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Moto Restaurant - Chicago


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The service at Moto may not be as polished as some restaurants that have waiters by profession. That the servers at Moto are trained cooks, however, does add another dimension not often found in high end restaurants. Nevertheless, the basics of service were substantially better than adequate and much more than satisfactory. In all, I found the service to be another positive element of my experience at Moto.

As for the dishes being "interesting" but not "tasty," my latest experience was that they were both "interesting" and quite "tasty." I would still suggest the 10-course meal to get a real sense of Chef Cantu's style, skill and wit.

Moto is certainly not formal, however, I believe one will be more comfortable dressed neatly.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks for the replies, all!

@docsonz: maybe "tasty" was the wrong word - "appealing" might be better.

Still I guess I will go for the 5-course, I don't wanna risk getting a food overkill on the night after, while visiting Alinea...(because usually, after a fine dining night out, especially if it was "experimental cuisine", I crave classic "comfort food". But since we have so little time in chicago this won't work out...plus I have a feeling I'd rather safe my capacity for 9 courses at Schwa on the 3rd night - if we get a table...)

greetings

kai

Edited by kai-m (log)
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Has anyone done the Moto lounge experience?

I phoned and they said there was a limited lounge menu from which you could order a la carte, but that in practice most things from the regular menu were available, and that prices were $12-$14 each.

Also, lounge reservations are recommended, although not required as far in advance as at the restaurant.

I have some friends coming in from out of town who are curious, but not up for the whole deal (they want steak). Current Moto prices, by the way: 5-courses, $75; 10 courses, $115; grand tasting, $175 (according to their obnoxious web page that plays music you can't turn off).

LAZ

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Has anyone done the Moto lounge experience?

I phoned and they said there was a limited lounge menu from which you could order a la carte, but that in practice most things from the regular menu were available, and that prices were $12-$14 each.

Also, lounge reservations are recommended, although not required as far in advance as at the restaurant.

I have some friends coming in from out of town who are curious, but not up for the whole deal (they want steak).  Current Moto prices, by the way: 5-courses, $75; 10 courses, $115; grand tasting, $175 (according to their obnoxious web page that plays music you can't turn off).

Qualifier- I got engaged at Moto and continue to have what I consider a somewhat special, familial relationship with the restaurant, though the cooks and servers change out regularly, so there are very few who know me. That said, it's rare we don't get recognized in one of their restaurants.

I've eaten in the bar- just a few bites, and it's excellent. Another option for your friends who want steak is possibly to go to Moto just for a drink, take a cab to Primehouse and have dinner there. Additionally there's red meat on the menu over at Otom, which is still a Moto owned/run restaurant.

As per the service, I've never ever considered the service arrogant- in fact, I consider most service in Chicago terrible, and Moto to be one of the only restaurants aside from Alinea, Nomi and a few select others who get high end dining service right.

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I've eaten in the bar- just a few bites, and it's excellent.  Another option for your friends who want steak is possibly to go to Moto just for a drink, take a cab to Primehouse and have dinner there.

Actually, that's just what we were considering -- a drink and a bite or two at Moto, then dinner at Primehouse.

LAZ

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  • 3 months later...

Well, so we have been to Moto, when we visited Chicago in september.

I was very eager to try this place since I have read so many great things about the place here and on the LTH-forum as well.

But boy, oh boy, what a huge disappointment in every regard.

Looking back I should have seen it coming, because in a way it already started when I called to reconfirm my reservation and the lady checked back on the 2-3 (!) dietary restrictions (apple, wal- and hazelnuts) I gave them via e-mail, saying something like "Oh, as I see I have a whole list (...?!?) of restrictions here, that I have to give to the kitchen " in a repoachful tone as if she wanted to say "man, it might be difficult to cook for you since can virtually eat nothing...".

Anyway.

