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Dining with the *new* big boys of Chicago


Renka
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Last November I had the pleasure of visiting Chicago for a conference, and although this post is overdue, I still think the experience I had is worthwhile of sharing/posting. I hope the eGullet community feels the same. In the handful of days I was in the city (it was 5), I was able to secure reservations at Avenues, Moto, and Alinea. Subscribing to the "go big, or go home" philosophy, I decided to lose myself to the entire experience by (saving and) taking advantage of the chef's palate/GMT/tour menus.

I started the trip off with a late dinner reservation at Avenues, located at the Peninsula Chicago. I was instructed by a fellow eGullet-er to reserve at the kitchen bar, such that I could see Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and his Sous-Chef, Alex Martinez, at work. Little did I know what was in store for me as the two appear to be great buddies and Chef Bowles was pre-warned of my coming. Without revealing my overall impression until the end of this post, I'll bombard this thread with food photos. :laugh:

The menu for Avenue's Chef's Palate:

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The kitchen bar:

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That's Alex (blurry) on the left corner.

Chef Bowles at work:

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Table setting:

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I thought the wooden place setting was worth a shot.

Amuse: Parsnip Pudding in Cream Puff

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The light as a feather choux burst in the mouth with a chilled rich buttery goodness of parsnip cream. Both sweet and smooth, the piped replacement for traditional whipped topping was a pleasant, yet subtle surprise.

Tartare of Venison Loin: parsley custard, fruit compote, juniper gelato

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My first introduction to the cuisine of Avenues consisted of unctuous venison diced into perfect morsels that slipped between bites down the throat. Each succulent bite was coated with the lightly infused juniper ice cream that melted in the mouth. Both the velvety smooth tartar and chilled custard were contrasted with a decadent and heavily spiced mixed fruit chutney which was both sticky and chewy, and was a superb harbinger of holiday cheer. Happy emotions were stirred from this amuse sized appetizer and signalled for an amazing dinner ahead.

Avenues Deconstructed Caesar Salad: baby romaine, grated parmesan, brioche twinkie

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I watched Chef Bowles neatly trimming a small head of greens from behind the bar and gingerly perch that atop a perfect golden cube. Soon afterwards I was presented with a perfect pickled anchovy filet perched atop a ruffled quenelle quarter of baby romaine. Beneath the sushi like cap sat a crisp foundation of toasted brioche, filled with a luxurious parmesan cream. Cutting a bit from each layer I experienced an explosion of the buttery rich and creamy smooth base juxtaposing the crispy and crunchy layers, all washed down with the tart and refreshing elements.

The manditory cross-section:

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Raisin pecan bread served with Italian parmesan butter, grass-fed Wisconsin salted butter, house thyme and lemon rind butter

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Three breads were offered by the kitchen, and although the sourdough and multigrain varieties appeared lovely, I was drawn to the fruit and nut option. Still warm from the oven, the mini-boule was soft and spongy, having a chewy crust and moist crumb. Sampling bites of the bread with the butters offered I found favour with soft and rich flavours of the grass-fed Wisconsin salted butter. However, noting the progression of the oncoming procession of courses, I decided to slowly snack on the lone boule for the duration of the evening (a significant achievement for those who are familiar with my carb addiction). I wished I sampled the other two options, however, in retrospect, I am glad that I left my stomach space free for the real superstars of the evening.

Wine: Dirle(??) 2002 Muscat. (I can't make out my notes). Not being much of a wine drinker, the sommelier was kind enough to introduce my amateur palate to a light fruity white wine that had notes of citrus notes. I found this wine friendly and lovely to sip on while enjoying my next couple courses.

Carpaccio of Maine Lobster: cucumber noodles, yuzu foam, soy caramel

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Angle 2:

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Since I first saw glimpses of this course in photographs from a friend's previous dinner at Avenues, I was in much anticipation for this dish. The ear shaped porcelain vessel contained a delicate streak of soy caramel that ran across the surface of the plate, scattered spicy strips of julienned cucumber "noodles", and a center pool of cucumber jelly strips buried beneath an ethereal spicy and tart yuzu ginger foam. The bright flavours of the yuzu bubbles further lifted the lightness of the slippery cucumber jellies, while the al dente strips of fresh cucumber provided a bit of bite. These components acted collectively as a refreshing palate cleanser, leaving the lobster pieces behind, almost as an afterthought. My favourite component was the soy caramel, an ingenious sweet temptation of smooth blend of soy powder with rich caramel, leaving my tastebuds in pure ecstasy.

Vichyssoise in Dual Preparations: potato terrine, roasted garlic, petite herbs

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The pretty terrine of leak and potato was more pleasing to the eye than a friend to my taste buds. I found the steamed potato pieces were a tad too firm for my liking, while the strips of leek too sinuous, making it difficult to properly slice the two components to consume in a lone bite. Interestingly enough, the stars of the plate were the surrounding peppery slices of spicy artisan radish, and the dollops of bright green herb oil and umami flavoured roasted garlic cream. Overall the dish was visually appealing and was like Spring on a plate, decorated by the gentle sprinkle of micro-greens.

Edited by Renka (log)
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Hand Harvested Diver Scallops: Brussels sprouts, poached salsify, beet paint

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A perfectly seared medium rare scallop the size of a child's fist sat with great confidence between two bold streaks of beet pain. Sweet and succulent, the bivalve ended its glorious life honourably at the hands of Chef Bowles. As if they were floral tributes to the grand creature, petite turned turnip and baby brussel sprouts added fresh colour and a tender buttery essence, without the presence of butter.

Savory Toasted Almond Bisque: pickled pear, candied proscuitto, sage marshmallows

Part 1, before the bisque:

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Part 2, action shot:

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Part 3, final product:

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With much fanfare, toasted almond bisque was poured onto unsuspecting brilliance of crisp candied proscuitto chips, delicate buttons of sage marshmallows and a perfect tower of pickled pear chutney. As the light milk like bisque slowly enveloped the unsuspecting solid elements, each spoonful of soup was a new taste sensation. The slow dissolve of the marshmallows gently infused sweet and spicy notes to the neutral palate, while the crisp proscuitto hinted at smoky sweetness. Sips capturing bits of pear resulted in tart and spicy surprises, while providing great textural contrasts. I appreciated the thought and originality behind this course and the nouveau method of infusing sage into the otherwise bleached out soup, I was most blown away with the delicious flavours presented through the use of fluffy half-dissolved marshmallows.

