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James and I LOVE dining out and we couldn’t think of a better choice than Charlie Trotter’s as a place to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary! Despite being in the middle of a recession, it was still “sort of” difficult to get a reservation at the time that I wanted. In the end, I booked a 8:45pm reservation for a Friday night via OpenTable.com (note that you will have to leave a credit card deposit for a reservation here).
For those of you unfamiliar with Charlie Trotter – he is one of the world’s most renowned chefs and perhaps the height of his career was in the 80’s and 90’s gaining a reputation for forward thinking, fresh and innovative dishes. An author of 14 cook books and ranked “5th” in top US restaurants according to Restaurant Magazine in 2007
I don’t care who you are or what your income is, but spending $700 on dinner for two is alot of money and really quite excessive. But it only happens once in a while and when we spend that kind of dough – we expect nothing short of spectacular. But our experience unfortunately, fell short.
We arrived promptly at 8:45 two a cute house-like building lined with grapevines and waited just a couple of mins and were seated in my opinion, at the best seat in the house (besides the kitchen of course)!
We had a cute table over looking the balcony down into the front bar. Our waitress greeted us warmly and explained the menu and any options available. When I made the reservation, I did mention to them that we were celebrating our first anniversary and they gave us a menu printed with a congratulatory message on it which was great (and we took it home as a souvenir).
Our waitress seemed a little flustered managing three dining times at once and once we place our order, we didn’t see anyone until about 30mins later. Not even any bread. You’d think that we could at least get something to settle our stomachs to start because it was well past a normal persons dinner time. Quite frankly, I was shocked that there wasn’t even an amuse bouche! That was the first problem. The second problem was the bathroom. I went to use the restroom and ended up having to wait alongside another gentleman who was in queue – he was kind enough to let me go first after waiting about 5 mins in the middle of the hallway. I wish he didn’t let me go first because I think I would have preferred to use the other bathroom which was still occupied. Someone made a quarter-sized mess (the chocolate brown kind) on the back bowl of the toilet and I had no choice to block it from my mind and just GO! I had to pee really bad! I made mention to it to James when and he said it would probably be appropriate to let someone know that someone needed to service the bathroom – but our waitress never came around to see us at all. Eventually, our food came about 40 mins later and I was just trying to forget what I saw! (Btw, James says I’m totally blowing it out of proportion, but c’mon, it’s an expensive meal and I want PERFECTION).
Before I move onto the food, make sure you request a tour of the kitchen. In my opinion, probably the highlight of our night!
The Grand Tour menu changes all the time but here is a snapshot of what we had:
Tempura of Nantucket Bay Scallops with Togarashi and Fuyu Persimmon
These succulent and sweet scallops were cooked to perfection. Calling it a tempura is probably incorrect because it wasn’t battered and fried – I think it was lightly dusted in extra fine panko then shallow fried and served with diced persimmons. For those who don’t know what Togarashi is, it’s that red pepper spice that is commonly used for Japanese noodles!
Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with Buddha’s Hand, Ginger and Horseradish
This dish was probably one of the most memorabe for me due to the unique flavor of sea urchin. The big orange ball you see in the picture is a concentrated gelatin of the briny and caviar-like flavor of the sea urchin roe. It had to be eaten bit by bit because it was so heavy in sea urchin essence! But I loved it. I devored every morsel of it and really enjoyed the “buddha’s hand” zest in the dish.
Buddha’s Hand is a fruit of Asian descent with flavors much like a lemon
Arkansas Rabbit Loin with Curried Tortellini & Wilted Mustard Greens
I also really enjoyed this dish – I’m a huge fan of mustard and this had wilted mustard greens and the seeds. The Rabbit was cooked medium – My only criticism of this dish was that it wasn’t served hot enough, and the tortellini was a little undercooked.
Japanese Hamachi with Toasted Wild Rice, Briased Oxtail & Pomegranate
Prior to coming out to dinner tonight, James and I were teasing our hungry stomachs by watching “Chopped” on the food network. One of the ingredients for one of the challenges was to make something out of Hamachi. One of the judges had indicated that Hamachi should never be cooked. So when I received my pan-seared Hamachi, I was surprised. Perhaps the judge from Chopped was right – my fish was a little overcooked on one end, and I found it quite fishy, almost like mackeral. I loved the Oxtail (of of my favorite cheap cuts of beef).
Elysian Field Lamb with Preserved Lemon, Black Mission Figs & Charred Cinnamon
This was buy far James’ favorite dish of the night – he’s more of a red meat eater and I often prefer fish. The lamb was beautifully served, including the loin, tongue and one other cut that I can’t quite remember what it was… The Mission Figs and charred cinnamon created a flavor profile that was excellent and I can hardly desribe it!
Concorde Grape Sorbet with Black Walnut & Allspice
At first taste, this was so TART that my face scrunched up, one eye closed and my head tilted to the left while my right should jolted upwards! But my second bite was much better once I combined my spoon with a few pieces of the very sweet concorde grape. Very tasty once I got over the sourness.
Honeycrisp Apples with Caramelized White Chocolate & Yogurt
This is one of the best dishes of the night. All the flavor combinations were amazing and a great way to celebrate the autumn apple season
Chocolate Sorbet with Cacao Fruit and Smoke Vanilla
Who doesn’t love chocolate? This was simple and yummy!
Dessert Finale (I don’t know what all this was!)
Wine Pairings – $100 per person in addition
Champagne Laurent Perrier “Brute L.-P.” NV
Terlato Family Vineyards Pinot Griogio, Russian River 2007
Yabby Lake Vineyard Chardonnay, Mornington Peninsula 2006
Ancien Pinot Noir “Red Dog Vineyards” Sonoma Mountain 2006
Cornas “Le Grandes Terrasses” Paul Jaboulet 2005
Adelsheim “Deglace” Pinot Noir, Willamette 2007
Niepoort’s 10 Year Tawny Port
Overall, if I had to choose to spend $700 on dinner – I may not eat here again due to some shortfalls in our experience. The lack of attention to us at the beginning of the dinner and then the problem with the bathroom really turned me off despite having enjoyed really delicious food. We may come back on another occasion to dine in the kitchen table but not any time soon.
If you’re choosing between the two top ranked restaurants in Chicago: Charlie Trotters or Alinea – think about what you want out of the evening. They have both completely different atmospheres with amazing food, presentation and service (for the most part). The big difference was the ambiance. I felt like the ambiance was surprisingly more relaxed at Trotter’s than at Alinea Alinea is quite dark while Trotters felt brighter. Alinea focuses more on a food experience, think Truffle Explosion – while Trotter’s concentrates on classic cuisine that is fresh.
Category: American (New)
Neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, DePaul
816 W Armitage Ave
(between Halsted St & Dayton St)
Chicago, IL 60614
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