Monday, July 02, 2007

Now that's a night to remember...

Opinionated About Dining: In Search of the Perfect Meal

Aka, "What Happens When You Eat at Jean Georges, Per Se, Bouley, Eleven Madison Park & WD-50 All in the Same Night?"

Sunday, July 01, 2007


When I was in Chicago last week, I finally got to try out Moto. This is another restaurant in the "molecular gastronomy" movement which I'm somewhat enamored with. Despite positive reviews from people, I'd been hesitant about going to Moto. It just seemed too gimmicky - and for me, as someone who's eaten food hanging off an antenna before, that's saying a lot. But then I saw the chef, Homaru Cantu, on Iron Chef America, and when all the judges oohed and ahhed over the flavor of his food, I was sold. So, when I had to spend three days in Chicago for work, I posted on eGullet to find some company for a dinner at Moto. Here's the write-up I just posted to eGullet:

Short version: I went in with the same fears as jesteinf, and was also pleasantly surprised. Everything tasted great, and the gimmicks were used to further that, not distract from it. The wine pairings were spectacular.

Long version:
Our (customized) menu was printed on a cracker that was flavored like foccacia - sundried tomatoes, parmesan, etc. That was on top of a lovely salad with fennel and kumquat. We ordered the 10 course menu, then got to eat our crackers - yum.

SALMON & sesame: raw salmon, dusted with the Japanese spice mixture of a name I can't remember or spell (something -rashi), and topped with a crispy yuba skin. Our server held a copper pot of bubbling liquid nitrogen and scooped from it some freeze dried sesame oil (which became a powder) to top off the salmon. Yum.
Wine: Ruinart Blanc de Blanc, Reims, Brut, NV

BEET with bacon: Okay, you'd really have to love beets to like this one, but luckily we all did. This looked like a piece of yellow cake, but was actually a frozen aerated beet concoction - it was surprisingly cold, and had a texture that reminded me of semi-freddo. It was topped with some little bacon bits, and surrounded by a beautifully plated goat cheese sauce and swirls of red and yellow beet sauce as well as bits of beets.
Wine: C. Schmitt-Wagner, Longuichen Maximiner Herrenberg Spatlese, Riesling, M-S-R, 2005

SKATE & popcorn: the popcorn was in the form of a lovely yellow sauce that did indeed taste kind of like popcorn if you thought about it. There was also a bright green shiso mint sauce, some absolutely fabulous passion fruit noodles and quite a bit of coconut powder. And a little piece of seared skate wing. Beautifully plated, and best when you mixed all the bits together - this was definitely a "sum of the parts" dish.
Wine: Stone Paddock, Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay, 2005 (the passion fruit in the nose was spot on with those passion fruit noodles - excellent pairing)

CUCUMBER with lemon & basil: A palate cleanser of some picked cucumber and a shot of cucumber/basil/lemon juice. Tasty, and certainly palate cleans-y.

SMOKED PORK with frozen fried rice: Wow. Just wow. Even jesteinf's fiance (who doesn't particularly like pork) liked this. This was a piece of pork shoulder dusted with Thai spices and smoked. It was perfectly cooked, with lovely unctuous melting fat. It was served with some kind of sauteed green and some frozen noodles that, yes, tasted like fried rice.
Wine: Barboursville, Reserve, Cabernet Franc, Virginia 2005 (Yes, that's the US state of Virginia. It was great, and another amazing pairing.)

PASTA & quail: Introduced to us as "chicken-fried quail," this was a very twisty twist on mac and cheese. The pasta had been freeze dried or something, so it was crunchy. Meanwhile, the quail managed to have exactly the texture one would expect from pasta. And it was all topped with an amazing white truffle cheese sauce. Someone at the table christened it "haute trash." But man, I'd totally eat that again.
Wine: Betts & Scholl, The Chronique, Grenache, Barossa, 2005

FRUIT & bubbles: Ah, at last I get to try the famous carbonated fruit! We had two pieces of carbonated watermelon, served on either side of what we heard as "white chocolate and exploratory cheese sauce." We were wondering what was exploratory about it, but then someone told us no, it was "explorateur cheese sauce". Whatever it was, it was amazing. Also on the plate were some granulated black walnuts, a rice puff cracker thing flavored like strawberry daiquiri, and some cinnamon apples. From the texture and flavor, I believe the apples had been cooked sous vide or something unusual. This was just so tasty - we were all oohing and ahhing over that cheese sauce, and now I'm pondering incorporating it into a white chocolate truffle sometime, it was such and intriguing combination.
Wine: Meinklang, Ice Wine, Pinot Blanc, Burgenland, 2003.