Interlude:

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White Truffle Scented Risotto: pearl onions, forest mushrooms, truffle cream

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Buried beneath a sinful cloud of chilled thickened whipped white truffle cream, were gorgeous pieces of black trumpet mushrooms and a soupy risotto. Whimsically served in an elegant miniature copper pot, woodsy and ethereal musky essence of the forest bed were contained by the unctuous foam, while the generous pour of homemade white truffle oil reiterated the luxuriousness of this course.

The start of my surprise...

Trio of Fish (replaces the lonely sole course :smile: )

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Instead of receiving a sole fish course, Chef Bowles surprised me with a trio of aquatic treasures.

Wine: 2004 Peter Lehmann Semillon

A zesty dry white wine, with lemon/citrus flavours was paired with my entrees. The limited production wine had a firm finish and was very nice. I later on found out that it was the silver medal winner of the 2006 International Wine and Spirit Competition and the bronze medal winner of the 2006 Decanter World Wine Awards.

Pumpernickel Crusted Tasmanian Salmon: celeriac mousseline, savoy cabbage, sauerkraut bubbles

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Playing with my mind and senses, stellar succulent morsels of fork-tender salmon burst into sweet song as it passed between my lips. The dazzling rich salmon colour, that put to shame all other related North American species, contrasted the thick earthy crumble of the savoury fine pumpernickel, garlic and shallot crust that also teased my senses with another finely minced pickled component. Both the freshness behind the celeriac mousseline and the refreshing bite of the sauerkraut foam cut through the flavours of the rich fish. My tongue shouted out cries of brilliance as I tasted the entire dish, moping up the reduction underneath my tower, swearing that somehow I was also detecting hints of citrus. Unfortunately for me, I have been converted to devote my love towards Tasmanian salmon, leaving behind Sockeye which I once set on a high pedestal. Now the next question is where would I be able to find this species to get my fix?

Line Caught Dover Sole: crisp polenta, braised lettuce, raisin chutney

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Seared Dover sole cradled unctuous raisin chutney, which was heightened by a brown butter emulsion. Under the fish laid a golden brick of polenta that broke gently with each forkful, moping up all the juices raining from above, while cooked Boston lettuce gave enough crunch and tannins to balance out the sweetness of the dish.

Grilled Hawaiian Ahi Tuna: French lentils, Belgian endive, lavender jus

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Seared rare Ahi propped itself on a bed of braised lentils and brunoised celery and carrots, while a silky vanilla reduction reminisced of braised beef stock with subtle floral essence. The latter was a foreign flavour to me; however the pairing was like a seductive ballet between the masculine muskiness of the chunky, hearty lentil bed and the perfume of the luscious feminine sauce.

If they say the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then Chef Bowles won over this (wo)man with the following. This plate was another surprise from the kitchen of Chef Bowles, who in passing, whispered that I would be receiving the entire menu on this tasting, but in smaller portions. Imagine my delight at such awesome news?

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I think you'll excuse my posting of a second angle of this beautiful plate:

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Wine: Jordan Chardonnay 2002, Napa Alexander Valley

"Crisp green apple, kiwi, honey and lightly toasted oak flavours. On the palate, the wine is lively and complex with flavors that include pear, fuji apple and limestone balanced with toasty oak. All of these refined flavors contribute to the balanced expression of fruit aroma, flavor and finish, making this the perfect complement to many types of cuisine." The wine was smooth with a slight body and tasted fruity fresh.

Edited by Renka (log)
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Pistachio Dusted Elk Tenderloin: Bread pudding, heirloom carrots, date puree

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The superstar of the evening, the elk tenderloin was extremely tender, juicy and full of bold bovine greatness. Lean and succulent, this rare piece of meat was gorgeously crusted with jewels of vibrant pistachios, colours that boasted of exotic Moroccan influence. At the foundation of the tower were rods of heirloom carrots, separating the flavourful portion of bread pudding from the delectable sweet date puree pool below. In two words: delicious, perfect.

Hudson Valley Duckling Breast: spiced raisins, squash coulis

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Tender slices of perfectly rare duckling breasts boasted of grand flavours of the wild laid gingerly over a generous dollop of sweet pumpkin puree which likened to a sweet butternut soup, while warmed spiced raisins unjustifiably cowered beneath the duckling. All these flavours were an embodiment of comfort and the flavour from a perfect harvest in one bite.

South Dakota Bison Shortribs: Carolina grits, swiss chard, sassafras barbecue

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Intense and supple portions of boneless shortribs were deep in colour and similarly in flavour. Falling apart to the pressure of the fork, the easily lost strands of bison were rescued by the creamy pool of snow white grits and smoky bitter chard which corralled each bit of sticky goodness. Dehydrated corn kernels and herbed oil finished the dish by glorifying it in a nouveau interpretation of foods from Native American History.

American Kobe Strip Steak: potato beignets, mushroom fricassee, merlot essence

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Having stellar competition on the same plate worked against this otherwise highly sought after menu item. The initial taste of soapy lobster and oyster mushrooms lost me. And although the promise of a beignet aspired to lift this dish to new heights, its soggy nature only mimicked the disappointment I found in slices of Kobe that lacked any taste relation to being that of bovine origin. All biases aside, the beef was cooked a perfect medium rare and the presentation was divine.

Is everyone still with me? :wink:

It might be a disappointment to most on this forum that I had to forego the cheese course as I was too satiated after the parade of mains. Instead, I moved straight into dessert. To appease my cocoa allergy, the kitchen presented me with their sole non-chocolate item.

Berry Shortcake: gently poached berries, key lime curd, mint infused syrup

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Rustic cheeks of fork tender white chocolate flavoured biscuits hugged a sumptuous lime curd, while mammoth sized out of season fresh berries surprised me with their aromatic in season taste. Finishing the plate was a mint jelly and sinful crème fraiche ice cream.

Mignardises: Rosemary and White Chocolate Macaron

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Parting gift

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I left Avenues with more than just having experienced dining bliss. :wub: I came home with my messy notes, a signed copy of the menu and some savory fruit and nut shortbread from the pastry chef which I had the next day with a cup of coffee from LavAzza. :smile:

Overall impression:

Rich oaks and low lights illuminate from the dining room, with intimate spacings between diners at the same table, while minimizing crowding. Comfortable seating ensured that those intending to partake in an evening of luxury would feel apt in staying all night, if possible.

