So I lied about having Graham Elliot in this post. It will be in the next one. Im just too lazy to write up two lengthy tasting menus in one sitting. Now on to Moto. Let me start by saying once again I was hesitant to take photos as when I started my menu I was one of two guests in the dining room and there were a lot of waiters and it was stuffy and...well Im a huge pussy and dont want to stick out ever. Because of this, I am borrowing all of my photos from this lovely Japanese blog. Its actually kind of fun to read with google translate. Anyway, my afterthought of my dinner at Moto was...is this some kind of joke that Chicago likes to play on out-of-towners? There were some signs of brilliance, and some overall good dishes...but as a whole, the dinner was lackluster and full of things being done for the sake of doing them. Throughout my time in culinary school, my chef instructors would constantly drill one thing into the students head. NFG are NFG. Non functional garnishes are no fucking good. I feel like this applies to moto...but in a more grand way. Not so much garnishes but dishes that left me thinking why the hell would they do this or use that or whatever. If chef Homaro Cantu learned a little restraint I could see it becoming a stellar restaurant. But for now he strikes me as that kid who hangs out with your group of friends who nobody actually likes because they're constantly trying way too hard to be noticed. But maybe Im the douche because the dining room at this ridiculous expensive restaurant was packed on a cold, dreary Tuesday night.
I do want to be clear that I fully understand how personal food is and I try not to fault chefs who do things that Im not crazy about. I respect what Cantu is trying to do, however the more I think about how much I paid for this dinner, the less I want to hide my criticism. The front of the house service was top notch and polished. No complaints on that end. The music selection was a little strange though...it was exactly the same obnoxious clubby stuff you would hear in some shitty trendy clothing store.
I started off with a cocktail - the Cucumber GINger - featuring ginger infused gin, lillet blanc, fresh ginger, and cucumber. It was served in a Erlenmeyer flask, with a straw and frozen twist of cucumber. The drink tasted like cucumber simple syrup. I did not pick up on any ginger flavor, which was the main reason why I ordered the drink.
The amuse...or maybe bread service, depending on how you want to look at it..was my menu. This is kind of a signature dish at Moto. The twist for the evening was a gourmet fluffernutter sandwich. This was one of my favorite courses. It had pleasing textures and flavors, a nice play of sweet and salty. The downfall is how tricky it was to eat while trying not to look like a complete fool. I enjoyed watching other diners tackel this throughout the evening.
Margarita ceviche/Snow Man - A simple tartare of ahi tuna (which was stellar quality) topped with a snowman of lime foam, dotted with hawiian black salt and himalayan pink salt. The waiter then poured a cocktail of tequilla, gojiberry juice, and some other stuff that escaped me. The overall effect was OK. The cocktail and lime foam were a bit overwhelming and took away from the high quality of the tuna.
CO2 Grapefruit/White Steel - This was, overall, my favorite dish of the evening. When the waiter presented this dish, they noted that the overall effect was to mimic a gin and tonic. With the use of carbonation, citrus, vanilla, and juniper I thought that it may work - but it didnt. Instead it was just a nice dish. The coho salmon was oil poached, and meltingly tender. This was one of the finest pieces of fish I have ever had. The hearts of palm, vanilla bean puree was velvety and slightly sweet and paired well with the salmon. My grapefruit segment was not particularly carbonated - I am familiar with this technique and realize that it is something that needs to be served ASAP in order to achieve the effect. No harm no foul. The fruit still served its purpose, cutting through the richness and fattiness lingering on the palate.
Chicken Noodle - This was another successful dish. It was very salty - but when it comes to roasted chicken or chicken soup, I enjoy it to be somewhat over seasoned. The noodle was made with dehydrated, pulverized chicken replacing some of the flour in the recipe. This worked rather nicely, creating a very savory and flavorful noodle. It was, however, a bit al dente for my taste. Im not sure if this just happens because of the chicken in the noodle or what..oh well. The powder...tasted like chicken, Im not sure what they said it was supposed to be. Ive never been a huge fan of powders made this way - using tapioca maltodextrin. They look beautiful and do serve some purpose but they always wind up feeling pasty and unpleasant in my mouth. The little chip you see was crispy chicken skin, which was VERY crunchy and sharp...not quite what I hoped it would be. The mirepoix puree was very flavorful and rich.
Golden twist ale - I was told this was a ode to Wisconsin. The garnishes (brunoise of dehydrated shallot, cheddar, chives, and maybe something else) were served dry in the bowl. The waiter then opened an anonymous bottle of beer and poured the pretzel broth into the bowl. The garnishes were out of whack tasting almost entirely of chewy shallots. The broth was much too sweet. I did not enjoy this dish at all.
At this point I had finished my cocktail and ordered a Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout, which I nursed for the rest of the evening. Its a great beer if you have never had it. Not a far cry from a chocolate stout.
Lobster & Brown Butter - As server told me that this was supposed to mimic a New England clam bake she picked up the candle at the table and said, 'no clam bake is complete without butter' She then extinguished the flame and poured the 'wax' (brown butter) over the dish. I assumed something like this would happen throughout the dinner but for some reason did not expect this - it was playful and nicely executed. So on the plate, there was an acorn squash (I THINK?) puree, potato gnocchi (what looks like a scallop) a couple nice clams, some lobster and a fork with some thyme in the handle. The thyme was not very aromatic, so the effect was lost. The gnocchi were kind of gummy. The lobster was tough. The butter had a strange smoky flavor that I actually kind of liked. Overall this was just meh.