The restaurant itself is a nice place, intimate, yet the tables have enough distance, decor is nicely reduced and modern. But the small size of he dining room was a huge problem that night, because there was a group of 12-14 people at one table, that was so extremely loud and vulgar (skrieking laughs and "conversations" from end of the table to another - all at once) that it was virtually impossible to have a decent conversation without shouting at one another. As a result all other diners (mostly couples obviously looking for a "romantic" dinner) looked pretty pissed. I mean: If I go to a restaurant of that category I don't expect something like that. And I expect a restaurant to avoid such situations (by not taking groups that size) or to take care of the problem right away. I thought about telling one of the waiters - but they were so into this group, even pushing their "party"-feeling with jokes and quips, that it seemed like they were friends of the house or something. As a result, service for the other diners was non-existent at times...but I'll get to that later.

The noise didn't really bother us (3 diners) at first, because after all, we told ourselves, we were there "for the food".

But unfortunately the food was just not good. (We had the 10-course-menu.)

The problems were quite simple: apart from the desserts and one savory course, every dish was either over- or underseasoned. Some preparations seemed to have no salt at all, others way too much. Many dishes tasted either "mexican" in some way or downright artificial.

The "gags" didn't make any sense, either. Iam definitely familiar with and a friend of "avant garde" techniques and "decontsructed" dishes etc.

But at Moto it just didn't make culinary sense - and that is, in my opinion, the worst you can say about an "avant garde" restaurant. Where is, for example, the sense in serving the diner ordinary pig's belly with ordinary baked beans and, oh wow!, shaved ice cream that is supposed to taste like coleslaw salad ? Presented as "our take on a barbecue dinner", the pig and beans weren't any better than at any given barbecue (in fact, I had way better barbecued suckling pig in sardegna, where this is the traditional specialty). And the (very salty) ice cream didn't add any complexity either. A total miss.

Moto's main goal seems to be to take traditional dishes and "transform" them in some way: turning coleslaw into ice; turning greek salad into some crunchy chip and some liquid; turning the seasoning for the squab (I think it was) into some powder that the diner has to lick from a tiny sheet of paper...

But where is the sense in doing that if you have nothing to add? It is just showing off some "new techniques". Triviality on a plate.

The one good tasting dish was the "roadkill" - Iam a huge friend of "dark" humor, but nevertheless I have to ask: why this silly presentation, which is just a wannabe provocative, juvenile and tasteless joke for it's own sake. From a culinary perspectve it doesn't add the slightest bit.

But the lack of thoughtfulness at Moto maybe shows best in those silly forks that have some herbs attached to them: in our case it was (not-so-fresh) cilantro - cilantro!! A herb that hardly has any smell to it, even when you hold it right to your nose (you have to rub it to ge a nice smell). This shows very well that at Moto they just don't really think about what they are doing - the just do something, anything, whatever...

To make the disappointing experience complete, the service was probably the worst I have ever had in such a "high class" restaurant.

First, it took endlessly until we got the (oversalted) edible menu (admittedly a nice joke!). Then it took endlessly (even for european standards) until someone came to take our order.

I had the wine pairing - but the 2nd pairing was already forgotten. As was the one glass of wine that my fiancee had ordered at the beginning. When I told a waiter about the forgotten pairing (in a very friendly way!), he apologized and said that as a compensation he would pour a pairing for my fiancee on the next course, as well - which, of course, did not happen.

On several occasions our waters glasses were empty for quite some time - and no waiter in sight; on one course we had no silverware when the dishes were served; on one course the sommelier started saying something about the wine, but then the dishes arrived and he just disappeared, leaving it unknown to me what wine I was having in my glass; and then they had one waiter who had some kind of "homeboy" attitude when explaining the dishes, gesticulating with his hands like a rapper, thereby getting so extremely close to the plates with his fingers that he almost touched our food (in some cases we were really not sure) - but after a while this was just funny. In fact we tried to take the whole mess with humor.

Oh, and: When they finally realized that they kind of "owed" me one more wine, I was told that they had "of course" not fogotten it. And then, with the last dessert, I was suddenly presented with two different dessert-wines at once (?!?)...one of which, according to the menu, would actually have been the pairing for my first dessert, if I had taken the Grand Tour Moto with wine pairing.