The busy body kitchen is bright and neatly packed with chef Bowles, his sous-chef Alex Martinez and three line cooks who all get along like bread and butter. Behind the magic is a back pantry, dishwashing station hidden from view, but just as magical as runners zip in and out discreetly somehow restocking the public open kitchen. Sitting at the bar allowed for my participation with the preparation of the entire dining room's meals without breaking a sweat, and strangely scandalous as a voyeur, that somehow enhanced my overall experience. Chef Bowles was more than gracious to answer all my questions, his friendly welcome of my visit and personally seeing to it that I was satisfied. I relayed how impressed with how the Chef was able to so smoothly coordinate his kitchen, be able to send out course after course of the numerous tasting menus in the dining room area, ensure smooth service between each of my courses with minimal if absent wait times, yet still exude his cool, calmness and control. Chef Bowles confessed that this was one of the busier evenings and apologised that he wasn't able to direct more attention to me, which was a surprise as I almost felt as if world revolved around me. Furthering our discussion regarding the modern cuisine that Chef Bowles has brought to the superb dining room of The Peninsula Chicago, he confessed that he had just filmed an Iron Chef America: The Series competition against Bobby Flay. Although tight lipped about the victor and the secret ingredient, he did let leak that the episode will air on February 11, 2007. (Update: I was so disappointed with the results, personal bias aside and beside.)

It is apparent in the courses that I was presented with that Avenues excels on their modern take of high end fare. Interjecting his cuisine with some of the latest trends in the food movement (yuzu and white truffle foam, cucumber noodles, sage marshmallows), Chef Bowles is still able to incorporate classical presentations and food pairings. Notably, he presents those same classic components with subtle twists (vanilla reduction, soy caramel) that bring his cuisine into a league of their own. Although not much of a wine connoisseur, the aid of a wonderful sommelier gently guided this amateur palate into pairings that were both friendly and delicious. If all pairing were this successful, I wouldn't hesitate to participate in further experimentation (which I did, within limits, for the duration of my Chicago adventure). The only drawback of my dining experience was the pastries sent out by their in house pastry chef. I must confess my no-cocoa limitation has worked against many chefs, but at the same time this challenge could also showcase the success or failures of a pastry chef's ability. The limited repertoire of menu choices has also proven itself an ongoing challenge for my personal taste of four categories of possible desserts: shortcakes/cheesecakes, cookies, pies/tarts, or chilled delights (ice creams, custards). The fact that the kitchen provided me with a rustic shortcake already worked against the them as the progression of previous courses grew more and more elegant, heightening the diner's expectation which all came to a crashing conclusion. The taste and texture was mediocre, and had it not been for a desire to finish things off with a bit of something sweet, I would have left the item to wallow in loneliness. Furthering that, my bias towards macarons run strong, as I do believe I've had some of the best made macarons that would make even Pierre Herme jealous. Thus said, I do appreciate the effort that the pastry chef made in the complex cookie, the cute little morsel that I was presented with left me longing for something better. Finally, the kind gesture of the restaurant of their shortbread parting gifts was over the top. When I did partake in them the next day, I found them mediocre, better sliced thinly for a cheese course than to pair with coffee as was suggested.

Commendation must also be given to the service staff for their gentile nature, kind attention to details, friendly unobtrusive service, and willingness to ensure that everything was perfect. Between the servers and Chef Bowles, everyone at Avenues was keen on ensuring the diner's delight and greeted each guest with a pair of delightfully savoury parmesan, pecan and cranberry shortbread from the pastry chef as they departed. If ever I felt like a celebrity perched on (a) high (stool), then it would have been the delightful evening I spent at Avenues.

Avenues

The Peninsula Chicago

108 East Superior Street

Chicago, IL

(312) 573-6754

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Brief interlude with a few images from LavAzza.

Lucky me as the hotel I was staying at was right next to the coffee stop.

I had the Cappugiro a couple times. Yes it's molecular gastronomy in a cup :)

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The "beverage" comes as either a cappuccino, the half milk/half espresso or all espresso variety. Just like a slightly chilled mousse, the edible coffee was fluffy and light, and with stood the upside down test. Tastewise, the milk portion was like a vanilla soft serve, while the espresso component was refreshing and clean. Notice the cute specially designed spoon for the "drink."

I enjoyed it as it was a novel find :wink:

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... as was the display above the cappuccino machines.

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BTW, if you see Alex, the barista, say hi. He was super nice and patient (to explain the differences between all the varieties). Totally unrelated, he also has friends in TO. :)

LavAzza

27 West Washington

Chicago, IL

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Great writeup!  Thanks so much!

Excellent reviews. I'm going to be in Chicago in November but already know that I won't be visiting any of these establishments (ah, the joys of babysitting adult invitees).

Looking forward to the next installments.

Thanks for the kind words. :smile: Moto is coming right up!

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A few evenings after my night at Avenues, I had the pleasure of dining at Moto in the company of three others. Dr. GAF organized the dinner on the LTHForum, where we were joined by another two food enthusiasts from Chicago who hadn't had the Moto experience before. Excited by the prospect of tongue-in-cheek dishes, especially having heard of the Time write up of the LTH dinner that featured raccoon roadkill, our group went against Dr. Fine's suggestion and voted to partake in the GTM. The following were the twenty courses that we were offered. (Side note: As I have too much experience in the lab, I found my experience from this evening hitting too close to the science nerd in me. Second note: it was rather dark in the dining room, so I appologize for the dim images.)

The menu for the GTM:

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I'll quote all the dishes in the same CAPS lettering.

The wine pairings:

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While my dining companions had the full pairings, I splurged only on the five.

As I was the last to arrive, I found the trio of LTHers at the bar. Dr. Fine offered me a sampling of his MARTINI LIBRARY:

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The MARTINI LIBRARY consisted of long plastic pipettes filled to the brim with Gatorade-esque like concoctions that were kept chilled in a bed of ice cubes. More whimsical than tasty, we injected the fluorescent mixture into our mouths and noted the differing tastes that ranged from fruit punch to lime. (The presentation of this drink drove me to wonder about the plastic pipettes we use in the lab... and whether it was food safe, if you catch my drift. I haven't pursued this further.)

Table decore:

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Noted to be white washed and imparting a sterile feel, I found the dining room of Moto rather warm and cozy with white or sage backwashed walls and stained oak furnishings. Although we were in for a science lab of a journey, my dining companions and I felt at ease in the comfortable chairs belonging to Moto. Our table runners were white linen, lit by candlelight and decorated with square pots of wheatgrass, and it wasn't until later in the evening that we noted the Japanese character of Moto stitched into its surface. When asked, our server mentioned that the character meant something to the effect of "idea, taste and desire."

The "Edible" Menu:

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Oh, but look a little closer:

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The first tease of the evening was the signature edible menu listing the three possible dining options available. Printed on rice paper with edible ink, and glued to a crispy layered flatbread that was dotted with mixed Italian herbs, our party inspected the menu before digging into its savory goodness. We also noted the kind note at the end of the menu acknowledging our evening's host, Gary Fine. We were all impressed with the attention to detail. :laugh: Dr. Fine mentioned that perhaps he should have told the kitchen that I was the "special" guest instead. That would have been amusing, imagine, my name embossed on edible paper!

