Thursday, October 30, 2014


I first visited Moto about five years ago and was blown away.  At the time, there were only a couple of restaurants in Chicago that explored the bounds of what was called Molecular Gastronomy, using science to deconstruct and reconstruct, dishes and flavors.  While both restaurants took their work as culinary tour guides very seriously, Moto went about it with a sense of whimsy, starting with an edible menu and presenting a series of courses that really didn't look like what you might expect them to.  For example, a popular dish was a Cuban Sandwich that was presented as a partially smoked Cuban Cigar.  The entire dinner was filled with a sense of magic and whimsy and there was a sense of wonder about each dish.  For a long time it was my favorite dining experience.  When I found that one of my friends had never been to Moto and really wanted to go, I happily agreed to be his dining partner.  When we arrived, we were seated by the general manager, who I had actually met, a few weeks prior at a benefit for Common Threads.  He took care of us very well for the rest of the night.  When we were seated, a terrarium full of microgreens was brought over and sat with us with little explanation.  I suspected that it would be used som time during the dinner, but I would have to wait and see.
As I mentioned earlier, when I first came to Moto, the first course was the edible menu.  At the time it was a pita cracker with edible paper and vegetable ink.  Moto still starts things off with an edible menu of sorts.  They called it a Tasting of the Tasting Menu and we were presented a plate with 13 small bites representing our 13 other courses in our meal.  They were not entire courses of course, but representations of the major elements of each course.  It was fun tasting our way through the tasting menu and it helped to build anticipation for what was going to come next.  After we were presented with our edible menus, we were then presented with a personalized menu laser etched on thin wood that we could take home 9and which would at least tell us the name of what was coming next).
The next course was called Grow Room and it's where the centerpiece came into play.  We were presented with a beautiful Bison Tartare.  Our server (the manager) then came over, opened the terrarium, and trimmed the greens which were served over the tartare.  The first bite revealed that somehow, a very nice (and light) vinaigrette had been added to the greens which provided some brightness to the dish.  I would say that it was a great start except that the actual start was the menu.
I found the next course when it was presented to us, Radish, to be visually arresting, and it was one of those dishes that had me asking, "how do I eat this?"  It was a clear glass tray, on top of which was a clear glass plate on which were served a variety of Radishes, Sunchokes, Caviar, and a Mint Leaf over Aerated Hollandaise Sauce.  It did help when we were told to mix everything together and try to get some caviar in every bite.  The Hollandaise Sauce was like a pudding, the radishes and sunchokes were very fresh and crisp, and the caviar provided some salt.  It was a very good dish and I liked it a lot.
The next course brought the sense of smell into play.  It was called Flavors of the Ocean and was presented on a glass tray over seaweed.  There was a Sliced Scallop in the center of the plate with some White and Green Seaweeds, Fried Tapioca, Fish Chips, and a White Seafood Sauce.  For whatever reason, I didn't have a problem attacking this and I went about trying various things on the platter until my platter was clean.  It was interesting to try the different flavors individually and in various combinations and it actually reminded me of the Duck course at Alinea with 60 accompaniments that we were meant to try randomly.

