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Charlie Trotter's


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Project-

The main thing that does not add up in your statements is that you seem to be basing your whole opinion on a dishj he prepared on TV over a period of what...15 minutes. And you keep saying that he did not cramalize, or use stock and so on and so forth. As far as I know Trotter and all French disciplined fine dining chefs do use stock, sauce, butter, and the Maillard recation quiet extensivly. So the lack of these items/procedures should really not be a concern in your decision to eat a CT.

As far as the pampering, stem ware et al. that is totally a personal preference. So if you do not like this sort of "fussy" stuff, then I guess Trotter will never be right for you.

The food is also a personal choice and some dishes will be very simple such as the scallop dish and other will be very complex and for a lack of better term "comlicated". A slab of ribs is great and a 4-hour tatsing menu at a fine dining etsablishment is also great, each has its place and if done right is worth the cost.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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so i've booked to go next week. it's the little things that make you look forward to a place. so make what you will of the following

it took 6 MINUTES TO MAKE THE RESERVATION BECAUSE I WAS FORCED TO LISTEN TO AN ADVERT FOR HIS RESTAURANT IN MEXICO (complete with description of the swin up bar) AND ANOTHER FOR TROTTERS TO GO.

they are so unsubtle the adverts had literally just ended when she picked up the phone. erm. i don't mind that if i am trying to buy car insurance, but this has rankled a bit.

the reservation taker was completely robotic. from my accent she assumed i was staying in a hotel. this was the only personal interaction i had with her. still, i am pleased to know that the restaurant is non-smoking and has full disabled access. it makes no difference to me, but it's the little details, yeah? especially when they're read out to you in a monotone.

still, i am now looking forward to my "dining experience" :-)

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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:cool:

I've encountered that "I, Robot" clerk on the phone as well. I take unholy pleasure in busting her chops out of that script -- easy to do, actually; all I've ever needed is to ask two or three questions about stuff I already knew from casing the CT website. While she's rebooting and trying to get answers, I tell her firmly that I would like to dine on (range of possible dates) at (contemplated time), party of one, and where does she have a table available, please? If she tries to get back to the drone about "being aware that my dining experience will take approximately three hours..." I answer to the effect of: yes, of course, and by the way I'll want the wine-pairings that go with that menu, and yes, I know that will add $$$ to the carte.

After two or three such exchanges, I have my res and she's suffered systems crash: a fair exchange, really.

:raz:

Me, I vote for the joyride every time.

-- 2/19/2004

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I have never been to Charlie Trotters but last summer we had a wedding at our resort (in the middle of the rainforest on British Columbia's westcoast) in which the guests arrived in style on a private Boeing 737 - obviously such a jet with 50 people aboard would need some catering - to this day I am still finding discarded "Charlie Trotter's To Go" containers in the most obscure spots.

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:cool:

I've encountered that "I, Robot" clerk on the phone as well.  I take unholy pleasure in busting her chops out of that script -- easy to do, actually; all I've ever needed is to ask two or three questions about stuff I already knew from casing the CT website.  While she's rebooting and trying to get answers, I tell her firmly that I would like to dine on (range of possible dates) at (contemplated time), party of one, and where does she have a table available, please?  If she tries to get back to the drone about "being aware that my dining experience will take approximately three hours..." I answer to the effect of: yes, of course, and by the way I'll want the wine-pairings that go with that menu, and yes, I know that will add $$$ to the carte.

After two or three such exchanges, I have my res and she's suffered systems crash: a fair exchange, really.

:raz:

you know, i did give her the option to decide when i dined. but she handled it quite well. i think you might have trained her lady t!

Suzi: Hey there. I would like to make a reservation one night next week for one person. I don't want to come Friday or Saturday.

R2D2: (calculating ah, i have faced this situation before, i have a choice to make.) Thursday then. Our dining experience takes 2-3 so you must set aside that time.

Suzi: That's fine. I'd like a table at 8.00pm

R2D2: Would you like our first or second seating.

Suzi: Which one of them is at 8.00pm?

R2D2: The first seating is at 6.00pm.

et cetera

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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xyz123:

"I think the point of Charlie Trotter and other fine dining chefs across the country is that they find the freshest ingredients and not mask their flavor. How could one know how fresh a piece of fish or vegetable is if its cooked in a sauce like a stew therefore taking the flavor of the liquid that is it being cooking in. One could not define a piece of fish for its natural taste when their natural taste has been masked/overpowered by other flavors."

Yup, that sounds like what they are doing. It seems similar to much of 'nouvelle cuisine', Alice Waters, etc.

I didn't like 'nouvelle cuisine'!

