Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Charlie Trotter (Chicago) 01;2011

Charlie Trotters (CT) is a serious restaurant. You feel it when you look at his web page and you feel it as soon as you come in to the place. The decor is very plain, like an old house. After an initial warm greeting the staff settle into serious mode. Most of the wait staff are older than usual, though not all. Watch the sommelieur and you see a serious young man.
We ate in a room with about eight fairly close, double clothed tables furnished with very modern cutlery. A large, central, serving island in the centre of the room made it feel crowded.
We felt neglected for the first 20 minutes or so but once our meal started it was well timed. They offered three menus. A vegetarian menu, the Grand Menu, eight courses ($165) plus matched wines ($100) or by the glass ranging from $9 to $75 for Krug. Mostly about $28 and I'd bet it would be a rare customer who would order a $9 wine there. There is also a kitchen table ($225) where the activity of the kitchen can be seen at close range. There were about eight or so chef's looking after the couple of dozen guests that night. CT's philosophy is spelled out in there web site his food is ..."
designed to highlight the finest seasonal ingredients available. Chef Trotter prefers his cuisine to be experienced in a progression of petite courses with each course laying the foundation for the next – thus his tasting menu approach."
The first course Shima Aji with Watermelon Radish and Daikon, his capitals, came in a wooden box which came apart into three sections each with a tiny bowl of food in it.
a sort of amuse bouche this trio contained a variety of flavours to compliment the textures of both the tuna and the tastes of the accompanying vegetables. They were served with a Pierre Gimonnet "blanc de blancs" brut NV which had a light nutty slighly sweetish taste. This was a good choice for the dish.
Steamed Sturgeon with Cauliflower, Crispy Buckwheat and Osetra Caviar

was way beyond all expectation. We often ate sturgeon in Russia and never enjoyed it. This was something else. Caught in the Columbia River, I had always thought of it as a deep see fish, cooked sous vide for about 12 minutes at 61 degrees it was delicate and meltingly tender. The accompanying veggies tasted just like they should. A small cylinder of thin bread filled with a sweet cream did strike an odd note for me. A Robert Weill Reisling Kabinett Halbtrocken was another perfect match and enhanced the dish.
Nantucker Bay Scallops with Crispy Sweetbreads and Petite Celery

came with a "Vaillons" Domaine Billaud-Simon 08 Chablis. Dryer than the Reisling it also went well. There was a little ravioli in the middle of the plate which was also filled with sweetbreads. The crisp sweetbreads were a perfect foil for the tender little scallops. I do wish they were a little larger.
We now got a surprise. A bowl with a chestnut puree, chestnut gnocchi and covered with shaved white Alba truffles,

served with a dry white wine. This was the sort of dish gourmets dream about. I can taste it still, as though it had just been served.
A more traditional dish, Muscovy Duck Breast with Swiss Chard, Grilled Unagi (Eel) and Kombu (Seaweed)

had an unusual accompaniment, nestling under a layer of foam there was a delicate piece of ox cheek. This was served with a French Pinot Noir. I think a 07 Vosnee-Rommanee Mongeard-Mugneret. Again we have to compliment the serious young sommelieur. Every wine was an excellent match I might add that CT's has an absolutely outstanding cellar including over 20 successive vintages of Penfolds Grange, many for as little as $750 a bottle, a price you would not see in Australia. Even better with the wine this was simply another excellent dish as long as you appreciate a finely prepared duck breast.
It seems to us that meat in America tastes better than meat in Australia. Certainly the bison we ate at Lake Loise was incredible but beef, fillet, rib eye and other cuts of beef all have some extra taste here and the next course proved to be no exception. It was South Dakota Bison Tenderloin with Candied Espresso and Salsify.
Served with a Mas de Can Blau, Monsant 2006 it was a lovely piece of meat. We need more adjectives for meals and wines like this. By now we were ready for desserts. A Pomegranite Sorbet with Lime and Mint Jelly was both sweet and tart with the addition of the mint taste. It cleared the palate with the help of a luscious Tokaji "Cuvee Ilona" Kiralyudavar, 03, reminiscent of honey.
Sweet Potato Mousse with Toasted Marshmallow and Graham Cracker
followed by Poached Quince with Cocoa Nibs and Ennis Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream. These came with another surprise
a pair of slightly over browned but totally delicious canelles. I'm glad to see them back.
They came came with the last superb wine, a Pedro Ximenez "Gran Reserve"Bodegas Toro Albala
One trend Neither of us care for is the use of coffee beans in the search for new taste sensations. For me they often leave a bitter taste which hangs around for too long after the meal is finished.
Here's a bit more of CT's philosophy
The taste of free-range and organic products is so much better than the alternative. It is also good to know that you are eating unadulterated food and supporting farmers and growers who are directly connected with the land."

Chef Trotter prefers saucing with vegetable juice-based vinaigrettes, light emulsified stocks, and purees as well as delicate broths and herb-infused meat and fish essences.

"Unlike sauces that incorporate a lot of butter or cream, our approach does not mute or block the basic flavors of the ingredients they are meant to support."

It is important to Chef Trotter that diners enjoy a perfectly balanced meal that continues to satisfy afterwards.

"I do not want guests walking out of the restaurant feeling as if they over-indulged because of excessive cream, butter, and alcohol. I want them to feel stimulated and alert, knowing that they will be able to look forward to breakfast the following morning. Food doesn't have to be rich to taste good."

For us he succeeds pretty well
Score: 19/20


kitchensink said...


Call me crazy, I took my 11 year old daughter there once. I ordered the Grand Menu with wine pairing. She had the vegetarian menu with non-alcoholic pairing, which was a wild assortment of juices and teas.

It was an amazing meal as I see yours was as well.


Thank you for sharing!

Elliot and Sandra said...

Without doubt one of the finest meals we have ever eaten anywhere.