This mistake showed one more time how little care they actually take in the stuff they serve, despite all the pretense (waiters running around with headsets...).

Usually, despite my european descent, Iam a quite decent tipper (20% at least, mostly more).

This time I wanted to give 15%, not a cent more. But guess what: they added an 18%-tip to the bill themselves...

greetings

kai

PS: On the positive side I have to say: I left some critical notes on the survey you can fill ot at the end of your meal - and one day later I got an e-mail, where they apologized for the disappointing perfomance and invited me to come back any time for the GTM. I doubt I will be able to make this, nor am I very eager to. But I appreciate the gesture.

Edited by kai-m (log)
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Well, so we have been to Moto, when we visited Chicago in september.

<<long accurate review follows>>

I had a similar experience when I dined there a few months back and felt very much the same as you. Being in the restaurant business, I began to ask around about where they get their servers...turns out they rotate their floor staff through the kitchen - or more accurately, they rotate their kitchen through the floor staff, which brings me to a simple point:

How on this wonderful green earth, can any restaurant expect to give 3- or 4-star service when they have new people working the floor virtually all the time? It is simply unreasonable to expect great service to be given when the servers have NO CLUE what they are doing.

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How on this wonderful green earth, can any restaurant expect to give 3- or 4-star service when they have new people working the floor virtually all the time?  It is simply unreasonable to expect great service to be given when the servers have NO CLUE what they are doing.

I beg to differ.

When I was in Chicago back in March with my wife and daughter, we had a wonderful meal at Moto. We enjoyed all of the dishes, marveled at the creativity and, in particular, enjoyed the perspective that our servers brought precisely because they had also spent time in the kitchen.

We would recommend the restaurant without hesitation.

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My most recent experience at Moto, which is posted up thread, is certainly along the lines of Brent's. The Moto servers, while lacking in some polish compared to career FOH staff, offer other attributes to increase their value to the interested diner, Kai's experience notwithstanding - that appears to be an unfortunate fluke. I wonder if some of Kai's response to the food may have been cultural. Cantu's jokes play directly off American culture and dining sensibilities that may not play as well to a European. It is clear that Moto is very much a technique driven restaurant, however, I found the techniques to have been put to good use. In this sense, it is more similar to WD-50 than say Alinea. Wylie also tends to riff off of American comfort food in many of his dishes. If those traditions are not part of one's culinary genome, I would expect either of these restaurants to be less well received.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Well put, docsonz.

Regarding the almost comical service glitches - there is no other way than to attribute this to a "bad night", maybe due to the described circumstances with that large group - which, on the other hand, should not happen at such a restaurant anyway.

Regarding the food: I thought the exact same thing about "takes on american comfort food" etc, while we were there (even for a foreigner this is not that hard to see). Still, I don't think that this is enough as a concept.

After (!) our visit I read a review on chuckeats.com - and I think he nails it pretty good. (Even though his experience was still better than ours).

greetings

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But the small size of he dining room was a huge problem that night, because there was a group of 12-14 people at one table, that was so extremely loud and vulgar (skrieking laughs and "conversations" from end of the table to another - all at once) that it was virtually impossible to have a decent conversation without shouting at one another. As a result all other diners (mostly couples obviously looking for a "romantic" dinner) looked pretty pissed. I mean: If I go to a restaurant of that category I don't expect something like that. And I expect a restaurant to avoid such situations (by not taking groups that size) or to take care of the problem right away.

Just out of curiosity - what can a restaurant do about such a group, other than not accepting such a large reservation? Once they're there and seated, how can they reduce the noise without insulting or upsetting the large group? I'm not trying to defend Moto; I'm just curious, trying to understand what option(s) they may have.
Where is, for example, the sense in serving the diner ordinary pig's belly with ordinary baked beans and, oh wow!, shaved ice cream that is supposed to taste like coleslaw salad ? Presented as "our take on a barbecue dinner", the pig and beans weren't any better than at any given barbecue (in fact, I had way better barbecued suckling pig in sardegna, where this is the traditional specialty). And the (very salty) ice cream didn't add any complexity either.