NITRO sushi roll

Step 1: Pre-nitro:

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Step 2: Frozen sesame oil:

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Step 3: Topping the "roll":

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Step 4: Admire and consume:

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Tasmanian salmon tartar, crispy yuba, lime vesicles, and liquid nitrogen frozen sesame oil powder. We were instructed to take a bite and breathe out to produce billowing pillows of cold fumes appearing much like a dragon. (I have an amusing picture of PJD and his impression of a dragon, but that will have to wait for another time. Hee hee.)

ITALIAN food - Cheeky Pizza, Caesar & Beer:

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Pizza soup; Caesar salad soup, crotons, Caesar dressing cream, parmesan and cracked black pepper. The temperature difference of the warm pizza soup against the chilled Caesar was a play on the traditional fare and, although in new and purified form, tasted exactly of their heritage.

This was paired with a Unibroue 2005, Chambly.

To play on the classic pairing of pizza and beer, our "Italian food" was matched to a beer from Quebec. Not a personal fan of the yeasty flavour in beer, the pairing of the Unibroue was surprisingly clean and light. I found the bubbles really tiny and light, the flavour sweet and almost prune juice like.

MAPLE squash cake:

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You can appreciate the fine frozen crumb here:

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A favourite of the evening. Delicata squash puree, expanded and then frozen, cut into caked form; candied maple flakes, warm spied soup of cooked squash, diced bacon and sage. The squash cake was like a Japanese soufflé cheesecake, light and airy, but surprisingly savory, exceptionally delicious. The chilled cake also has a slightly sweet topping of maple, while the soup was like poached pear puree spotted with tough cubes of bacon jerky. The flavours of the overall dish were superb and made me longing for another slice.

SYNTHETIC champagne

The "pour":

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The drink:

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Apple cider and Californian Verjus. Ejected from a large syringe into our champagne glasses, we were presented with a visual chemical reaction between the two liquids to produce a champagne like drink that tasted both sweet and tart, and containing many bubbles. Although I didn't find the taste much like champagne, I did find this a fun little juice drink that would probably amuse the kiddies who also appreciate sparkling apple cider during the holidays. (Side note: I also wondered about the sterile plastic syringes also used in the lab. Again I didn't pursue this thought any futher.)

Edited by Renka (log)
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GOAT CHEESE snow and balsamic:

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a better look:

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The musky creaminess of the goat cheese which was finely ground and lightly chilled to look like snow was cut through by the light dose of tart balsamic.

HAMACHI and orange:

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Action shot. Can you see the frozen carbonated bubbles?

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Final product:

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Hamachi sashimi in yuzu, fried shallots, micro greens, pureed celeriac; carbonated orange. We were instructed to squeeze the orange juice from our orange on top of our strongly yuzu flavoured sashimi. The extraction of frozen orange juice tasted of orange crush, foamy and citrus-y over our raw sashimi. This latter addition was rather odd, and I didn't appreciate it as much as I would have, if say, I was to squeeze this frozen carbonation over, some white chocolate or vanilla ice cream (a sort of creamsicle in the making).

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At this point in the evening, mysterious black boxes were placed on our table. We were asked to let them sit there for the next while as it would be a surprise.

PASSION FRUIT and crab:

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Butter poached kind crab legs, buttered popcorn puree, coconut milk powder, shiso syrup, passion fruit noodles. A surprising course that was both interesting in flavour and in presentation, each plate was like an artist palate with two streaks of contrasting yellow pureed buttery popcorn and sweetened green shiso syrup topped by generous morsels of meaty buttered poached lobster and topped by a long strand of agared passion fruit as long as a piece of spaghetti but having the texture of a heavily gelatinized fruit puree, and freeze dried coconut milk. I enjoyed the contrast in textures (smooth paste, liquid syrup, meaty chew, crumbly powder and dense gel) as well as the way all these independently heavily flavoured components (sweet, aromatic, rich and tart) balanced out so well when everything was taken in in one bite.

FALL FRUITS and aged sherry:

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Cape gooseberry, Cape gooseberry gelée, pomegranate soup. Smooth cape gooseberry gelée tasted of like its primitive neighbour, light and subtle, but like a cubed jello version of the puree. The contrasting pomegranate soup was similarly lacking impact. As a palate cleanser, this course didn't leave much of an impression.

BASS baked tableside and eggplant

The "eggplant" part of our BASS baked tableside and eggplant:

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A concaved bowl was brought to our table with an opposing set of spoon and fork, On the fork was a chanterelle mushroom lifted away from the pool of grilled eggplant puree with bacon flavour.

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During our "passion fruit" course crimson coloured polymer cooking boxes with smoked paprika scattered on their surface, were brought to our table and left to sit there. We were instructed not to touch the boxes as they were heated to 450F and that there was something cooking inside.

The Hawaiian sea bass that was to accompany this dish was hidden within the boxes brought to our table two courses earlier, and had been steaming over citrus water.

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My companions raved about how these flavours worked wonders with the wine they had paired with this course (the smoky Fox Valley Winery, RESERVE, Chambourcin, IL 2004) however, without the wine, I found this course forgettable.

RABBIT and aromatic utensils:

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Close up:

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Marched out to our table on the infamous battleship plates, our "rabbit" course came on stainless steel shelving that housed Moto's customized aromatic utensils. Based on the premise that 75% of our taste is based on our sense of smell, corkscrewed metal handles wrapped around fresh sage leaves. Georgia Scarlet runner beans and their puree dressed the "plate" while a mound of shredded rabbit leg confit was stained red with the sweet kiss of beet powder sat in their midst. In another corner were two toothsome medallions of rabbit loin that were pan seared and rolled in beet powder, and although addictively delicious, were strangely reminiscent of lean cha sui without chemical processing. Puffed rice and white truffle powder rounded off the very rouge dish, adding both an airy crunch and sweet white chocolate like flavour. More of a sweet revamping of BBQ, this dish challenged my perception of what a fine dining protein course could be. My favourite item was the pan seared loin, whose thumb shaped sizes had me longing for more.

Wine Pairing: Huia, Pinot Noir, Marlborough, NZ 2004

The color is deep and rich, there is a bold black fruit aroma has hints of boiled black tea. Bright and silky flavors are rich and textured, supported by firm refined tannins. The wine finishes with ample fruit and good length.

JALAPENO, cilantro and avocado

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Jalapeno ice cream, lemon myrtle cream, diced avocado and puffed quinoa. The slight heat of the jalapeno was mellowed out in the creamy textured amuse, while the avocado and quinoa added some subtle textural contrasts. Taken together in the same bite, this amuse reminded me of a quesadilla, without the tortilla shell (and tomatoes).