Looking at the menu, I saw that the next course was called Which Came First? and I assumed that it was a chicken and egg course of some sort.  While I was right, it was nothing that I expected and would never have guessed.  We were presented with a piece of wood with a depression holding an opened eggshell behind which was a small metal rod with an alligator clip holding a Fried Cockscomb.  Inside the eggshell was an Egg Custard over which were Shaved Black Truffles.  We were told to unmount the cockscomb and dip it into the custard.  I did that, but I also tried both elements individually and while they were very good together, they were also very good separately.  The cockscomb was like a chicharron, the egg custard was very creamy and slightly salty, and the black truffle provided a nice funky flavor to everything.
After the chicken, our next course was Beans Almondine.  Beans with Almonds is a relatively common combination but this definitely stretched things.  It was an Almond Panna Cotta framed by Garlic Tuiles and topped with several different types of Beans, Garlic Sprouts, and English Peas.  It looked relatively simple but the flavors were pretty complex and it was very good.
From a very simple, almost zen like presentation, we went to chaos.  Having said that, despite the fact that it was chaotic, it made sense that it was chaotic. The dish was called Fallen Log and it was designed to look like a forest floor.  There were a variety of Mushrooms, Broccoli, Spinach, and a Jerky Log.  It was very savory, very good, and reminded me of a dish that I had the first time I dined here.  It also was a mushroom dish with a forest floor presentation, but it was a very different presentation.
After the complexity of the mushroom dish, we then went back to another very simple dish.  Called Grilled Goat, that is exactly what it was.  It was four different cuts of goat on a grill.  From left to right we had Goat Tenderloin, Goat Belly, Goat Shoulder, and Goat Sausage.  The cuts were small, only a couple of bites each, but it was enough to get a good taste of each, which were all very good.  All of the cuts were juicy and flavorful but I think I favored the goat belly most.
Reading the menu, we saw that the next course was called Thyme Capsule.  It was obviously a play on words involving thyme but we were curious as to how it would play out.  With that, we were presented with a wooden box with Moto branded on the top.
When we opened the box  we were presented with skewers of Pork Belly and Lamb Belly on a bed of fresh Thyme.  The bellies were both very good.  They were juicy, flavorful, and tender, but the best part of this dish actually was the smell of the fresh thyme.
From simple we went back to complex, chaotic, and a little confusing.  It was called Sus Scrofa which gave nothing to us.  We could tell it was a meat course but were still kind of clueless.  It turns out that Sus Scrofa is the scientific name for Wild Boar which was hunted to order at a ranch in Texas.  The dish came with a Roasted Tomatillo and Jalapeno Reduction, Red Mole Powder, Ancho and Guajillo Chiles, Chicken Skin, Puffed Wild Rice, and Boar Jerky.  It was tangy, spicy and very good.  While it wasn't a pretty dish, the taste made up for it.
For the final savory course we were served a course called Bird's Nest.  I figured that it was going to be a poultry course of some sort.  I was wrong.  It looked like a small bird's nest on a bed of twigs and dried leaves.  The "nest" though actually had nothing to do with birds and the presentation took me back to the first time I came to Moto and nothing looked like what it actually was.  The nest was actually Dried Beef with Malabar Spinach and it was a one bite dish that we ate with our hand.  It was clean, simple, and a very nice finish to the savory side of the meal. 
Generally, in larger tasting menus, after the savory courses and before dessert, a palate cleanser, usually a sorbet, is served. That was true in this case as well.  Called Berries and Whey, it was a Raspberry Sorbet with a Solid Milk Crisp.  The sorbet was sweet and tart and the milk was slightly sweet with a texture similar to a meringue.  It was very good at cleansing my palate and set us up for dessert.
Our first dessert was called Shades of Red and like it sounds, it was an exploration of the color red.  It included Pomegranate cells, Strawberry Sorbet, Mascarpone Cheese, and a variety of Tomatoes.  It was an interesting presentation, but honestly, it didn't quite come together for me.  It either needed something more to tie things together, or something less so things didn't need to be tied together.
The next course, Golden Oldies, was a celebration of the color orange.  It used Apricots, Oranges, Peaches, Pumpkins with Ice Cream and Pound Cake.  It was sweet, fruity, and flavorful with a variety of textures.  It looked pretty chaotic, but it tasted great.
For our final dessert course, we were brought a campfire.  It was a thick piece of wood with a flame in the middle and marshmallows on skewers mounted around the fire.  The course was called Toasted Marshmallows, but it was actually more than that.  We toasted the marshmallows and found when we bit into them that they were inside out S'mores.  They were sweet, gooey, and a great finish to the official dinner.
As our dinner was finishing, we were brought a menu of after dinner drinks.  I am a sucker for Amaro so that is what I ordered.  My dining partner had a coffee drink which actually arrived first.  This is when we found that the drink also came with a bite to go with it.  With the coffee drink came some hazelnut brittle.  My amaro took a little time and I found out when it arrived that it came with an Oatmeal Cookie that was made to order.  The amaro was smooth, sweet, and bitter, and went amazingly well with the oatmeal cookie which was warm, fresh, and sweet.
After everything came the Caramel Mignardises which were served on a sandcastle dish.  The caramels were buttery, sweet, and gooey, and a great finish to the dinner.  While dinner was finished though, our experience at Moto was not.  We were given a tour of the kitchen.
The kitchen is in the basement of the restaurant with the stairs near the front of the dining room.  We went downstairs and entered the outer demonstration kitchen.  It was modern and very lab-like with many scientific instruments including a Rotovap, a Centrifuge, Volumetric Flasks, Distilling Columns and a Periodic Table on the wall.  
The centrifuge looked large enough to make soup.

The final room that we were shown was the Grow Room.  It was a hydroponic garden that grew the greens for the dinner.  It was very cool to see and a great finish to the experience.  Moto has grown up.  They are still amazingly creative and the food and service is still great, but the presentations, for the most part no longer are plays on something else.  The experience was a lot of fun and I would happily return.   


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