That isn't ice cream. That is cole slaw, made by blending and freezing cabbage, then putting it through a machine to create the "strands" of cole slaw. So it's supposed to taste like cole slaw, with the sharp savory taste etc. Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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As you say: such a small "first class" restaurant should not accept such large groups in the first place. And if a group, no matter how large or small, is noisy, they should ask them to be a little more quiet. I think it is better to "upset" one group than to upset all the other guests whose (pretty damn expensive) dinner gets disturbed...

Regarding the cole slaw: alright, no ice cream. It kind of had the texture of ice cream. I love cole slaw salad. In what way does this preparation enhance the experience? Anyway, apart from the preparation/presentation this one was simply oversalted.

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In what way does this preparation enhance the experience? Anyway, apart from the preparation/presentation this one was simply oversalted.

Apart from the noise and the ruckus that would have also ruined my experience for sure (babies in restaurants have the same effect on me), could it be that Cantu's ludic culinary philosophy did not engage you at all? I personally love his kitchen and I think he is a very talented chef. But I could not take some of my friends there. What I consider ludic, they find ridiculous and viceversa. De gustibus...

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In what way does this preparation enhance the experience? Anyway, apart from the preparation/presentation this one was simply oversalted.

Apart from the noise and the ruckus that would have also ruined my experience for sure (babies in restaurants have the same effect on me), could it be that Cantu's ludic culinary philosophy did not engage you at all?  I personally love his kitchen and I think he is a very talented chef. But I  could not take some of my friends there.  What I consider ludic, they find ridiculous and viceversa. De gustibus...

This is true of a lot of technoemotional cuisine. Generally it either resonates or it doesn't. WD-50 is much the same way. I love that restaurant, but have friends who simply do not. On the same token, I know a lot of people who love Pierre Gagnaire and/or El Poblet. Neither experience particularly resonated with me. It could also be that given the apparent problems in the restaurant listed throughout Kai's meal, the restaurant simply had an off-night and was in the weeds from the get go. Unfortunate if true, but it happens to every restaurant on occasion. I tend to agree that large groups should not be accommodated in the main dining rooms of high-end restaurants along with other customers. It does have a tendency to restrict or impair the experience of the other diners.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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As I said in my review above Iam very familiar with "avant garde" or so called "molecular" techniques - and Iam a big fan of it (with Juan Amador in Langen/Germany I have one of europes leading 3*-avant-garde-chefs right around the corner - and it is my favorite restaurant; 2 Nights before Moto we had dinner at Alinea and loved it.).

But with Cantu's creations I just don't think that they work - my very personal impression, of course!

But I will not cancel out the possibility that the circumstances were a factor in the negative impression of the food as well.

greetings

kai

PS: I don't have such a big problem with babies, because as opposed to adults they just don't know better...

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  • 3 months later...

Moto 2009

Last Tuesday I returned to Moto, Chicago’s premier molecular restaurant (at least if one places Alinea in its own transcendent category), and I was surprised at the changes. The restaurant looks much the same, but the cuisine feels different. The changes at moto may mirror those decisions made by many successful artistic rebels. After their moment of publicized rebellion – after they have thrown down the gauntlet and after the media has chronicled that gauntlet – the rebel needs to ask, “what now?” These heroes come to realize that there is a lot to be learned from the standards of the world from which they have rebelled. Perhaps symbolically when we were given our kitchen tour we did not need to wear protective googles – there was no laser in evidence.