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QUIAL and persimmon:

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Pan roasted quail, grilled Fuyu persimmon, roasted chestnuts, caramelized onions, and essence of clove. Each member of our party were presented with a messily plated (was this supposed to be artistic?) platter with tiny quarters (or more like eights) of quail (an already tiny bird!), two measly triangles of persimmon and a third of a chestnut. I was not impressed by my portion, seemingly leaving me the butt of all possible jokes (talk about even less of an edible portion!). The only thing generous was the grainy caramelized onion puree that was overly salted. I did hit a personalize high on this dish when I was sure that the persimmons had a tart pickled flavour, and while my dining companions educated me on the taste difference between young and ripe persimmons, the kitchen did confirm my discernment. :) Our server informed us that the fruit was buttered, salted, grilled, and then sprinkled with white wine vinegar. Bonus points for me!

Wine Pairing: Susana Balbo, Brioso, Mendoza 2001

Oaky, full body, warm and robust with complex flavors.

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After partaking in half of our grand tour, we were invited to the kitchen lab with goggles for a laser demonstration. Smoke produced from laser heated orange powder was captured into wine glasses that were used for our next pairing. Combined with the Tre Rossi Shiraz, our oaky wine was made all the sweeter with a nice autumn fire side feel. Chef Cantu also introduced us to his crew and told us of some upcoming exciting projects with his edible paper. Homero then led us back upstairs and was kind enough to take a picture with the Torontonian and the LTHers. :smile: (Picture not shown.)

LAMB with kielbasa:

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Pan seared Colorado rack of lamb, stone ground mustard braised cabbage, puree of kelbasa sauce. Rich and full of umami flavours, the lamb was cooked to a perfect rare consistency. Yummy.

Wine Pairing: Carlei Estate, Tre Rossi, Shiraz, Heathcote 2001

MAC and cheese:

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Lychee fruit noodles, white chocolate sauce (fresh triple cream cheese), crispy rice paper, spiced crab apples, and vanilla braised red curry squash. The interesting capture the floral aroma of lychee juice into a heavily agared "noodle" was fun in concept, but unappealing in consistency (too crumbly), while the thick white chocolate "cheese" that was lighted with cream cheese in my companions dairy-fied versions, was super sweet. However, when these components were combined, they did indeed taste like mac & cheese! The airy rice paper chip was dusted with icing sugar and similar to a non-oily, non-fishy shrimp cracker or thin Japanese sweetened rice cracker. Hidden beneath the rice chip was a wedge of squash was similar to poached pumpkin and a chunk of crab apple flavoured with apple pie spice. We were told that we should consume the apple with the white chocolate sauce as a fondu sort of experience. I found the dish more like a crispy deconstructed apple pie.

This was a cleaver course that transitioned our meal progression from a savory course by name alone into a sweet course by flavour.

3 COTTON candy stages

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Cotton candy was presented in three diabetes inducing forms.

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As kadaif, crunchy fried noodle like strands, a grand reminder of sweetened funnel cakes and beaver tails from the carnival of yesteryears.

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As a truffle, an orb of white chocolate spotted with an assortment of jimmies, and a thick shell that implodes in the mouth into a gush of sweet liquid sugar.

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As edible paper, patent pending printed with edible ink an image of the honorary course, sweet and melting on the tongue.

BONUS: PARSNIP

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PARSNIP dippin' dots ice cream in graham cracker foam. Not really my cup of tea as the foam was still thick and powdery as if I were spooning up the crumbs at the bottom of a bag of graham crackers or consuming pre-digested wafers.

FLAPJACKS prepared tableside

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Organic maple syrup from Michigan.

FLAPJACKS being prepared tableside:

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Final product:

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"Cooked" on a liquid nitrogen plate into bellini sized disks, the milk-pancake mixture was set onto a spoon already dished with organic maple syrup from Michigan. The pancake puck tasted of pureed pancake ice cream with maple flavoured cough syrup.

PEANUTBUTTER and jelly:

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Innards:

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Peanut butter cream surrounded by grape jelly ball paired with a French toast brioche on a pool of peanut butter puree (mine without mascarpone cheese). Likened to a large grape flavoured gummy egg yolk, the jelly was like a purple rubber ball that spilled out a bath of peanut butter liquid when cut. This course was a bit too cloying for my taste, although I could see where the mascarpone cheese in the accompanying sauce would have lighted the flavours of the peanut component substantially.

BANANA split:

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Roasted banana stuffed with (chocolate and) brown sugar, wrapped with kadaif, frozen maraschino cherry marshmallow, banana caramel (chocolate) sauce. This course brought me to my youthful days of Chinese restaurants, red bean soup, and especially those deep fried candied bananas!

Of course, what meal at Moto is complete without...

DOUGHNUT SOUP and pancake:

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The signature doughnut soup consisting of strained blended Krispy Kream was only mediocre to my palate. I found it too viscous and sweet, and more hype than it was delicious. The doughnut pancake on the side was cute, but the course failed to impress me.

CHILI-CHEESE nachos:

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Close up:

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Candied corn tortilla chips, diced kiwi with mint syrup (peppers), frozen mango puree (cheese), (ground milk chocolate as the beef), drizzled with a yogurt & cream cheese mixture (sour cream). This course was a winner, fruity, clean, crisp and a great success to both the eyes and to the mouth.

COCONUT cream pie:

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Presented in the form of a puffed corn starch coconut base, this Styrofoam peanut morsel was more fun in presentation than it was to eat.

Final thoughts (of which I posted on eGullet shortly after the meal):

My recommendation for anyone interested in dining at Moto is to expect it to be a meal of diner interaction with the food. Moto may not be a place of four star cuisine, but one would certainly be greatly amused in the whimsical nature of each course and find much to talk about (a video recorder to document the reactions of Moto virgins would be neat too - I recall our child-like giggles when we popped in the cotton candy bomb!).

Lastly, my favourite courses of the evening were the Maple Squash Cake (just lovely), the Passion Fruit and Crab (perfection in flavour when all the components were consumed together), the Rabbit and Aromatic Utensils (that reminded me of Chinese BBQ pork), and the Chili-Cheese Nachos (so cleverly deceiving and tasty - a perfect contrast in taste, colour and texture).

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On to the final instalment in this dining adventure; thanks for your patients everyone. I promise the next set of photographs is well lit.

