arrives as the Tour de Force is $175 with the $95 wine pairings (per person). Also offered are pre fixe 4 course for $85 and a chef’s tasting menu at $120. Both of these have wine pairings as well. Just before our meal ended, a younger ;) couple sat down next to us. We all got to talking and they found out we were celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. The woman stated they had been married for three and while not wanting to jinx us, what was our secret. No secret really. My wife and I just really enjoy each other’s company., we frequently make the comment to each other, “well, at least we think we’re funny!”. I could not have dreamed of a better evening. Mortgage payment be damned!