For many years, Charlie Trotter's was the pinnacle of fine dining in Chicago. While the man himself is notorious for having an explosive temper, he is also an incredibly talented chef, having won the James Beard Best Chef Award in 1999. He is also a talented teacher. His influence can be seen in restaurants throughout Chicago. Notable chefs that have worked for Trotter include Grant Achatz, Homaro Cantu, Mindy Segal, Michael Carlson, Curtis Duffy, Giuseppe Tentori, Bill Kim, Matthias Merges, Gregory Ellis, Steven Fladung, and Graham Elliot (Bowman). This August, after 25 years, Trotter will be closing the doors to his eponymous restaurant. I thought that with my interest in good food, it would be a shame to have never gone to Charlie Trotter's so I talked several friends into joining me for the evening. The best table in the house is the Kitchen Table and while I did try to get it, it was booked within minutes of becoming available (3 months in advance). With the reputation of the restaurant, I knew that a regular table in the dining room would be very good so I had no problem booking a table there. We had a 9 pm reservation so we arrived a little early. It seemed when we got there that there are two seatings for the restaurant because both the waiting area and the dining room were full. There was a rapid turnaround shortly after that. We were seated and given the menus. The dining menu consisted of two options, the Vegetable menu, and the Grand Menu, both 8 course degustation menus. The wine menu however, was a book. There were four of us in the party. Three of us ordered the Grand Menu and one ordered the Vegetable Menu. We all got the wine pairings for our respective dinners.
The dinner lasted just over 4 hours and everything was at least very good. While our dinners were supposed to have been eight courses, we were actually served nine because they erred in service. Our first course was a Sashimi of Blue Fin Tune with a Shrimp Head and Greens. This was actually the first course on the Grand Menu and as one member of our party had ordered the Vegetable Menu and they served this to her...
The next course was another favorite, Arkansas Rabbit Loin with Ramps, Burgundy Snails & Elephant Garlic. It was also served with an Allspice Cracker. While the dish does look good, I probably could have done a better job photographing it. The snails and a second loin were hidden by the cracker.
Our next course was the last truly savory course and it was really savory. It was Espresso Rolled Venison with Crumbled Oats, Boudin Noir (blood sausage), and Pulled Goat.
As has been my habit when I have a multicourse meal, I invariably forget to photograph one course. This was also true at Charlie Trotter's but unlike others, I didn't notice that I had forgotten until I started going through the pictures. The course that I forgot was the first dessert course which was a Granny Smith Apple & Greek Yogurt Sorbet with Meyer Lemon,
Tarragon and Candied Pistachio. It was good and if I remember it, like all of the other courses, it did look very good.
The next dessert course was Cinnamon-Glazed Brioche with Georgia Blueberry Compote &
Cinnamon-Blueberry Ice Cream. Every piece of this sort of reminded me of a marshmallow (as far as the look was concerned). The pieces were round and soft but they had enough structural integrity to hold together when they were attacked. It also tasted good, sweet with the right amount of tartness.
My last dessert was a good finish. It was a good combination of sweet and savory, Criollo Cake with Parsnip, Red Wine & Candied Vanilla.
I was glad I went to Charlie Trotter's and it was interesting to see where other fine dining chefs learned their techniques. Dinner lasted four hours but with the good company that I had, the time flew. The service was excellent as was the food and while I am sorry that this restaurant will be closing and I wish Chef Trotter the best on wherever life may take him, if the restaurant were to remain open, I am not sure that I would have the urge to return.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Sunday, May 13, 2012
For me entree, I did pick something that is a favorite of mine in other restaurants, duck. The duck portion of the dish was a Seared Duck Breast. The duck breast was served with Asparagus, Rice Pilaf, and a Lingonberry Sauce. The duck was good, and the sauce provided a nice tartness. The asparagus was also nice and fresh. The rice was prepared well and tasted good but it wasn't exceptionally exciting. While I love duck, the potato pancakes were better.
When I looked at the dessert menu, I saw what I wanted immediately. I ordered the Lemon Tart. When it came out, it looked very nice. It had a sliced strawberry, blueberries, and a whipped cream topping. The fruits were crisp and juicy and tasted as if they were just picked. That unfortunately, was the best part of the dessert. While the lemon part of the tart tasted good, in my opinion, a tart should be fairly firm, whereas this was like pudding. The crust didn't taste bad but it was kind of tough so it was a bit difficult to keep the tart and the crust together when it was cut into bite sized pieces.
Tre Kronor was very friendly and there were several other things on the menu besides what I ordered that looked good. I don't know if I would order dessert the next time I return but the food, atmosphere, and service do warrant a return trip.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The next course was an Eggplant Parmesan. It took sliced eggplant rolled with more Parmigiano Reggiano and Parsley, baked and covered in a fresh and housemade tomato basil sauce. I am generally not a fan of eggplant. I find it slimy and pretty unappetizing but this was something else. Admittedly, it wasn't exceptionally pretty and because I was eating a multi-course meal, the individual serving size was smaller than it normally would have been, but I definitely would have enjoyed a full size portion of this.
The next course was the soup. Personally, I would have served the soup before the eggplant but I suppose that since it is early in the progression it does make sense. The soup was a Passatelli. It is essentially an Italian Chicken Noodle Soup. The broth was chicken (obviously), but the noodles were unlike anything that I have ever had. They were made with eggs, Parmiagiano Reggiano, and bread crumbs. They were really good and while they held together fine, they were also very cheesy. It was kind of like soaking a grilled cheese sandwich in the soup that you would normally eat it with. I normally find chicken noodle soup pretty boring but I did make sure I finished this.
Finally we got to the meat of the meal, if you will excuse the pun. I was served Handmade Tagliatelle with a Bolognese Meat Ragout. The tagliatelle was uneven as one might expect from handmade pasta and it was cooked perfectly, having the right amount of toothsomeness. Of course it was covered in Parmigiano Reggiano. I have nothing to say about this other than that this too was very good.
The next course was another pasta course and it was much better than I would have expected. It was Tortelloni al Burro e Salvia. I like tortelloni but this dish was so simple that I wasn't expecting much. Like everything else, this pasta was housemade and stuffed with Ricotta di Pecora and tossed with fresh sage and butter. It was buttery, creamy, cheesy, and roll-my-eyes-back good.
Finally, we came to dessert and it was something else. It was an Angel Food cake soaked in Rum and Grenadine, filled with Pastry Cream, and Dark Chocolate Mousse, and drizzled with Dark Chocolate Sauce. It was served with a sliced strawberry and a biscotti. The cake was sweet and very moist and a very good finish to a very good dinner.
The food at Merlo on Maple is very good with everything being housemade and the space is classic and very nice. The music was nice when I could hear it and the wait staff was very friendly. The only negative that I have to say about my dinner was that the pacing was a little slow. While I did enjoy my dinner and would return, if the pacing was a little faster, it would have been much more enjoyable.