(Just a plug - I'm off to a little part of nothern Italy this weekend. All I'm going to say about the trip at this point is that I'm looking forward to the "culinary adventure" that awaits, especially after all the good things I've heard about the good eats from food aficionados and those who are not. :smile: )

The evening after Moto, I had reservations to dine at Alinea in the company of Charlotte, an LTH forum member and also someone who Dr. Fine had helped met connect with. Ironically, we had an initial scare because Chef Achatz was supposed to be at the Food & Wine Expo, but he made it back in time. Now I see why I couldn't get an earlier seating (which was good, as the expo was held from 6:30-9:30; my reservation was at 9:15pm).

These pictures of the "other" dining rooms were taken at the end of the evening when Charlotte and I got a little tour of the empty premises (except for us, our servers and Chef Achatz) by our kind servers before we left at 2am!

The dining room downstairs (where Chef Achatz was doing a bit of work):

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The narrow hallway dining room upstairs:

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The upstairs front dining room :

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View from our table:

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The dining area Charlotte and I sat in was termed the "Rock Star" room. It's that dreaded one upstairs in the back. Apparently groups such as U2, etc. have all sat at that table. The night we dined, the room was filled with three tables of Canadians, where the entertaining and funny group sitting behind me at the" rock star" table were great throughout the evening. At one point I reasoned that it was because they were well liq'd up, until I realized after a couple glances that they were the Barenaked Ladies! I mean, at one point in time we all chimed in about who was Canadian (ironically, only Charlotte at my table was *not* Canadian- a Chicagoite. So as to not feel left out, I made Charlotte an honourary Canadian for the evening) and I didn't clue in when they just said they were from the east.

I had the chance to chat with Steve and Tyler. Apparently Steve's very much into dining and was the one responsible for organizing the group's dinner at Alinea that night. We discussed a bit about Toronto's restaurants. Steve also told me to watch for his column on this and other experiences in Wine Spectator magazine. The BNL were in Chicago because they were on tour (concert the following night). They insisted we stay for the concert, but I hinted that I didn't have tickets. :raz:

Yes, Charlotte and I have a picture with the Steve and Tyler, we also have one with Chef Achatz, but we'll leave those off this post and for our memories. :wink:

Anyway, I know you're all here to see and read about the food, without further ado...

The Tour with my *personalize* version on the left (you can note the difference in the second last item):

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Again I'm going to mimic the menu with the title of each dish.

Decorative sprigs of rosemary (serving as our table decore and used in a later course):

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HOT POTATO cold potato, black truffle, butter:

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On presentation alone, Charlotte and I were sold. A custom pin skewered cubes of parmesan cheese, butter, a piece of chive and a chunk of butter poached potato that was topped with a truffle slice. This was all suspended above a little wax saucer of rich potato truffle soup. We were instructed to pull the pin out from beneath the saucer and to allow all the components to fall into the soup before downing it like a shot. Once the concoction hit our palates we sensed the cold soup against the warm potato cubes. This course made us giggle. Giggling for two girls at dinner is a good start to a fun night.

KING CRAB vinegar, aromatics, rice:

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Alaskan king crab leg is embedded within a slice of rice wine vinegar gelee. The terrine is delicately decorated with saffron threads, tougarashi, black pepper, fresh slice of ginger, and parsley. As a sort of deconstructed seasoned sushi, this artful presentation was served along a nub of sushi rice topped with Osaka seaweed. The warm gelee was tart and perfectly balanced the sweet meaty crab leg. Each bit of spice was like a new and fun taste sensation.

TROUT ROE cucumber, coconut, bonito:

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Hand harvested trout roe from Michigan (courtesy of Chef Achatz's friend – I suppose it's always nice to have your own source of trout roe. We were informed that it costs $7000/10kg. We each got a generous spoonful of that 10kg) was piled next to a glob of coconut pudding, a dollop of avocado puree which sat below cilantro gelee, topped with lime rocks/chips and a huge cloud of cucumber foam. The roe was delightful and dense, popping with sweet lusciousness in the mouth. I found the coconut pudding a little too heavy and thick, overpowering the other components of this dish. The rich avocado puree was actually really salty, while the lime rocks were like dehydrated meringue chips and tasted of candied lime. I understood that the other flavours were to heighten the fresh brininess of the roe, but I found them competing and wasn't too fond of this course.

MEDAI radish, coriander, poppyseed:

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Our fourth course was presented in a rounded bowl that had to be held by hand as it didn't have a base that could be set on the table. On the lip of the bowl was a notch that allowed for the tines of a fork to balance on. This was important as a cube of Medai, a Japanese butterfish, was set on top of the tines and painted with a lemon-tea-butter sauce. Above this was a sprinkle of coriander, candied tumeric and radish sprouts. We ended off things with the coriander spiced milk that was in the bowl (for me, it was soy milk). I don't remember much more about this course, except for the fact that the fish was rather dense and salty.

MATSUTAKE mango, peanut, yuzu rind

Action shots are fun to take. Here's a series for you to scroll down for the complete presentation.

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View 2 - So you can see the mango ravioli:

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From the start, this course amused both Charlotte and I. Charlotte a great lover of Matsutake mushrooms was looking forward to sampling this dish, while I was thrilled to be able to capture the "slow" plating and presentation on "film." We were given a blank white canvas where a clear cylindrical vessel was centered, containing a Matsutake puree, sautéed Matsutake, and dehydrated Matsutake stacked one above the other. Above the thick and moussey puree was a thin layer of soy sauce froth and beans, then tucked behind that a raw mango ravioli filled with peanut powder (dehydrated peanut oil) that we were instructed to eat all in one bite. This course embodied everything that could be salty, musky, and viscous. The final touch with the yuzu rind was really very nice as it sweetened each bite ever-so-slightly and provided a lovely contrast to the aforementioned components.

RABBIT cider, roasted garlic, smell of burning leaves

Under glass:

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The pairing:

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Our rabbit course was hidden beneath a cloud of smoke that was trapped by an upturned shot glass. We were told that this dish represented Autumn, and that the chef had the smoke of burning oak leaves poured into the vesicles before it was placed on a piece of rabbit loin that was cooked in olive oil and thyme. Apple cider puree and shredded brussel sprouts accompanied the rabbit which waded in pool of garlic emulsion. We were also given an amber liquid of rabbit consumée that we were instructed to sip with the course that had both the essence of thyme and oak leaves. I was instantly reminded of applewood smoked bacon; everything was so lovely and oaky. The consumée was like a full bodied savoury wine with oak notes. I think the chef did an awesome job here, in both the presentation, the amusement factor and for capturing the spirit of the season.

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CARROT smoked paprika, orange:

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Served in another shot glass, an orb of smoked paprika and cocoa butter shell (think smoky spicy white chocolate) sat in orange water. This was a refreshing palate cleanser, seemingly simple, lightly sweet, where a cool gush of carrot juice was waiting to escape from within the fragile orb.

