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Charlie Trotter's


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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...........

We went about eight years ago, summer 2000, and also had service problems. The problems were bad enough and the choices in Chicago numerous enough that we didn"t bother going back. Reading how this second visit went I shall continue to pass

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  • 2 years later...

Ever since I learned about fine dining after graduating from University in ’05, Charlie Trotter is one of the places I would like to go. That curiosity finally became a reality in late Spring ’09 … sadly, it’s quite disappointing (or do I expect too much?)

Food (and wine) – 90/100

I ordered the grand menu, so there’s no excuse that the restaurant would not serve its best dishes. Here are a few comments about what I ate:

- the sea urchin was so-so. Then they also made ‘shaved ice’ with sea urchin flavor, what??? I was surprised to taste Japanese sea urchin like this – hardly any sweetness

- the next dish is basically unagi. I would say it’s quite good – tasty and not too strong (unlike some sushi places which sometimes put heavy ‘sweet’ sauce)

- my alaskan salmon was rather poor – it’s soggy and somewhat tasteless

- the duck breast was alright thankfully, but nothing special. I found the duck gizzard/confit and cabbage were too strong (cloying); the good thing is the mint & yoghurt paired quite well with this dish

- this would be the last main course. The veal was good, but then the side dishes went wrong: hardly any taste with the morels (out of season/left over already?) and the sweetbread was hard and not sweet at all (not sure if they know how to prepare it)

- I could not recall anything wow in my desserts – just ate them and let’s get over it – they looked complicated, but not taste that good in your palates.

The interesting part here was the non-alcoholic beverages pairing to the food. Unfortunately, many of them did not work well – even the drink by itself sometimes tasted weird such as: fenugreek & lemongrass, peach & lemon was quite horrible. The wine list is impressive though

As many claimed that Trotter is one of America’s great chefs … I left dumbfounded. Is this the best that American’s top chefs can offer? Well, it’s not complete disaster, but then the food, in general, was boring and uninspiring. Furthermore, it’s contrived and somewhat complicated with (often) uncommon ingredients that do not work together – not mentioning the small portions. I will give 90 pts; in my notes it’s equivalent to ‘low’ 2-star Michelin

Service (and ambiance) – 89/100

The staffs were not too friendly to the point of cold and a bit arrogant. Sometimes, they checked about the food, but did not seem to welcome the not-so-positive reviews. The restaurant was quite full (80%). I saw chef Trotter standing/hiding just outside the kitchen watching the dining room. My dinner was quite fast, nearly 2 hours only. During this time, I did not see the chef going out greeting any guests at all. The atmosphere itself was not too bad: nice flower decorations, classical ambiance and the place were quite spacious.

Based on this one visit, I think it’s correct that since the beginning of ’08 – many diners said this place is declining. It seems that the chef Trotter does not know that there are many other much better restaurants out there. He definitely will not be able to cook creative food like his neighbors Alinea or Avenues and I don’t expect that; however, even they did not do a good job in doing what they always do (L’Ambroisie may not be creative, but they’re really good in preparing the classical dishes – in fact, one of the best in France). I don’t see any niche here, thus unlikely to go back. It should not come as a surprise that Charlie’s 2 restaurants in Vegas did not work out – nobody really wants to dine this kind of food. And the NY one, I think it’s better that it never opens otherwise it’s unlikely to work out (expect lots of negative comments for New Yorker)

Well, I wasn’t that regretful to come here satisfying my curiosity about one of America’s legends … I left satisfied after leaving French legendary restaurant at Paul Bocuse, but not here – probably, it’s the wrong comparison to put Trotter at Bocuse’s level, no? The overall dining experience was 89.5 (aka barely make it to 2-star level). If there’s no improvement in the food’s tastes in the next 2-3 years, I expect this to be one-star establishment by then …

The pictures of my meals: Trotter's 09

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My husband and I went to Charlie Trotters (from NYC) to celebrate my 50th a few years back. The service was good, not condescending at all. The waiter even brought over an olive oil tasting for our bread when he learned my husband is allergic to dairy. That being said - we were so disappointed in the food. I can't remember anything we had. And it cost a fortune!! But, the night before we had eaten at Ambria and that was fantastic - and we had lunch at Spiagia that day, so at least we got some great food on our trip to Chicago!

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"The overall dining experience was 89.5"

How did your arrive at that number!

Certainly fine dining is not an objective experience but purely subjective.

Skimming your Blog, it seems as if you spend your dining taking copious notes and I expect pictures also. How can you enjoy what you are eating? For me, fine dining is about food, friends and good conversation and nice wine. I never take notes and rarely if ever take a picture unless its just a snapshot of the group for posterity.

For me Trotter's was a so-so experience but we went with good friends and had a good time anyway. Would I go back-no, but I don't dine at high end restaurants anymore because the hype far exceeds the experience.-Dick

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Hi, thanks for reading

Here are my small notes for grading ... with some referral of Michelin standards

97-99 is 3-star

95-96 is 2 3/4 star

92-94 is 2 1/2 star

90-91 is 2 1/14 star

The food (and wine) makes up about 70% of my grading while the rests consist of service (and ambiance)

I'm one of those believers that not all 3-star created equal and among 3-star places, there are some that shine brighter than the rests and I want them to be recognized. It's probably useful when some diners are confused on where to eat and why

I put several important points in my notes - so they're not very long actually. I don't eat fast, usually try to think it through and in the process I actually enjoy them - both the food and the experience. I know food is often subjective, by taking notes I want to know whether 1 week or 1 month after the meal, I still have the same feeling/impression. Therefore, by taking notes, I believe that when it's time for the write-up, I can be more objective

About the pictures and reviews, I found that when I started to learn about fine-dining 5 years ago - I found others write-up and pictures were really helpful. It's kinda time for pay-back purposes partially and by looking at the pictures, the delicious dishes only, I could somehow remember/travel back exactly and cherish the moment I had that dish - for me, it's an enjoyment =)

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Ever since I learned about fine dining after graduating from University in ’05, Charlie Trotter is one of the places I would like to go. That curiosity finally became a reality in late Spring ’09 … sadly, it’s quite disappointing (or do I expect too much?)

You're posting in June 2011 about a meal that took place over two years ago???

But, the night before we had eaten at Ambria and that was fantastic - and we had lunch at Spiagia that day, so at least we got some great food on our trip to Chicago!

Spiaggia is not open for lunch. I'm guessing your lunch was at Cafe Spiaggia, its moderately-priced sister restaurant next door.

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