I guess my most defensible position is that I want the food to taste good and then move on to a tradition for how to do that: China for maybe over 1000 years and France for over 200 years largely independently came to very similar conclusions about how to make food taste good. One of the main secrets, at least in recent decades of the tradition, is to coat the food with a sauce that is thickened with starch and has a lot of flavor. The flavor comes from stocks, wines, mushrooms, smoke, browning, and 'aromatics' such as garlic, scallions, chives, onions, carrots, celery, green beans, and bell peppers. The flavors get balanced with salt, pepper, sugar, and acid, especially acetic and citric. The sauce typically has fat which helps hold the flavors. The French added truffles and reductions and emphasized butter, cream, olive oil, and pork, beef, and duck for the fats. The Chinese added soy sauce, lilly pods, Szechuan 'pepper' corns, and maybe 500 other strange things they found flying, swimming, walking, growing, etc. and concentrated on peanut oil and pork and duck for the fats.

With this tradition, it is fair to say that sauces 'mask' some of the other flavors.

At times it has occurred to me that the people that stirred up Worchestershire sauce 100 years or so ago understood this tradition quite thoroughly.

Some of the food I really liked growing up in Memphis was a sandwich of chopped pork shoulder BBQ with coleslaw. Then, looking at what the Chinese and French worked out, that BBQ is not so surprising because it makes heavy use of smoke, browning, fat, salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar with coleslaw for contrast. And there can be some Worchestershire sauce. No wonder I liked it.

For deep fried scallops, can have some salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder in the breading, get browning of the breading, get oil, and at the table get lemon and butter. The hushpuppies have more oil, browning, onion, and butter. Coleslaw provides some contrast. No wonder it can be good.

Scallops 'Maryland style' can have garlic, shallots, butter, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, some browning, and some reduction -- hitting hard on some of the most important points of the tradition. No wonder it can be good.

The simplest tossed green salad can have oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, likely some mustard, and that is already enough points of the tradition to get something decently good.

Now 'nouvelle cuisine' and Trotter are heavily setting aside this Chinese-French tradition.

Seeing Trotter on TV and coming to this thread to learn more, I wondered what I was missing, where I failed to 'get it'. If Trotter comes up with something really good, then fine. But, I am concluding that I will just stay with the Chinese-French tradition.

"As far as the vinaigrette, I think what Trotter was trying to say is that one should follow a recipe as a guidance but adjust it to your taste. Some like a lighter vinaigrette and some like it stronger. In the case with the scallops a lite vinaigrette would be equal to using a white wine for its acidity. There are many wines to drink that would not be overpowered by such a vinaigrette."

Well, there is traditional point in French cooking that we should not drink the wine during the salad course because the vinegar will tend to make the wine taste like it has turned to vinegar. For Trotter's TV scallop dish, his mixing error was on the side of too much vinegar; my guess was that he still had too much vinegar after he added more oil, but then I was only watching and he was tasting. Since Trotter seems to be trying to go for the really most delicate flavors, I used this traditional point to question if we should drink wine with such a dish. Still, he used so little vinaigrette in the dish that mostly it should not much hurt the wine. If I really liked his scallop dish, then I'd eagerly dig into to two dozen of the scallops and wash them down with Macon blanc and forget about the delicate issues! No doubt I would like the scallops better if they were masked with a sauce of a stock and white wine reduction with butter, cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper! Heck, I'd even like just a side of lemon butter!

Busboy:

"Declaring an inability to enjoy a formal dining room because of the linens and floor staff can be as pretentious as a Frenchman's turning up his nose at a good slab of ribs."

Naw, mostly I don't like pretense, but I've been in plenty of super-stiff high end triple fancy places, and the atmosphere didn't hurt my enjoyment at all. If the Baccarat crystal, sterling silver, and Irish damask linen come with a good slab of ribs, then so much the better!

"The days of the brutally arrogant maitre d' have largely passed, as have the days of endless, overwhelmingly rich tides of fat-based sauces (dammit!)."

I put up with plenty of such maitre d's; just remember: money talks. You have it, and they want it. You are fully correct about the sauces!

"Last winter I journeyed into the belly of the beast and went through nine courses or so at a Micheline two-star in France: it was practicaly spa cuisine, except for the three desserts."

Right! Chow down on all that fancy stuff but make sure use a lot of butter on the bread, put a lot of cream in the coffee, and get three desserts, hopefully with a lot of whipped cream! Else, a hour later will be looking for a sundae at a Dairy Queen.

"A linen napkin is not a challenge to one's masculinity, and a tasting menu is not a trap. As we used to say at Le Pavillon, just sit back, relax and enjoy."

Nearly did that, long after Soule was there: Went to La Cote Basque twice. Once saw an ashtray on the table that on the bottom said Le Pavillon. I relaxed and enjoyed. They had oceans of perfect raspberries for dessert; I just made sure I got a lot of whipped cream!

FoodMan:

"The main thing that does not add up in your statements is that you seem to be basing your whole opinion on a dishj he prepared on TV over a period of what...15 minutes."