KOBE SHORT RIB beets, cranberry, campari:

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Soft, supple confit of Kobe short rib was blanketed by a beet and campari film (think fruit roll up like sheet), then decorated by a trio of baby roasted golden beet, beet pate de fruit, and sautéed beet greens. A raw fennel salad was strewn on a crispy beet ribbon which was strung across the tops of the beet toppers. Dotting the plate like scattered gems were various sized dollops of caramelized fennel puree, fennel sauce, and cranberry jelly. I could see the effort that the kitchen made in order to put this plate out, taste wise, aside from the rich, buttery tender piece of beef, I can't remember much else.

WHITE TRUFFLE explosion, romaine, parmesan:

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A warm white truffle cream interior wrapped by an al denté exterior, tasted both briney and salty. Everything was topped with a slice of white truffle, roasted romaine and parmesan cheese. Besides the little bite of luxury, it was the dishware that caught my attention. A bottomless vessel, allowing your course to "float," that locks your spoon in place until you lift it away from its case.

SQUAB huckleberry, sorrel, long peppercorn:

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I love my game birds and so I was curious about this next course because I was wondering what flavours Chef Achatz would be pairing with the squab. We were each given a beautiful blank canvas of a plate at the heart of which was the gorgeous plating. On a long pin was a perfect cube of ice wine vinegar pate de fruit, coated on one side with crushed Thai long peppercorn, which was fun to eat (via the pin). On the plate itself was a perfectly pan roasted slice of squab, fried squab skin that was toasty/nutty like peanut butter, a Thai long peppercorn cream custard, all on a silky rillettes reduction that was sticky, salty and buttery. Decorating the briney, almost foie gras like slice of squab were a quadruplet of tart huckleberries in buttery sauce, as well as a small pile of variegated and micro sorrel. Rich and satisfying, perfect petite portion. Yum.

FOIE GRAS spicy cinnamon, apple pâte de fruit:

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This cute little amuse came on its own pedestal (something I recognized from images of different small bites I had previously come across from other diners) which had me a little excited. What we got here instead of hollowed out hearts of palm, etc. was a spicy cinnamon puff with foie gras torchon piped inside it. This was all capped with apple pate de fruit. We were instructed to bring the pedestal to our mouth and eat the whole puff in one bite (sorry, no innards picture). In one sentence, this little treat was everything sweet, smooth, luscious and creamy surrounded by a thin airy shell of meringue. Oh la la.

CONCORD GRAPE frozen and chewy:

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Reminding me of the frozen flapjacks course at Moto, Chef Achatz does his own spin on things by taking a thickened puree of concord grape and searing it on a cold -30F griddle. The block was dusted with powder sugar and placed on a metal pick (I think it's pretty) that we were instructed to use to pop the treat into our mouths. LOL, I was instantly reminded of those Japanese grape gummies or a thick cold fruit roll-up.

CHESTNUT Blis maple syrup:

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I had been anticipating the thirteenth course because I'm a chestnut lover. Served on an ice dish was a frozen lozenge of chestnut purée that was indented like a thumbprint cookie with a small puddle of maple syrup from Blis. Sea salt and star anise dusted the top of the lozenge. A pin was also stuck into the lozenge to aid our consumption of the pellet. I have to confess, I was mildly disappointed, as it really was like a lozenge! The anise was very strong (especially on the bottom of the tablet) and tasted much like licorice (which I don't like!) and mildly of creamy chestnut. I found the play of a cool licorice lozenge amusing, but in the end I really wanted something very chestnuty.

LADY APPLE cheddar, eucalyptus, olive oil:

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Frozen lady apple mousse, thin sugar tuille with tougarashi, *thick* extra virgin olive oil jam, supple sweet onion marmalade, and soft custard of sharp white cheddar. A very Vicks Mentholatum-lie opaque gel of eucalyptus and sage was also offered along side the mousse that alone was too strong, but together with all the other components created a great partnership. This course was minty, refreshing and a great palate cleanser.

Wine: Müller-Catoir - Scheurebe Spätlese, Germany 2005.

I was recommended a wine pairing for this course which I took (far be it for me to refuse the advice of excellent servers (much love to Jason, Olivia and Eric)) that was sweet, crisp and had a nice long finish.

QUINCE prosciutto, orange, juniper:

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Up close (it's tough to get a good pic of a moving object. But notice the detail):

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A tight roulade of thin proscuitto and quince came suspended on the tip of another fun Alinea contraption. Brushed with honey, butter orange, the lollipop was also topped with some braised mustard seeds, fried proscuitto slivers, the skin of juniper and cilantro. Before Charlotte and I got this course, we overheard the fun some other patrons at the "Rock Star" table were having (i.e. giving a thank you speech to the chef and his crew for a wonderful meal thus far) – we later (i.e. me, as my back was towards that table) discovered that they were The Barenaked Ladies (in case you missed the blurb above). :raz: Brining the bouncing disk to my mouth was really comical (I'll confess, we giggled like girls), but when I finally dove into it I found it soft and light, perfect balance of sweet and salty, slightly toothsome yet delicate. I loved it.

SHELLFISH gooseberries, horseradish, celery ice:

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To tell you the truth, I didn't like this dish. Don't get me wrong, it was innovative and playful. Who else could make use of a shellfish sponge, top it off with celery ice and leaves, decorate the plate with gooseberry coulis and brothy horseradish sauce? Even after following the directions of mixing and matching each component to garner a variety of taste sensations all I could think about was how this was really the sea on a plate. It was very salty – very briney and was like trying to eat gritty flecks of salt. I had a hard time trying to try various taste combinations, because in any way, it was like having dirty sea water. Kudos to the chef for his creativity.

HAMACHI buttermilk, blackberry, green peanuts:

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Besides chestnuts and sweet potatoes, I also love hamachi. After the previous dish, I was really looking forward to something that was familiar and that I knew would taste yummy. Was I in for a shock! To clarify, this dish wasn't *not* tasty, but it certainly was not anything I was familiar with (i.e. being sashimi, grilled, or as a tataki of sorts). I found a humble bar of lightly seared hamachi crusted with peanuts (possibly seared by a blow torch) on a lovely rectangular plate surrounded by scatterings of young peanuts, droplettes of rich cassis, white buttermilk pudding and chunky blackberry sauce, as well as fine tarragon leaves. Imagine my surprise when things tasted like PB&J!

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At this point knew that Chef Achatz had successfully challenged all my senses and pre-conceptions of any- and everything familiar with food that I'd acquired after all these years. I was glad that Charlotte was there with me because we were both similarly blown away by how unpredictable and increasingly confused we seemed to be with each passing course. So when we were presented a little cube on the end of a linen roll, we knew just to eat and savour.

