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Trio restaurant, Evanston


Jonathan Day
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Following a thread in this forum and a Q&A with Chef Grant Achatz, I have started this thread so that we can continue discussing Trio.

Grant has indicated that he will visit eGullet occasionally, but will be unlikely to post very often.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Alright, let's at least get this started tonight. I had dinner at Trio last Saturday, and after months of wanting to do it, finally ate at the kitchen table. Since then I have had little time to post about it, but have been very anxious to, and will start tonight with a recap of the meal and thoughts on the meal as a whole. I can then try to come back tomorrow night and answer any questions and I definitely want to do a course-by-course breakdown, like last time. Of all my meals I've had at Trio, this is one I probably have the most to say about. But I should start from the beginning, sort of: I've eaten at Trio ten times in the last 8 months and eight of those meals have either been off the 4 or 8-course menu. Back in September I did the Tour de Force and enjoyed it a lot, but thought it was a bit too much for me and decided I would rest on it and come back to it at a later time. At the time I had only been dining at there for a few months and looking back I think it was too early on in the game to jump in that far. And I should note that most of the problem was probably more of an overall fatigue from sitting too long --I didn't feel too full, but rather kind of tired and "out-of-it" towards dessert. What I noticed then was I started fine, but by the time the last meat course came (think course 15-16 out of 22) I was seriously doubting my ability to finish the meal. Then when the intermezzo and dessert started to come, the change in texture, temperature and from savory to sweet provided a huge relief, but then again I started to worry again around course 19 with still three large desserts to go. I ended up having to send the last one back, unfinished, as it was too sweet for me at that point ("Celebration of Summer" with candied Heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn pudding and corn sorbet). That was back in September. And ever since then I've been really curious and excited to do it again, but the layout of the TDF seemed pretty much the same format each time I went and I was worried the same thing would happen. The last few times however, the temptation of the courses on the TDF -- the sheer number of them and the fact that a lot of really creative and edgy show up here -- was too much for me and I decided I had to do it again.

During the time the Q&A with Chef Achatz was going on, I made a reservation for the 8th to do the TDF at the kitchen table (you also get the option of doing a smaller 12-15 course menu at the KT, but I wanted to go all the way). Then a a few days before my meal, I spoke to Chef and he asked if I was interested in trying some of the new approaches he has been talking about here on eGullet. Of course I said yes, yes, definitely, I was interested. He warned me that there would be some risk, as the dishes were all new and had not yet been completely explored. Which was completely fine with me--I was doing the TDF again mainly because I wanted that risk, the thrill and excitement that should inherently come with a menu this large and with this new approach to food. So I arrive very excited and get walked into the kitchen. Automatically I notice the energy level is very high; that this was going to be big. They had turned the kitchen table to face the kitchen (normally you face each other with the view off to the side), and it was a great touch. Front row seats to a great show! And then the menu arrived... I probably giggled or grinned, something like that, but whatever my response it was probably an understatement. I expected new courses, sure, a few, like 8-10 or something, but not 18!! It was unbelievable, as was the actual layout of the menu--something I want to discuss in detail below. For now, here is the menu:

Golden Beetroot Juice mukashi soy, pumpkin seeds

Pacific Sea Urchin parsnip milk, frozen banana, puffed rice

Purée of Celeriac Soup black truffles, pears, celery branch

Cucumber, Milk, and Rosewater Foams

Pushed Foie Gras pears, Sauternes, salt roasted pear sorbet

Sunchoke Parfait tangerine, maté, crispy sunchoke

Passionfruit-Mustard

? (I didn't forget...this is what was actually printed on the menu. A little guessing game.)

