We’ve been preparing for this meal for the past week. I mean serious training people. Stomach stretching sessions twice a day, Grand Menu flash cards with proteins to be matched with their respective vegetable or grain element. We tested our ability to denote a well made wine pairing by successfully matching our favorite uncured hotdogs with a marvelous Cote de Rhone. So when Tuesday came we had butterflies in our stomachs as we drove down Halsted towards Charlie Trotter’s legendary restaurant in Lincoln Park.
We walked past this establishment so many times that it was odd to be actually walking in. Dressed in our finest( jacket required), we were greeted instantly in the foyer and taken to our table on the second floor overlooking the entryway. We were one of the first reservations of the evening but soon the dark and regal dining room began to fill with people eager to try Chef Trotter’s current menu.
We had already previewed the menu online, so when we perused the menus at the table, it was merely to determine whether we would include a wine pairing. While I contemplated the non-alcoholic Beverage Tasting Menu, today of all days, I began to have my own “Omnivore’s Delemma.” My mind kept wandering back to the duck and veal dishes from the menu. Although, I knew we’d receive the best quality organic and free-range ingredients I was concerned my guilt of eating something so cute would haunt me through the rest of the dinner. When our waitress arrived and requested our decision I didn’t know what to say. I told her that I didn’t know if I could eat veal or duck today. She kindly suggested angus or elk as another optional protein and when I told her I would feel equally guilty eating those animals, she quickly responded with, “Why don’t we let the chef create a pescatarian menu for you.” The flexibility was much appreciated. G selected the Wine Pairing Menu (bypassing an $18,000 bottle from France) and asked if we could add another vegetable dish that looked interesting, the japanese eggplant soufflé.
Our meals began to emerge as we slowly sipped on our beverage accompaniments. The marathon of meals commenced with a sashimi of yellowfin tuna. It was light and fresh… the perfect beginning. The next dish to follow were the sweet and delicate grilled prawns that almost melted in your mouth. I even sheepishly reached down into my purse to pull out my camera so I could get a picture. Our favorite dish by far was the Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Garbanzo Beans. The fish was perfectly executed and wrapped beautifully around a mousse with the skin served as a crackling on the side. We savored every bite of this dish cleaning our plates completely. And when the dish was sent back to the kitchen, the waiter had to assure the chef that food had actually been served on the plate. As each course progressed into a more elaborate story of protein, vegetable and grain, the wine pairings seemed to matched beautifully. I don’t know if I truly appreciated the beverage tasting menu, there were a few drinks I did not enjoy, but found the Muscat grape juice to be my absolute favorite.
As we neared the finish line of our grand menu I was excited to see what the chef had created in place of my potential duck and veal. However, I believe I suffered a mild food coma at this point in the meal and thus, the fish that replaced my duck eludes me. But my final dish, grilled salmon with porcini mushrooms, fit in nicely with the degustation menu. Our desserts were beautiful, but we just did not enjoy the black olives with our dish of candied kumquats and meringue. We actually thought, perhaps, that kalamatas may have paired better. But the lavender custard with honeycomb and black tea was my favorite dessert served that evening, excluding the tiny gelantinous squares that were spread across the plate. Delicate macarons arranged in a row with the check marked our finish.
We enjoyed the progression of unique dishes that the chef provided and the way they personalized the menu according to our needs and desires. Some courses were amazing, while others seemed to have just too many ingredients on the plate. We were very impressed with how well each wine complimented the meal and even heightened the taste of each course. The beverage tasting menu also created an interesting pairing of ingredients and although I was not a fan of every drink, each made me think and wonder what was exactly done to create the taste.
All in all, its hard to justify the expense of an experience such as this without feeling a little gluttonous. This is not a restaurant for the frugal (unless you too received a hefty gift certificate) or for those who enjoy low key, local spots. This is a place to recognize a chef, a restaurant and a concept that put Chicago on the map for gourmet dining.
Charlie Trotter’s | 816 West Armitage Chicago, Illinois 60614 | 773 248-6228