I tried to make clear that I'm judging what might be in his restaurant from the descriptions of the CT food on this thread and the one item I saw on TV. This thread is the more important for what might be in the restaurant because the TV dish was in homage to another chef and not necessarily in the restaurant at all.

"And you keep saying that he did not cramalize, or use stock and so on and so forth."

He just made a dish with really simple approaches to the flavors. While he may have achieved a special delicate balance, and while the awesomely high quality scallops may have been better than I could guess, he was mostly in the 'nouvelle cuisine' tradition where he didn't mask the food with a thick sauce. While clearly some people would be pleased to have the scallops, the whole scallops, and nearly nothing but the scallops, I have to conclude that he didn't achieve a lot of flavor.

"As far as I know Trotter and all French disciplined fine dining chefs do use stock, sauce, butter, and the Maillard recation quiet extensivly. So the lack of these items/procedures should really not be a concern in your decision to eat a CT."

Trotter is clearly a highly expert chef, and I am fully sure that he could be sent into the kitchen blindfolded and stir up anything from a random cut in any top book from Escoffier to the present.

From the descriptions on this thread, I got the impression that I would not like his food because of (1) too much in the 'nouvelle' tradition, (2) not enough in the rich sauce tradition, and (3) too many ingredients that I would find weird.

"As far as the pampering, stem ware et al. that is totally a personal preference. So if you do not like this sort of 'fussy' stuff, then I guess Trotter will never be right for you."

I don't mind $10 K table settings, as long as the food is at least as good as a Memphis BBQ sandwich!

"The food is also a personal choice and some dishes will be very simple such as the scallop dish and other will be very complex and for a lack of better term 'comlicated'. A slab of ribs is great and a 4-hour tatsing menu at a fine dining etsablishment is also great, each has its place and if done right is worth the cost."

If he has some "very complex" dishes that would stand up well to a big Chambertin or Barolo, GREAT. Make one of those the main dish, hopefully with a lot of good sauce and some French bread to soak it up, and forget all the rest but then bring the salad, the strong cheese, and the three desserts with lots of whipped cream!

If he just wanted to bring a slab of ribs and a pitcher of beer, then that might be pretty good!

I believe I got my questions answered: Trotter's a terrific chef. He is working hard and trying to do new things past 'nouvelle' and away from the older traditions. Even for people that might prefer Coq au Vin, due to the many things he does do well, he does create a significant experience that people like.

For me, I drool over the traditional dishes like Coq au Vin ('where we are adding MORE butter than Julia calls for!') and didn't like 'nouvelle'. Trotter is close enough to 'nouvelle' that mostly I'd like the traditional dishes better.

If he ran a traditional bistro and made Coq au Vin, etc., then I'd like to eat there. As it is, I'd like some of the food he serves but likely too little. I'd rather go to a good bistro. I bet he could run a TERRIFIC bistro!

Thanks to all for the comments. eG worked great!

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Project, your arguments really dont make sense. Especially since you have not dined at Charlie Trotter. Its like trying to tell someone not to eat/like apples because oranges are

better. What is your point and what are you trying to say. All I’m getting is that you don’t like to eat food in its natural state, if that is the case then that’s fine but, why would you think that there is something wrong for those that like it.

By the way nouvelle cuisine has been over for at least 15 years now.

Alice Waters never served nouvelle cuisine, She served simple natural

food

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I have eaten at Trotters, Trio, and Tru. Thought I'd give some thoughts on each, mainly to compare/contrast to Trotters.

Trotters

I found much to agree with in the post that started this thread about Trotters. While I did appreciate much of the food, something about the environment felt totally off. The wait staff somehow crossed the point in being helpful that made us feel bad about what we were 'making' them do.

For example, we had asked for a glass of wine that we had recalled liking. When my wife mentioned that it wasn't as great as we remembered, they immediately assumed the wine had gone bad (I think not), started group tasting the wine to be sore, and then had us switch. This was an exaggerated overreaction for people like us. It seems they expect you to be demanding, which in a way is fine as they should strive for excellence, but somehow it shouldn't seem our fault that they have to go thru the extra effort.

In the same trip to Chicago in which we visited Trotters, we also tried Arun's. Less known, less expensive. Trotters, we'll probably never return to. Arun's was great.

Trio

For me, this was one of the greatest dinners, ever. My wife and I reserved the kitchen table for the 20 course menu. The wait staff was very friendly and, in stark contrast to Trotters, conversational. We felt welcome to ask questions, and weren't afraid we were going to offend by not being an expert on everything. I can't wait to try Alinea. Guess I'll be planning my next Chicago trip around dinner there.