Bavarois of Grapefruit, Caramelized Dairy, Lobster

White Asparagus from the Loire Valley progression of five flavors

Mussel, Licorice, Parsley

Curry Roasted Cauliflower fenugreek, apricot, pink peppercorns

Maine Diver Scallop butternut squash, prosciutto, orange rind vapor

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Shabu Shabu style

Charred Scottish Salmon Belly black tuffle, cocoa

Confit of Veal Heart wild mushrooms, dark fruit purée, long peppercorns

Ribeye of Prime Beef charcoal aromas, pommes maxin

Salad

"Bacon and Eggs"

Chocolates olive, fennel, salt and pepper

Tropicals

Unusual Candies

The meal was incredible. I have a lot of specific comments to make about each course and how Chef Grant and the sous-Chef Dave brought a lot of the courses over to my table and explained (and sometimes created) them, right in front of me. It was amazing-- I saw some of the most unbelievably creative, and humorous, and tasty dishes coming out of that kitchen that night. But I'll get to all that tomorrow. Because more important than any one course (and this kind of hints at why Chef doesn't and doesn't need to rely on any "signature dishes" that stay on the menu indefinitely) was the meal as a whole. For all my worrying about whether this would be too much food and whether I would be able to finish dessert, the meal was absolutely perfect. Perfect in size, perfect in layout, perfect in balance as far as flavors and savory/sweet and textures, temps, et. al go...I was never tired, never fatigued, never felt too full (but left full, sure), and finished all my dessert! Which, if you'll look at the menu above, you'll notice came in two parts. Dessert: Part I came as courses 5-8, shortly after the first few canapes, with 4 and 9 providing excellent transitions from savory to sweet, and overall maintained a savory tone (foie gras, sunchoke), but still those two courses just mentioned can only be classified as desserts---and damn good ones as well. This was so cool to see, and really kind of sets you off in a new direction for the rest of the meal. It changes your perspective as to where you are at in the course of the meal, and makes it seem to have more parts and therefore seem more "epic." The the middle section of the meal came and went and I was still feeling in the game completely as Dessert: Part II arrived, which provided a few larger and more easily recognizeable-as-dessert courses, which I was easily able to finish and enjoy all of.

In the Q&A, Chef Achatz touched on the idea of "rolling hills," as opposed to a mountain with the peak representing the transition from savory to sweet, and that is exactly what he went for here. Of course there is the surpise/change-of-perspective aspect I sort of got at above, but then there is the whole issue of pacing. Traditionally one expects dessert at the end, sure, but when you are working with untraditional desserts (and untraditional food in general), then why follow this rule and strict format? I don't think it applies here. There were twenty-two courses and I honestly think that if I had to end them with six or seven dessert courses in a row, I doubt I could have made it; would have been too sweet for too long a period of time. Also, in so many restaurants dessert is an after thought, is viewed as optional and is accepted as such, after we stuff ourselves with appetizers and main courses. And when you are dealing with a pastry chef so astoundingly talented and in unison with the rest of the kitchen, as Paula is at Trio, it would be such a shame to not be able to give her courses all the justice they deserve, by filling up too early on. Not that this is the case with the TDF or at Trio in general (I blame more of what happened the first time on the sweetness of that specific course, rather than the actual meal), but I think mixing savory and sweet throughout the meal also just gives the pastry kitchen a basic "equality" that it lacks in a lot of places. This topic really deserves it's own thread and is certainly something I hope to see move into the spotlight, as more chefs question not just the ingredients and techniques used to create food, but also the aspects as to how and when and where those dishes will be presented and how this affects the diner's perception of a meal. It also comes off as one of these situations where the un-questioned rules of the past are now being questioned and proven wrong. Does sweetness dimish one's appetite? Apparently not. And the fact that the kitchen at Trio doesn't think so, and a handful of other chefs around the world don't either, seems like a good place to start.

Okay, I have to get to some homework. I will definitely post again very soon (hopefully tomorrow) and go into more detail and touch on things I forgot to get to tonight.

Edited by RyneSchraw (log)
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Okay here are some notes and comments on the courses I ate at the kitchen table. I did not write anything down during the meal, so I am mostly working from my memory and what was printed on the menu. Anyways, here goes:

Golden Beetroot Juice mukashi soy, pumpkin seeds -- This is served in a martini glass as an amuse. Made with completely raw ingredients using the "raw" principal prevalent on the West coast in places such as Roxanne's. The idea here is to keep the food living and the enzymes in it alive, and pass that "life energy" on to the person comsuming it. Definitely worked as a start to the meal. The beet juice was a vivid golden/yellow color and had an extremely strong earthy and sweet taste. I hadn't had beet juice in years and it came as a shock almost as to how flavorful it can be. The pumpkin seed oil on top had nice nutty aroma and mixed with the froth from the jucing of the beets to create almost a pumpkin foam on top. The salty finish of the soy enhanced the flavors even more.

