Adventures in Dining

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Kitchen Table, Charlie Trotter’s, August 5, 2009 May 21, 2011

Filed under: Chicago — hpandaw @ 8:20 pm

This kitchen table was very different from the one at Victoria & Albert’s restaurant.  To begin with, the table here is literally in the kitchen, not set in an area to the back, so servers just stand around the table, and sometimes move behind you to get items stored on the counter right behind the table.  The view is the same; the big difference is that at Victoria & Albert’s, you’re in an island apart where you can see everything and interact with the chefs, but still have your own space.  Here, you’re right in the middle of the action.
Our chef for the evening was Michael Rotondo, who we remembered from the Bocuse d’Or.  Charlie Trotter did make an appearance early on in the course of our dinner, so we talked with him a bit, and he suggested that we visit his wine cellars and studio kitchen before leaving.  The only thing that marred the experience for us was the entry midway through the dinner of Chef Mathias Whatsisname, from Restaurant Charlie in Las Vegas.  He was extremely, blatantly rude to the staff right in front of us, which we found a bit disconcerting.  For example, at one point, he asked a server sarcastically, “Why are you making so much noise, Michael?  Do you want everyone in the restaurant to know that Michael’s here tonight?”  This was typical of his interaction with the staff, and we felt awkward, being put in the position of witnesses to others being insulted or treated rudely.
We began with three amuses bouches: Kumamoto oyster with sake, hamachi with ginger and guava, and uni with English cucumber. 

The oyster was my least favorite; I didn’t like the texture of the sake gel around the oyster; it was pairing slimy with slimy.  I really enjoyed both the hamachi and the uni, though.  They were both very light, refreshing, and flavorful.
Our first course was cold-poached cod cheek with heirloom tomato relish. 

My husband enjoyed this very much, but, again, though the flavor was good, I didn’t care for the fatty, chewy texture of the cod cheek.  Texture is very important to me, just as much so as flavor, and this texture bothered me.
The next dish was a lemon verbena spoon bread with honey and chervil.  The herbed spoon bread was excellent, so refreshing, and it was such a unique flavor combination for us.  The honey had been dehydrated, and it paired nicely with the lemon verbena.
A confit of Alaskan Sockeye salmon with rose & black tea was next, and this was lovely. 

We’d never had salmon paired with rose and black tea before, but these aromatics went so well with the salmon. My husband said it was the best salmon he’d ever eaten.
We parted ways on the next dish.  My husband, the meat-eater, went for the Swan Creek Farm rabbit loin with ricotta and Vidalia onion marmalade, while I had the Swan Creek Farm Ricotta and Vidalia onion marmalade. 

Rabbit with fried cheese sounds like an odd combination, but it was probably the best rabbit he’d ever eaten- cooked just right to have both tenderness and robust, albeit mild, flavor.  The onion marmalade was outstanding and had such a deep, rich flavor.  The ricotta was light, but it wasn’t my favorite thing.  It reminded me a bit too much of fried mozzarella sticks.
We next had a Portuguese sardine with white peach consommé.

My husband’s was paired with Spanish chorizo, while mine was paired with celery root.  I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did.  The fishiness of the sardine was nicely balanced by the peach consommé, and, though the sardine was fried, it wasn’t too oily or heavy.  The chorizo added a great spiciness to the dish that nicely contrasted with the sweetness of the peaches.
Our next dish was an ash baked eggplant with green curry and chanterelle mushrooms. 

Unfortunately, I wrote these recaps about a week after the dining experience, and I cannot remember this dish at all, so I will assume that it was unmemorable!
We parted ways again, and my husband had a whole roasted squab breast with wild licorice and kumquat. 

I had salt-crusted beets with anise hyssop and wild licorice.  This was kind of a bizarre dish, since the foam was so thick and mounded that it looked like mashed potatoes.  There were only 6 small beets here, so I found myself digging under the foam looking for actual food!  While the foam had a good flavor, I didn’t enjoy eating it by itself.  I would have preferred a smaller foam to food ratio here.
Again, I’d forgotten to say that my pescatarianism didn’t extend to eating octopus, so our next dish was grilled octopus with squid ink and rashiri kombu. 

I ate a bit of this, so as not to appear rude, since it was my omission, but I didn’t enjoy it very much.  The tips of the tentacles were over charred and couldn’t really be eaten.
My husband’s next dish was Crawford Farm lamb tongue with black mission figs and charred cinnamon. 

He enjoyed this very much; both the consistency and the texture reminded him of roast beef.  The tongue was thinly sliced and mild in flavor.  I had grilled tai with carrot and horseradish, which, again, I cannot remember.
Next, my husband had triple-seared tochigi wagyu with umeboshi and bonito.

I had halibut with fermented black garlic and miatake mushroom. 

It was interesting to see how the different chefs at each of these three restaurants used the same ingredients, to such different effects, and black garlic was one of those common ingredients.  The wagyu came off more like a butter than a beef, which might appeal to some, but seemed like a waste to him.  This halibut was quite good, but I preferred the flaky texture of the grouper that I’d had the previous night.
Our next dish was one that the server called our cheese course, though cheese was noticeably in the minority here, overwhelmed by a gel. 

It was the pecorino di pienza morchiato with cocoa seed and pequin peppers.  My husband did not care for the cocoa seed and pepper gel, and I found the flavor to be a bit too bizarre, very dark, but with that odd gel texture.  This was probably my least favorite of the dishes that we were served here.  Almost two years later, I still have flashbacks of the cocoa seed and pepper gel, and they are always extremely unpleasant, tongue-curling flashbacks.
Our next course, a lychee sorbet with green tea and toasted rice, was outstanding. 

It was so light and refreshing, and the green tea paired so well with the flavor of lychee, while the toasted rice added a nice texture contrast.
For dessert, we had raspberries with honey and sage, Michigan cherries with sugared almonds, Arbequina olive oil-chocolate chip parfait with red wine, and chocolate sorbet with cacao fruit & smoked vanilla. 

I enjoyed this very much; it was sweet and delicious without being too heavy.

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