Tru

This was somewhere in the middle for me. Part of the problem is that my wife and I again ate at the 'kitchen table'. Usually this is a great concept for a couple, as the conversation lulls, and occasional waits for each other to finish, etc. are nicely filled in with watching the kitchen action. Sadly, Tru's kitchen table is in a separated room. This distanced us from both the kitchen and the other diners, and created a more secluded atmosphere, when we were really looking for less. At Trio, I'd recommend the kitchen table to anyone. At Tru, its better for groups of 4 or more.

The wait staff at Tru is, much like Trotters, trained in the traditional French stiffness. Luckily we were able to draw some conversationalism out of them after a while, making it possile to lighten the atmosphere.

The food was as good as anticipated.

I think the biggest issue at Trotters is that the wait staff has only one note. They do not know how to alter their behavior to suit the customer. They assume that all customers want the exact same type of treatment.

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xyz123:

"Project, your arguments really dont make sense. Especially since you have not dined at Charlie Trotter. Its like trying to tell someone not to eat/like apples because oranges are better. What is your point and what are you trying to say. All I'm getting is that you don't like to eat food in its natural state, if that is the case then that's fine but, why would you think that there is something wrong for those that like it.

By the way nouvelle cuisine has been over for at least 15 years now. Alice Waters never served nouvelle cuisine, She served simple natural food"

Naw! I'm certainly NOT trying "to tell someone" anything! I WAS trying to get others to post to this thread so that I could read what they said and, thus, use this thread and eG to overcome my own ignorance, to see better why others like CT and what I might be missing. I'm trying to understand. I explain my thinking so that others can either point out where I'm wrong or where there are just differences of 'taste' that cannot easily be 'resolved'. For the second, one remark was that clearly I like traditional bistro food for which there are many excellent restaurants; it was a good remark.

Right, I have not dined at CT. Still, I was trying to understand. There is terrific food in France, China, Italy, Germany, Spain, and in most or all of the 50 states of the US, and I can't go, and no one could go, to all of the associated restaurants, but with eG I and nearly anyone can still get some significant understanding of what we can't visit. Moreover, we can get understanding we could not get just from a visit -- the thoughts of others. There was a LOT on CT on this thread before I discovered it; my hopes to learn about CT from eG are not hopeless. Also, I've eaten tons of food and guzzled gallons of wine, over decades in some of the best restaurants in the US, have a huge stack of cookbooks, regard food and cooking as important interests, and, thus, do have a background for some understanding even when I can't visit.

For "What is your point and what are you trying to say.", I'm trying to understand what others see in CT, to see if I was missing something, to see where I 'didn't get it'. My goal was neither praise nor condemnation but information and 'illumination'. I was trying to understand. Such understanding is a small drop in a huge stock pot of possible progress in cooking. Or, the 'global information exchange' that is eG can enormously raise the level of understanding of individuals and, perhaps, even cause a noticeable upward blip in the quality of food in the world. Trust me: I won't be nearly the only one in the world trying to understand CT, El Bulli, Memphis BBQ, the food of some high end restaurant in Hong Kong, some of the food of Mexico, etc. While basically I do understand Memphis BBQ, it is easy enough to see on eG that many others, who didn't spend 20 years in Memphis, know much less and would like to know more.

For "All I'm getting is that you don't like to eat food in its natural state, if that is the case then that's fine but, why would you think that there is something wrong for those that like it." There's NOTHING wrong. I'm just trying to understand.

For "By the way nouvelle cuisine has been over for at least 15 years now. Alice Waters never served nouvelle cuisine, She served simple natural food". Gee, 'nouvelle' is over? Are you sure? I didn't get the memo!

As I watch some of the TV cooking shows, I do get the impression that essentially 'nouvelle' remains alive and well.

Your distinctions among 'nouvelle', CT, Alice Waters are more detailed than my knowledge! I learned something!

Summary of what I learned here on eG about CT: Broadly, Trotter's a terrific chef. In more detail, we can see (1) how some people see CT and (2) how I would: (1) For others, I learned that Trotter does very well at many things, and in total at CT he does create a significant dining experience that many people like. Further, the US has people that are willing to be adventurous and try and like new things if they are done with astounding care; there are enough such people to let a place like CT be successful. Broadly the idea that the US, the Midwest, or Chicago has only people that want only pot roast and mashed potatoes, deep dish pizza, a slab of ribs, or bistro food is just not nearly true. (2) For me, I learned that some of the dishes I would like but, if only for the quail eggs, caviar, etc., some of his dishes I wouldn't like. And, to the extent that he is close to 'nouvelle', I would prefer the more classic French traditions. In total, for me, for CT, there is too much chance of dishes I wouldn't like. I would almost certainly be happier in a good bistro. In part I supported my liking of bistro food by mentioning the common traditional ideas of French and Chinese cooking of sauces with a lot of flavor. Further, at a bistro, I'm ready to go for the butter, cream, eggs, red meat, fried breading, etc.; otherwise I might be more interested in seeing how 'nouvelle', Waters, or Trotter can get good food with less emphasis on these traditional ingredients.