Yellow snow - Same complaint with the powder as usual. This time it was very strongly flavored. The dish was supposed to be pineapple curry. I guess it succeeded in that, but it tasted kind of like crappy curry bricks or frozen curry.
Baseball snacks/Quail with crackerjack - This course was wayyyyyy too sweet. The pear and candy apple (..I think) puree was tasty but belonged on a dessert plate. The coca cola reduction was as nauseatingly sweet, as you would expect. The quail was nice, but the peanut coating was too thick. The paper was silly.
Astronaut tartare - Freeze-dried prime rib with a tartare of traditional tartare accompaniments...This was a nice departure from the previous, sickeningly sweet course. Had a nice kick to it.
Cuban cigar - Another signature dish - one of the best of the night. Pulled pork wrapped in braised green, red pepper coulis, ash made from some stuff...it was salty but yummy. Very satisfying in ways other courses were not.
Forest roll/Rabbit maki - The gimmick is its not sushi. Amazingly-tough-for-being-sous-vide sous vide rabbit, mushroom paper, sticky rice risotto (gross), pickled diakon (dyed with beet juice), some sort of aioli and dried pea. I did not like this at all. Salty, mushy, unpleasant.
Nuac Man/Maitake & Pork Belly - I have no clue what nuca man is supposed to mean but the only thing that came to mind was nuoc mam, the delicious fish sauce condiment found in vietnamese cuisine. This in no way shape or form resembled that. I dont know if thats what they were going for or what but...yeah. Pork belly was OK. The gai lan was...gai lan. The maitake mushrooms were ok...the meringue mushroom made from the liquid from pureed mushrooms was...stupid. It was super salty.
Shabu Shabuccino - Shabu shabu that is supposed to be like a cappuccino. Hum. The espresso was a thick broth made with black garlic. There was some veggies in there and some thinly sliced beef. The foam was potato. The sugar cube was compacted truffle powder. This dish as a whole was similar to eating a packet of beef ramen seasoning. And not good ramen either. Crappy Top ramen. It was SUPER salty...the beef was very difficult to eat with a teaspoon (the slices were very large). This is what I imagine eating beef base would taste like. If you like eating salt, youll love this dish.
Alley-yum - The venison on this dish was very nice..tender..flavorful. All the individual components (fried shallot, braised green onion, onion puree, onion chip, roasted red onion, pickled cippolini) were nice...but really it was overwhelming. Too much of a (kind of) good thing.
No picture but thats okay. It was a chestnut spritz cookie. Unassuming. I knew it couldn't be that simple. It was a frozen puree. Wish I knew because of my sensitive teeth!
Frites, frozen and fried - I loved this course. One of the least showy courses and it was good. Sweet potato fries and sorbet. Some crunchy shit underneath. Sage pudding. It worked and it worked well.
Green curry lime - kind of a intermezzo. Made up of a trio of gels, some coconut oil, and lime vesicles. Not horrible but I wouldnt say it tasted of green curry. More like lime that was spicy.
Banana Split - Frozen banana mousse (ok) freeze-dried peanut powder, caramel, chocolate, strawberry sauces. Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Nothing special.
Acme bomb - I loved this. It was playful and cute. They said it was filled with graham cracker and marshmallow...but it felt like a completely liquid center. Dont know what was going on really but it was very very sweet. And fun.
Cookie crumbs/Earl grey & chocolate - Made up of tea cookie crumbs, freeze-dried raspberry pieces, earl grey ice cream (awesome), chocolate mousse underneath, and I think some orange something in there. Cant remember what the crispy tuille things are. Not bad...the cookie crumbs were a bit stale which messed with the mouthfeel of the whole dessert. The earl grey ice cream was awesome.
Tonka Bean Flavors - An edible packaging peanut and tonka bean soda. Frozen table side in liquid nitrogen, the peanut was vanilla (or so I was told) and tasted exactly like a styrofoam peanut. The tonka bean soda was like drinking a really gross syrup. Not good at all.
Okay so the table in front of me and next to me both got this course and seemed to really love it so I asked if I could give it a try. The kitchen was very accommodating and sent it out very quickly. It was a literal interpretation of a crab cake, made of a yellow sponge cake with king crab in it, lemon cream cheese frosting, fennel frond oil, poached fennel, and squash ice cream. The cake was okay, I think if its explored a bit more it could be successful. The cream cheese icing was a bit much. The fennel was good (can fennel be bad?). The squash ice cream was on top of some pulverized squash seeds which stuck to my teeth like sunflower seed shells do. The ice cream was VERY strongly flavored and not that great. The dish was kind of all over the place but I can see some brilliance in there somewhere, with a bit of refinement that is.
So...its no secret. I was not impressed at all with Moto. The flavors were all over the board, as was the seasoning. Many dishes were tacky and in desperate need of refinement. While I havent been to Alinea yet, I would imagine that you would be much better off spending that money there. Or anywhere for that matter.