Pacific Sea Urchin parsnip milk, frozen banana, puffed rice -- Parsnip milk was made by sous-vide (vacuum) cooking parsnips in milk and then saving the milk. Came in a small dish with puffed rice, frozen banana, a piece of sea urchin and seasoned with a very fragrant cinnamon from Saigon. Overall it tasted similar to rice pudding, but with the salty flavor of the sea urchin coming through. Works really well, but only if you like sea urchin...

Purée of Celeriac Soup black truffles, pears, celery branch -- One of the very few courses I was familiar with. Purée of celeriac (celery root) comes in a glass cylinder in a bowl with a slice of black truffle floating on top and pears and celery branch surrounding in the bowl. The cylinder is lifted at the table and the soup pours out. Very sweet and light. Almost seems aeriated, not as thick as a traditional cream soup, with more of a frothy consistency somewhere in between. I'm curious as to how they make the actual purée.

Cucumber, Milk, and Rosewater Foams -- Great example of a new combo that works. Cucumber juice and milk are very light and refreshing, silimar to the bubble tea Chef Achatz does, but the floral notes of the rosewater foam give the course some strength. Funny to see an ingredient that was popular a few centuries ago and then all but went away, show up again in this form. Hadn't ever really had rosewater before (actualy not true, I think they use it in those Turkish Delight candy bars from England my mom loves) and I sort of wish I'd see it more...although I can see why some people hate it.

Pushed Foie Gras pears, Sauternes, salt roasted pear sorbet -- A great dessert they've been doing for awhile and with good reason. Salt-roasted pear sorbet (Bosc I believe) -- probably the best representation of pears ever!!! -- with pears and white raisins, and surrounded completely by foie gras that had been pushed through a tammis, which pairs (no pun intended hah) with the Sauternes gelée, although I'd rather have actually been drinking a glass of d'Yquem, but will have to settle in the meantime, sure... Really neat because the foie gras melts in your mouth immediately and rather than a taste it is a completely textural accompaniment to the pears and carries the flavor on for awhile.

Sunchoke Parfait tangerine, maté, crispy sunchoke -- Layer of tangerine curd on the bottom, fresh tangerine supremes above that, vanilla sunchoke custard and mate foam on top, with crispy pieces of sunchoke (comes from the stalk or base of a sunflower) served on the spoon. I love it just as much the third or fourth time, and that maté foam is sooo good...

Passionfruit-Mustard -- Passionfruit dissolved quickly leaving a lozenge of dijon mustard to dissolve slowy in the mouth. The sweetness at the beginning cuts the acidity and creates a smooth, buttery finsh.

? (I didn't forget...this is what was actually printed on the menu. A little guessing game.) -- Same idea as the "Pizza." A piece of dissolvable vegetable paper with French toast flavors on it. For the record I guessed wrong (cinnamon sticks I said, b/c to me the cinamon over-powered the maple syrup and eggy elements, which are what I associate with french toast.)

Bavarois of Grapefruit, Caramelized Dairy, Lobster -- This is where it gets exciting! Custard of caramelized dairy (done sous-vide in a bag at a low temp) with chilled slices of lobster and a layer of grapefruit gelée on top. Tasted excellent-- sweet and bitter and thick + creamy yet highly dissolvable at the same time. This is why Chef Achatz gets the credit he does. Honestly, who else would have come up with this?