Seems to me, these explanations "make sense".

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Project-

I've never been to Trotters... or even to Chicago... but in my experiences with high-end tasting-menu based restaurants in NYC and Phila., I'd venture to say that if you named a couple of wines and gave them a couple of weeks notice, they'd put together a menu designed to go with your wines of choice. There is nothing inherently nouvelle or spa-cuisine about the tasting menu format.

You appear to like heavy heavy food-- let them know that in a special request with your reservation and you'll see a tasting menu of braised short ribs, stewed veal cheeks, crispy breaded fried sweetbreads in some sort of sauce, etc. I think the excessive lightness in the menu that you find problematic is a product of market forces, not a imposition of the chef's vision of an ideal cuisine. I'd bet the kitchen would be quite happy to have the chance to cook a full line-up of beefy fatty heavy dishes-- there's a long tradition of them in haute cuisine... just the people with the money today are deathly afraid of fat/salt/carbs/whatever so the public presentation menu must take those irrational phobias into account. Just because they do that doesn't mean that they can't or won't chuck a rack of lamb or a slab of ribs into the oven with the same amount of attention to detail as they lavish on the lobster carpaccio with hyssop oil and baby pea shoots.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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cdh:

"You appear to like heavy heavy food" -- pretty much, sure. Want the food to light up the neurons, want a lot of flavor, enough to pass the KFC FLG test!

My mother emphasized discretion, decorum, demeanor, and presentation and knew Emily Post and apostles word for word, but when my wife and I took some Maryland crab meat, added S&P, moistened with Bechamel, wrapped in crepes, warmed in the oven, covered with Sauce Parisienne (fish stock, white wine, shallots, reduced, roux, heavy cream, egg yolks, S&P, lemon juice), browned a little, served with some white wine from somewhere near Macon, at the end of the course the main serving dish was still in the center of the table and apparently the course had gone over the top with her because suddenly it did pass the KFC FLG test!

This was still a seafood dish; with red meat or game, can have much more flavor, still!

It's easy enough to get a Porterhouse steak, S&P, fire up the charcoal grill, bake some potatoes, get a pot of sour cream with chives, and dig in. So, this is a benchmark, and for me a high end place has to be better!

In the summer, can spring for a fast bowl of Vichyssoise while waiting for a rack of lamb, a filet of venison, some grilled NY Strip with Bordelaise, etc., each with enough highly flavored sauce to keep the French bread wet!

Cheek meat? Gee, that stuff has a strange market, and once a player in that market had a lot of relevant data that I analyzed!

Gee, "lobster carpaccio with hyssop oil and baby pea shoots." Yup, while there are a lot of lobster dishes I do like, your example sounds like something I wouldn't! Maybe my date, in a petite size 4 simple black dress, would really like it, in which case there could be some benefit!

For "just the people with the money today are deathly afraid of fat/salt/carbs/whatever so the public presentation menu must take those irrational phobias into account." yup.

That's an explanation, an addition to understanding what CT does and why.

But, as one contributor to this thread mentioned, there are still plenty of high end restaurants willing to serve more classic dishes.

Yes, I can believe that the chefs at CT would enjoy being able to tell their suppliers to deliver appropriate quantities of heaviest whipping cream, low moisture sour cream butter, lots of red meat and game, etc.

I believe that once I heard J. Child remark that some of the dishes served today look like someone had their fingers all over it, or some such! Maybe she had some similar remarks for dishes with no salt, fat, or carbohydrates, little flavor, maybe raw.

Food has changed over the past 10 years. It can change again over the next 10 years, and the direction of change can be influenced by the comments of those who eat it!

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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i've just cancelled my table. am going to the ritz carlton instead.

:shock:

What were the specific factors which influenced your decision? I know you weren't crazy about the idea of Trotter's from the beginning but I'm always curious to learn why a seasoned diner makes the decisions she does.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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It was a five part process:

1. Conversation with one who knows about these things

Suzi "I'm going to Trotters on Thursday"

Suzi's friend "I'm really sorry for you"

Suzi "Erm...."