2 & 3 dimensional truffle: The three dimensional truffle was a white chocolate truffle filled with a completely liquid cotton candy flavored center. The 2 dimensional version was a piece of rice paper that was flavored like cotton candy and printed with a cartoon drawing of a cone of cotton candy. A very familiar flavor in a new and (for me anyway) preferable form.

GRAHAM CRACKER & blueberry: My note taking fell to pieces on this one, as there was just too much. The twist on this one was that the graham cracker component was as a smooth mousse, with blueberry "dots" and ginger "dots" adding some crunchy texture. There was some strawberry sorbet in there too. Tasty.

KIWI, mint & maize: This looked for all the world like a plate of nachos. There were sweetened corn chips. There was ground beef made out of chocolate (but looking exactly like ground beef). There was a green salsa of kiwis. Then shaved mango sorbet that looked exactly like cheese. And a little pile of lime cream in the corner as the sour cream. The illusion was impeccable. So impeccable in fact, that I had to close my eyes to taste it properly. If I had my eyes open I just couldn't make my tastebuds cooperate. Awesome.
Wine: Elio Perrone, Sourgal, Moscato d'Asti, Italy 2006 (this might have come out with the previous course, I can't remember)

STRAWBERRY shortcake: Edible packing peanuts flavored with strawberry and sandwiching some sort of cream.

After we'd finished up and were chatting about what a lovely meal it had been, a waiter walked by with the cart they used to prepare a course on the GTM at tableside. Seeing that he had a little bit of batter left in his syringe, I called out "Hey, do you have enough there to make us some?" "I'll see what I can do."

And sure enough, a few minutes later out he came, wheeling the cart again for:

FLAPJACKS prepared tableside: A metal sheet is frozen in liquid nitrogen. Pancakes are cooked, then turned back into a batter, and that batter is "cooked" into pancakes on the anti-griddle, and served in a spoon with some BLiS bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup. Man, that was good.

And then we were really done. And it was a great meal, and a lot of fun. Josh and Marisa were great company. I would absolutely go back.

Some additional comments:
Service: Service was really quite good and friendly. They made a couple of mistakes, the biggest of which was ignoring our telling them that Marisa didn't like dark chocolate (they could easily have left it off her "nachos"). I had requested a short pour for the wine pairings, which they said they were happy to do, but then my pours were pretty much the same size as Josh and Marisa's. BUT, they only charged me for the half pour, so I'm not actually complaining. Lastly, they made a mistake handling the gratuity on our split bill (charging me 1/2 instead of 1/3 of the total 18% service charge) but we just dealt with it between ourselves rather than making them run it again.

Freezing: Cantu definitely likes his freezer! 6 out of what ended up being 12 courses had something frozen about them.

Plating: The Beet and Skate courses had some of the best plating I've had in a restaurant meal in recent memory. Just gorgeous to look at.

Different menu, different name: Looking at the three menus, you would assume that there was no overlap across them. But in fact, as we discovered by carefully observing and talking to the the GTM-eating couple beside us, it's just that they use a different description depending on the menu.

BEET with bacon = RED/YELLOW beet cake
CUCUMBER with lemon & basil = LEMON, basil & pickled cucumber
SMOKED PORK with frozen fried rice = BBQ PORK with the fixin's
PASTA & quail = CHICKEN FRIED mac-n-cheese
FRUIT & bubbles = C O-two fruit
2 & 3 dimensional truffle = 3 COTTON candy stages (they got one more than we did)
KIWI, mint & maize = CHILI-CHEESE nachos

945 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607