Strikingly, the dish from the ten-course dinner (with a few extra courses) that I remember most clearly and most fondly is (almost) a dish that could easily have been served at any restaurant committed to contemporary cuisine. The kitchen presented a pan-seared Texas quail with modulated hot (pequin) pepper and celery three ways. Granted the dish arrived with an edible paper that was reminiscent of buffalo wings – the dish was ostensibly a deconstruction of buffalo wings – but what struck me was how sweet and luscious and even traditional the quail was. My tablemates agreed. The “Chicago steak dinner” was likewise a lovely, modernist dish with a beautifully cooked bit of prime rib eye. Yes, it was a deconstruction of the composition of such a dinner, but not a destruction of it. Perhaps the least effective was the faux “breakfast” – a coconut and passion fruit egg (white and yolk) served with crab cake tater tots and blood orange ketchen. The crab was extremely tasty, but the egg (a borrowing, if I recall correctly, from WD-50) was more curious than enjoyable, given a texture that was perhaps too reminiscent of plastic.

As with this “egg” dish, some of the Moto oddities – the powders and a little nitro and a Cuban sandwich shaped as a cigar with ash, but for the most part the tastes were strong. There were no dipping dots to be seen. Moto’s problem has been that the concept has on occasion overwhelmed the taste. The edible menu (as the amuse) is a case in point. No one would demand to eat this cracker were it not for the jest on which it is based (eating the menu).

Pastry Chef Ben Roche’s desserts were, as usual, most enjoyable, but not so different in spirit from what one might be served as Jean-Georges, Per Se, or, in Chicago, at Blackbird. They were compositions of flavor points, following modern canons, rather than provocations. And they were all the better for that.

Moto 2009 reveals a greater attention to flavor, while sometimes the presentation seems to be minimalist (such as the BBQ beans and slaw. The roadkill (described on the menu as “roadkill of fowl”), a now canonical dish at moto (a result of the visit I organized when the restaurant had first opened) is based on duck (not raccoon) and is much more elaborately plated. However, while the dish is tasty, it has lost some of its authenticity as a just-in-time creation.

So moto is changing, as it should be. Chef Homero Cantu seems to be considering what he needs to do, rather than what he can do. After all, if it is only the ideas that matter, what would justify return visits? Moto remains vital and exciting, clever and tasty: but now a restaurant that doesn’t need to strain so hard to be worthy of its diners’ love.

Moto's edible menu (Grand Tasting Menu version)

3298786684_1965f46d06.jpg

Passion fruit and coconut egg with crab tater tots and blood orange ketchup

3298062187_4706529f68.jpg

Saffron Scallop with Lemon oil power, Orange and Shiso syrup

3297958531_eb8ebbc739.jpg

Deconstructed French onion soup: Gruyere and onion cracker

3297958651_575899db35.jpg

House made pequin (chili) quail with trio of celery

3298787132_a18c242632.jpg

Smoked beef brisket, frozen cole slaw, and BBQ beans

3297958953_36f4f91311.jpg

Roadkill of fowl: duck, red and yellow beets, crunchy red rice

3298787302_6cd1304b6b.jpg

Chicago Steak Dinner

3298787402_48ea917ea3.jpg

Pina Colada forms for dessert

3297959267_7b4629381d.jpg

Pumpkin pie forms for dessert

3297959373_05cab3fd51.jpg

Moto

945 West Fulton Market Street (West Loop)

Chicago

312-491-0058

http://www.motorestaurant.com/

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  • 5 months later...

When was the last time we had a real paradigm shift in food? Get ready, because its about to happen and every top tier food company ceo is going to be scratching their heads trying to figure out what Moto has been up to with the crazy NDA's and secrecy. Its almost time to let the ticking bomb go off. Tick tock tick tock tick tock...

Power to the people, planet and philanthropy.

http://twitter.com/hcantu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYAugV_Q1BI

http://vimeo.com/5776229

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

http://www.facebook.com/homaro.cantu?ref=profile

http://twitter.com/hcantu

Watch it unfold. The biggest disruption in food over the last 50 years.

http://www.vimeo.com/5993753

Enjoy the show.