Suzi's Friend "You constantly bitch about service of single diners to me. I can guarentee you will leave there feeling like you've been on a conveyor belt"

2. Reading the entire thread over dinner on Friday night (which took A WHOLE REAM OF PAPER...we need to sort out the font size for printing things out)

Suzi thinks to herself "So there are really just two indepth reports on Trotters. One involves an inexperienced diner feeling they weren't treated very well and the other is the partner of an industry professional being treated incredibly well....Hummmm. I'm an egalitarian type of person, something here isn't sitting right with me"

3. And then my own words came back to me, something about preferring to spend money with an up and coming chef (like our own Inventolux) than with someone on the wane....I am hearing such good things about Sarah's cooking that I don't want to miss out on that. But I am also slightly torn about eating there as she is about to leave and she's going to stop doing the fine dining thing...so I will probably end up not going their either....Pluton is very appealing to me at the moment...(I'm going to start discussion about this as a separate thread where's hot in chicago at the moment )

4. I felt really constrained by the second seating issue at Trotters. I would, ideally, not start a three hour meal at 9.00pm. But work means I cannot go eat at 6.00pm as contrary to what my involvement with egullet may suggest, I do have a job to do.

and finally

5. As much as I wish it were, I don't have an unlimited budget for eating. And I am starting to get slightly nervous about spending $200 on a dinner that I am not desparate to eat. As much as I take what's written on here with a pinch of salt :raz: it's going to be hard to sit at that table and be really open hearted about it.

Suzi Edwards aka "Tarka"

"the only thing larger than her bum is her ego"

Blogito ergo sum

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tarka:

For your "2. Reading the entire thread over dinner on Friday night (which took A WHOLE REAM OF PAPER...we need to sort out the font size for printing things out)"

You are correct: It is long! We've written a book here!

Just to confirm the length you saw, I used some software to get all the Web pages and from them just the text. At 65 lines per page, that would have been 193 pages -- definitely a book!

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Hi there - new member to egullet. I was led to this site after doing a search on Charlie Trotter reviews for an upcoming visit with my husband in October. We both just read "Lessons in Service", and, being that we work in the food industry, are intrigued to the point of making a pit stop in the Chicago to eat there on our way to Napa. I must admit that some of the posts on this thread have ignited concern, however dining at CT is as much about research and expansion of knowledge in restaurant operations (what to do, what not to do, e.g.) so I think we're going to forge ahead and keep our reservation.

I was chatting with an acquaintance that is well-established in the Chicago area and says he dines at CT monthly. He mentioned that I should make sure that I tip the host/hostess and make sure that I'm "dressed appropriately" (beyond the required jacket???) because he has heard of incidents where people that showed up with advance reservations were never seated because the host/hostess weren't tipped and "didn't like the way they were dressed." Now, this seems completely ludicrous to me and I'm thinking that my friend was really just blowing smoke out of you-know-where...HOWEVER, has anyone ever heard of this scenario?

"I can resist everything except temptation." Oscar Wilde

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FWIW, I've eaten at Trotter's three times, I have never tipped the host/hostess (nor have any of the people I've dined with), and I have never gotten anything other than perfectly pleasant service and a table when expected. And I can't imagine what your friend means by "dressing appropriately" beyond standard business casual.

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Hello this is my first post but I have been following this thread and felt I had to add some input. First I was raised in Chicago and worked in the business there for about 13 years before coming to Michigan. I also was friends with a former GM of trotters and I can say she would never had allowed her hosts to be tipped and she would have never allowed jugemental service. I have eaten there 4 times over the years and have had some of the best meals ever. The service is very knowlegable and accomadating without ever being snobby. We have always been granted tours of the restaurant and have talked with Chef Trotter every time. People have been arguing about weather Chef Trotter is still at the top or not ot if he is on his way down. All I can say is that he has consistanly provided world class cusine for over 15 years and anyone in the business knows how hard that is to do. I would say a culinary trip to Chicago would be unfulfilled with out a stop at CT Thanks

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  • 2 months later...

My husband and I had out first dinner at Trotter's a few months ago. He had the Vegetable Menu and I had the Grand, and we both had the wine pairings. It was great food, inventive and intelligently sequenced, I thought (more on that in a moment). I did think the service was a little stiff. Our primary waiter seemed knowledgable and capable of cracking a joke, but the rest of the extensive team of servers seemed tense and afraid of making an error. A few of them froze up upon being asked any questions and either didn't answer or got the main waiter. A mistake was made near the beginning (my husband was served the first course for the grand menu rather than the vegetable) and looks of horror were exchanged among the servers when we pointed this out. (They dealt with the problem well, by bringing each of us the vegetable first course to follow the one we'd already received, after asking my husband if he would like to try the course he'd already been served--bluefin tuna with avocado-basil sorbet).