PINEAPPLE bacon powder, black pepper:

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Up close:

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Pineapple and soft bacon nougat like candy was surrounded by a crisp sugar crust. 'Nuf said.

LAMB date, mastic, rosemary aroma:

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View #2:

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This is where that sprig of rosemary from our table setting came into play. Given a pair of chopsticks, our server placed the pair on the rosemary contraption, before removing the sprig and placing it in a small hole at the back of a hotplate, built especially for this course. The rosemary was supposed to impart an aroma to our meal as we consumed the three morsels of sous vide coins of Elysian Fields lamb (Pennsylvania) that were differentially prepared. On the small table like hotplate closest to us was a coin of lamb that had mastic cream (from the evergreen tree), the center was a piece with fresh dates and pickled sherry vinegar, while the piece placed furthest from us was dressed with red wine braised red cabbage. We were supposed to allow the bites to sizzle and sear at our table to allow for a sort of interactive dining. Can we say Korean BBQ influence? :wink:

Very cool:

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VENISON encased in savory granola:

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Cross section:

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Granola made from a mixture of oats, dried cherries, puffed rice, fried onions, cinnamon and all spiced surrounded a medallion of New Zealand poached venison. Accompanied by oatmeal nage, celery root purée, cherry and red wine reduction, wonder root (baby chives). The flavours transported me from being within the confines of a luxe and refined restaurant to the rustic woods. Granola takes on any traditional bread crumb/nut crusted venison, while the sweet flavours of the dried fruits, vegetables and spices provide warmth to the game meat. I really like game and even though the ingredients in this course were not wild, their appearance together in this form was novel and sophisticated.

RASPBERRY goat milk, red pepper taffy, pistachio:

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A frozen tempered raspberry purée draped itself across a barren landscape while blanketing dabs of goat milk pudding and tapioca. The only change of colour is provided by pistachio in three forms: as a tuille, brittle and purée. Little pink puddles of lavender pudding seem strategically placed on the lower corners of this plate, while raspberry cones filled with red bell pepper taffy are sticky and chewy. Fragrant, tart and smooth this course provided us with a surprise of a soft, juicy and delicate fruit confection that collapsed around a delightful unctuous, thickened custard.

LICORICE CAKE spiced with hoja santa leaves:

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Garnishes:

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Sweet potato cream on the unwrapped cake:

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Again appeared another licorice item, and although hesitant, I was wonderfully surprised at how tasty this dessert was. Licorice cake is perfumed with anise and sasafrass flavours by its Mexican hoja santa leaf covering. We were instructed to unwrap our licorice cake parcel to expose the leaf and consume only the cake with our four garnishes: a sweet potato cream, a cooked Bavarian chiffonade of licorice leather, a muscavado sugar jelly, and a confit of orange rind and Xtabentún (a Mayan anise and honey liqueur).

CHOCOLATE bergamot, cassia, figs:

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Course 21 was something I couldn't partake in due to my allergies. However I did get the notes regarding its components. I'm sure, as a prior chocolate lover, I would have licked the plate clean, however Charlotte found it a little too rich and had to give up part way.

Okumare (Venezuelan), warmed slate of chocolate mousse, black mission figs, black tea and bergamot herbs.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH grapefruit, honey, brioche:

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Just for me :smile:

Honey and brioche purée pools below buttery crisp toasted brioche crumbs and a quenelle of raisin-verjus sorbet. This all sits atop a chilled brioche soup which is also accompanied by grapefruit segments, and butternut squash topped with a confit of grapefruit rind. I was very flattered to be served a course designed just for me (due to my cocoa allergies)! Rather, I was told, this was the debut of this particular course. When asked how it was, I said it was nice. Reality is, it still needed some work, particularly the wedge of butternut squash, which was still firm and should have probably been roasted and caramelized vs. boiled.

We got 2 wines to consume with this course:

Recioto di Soave, Vigna Marogne, Tamellini, 2001– a thick and sweet wine that had a great nose.

Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, 2005 – a sweet Italian white wine that was amazing/delicious.

CARAMEL meyer lemon, cinnamon perfume:

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Our last taste came to us on "the squid"! It wasn't the legendary PB&J (technically we got that in the hamachi course), but a cinnamon sugar dusted tempura caramel ball stuck on the end of a cinnamon stick. We were told to pull the cinnamon stick-caramel ball off the squid and to eat the caramel bit. Warm melty caramel with preserved meyer lemon rind was punctuated with the firey aroma of our aromatic utensil. Yummy, fun and wonderful with our teas, this was a great end to a wonderful evening.

(Side note: As we were the last to be in the house at this point it time (it was closing in on 1am), we were able to intensely speak with Olivia (she's awesome) about the restaurant, the cuisine, and the celebrities who had recently started to give the restaurant their attention (celebrity clientele). We were told our area of the dining room was called the "Rock Star" as the table where The Barenaked Ladies sat at was the same one that U2, etc have all dined at. Very cool. We were also graciously given a tour of the rest of the restaurant, including a trip to the kitchen where we met Chef Achatz. I did gush in my gratitude for the special course. What a great way to cap off a super culinary trip to Chicago.)

Overall Impression:

Refined and whimsical, a frightfully amusing stimulation to all the senses, a night out at Alinea challenges what you once thought was the known with the possibilities of the unknown. Chef Achatz turns an ordinary amuse into much play involving custom made utensils and dishware, allowing the diner to interact with their food. He uses herb gelees to dress a dish, whips you around with foams, makes dehydrated pop-rock like chips from lime juice, and employs puddings and powders and smoke made tableside to enhance flavours beyond those imaginable. From tickling the senses in a quaint yet multi-component hot potato cold potato start, to a substantial kobe beef entree and lamb served three ways on a hot searing stone, to a lozenge of chestnut puree served on an ice dish that zips of licorice the kitchen never ceases to amaze and please. Next a tight roulade of quince and proscuitto teaming with complex honey and bitter orange flavours comes threated on a wire suspension pole, appearing like a microphone stand teasing you to speak to your food as it is speaking to you. Desserts come in slews to overwhelm and amuse the senses never once detracting the impressive course that their predecessors claimed. If you are fortunate enough to have Jason, Oliva or Eric walk with you through the evening, or dine next to real rock stars at the "Rock Star" table, then it is assured that your evening will be highly memorable.

Alinea

1723 North Halsted

Chicago

(312) 867-0110

Thanks for joining me on reliving my 3 evenings of 20+ courses tasting menus in Chicago, thanks also to all the chefs and wonderful servers who made the evenings lovely. Looking forward to visiting the windy city again in the near future.

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