Monday, September 08, 2008

Chicago #3: Charlie Trotter's

My voyage through the land of fine dining begins! I feel like a Gourmet Gulliver. What strangeness is this? E has the vegetable meal, I go with the Grand Menu. My amouse bouche, if there are such things at this level of dining, is Dungeness Crab with Seawater (jellied) and Sturgeon Roe. No Wade?

Remember the Peanuts character Lucy? She used to be called by other characters and describe herself as "crabby." I think that word was slang before my time because in my childhood in the 50s when I encountered this term in Peanuts, I had to deduce its meaning from the context of the comic, not from hearing it in general usage. But for the first time in my life, I had a piece of crab that I could only describe as "crabby." Not in Lucy's angry sense, but "crabby' in what I perceive to be what happens in Sous-Vide cooking, compressing the essential flavours of a dish deeper and deeper into it. As each molecule of crab worked its way through my teeth, I felt like Capt Kirk, Picard, Buck Rogers, or some other intrepid explorer of lore, entering new realms of crabbic intensity. We are awash with great crab in Vancouver, but this is far beyond my local experience. Is it the seawater/roe combo that kick this crabiture into otherwise unknown realms of deliciousness? That's what we're here for.

E is amazed at the softness of her zucchini. Did they steam it or blanched it for a second? A wonderful texture, without being overly soft. There were a couple of surprises, including a radish pickle. E says, "when they put it down, I smelled the vinegar in the pickle, but there's no dressing per se. "

Chilled Snow Lake Trout with Smoked Salmon Roe, Sorrel & California Crayfish. Very subtle. When it first entered my mouth, I wondered, "What is this? Not a lot of flavour here." Then I add the wine and it's like watering a thirsty plant.

E feasted on Michigan Heirloom Tomatoes with Fava Beans, Basil Seeds and Chervil.
I have a bite and am astonished. Although I've had some great heirloom tomato dishes recently, I had no idea any tomato dish could taste this good. It exploded with flavour. Now I understand why Charlie Trotter has been at the peak of this country's culinary possibilities for 20 years. This is worth coming to Chicago for. Even from another galaxy.

While E continued with the reality-altering tomato dish, I was served this Four Story Hill Farm Quail with Spring Onions, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Chorizo. The quail itself tasted like not-so-good chicken and the eggs only made it worse. . Compared to the heirloom tomato dish, what could possibly compare?

E next got this Globe Artichoke Soup with Spearmint & Spun Honey. She's not impressed with the honey. I had a spoonfull and am also unimpressed.
We are given some bread, a maple-bacon roll. E says it smells like Pioneer days. I have only a sliver, to keep enough room in my stomach for the entrees. I'm pleased that a coon-skin cap doesn't magically appear on my head when sampling the bread.

Grilled Nantucket Scallop with Boudin, Pig's Tail & Fennel. E says the scallop reminds her of some Angus beef she'd had in Scotland, which she could cut with a spoon. I'm not pleased with the red wine accompanying the meal. It goes well with the fennel, rather than the scallop. The pig's tail is vile. Even with the wrong wine, the scallop is extraordinary, as good as any I've had in Vancouver.

Adirondack Blue Potato and Fingerling Potato Blini, Mustard Seed and Queen Anne's Lace.
We are both very impressed with the Queen Anne's Lace cracker thing, though I mistakenly take a sip of my red with it instead of the more appropriate red E received, as it's her course.

We switch courses for the morels. This is Oregon Morel Mushrooms with Miso, Toasted Koji and Shiso. About as good as anything that has ever entered my mouth, including the heirloom tomato dish of a few minutes ago. This is actually better. Who would have guessed anything could taste this good? E is reminded of a Georgia O'Keefe painting of lilis we had just seen at the Art Institute. She also comments, "the mind sees there are edges here but I can't quite see them."

Forty Eight Hour Braised Short Rib with Chive Blossoms and Fermented Black Garlic. Too meaty for me. E gets the appropriate red to make it edible.

I'm still under the spell of the morels when this arrives. Young Coconut Granite with Lychee & Cachaca Jelly. E used to live in Brazil and wants to see what Charlie does with its national liquor. She tasted the alcohol but not as a flavour. I enjoy lychees, but this has too much for me. E complains about the lack of symbiosis on the textures.

E's Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Mesquite & Grilled Peaches. She warned me about the Lavender and it carries a strong aftertaste. Kinda smells like urinal cakes. As I'm about to put the first bite into my mouth, E says, "Think Victorian." The peach only manifests itself once I have some desert wine with it. Speaking of graham cracker crumbs on another dish, E says, "its the kind of thing that if you didn't have in your childhood, you really wished you had." Deconstructed grandma.

This is Milk Chocolate Semifredo with Carrot, Star Anise & Red Wine. When I asked E to tell me about it, she said she'd tell me in the car. Did not bode well.
Courses not pictured are my Michigan Raspberries (very good) with Angelica Ice Cream and Angel Food Tuile (not so good); Black Mission Figs with Shaved Fruit Cake, Marcona Almonds & Pedro Ximenez, and E's Jasmine Granite with Apricots & Tahitian Vanilla. I had great difficulty focussing on any of these dishes, as I didn't want to use the flash. Some of them tasted much better than they looked, others not so much. Overall, the scallop and crab were doubles, the tomato a grand slam, and the morel, the birth of a better universe.


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