My grand menu included the tuna and

Diver Scallop with Emerald Cove Oyster, Razor Clams, Fennel, Fingerling Potato and Lemon Thyme

Arkansas Rabbit with Maitake Mushrooms, Confit Garlic, Red Wine Braised Artichokes and Grilled Treviso

Millbrook Farm Venision Loin with Cous Cous, Chorizo, and Kalamata Olive Sauce

Rhubard Sorbet with Spring Onion Marmalade

Cashew Cheese Cake with Yellow Peaches and Star Thistle Honey

I liked the overall balance of the meal and the fact that some slightly unconventional meats were used (as opposed to say, lamb or short ribs, which I've had on the tasting menu at TRU). Both meat dishes had interesting complementary flavors--for example the restrained use of the chorizo in the cous cous alongside the venision, and the fact that the rabbit dish included a tiny bite of rabbit kidney (unannounced on the menu, and admitted with slight reluctance by the waiter when I asked him what I'd just tasted--some people recoil, apparently). We got some complimentary small desserts (a creme brulee, a chocolate cake) as well as the ones on the menu and there were mignardises, which I admit were not quite as showy as the ones at TRU (no lollipops!) but did include excellent truffles.

We had more fun at TRU--the room is prettier, the staff is warmer, and we were a lively table of four, but for serious attention to the food, we had an equally good night at CT.

Edited by Midwesterner (log)
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  • 3 years later...

We came to Chicago to dine at Alinea for the 'Tour' menu. We left talking about Charlie Trotter's. It was my friends birthday and coming from a culinary city (NY) are mission was to hit as many restaurants as possible. After a meal at Alinea, our intentions were to dine like everyday locals- the best brunch place, best deep dish, etc. After eight restaurants in two days, our bags were packed and we were ready to hit the airport. But not till we strolled the streets of Lincoln Park (AKA the 'Soho' of Chicago). After sludging through the slushy streets with luggage in tow, we just happened to walk by CT. Mind you, CT was not even on our list of places to see. My friend was reading the menu and announced erroneously that they were closed. I proceeded to walk up the stairs to take a closer look only to notice that there was a gentleman at the bar (this was 3PM). I turned around to join my friend and before you know it, the door opened and the gentleman said "well, hello. Would you like to come in for a tour?" Without hesitation, "of course!" . We walked through the dining rooms to the kitchen to the cellars with our wet boots (Chicago received 8" of snow the night before). When we return to the back to the bar area, two settings were set at the bar. The maitre'd motioned to us to have a seat while he took our coats. As we removed our layers (Chicago gets really COLD!), he said that the Chef has prepared a small bite if we had time to stay. We were in our seats before he finished his sentence. We were treated to a three-course meal with wine pairings a la minute. Just like that. Before service, whilst the staff was setting up! We were speechless and felt like we were on candid camera.It didn't end there. As we left, furiously calling our friends to brag about our experience, the maitre'd catches up to us (four blocks away) to hand us a cookbook and a bottle of steak sauce! Who does that? Chef Charlie- when we come back to Chicago, were coming to see you!

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Yeah, there's a discussion about this in another thread. CT is extremely generous and is known to give multi-course meals complete with wine pairings, gratis. Nothing is better for business than positive word of mouth.

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. ‐ Salvador Dali

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  • 3 months later...

Where do I begin? Who am I to bash the man who, 20 years ago, put Chicago on the world's culinary map; the great Charlie Trotter? What gives me the right? After all, I'm just some rube from the suburbs, so what could I possibly know about fine dining? Oh well, here I go, in spite of myself . . .

In 1996, through a series of frustrating missteps, my first attempt to dine at Trotter's hit a brick wall. After a couple of unreturned phone calls, I gave up and decided that the table I wanted wasn't worth the amount of effort I was being required to spend obtaining it. Life is long, I thought. Sometime down the road there will be another chance, a more reasonable way, and when it comes along, I'll be sure to take advantage of it.

Flash forward 12 years and my friend Gypsy Boy (whose toes I am probably stepping on by penning this account), who'd had a less-than-positive experience at Trotter's in February of 2008, generously asked if I'd like to join him on his return visit (the return visit was actually prompted by a reply he received from the restaurant to a letter he'd written about his February meal there). "Absolutely," I said. "I've always wanted to dine there." The reservations were made, and for the 10 weeks that followed, the anticipation built as I anxiously looked forward to our meal. Finally, I thought, I'd journey to the original epicenter of Chicago's nationally-recognized culinary scene . . . and they'd be ready for us.

Even though it is normally an imposition for me to don any clothing beyond my boxers, when the day of our reservation finally arrived, I happily put on a blazer, slacks and shoes that required tying. This, in spite of the intense humidity and temperatures in the high 80's. It didn't matter. I was going to Trotter's and I was excited.

Our experience began inauspiciously. We left our car with the valet and, as we'd arranged, waited outside the restaurant for our friends. I told the doorman who greeted us that we were waiting for our friends, whom I mentioned by name. He told me that they had not yet arrived. So, we waited. Nearly 15 minutes passed and with the exact time of our reservation now slightly past, we decided to get out of the sticky heat and head inside. Up the stairs we climbed, past the prominently displayed Relais Gourmandes plaque on the wall, and into the restaurant's waiting area where, we discovered, our friends were actually waiting for us. I was perturbed by this because, even though our friends explained that they'd arrived and entered while the doorman was away from his post, I assumed that he would have checked before telling us that they had not arrived. He didn't and we'd waited outside needlessly. No worries, though, because that was now behind us and we were all together, and heading upstairs to our table.