96

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

Eht nwodtnuoc ot eht gnitsalreve noitpursid ni doof sah nugeb. Eht etisbew lliw egnahc yadyreve htiw setadpu, swen dna ecnegilletni sgnifeirb. Emoclew ot eht erutuF dooF margorp.

Os emoclew ot ym dlrow, eht dlrow fo evitpursid doof ygolonhcet taht ekam eht dlrow a retteb ecalp.

Hctaw eht nwodtnuoc ereh:

www.disruptivefood.com

Homaro Cantu - Your neighborhood hoodlum and food scrambler

There are only 82 days left...

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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Its your daily dose of street talkin' smack walkin' disruptive food goodies.

81 days left.

Prepare for liftoff!

www.disruptivefood.com

HC

Edited by inventolux (log)

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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      Sherry or wine or bouillon or the gravy you preserved from your last LTLT.cooked meat for simmering (I usually prefer Sherry)
      Eventually some cream (or crème fraîche)
      Salt, pepper, parsley, caraway seeds (typical for Tyrolean Gröstl), paprika, condiment (in Switzerland we use "Aromat" by Knorr, which contains sodium chloride, sodium glutamate, lactose, starch, yeast extract, vegetable fats, onions, spices, E552)'
      vegetable oil (I prefer olive oil)




      Mise en place

      cut your meat in small cubes or slices
      cut the onion(s) not too fine (place the first cut below your tongue to avoid tearing during cutting)
      cut the vegetables about 3-4 mm thick
      cut the salads to pieces smaller than 4 cm, distribute on the cutting board and season deliberately
      cut the potatoes to 1 cm cubes
      place 3 heavy skillets with ample oil on the stove

      Cooking

      in skillet 1, stir-fry the onions, add the hard vegetables still stir-frying, add salad, add sufficient liquid (Sherry or wine or bouillon or gravy) for simmering under a cover until soft. If desired, reduce heat and add some cream at the end.
      in skillet 2, stir-fry the potatoes until soft (in case of sweetcorn kernels, add to skillet 1 after stir-frying and use skillet 2 for skillet 3)
      in skillet 3, as soon as the vegetables and the potatoes are soft, sear the meat in just smoking oil for 30-60 seconds, then add to skillet 1

      Serving
      You may mix the potatoes with the vegetables and meat to make a rather typical Gröstl, or serve the fried potatoes separately; we prefer the latter, as the potatoes stay more crunchy.
      Do not forget to serve a glass of good dry red wine!
    • By PedroG
      Brisket „Stroganoff“ Sous Vide With Mixed Mushrooms

      Ingredients for 2 servings
      about 400g well marbled Brisket
      3 tablespoons rice bran oil or other high smoke point oil (grapeseed oil)
      3 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil
      3 tablespoons Cognac (brandy)
      2 small onions, finely diced
      ½ yellow or red bell peppers cut into strips
      90 g mixed mushrooms
      100 ml of gravy from last Brisket (or concentrated stock)
      1 teaspoon mustard, Dijon type
      1 teaspoon paprika mild (not spicy!)
      1 medium pickled cucumber cut into thin strips
      2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
      approx. 120g sour cream with herbs
      Sous Vide - cooking
      Marinate brisket with Mexican style (medium hot) marinade in the vacuum bag for at least 3 days at 1 ° C, cook sous vide 48 hours at 55.0 ° C.
      Preparing the sauce
      At a moderate heat sauté onions in olive oil, add peppers (preblanched in the microwave oven for 2-3 minutes) and mushroom mixture, stir-fry, remove from heat and add the gravy. Add pickled cucumber, pepper, mustard and cognac. Put on very low heat, add sour cream and keep warm, but do not boil as the cream will separate. Remove the brisket from the bag, cut into strips (about 8x10x35mm), sear very quickly in smoking-hot rice bran oil, add the meat and the parsley to the sauce.
      Serving
      Serve on warmed plates. Typically served with spätzle (south German) or chnöpfli (Swiss).
      And don't forget a glass of good red wine!
      Enjoy your meal!
      Pedro

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