White Asparagus from the Loire Valley progression of five flavors -- I'll quote 'chefg' from the Q&A b/c he does much better job explaining this dish than I could. My only experience with white asparagus was when my mom bought some and brought them home and I tried to blanch them and the tips started to turn green when they went in the ice bath. These were served chilled and were perfectly white, so I'm not sure what went wrong that time. Anyways, a beautiful and tasty course (I personally liked the tosaka seaweed and goat cheese w/ honey best)

We are currently running a dish based on beautiful white asparagus from the Loire. The asparagus itself is starkly presented on the left of a long plate running north and south to the diner. It is divided into five sections, but kept in it's linear shape. To the right are 5 compositions that are meant to compliment the asparagus. The diner starts closest to them and works their way up the plate, sampling the asparagus with the flavor to the right. The compositions range from light to heavy and from simple to complex. They are as follows: saffron scented asparagus stems with flowers and chervil, wild mushrooms with meyer lemon and walnut, Valencay goat cheese with tupelo honey, tosaka seaweed with pickled oyster and hijiki mayonaise and after we have taken you on a bit of a journey in relation to asparagus your 5th bite brings you right back to where you started before you took the first bite of the dish. At least for most people.  The tip of the asparagus with hollandaise, presented in a spoon.

Mussel, Licorice, Parsley -- Served in a spoon. All elements seemed to be liquid, and I really couldn't make out too much licorice flavors. But very neat that they just mixed and coated the mouth and then were gone.

Curry Roasted Cauliflower fenugreek, apricot, pink peppercorns -- Dish normally served off the vegetarian menu (chef was running out of dishes to serve me off the normal menus that I hadn't seen, so he either created all new ones or swiped one that I would never ordinarily see). Glad I got to though...huge head of cauliflower with curry flavors. Went nicely with apricot and coming so shortly after the white asparagus, it really made a strong case for vegetables.

Maine Diver Scallop butternut squash, prosciutto, orange rind vapor -- Went into detail about this before. Very nice and subtle, much more subtle, actually, than its predecessor, the Maine Lobster with Rosemary Vapor. (The orange vapor is not as pervasive throughout the room when it comes.) They get these really big diver scallops in live (very very rare for restaurants to get them this way) and the texture is amazing.

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Shabu Shabu style -- Wow, this course was a lot fo fun! Chef Achatz brings the dish over and it consists of six pieces of Elysian Fields farm lamb rolled into little cylinders around fennel and another ingredient I forget (but here is why I forgot...) The lamb is completely uncooked and attached are clear stretchy and edible "strings" (not sure what these actually were either). On the right is a bowl with three hot rocks and below that some sea salt and pepper. A hot broth of Darjeeling tea is poured over the rocks and Chef instructs me to dip the lamb for 45-60 seconds for medium rare-medium. After three pieces as the broth has cooled, he comes back with a new bowl and pours fresh broth. He explained it was a Japanese technique that can be used with anything, but gave the example of how at Ginza Sushi-Ko (soon to be in New York and a hell-of-a-lot more expensive) the chef Masa will use this technique and have the guest dip an uncooked fish into hot broth.

Charred Scottish Salmon Belly black tuffle, cocoa - As the rest of the cooks were getting six orders of the rutebega-mustard fish course put together, I saw Chef over on the flattop charring a piece of salmon belly. As the dish got closer to being finished you could see other cooks and waitstaff looking over, curious to what it was. Being in the kitchen and seeing all this going on I was getting excited, as he brought it to my table. Charred Scottish salmon belly on a bed of risotto with lots of black truffles, cocoa and hazelnut. The fish was wonderfully crispy on the outside and tender and fatty on the inside. And the burnt, charred flavors were great paired with the sweetness of the chocolate and the black truffles are always good.

Confit of Veal Heart wild mushrooms, dark fruit purée, long peppercorns -- The sous-chef Dave (who had been bringing over and explaining a lot of the earlier courses; very helpful and insightful and a really cool guy) brings over a big granite slab and sets it on the table across from me. A few moments later, Chef Achatz comes over with an empty plate and Dave follows with five or six copper pots. Chef explains he wants to put this one together in front of me -- very cool!!! So it was a confit of veal heart cured in foie gras with a dark fruit purée (prunes were a main component) and wild mushrooms. Very fragrant long peppercorns (like no pepper I've ever had before) from Thailand were shaved over the top. Very tasty and cool to watch it being put together. Could this be topped?

