Saturday, May 26, 2012

Charlie Trotter's

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...

They decided to serve all of us the first course of the Vegetable Menu.  This was Roasted Heirloom Beets with Candied Pistachios and Meyer Lemon Sorbet.

After we had the first course from both menus, we returned to our respective menus.  For me, that meant that the next course was the Red Wine Marinated Unagi with Allspice and Pumpernickel Cracker.

The next course was one of my favorites.  It was Steamed Alaskan Halibut with Green Almonds, Acorn-Fed Iberian Ham & Lemon Balm.  Every part of it looked and tasted excellent.

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.

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