Table service started out most excellently, with champagne being poured for 3 of us and a non-alcoholic bubbly being poured for one of us. This was done without request, as the restaurant was well aware of the non-drinker's preference. After briefly perusing the menus, 3 of us ordered the Grand Menu with the standard wine pairings and one of us ordered the Vegetable Menu with no pairings.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time describing the food. Our reactions to the courses were mixed but mostly favorable. There were some consensus hits and misses, and some dishes on which we didn't all agree. I only tasted one dish from the Vegetable Menu, a tasty artichoke soup, but my favorite savory course from the Grand Menu was a delicious and well-executed crispy quail preparation, which was accented by a rich, chicken liver-based sauce, and chorizo, which had been turned into a delicate ribbon. IMO, the highlight of the meal was the desserts. They were inventive, thoughtful, distinctive and delicious.

As our meal progressed, some conspicuous service issues emerged. I'm not sure what exactly was going on but our primary server seemed sullen and unhappy. Gypsy Boy, who is far more understanding than I, was convinced that she was new, even though I'm not certain that it should matter. If she wasn't capable of properly waiting tables without being trailed, she should not have been entrusted with the task. In any event, she was relatively unfriendly and not very helpful, either. At one point, when we asked her if a French chardonnay we'd been served was oaked, she responded with only a "yes" and immediately walked away from the table. Her descriptions of our dishes were perfunctory and barely audible. It seemed to me that she was simply going through the motions. Her lacking manner may not have been so obvious, save for the fact that during a later course, another server came to our table and eloquently described what we'd been served. Her manner was entirely different. She spoke to us like she actually cared, and she provided salient details about our food, at an audible level. This made me realize that we had probably ended up with an unfortunate draw.

But other service issues arose that had nothing to do with our primary server. At least twice, plates arrived at the table with the food upon them toppled over. Somehow, between the kitchen and the table, these platings did not survive as the kitchen executed them. Had it happened only once, I would have figured it was an anomaly. But it happened to multiple plates on multiple courses. Given the venue and its reputation, this reflected a notable level of carelessness. Additionally, at various times, my and other water glasses sat empty on the table. Early in the meal, when GB asked for a copy of the menu, so that we could follow along, a long time (2 courses, iirc) passed before it was brought to him. When I got up to use the restroom, I returned to the table and found my roughly folded napkin sitting on the table, exactly where I'd left it. During dessert, one of my companions waited too long for a coffee refill and actually had to ask for it -- as a server glided past our table -- rather than having it offered to him.

The most ironic and possibly egregious error of all happened after our meal, when the check was brought to the table. I was not aware until that moment that the house automatically adds an 18% service charge to the bill. That, in and of itself, does not bother me in the least, although given the quality of the service that had been provided, it was pretty bemusing. I have to say that even when service is poor, I generally tip 20%, so I was delighted that on this evening, I only had to tip 18%. You want your 18%? Fine with me. I was happy to oblige. However, a careless mathematical error was made on Gypsy Boy's portion of the bill and the service charge added to it was $230, not the $60 it should have been. He pointed this out to one of the hosts, who apologized and returned shortly thereafter with a corrected bill.

This dining experience was, unfortunately, a comedy of errors that was certainly not befitting a restaurant that counts itself as one of the finest in the world. I wasn't offended or outraged by anything that happened, just stunned by it, relative to my other fine-dining experiences. And for $663 (the bill for my wife and I), I do expect far more. Had any one of the gaffes occured singularly, it would have been minor but add them all together and our experience was verging on disastrous. When my wife went to the restroom, she witnessed a heated 'discussion' between members of the service staff because some plates were out and ready before a table's wine had been poured. Perhaps this was a hint of the level of chaos that was going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, the service we received didn't belie this incident, but instead, merely provided additional context for it.

Maybe the hot, humid weather had something to do with it but on this night CT's reminded me a bit of Brennan's in New Orleans; an overrated, over-the-hill restaurant riding on its reputation and resting on its laurels. The service charge aspect drove home the feeling that the venerable Charlie Trotter's has become a something of a tourist trap. I do wish I'd gone there when it was still fighting its way up the hill rather than after it appeared to have hit the 'coasting' stage. Who knows . . . maybe it was just a bad night. But, considering that they knew that Gypsy Boy had service issues during his previous visit, I was really surprised by the experience we had. This meal was essentially their response to his letter and he actually felt like the service during this visit was worse than the service which prompted the letter in the first place. Is this what a great, world-class restaurant is supposed to be? For the sake of Chicago's culinary reputation, I certainly hope not.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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