Ribeye of Prime Beef charcoal aromas, pommes maxin -- Yes, apparently the last one could be topped. I see Chef over at the other end the the kitchen with a blow torch firing some wood, charcoal and gristle from the prime beef in a small dish. Soon the whole kitchen starts to smell, as I think one cook described it, like a "Korean barbeque." The course is brought to the table (gettting a lot of attention from all the staff) with the wood still smoking and on a paper thin bed of super-thin sliced potatoes (must have been done with a mandoline), which have now been solidifed into a huge sheet of potato chips covering the plate. Underneath the sheet is a dark reduction and the Ribeye itself, a huge cut, is coated in mushrooms with a wild mushroom salad off to the side. Chef then comments that this is "just like in your backyard" and indeed I probably left the restaurant smelling like a bonfire. But the course was amazing, if not a bit too big, but really...I'm not complaining. I'd really like to see this dish end up on the menu, but wonder if they will be able to actually walk this out into the dining room, still smoking, without it being too distracting to diners eating a different course. If this is the case, then I was really really lucky to have gotten it once!

Salad -- Intermezzo consiting completely of ice: Olive oil ice, vinigarette ice, and shards of watercress, chard and one other green ice that look strangely like broken green leaded-glass. Very cool, because it stayed so true to a real salad and the vinigar at the end stipped the palate clean.

"Bacon and Eggs" -- A shot glass consisting of condensed milk mixed with seltzer water with a bacon tuile on top (carmelized sugar with crumbled bacon). The drink did have an eggy taste, despite having no eggs in it, and it's a really satisfying and simple way to start the second dessert.

Chocolates olive, fennel, salt and pepper -- Yes, this made me laugh just seeing it on the menu, because I was always a huge fan when they did 'Chocolate and Olives' and I think chocolate has enormous potential (and history) as an good pair towards savory ingredients. The course as a whole might have been too big, it actually consisted of five chocolate squares, one white, one dark, a few seemed like milk. One was a traditional old-school French dessert with candy and nuts on top. Personally, I think the strengths lie in the white chocolate with fennel pollen, Dark with salt and pepper and the now classic (at Trio at least) chocolate and olives. Pastry Chef Paula Haney is really doing some amazing, boundary-blurring things with her desserts and I'm glad people are enjoying them as much as I do. It's always an exciting part of the meal and especially when you don't have to wait all the way to the end to get it (see above post relating to "rolling hills").

Tropicals -- Three sorbets stacked on a bed of bitter melon granita. One was papaya and another was pineapple, but I might be wrong in assuming the third was mango. Very refreshing and cool, at just about the point where something too sweet and rich would have been too much. It really does show how planned and calculated the progression of courses actually is though, and they all come together to form this perfect, seamless meal.

Unusual Candies -- Smoked paprika (made in house I believe) and sumac (that could be wrong) candies which are also made in house. Came wrapped in tin foil...I had one there and took the other home.

Alright, well that is all I can think of for now, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask!

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INCREDIBLE review, incredible menu, incredibe experience.

Thanks so much for posting this, I (and I know others) appreciate the time you took to share it. Thanks also to Chef Achatz for being such a f*cking kickass chef. Total inspiration.

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Thanks also to Chef Achatz for being such a f*cking kickass chef.  Total inspiration.

I second that. And third it.

And yeah--what about the wine?

Noise is music. All else is food.

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Yeah yeah, I am still having a hard time believing it! About the wine, I'm still too young to drink :shock: no really, I'm serious, and for awhile longer. I figured people would start to wonder why I'd never mention anything about it. And I'm really jealous too..the wine list is so great there! I gotta find some way around this whole thing, and soon.

As for the "Bacon and Eggs," the sous-chef Dave explained that it was more of a take on an eggcream that you would get at a New York deli, but instead of chocolate milk it's made with condensed milk. No eggs though, and I think Thomas' dish actually uses quail eggs.

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At the dinner last Saturday I was solo. I have gone to Trio with friends and family in the past, but probably only about 1/3 of the time. Usually takes months of talking about it for it to happen, but hey not everyone can be as into food as we all are.

I finish up high school in two months, so it's still about three years until I can go for the wine flights... For the last half year or so I've been eating out a ton (a lot at Trio since I'm utterly amazed at what they're doing there) and learning a lot about food. I've definitely found something I want to do, so I'm pretty thrilled about all this, and eGullet has been a huge help in meeting people and discussing and learning new things. And what I've found to be really cool is that despite my age, people have been really really encouraging and helpful. The entire staff at Trio -- Chef Achatz, especially -- have all been extremely open and excited with my presence and interest, so it's definitely something that has fueled it onward.

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RyneSchraw --

As before, I am impressed by Chef Achatz's generosity to a customer who is clearly in tune with what he is trying to do -- and by yours in sharing the experience with us. Thank you.

Trio's website speaks of "the evolution of progressive French cuisine as it fuses a wide range of global influences". Would you describe the menu you had as French? Or influenced by French style? To me it reads far more "global" than "French".

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Jonathan-

I would definitely agree that the meal was far more "global" than French. Ingredients and flavors are completely across the board, such as with the white asparagus which puts Japanese flavors one bite away from a traditional Hollandaise sauce. Shortly after that came the curry roasted cauliflower, and later on, something as American as backyear BBQ. And the technique is almost as diverse, with very modern approaches such as sous-vide cooking and foaming fitting right in with the Japanese Shabu Shabu style.

Even Thomas Keller, who is possibly the American Chef, and who's style of food is regarded as highly American, seems to favor much more traditional French technique in one meal than you will ever see at Trio. I think Chef Achatz has already looked way too far over the horizon to settle with any one type of cuisine. Therefore, besides saying that the food is in his own personal style, or new, modern, or entertaining, it really becomes undefinable. But on the other hand, the style of presentation and style of service at Trio are heavily based on the French fine dining model. Up until recently all the finest restaurants were French, so a meal at Trio will echo characteristics of this, no matter what you actually end up eating.

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Carmalized Dairy? Is this the mozzarella that chef has been experementing with or something different. Thanks. When are we going to trio?

You know, I'm actually not that sure what it was made from--it was kind of ambiguous on the menu. It didn't seem to have that carmelized "pizza" flavor when they brown the cheese on top (I love that and always ask for pizza to come this way.) Then again, I might have just not noticed it behind the grapefruit and lobster. I assumed it was a milk or cream made into a custard-like base. Definitely had a sweeter flavor than just milk or cream, and I'm guessing no extra sugar was added.

With the parsnip milk, Chef Achatz had mentioned that he was inspired by Heston Blumenthal and that he is really interested in what they are doing over at the Fat Duck. But rather than tasting like the milk from a bowl of cereal, his take on it tasted very similar to rice pudding the way it was presented. I think the technique used to obtain this is similar to how they cooked the parsnips for the purée of parsnip soup, that the celeriac soup replaced. But in this case they are just using the residual milk out of the bag.

I'm always wanting to get back in there, so just let me know...

Edited by RyneSchraw (log)
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Ryne, how much more expensive is the kitchen table experience as opposed to experiencing the TDF amongst the common folk? :)

Actually, eating the Tour de Force at the kitchen table is the same price, $175, as in the dining room and they also offer a special menu only available at the KT for $150, which is around 15 courses. It's definitely an experience like nothing else, and I found being back there to be really educational and entertaining.

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Great report Ryne. I must say I'm pretty jealous, just reading about Trio I'm very interested in what they're doing, I have to get there sometime soon. Hopefully Chef Achatz will chime in with some thoughts on the new dishes and/or the feasibility of the beef course.

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Okay, I have to get to some homework.

RyneSchraw, if this means that you are still in high school, may I sugest dispensing with vocational counseling?

Pardon me. I see that you are in fact still in high school. There is much benefit in discovering your path early. Stay on it.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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If you asked me to decide what it is, I would say that Trio is French in the same way I would say that about The French Laundry. Even though I don't find the cuisines to be anything alike. It's more about the strategy of how ChefG builds the meal and the overall architecture of the dishes that makes me think that the root of the cuisine it is based on French technique. Though I could always be wrong. But what makes it interesting is that some of the concepts are applied to famously American ingredients and dishes. Or that techniques from other cuisines (shabu shabu for example) are thrown into the mix. In general I think diversity is a very American concept. But ultimately the way the meal is organized is what makes it feel French is .

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