This week I went to both Tru and Everest - two of Chicago's longstanding institutions of fine dining (both with Micheline stars). Everest has some ridiculous claim like holding four stars for 19 straight years. Pretty intense. Tru is...well, Tru. Its reputation is pretty huge. Rick Tramonto is no longer part of the restaurant (as of 2010). Meg Galus is no longer doing pastry (again, as of 2010) there. The current Exeutive Chef, Anthony Martin was named chef of the year by the Chicago Tribune only a few days after I was there. Good timing on the reservation. I'm not sure what exactly Gale Gand is doing at Tru presently, but her name is still on the menu. ANYWAY..
So..it was a little tricky finding the restaurant..seeing as how its on the 40th floor of the stock exchange. That probably means something to someone from Chicago but the only building I know and can recognize is the Sears (WILLIS) Tower, and thats because I'm staring at it from the window of my schools kitchen five days a week. Once I figured out which building it was, I had to be OKAYed by the doorman. I made the reservation online, last minute, so my name wasn't on the list that was printed for security. They had to call the restaurant and verify...So I get on the elevator and head up to the 39th floor, where I then had to transfer to Everest's special elevator to go on up to the 40th. I get there and find my way to the host. The dining room is seriously old school - black and white linens and carpet, mirrored walls. Kind of charming after being in so many hyper-modern dining rooms in the past couple of weeks. Everyone talks about the view - which was nice...I guess. The building is set on the western side of the inner loop, and the windows are facing west. What this means is there are no high rises to obscure the view. What it looked like to me was the view from the Egg in the Empire State Plaza, looking at Rensselaer. Then again, that view is not so fresh in my memory. What I'm gettin' at here is the view is...whatever. Heres the food:
Started with a Manhattan - no cocktail list and lack of creativity on my part. It was OK. A little watery. Bread service - offered a rustic sourdough, mini baguette, a multigrain roll, maybe something else, and a Kalamata olive bread. I had the sourdough (good, not great) and the olive bread (REALLY AWESOME)
Les Ouvertures de la Soiree er uhhh a couple of Amuse Bouche - Well I knew there was going to be fish with the amuse because there was an obnoxious table of young (30-somethings) douche bags across the way from me that complained loudly to their server that even though they were specifically asked about allergies, dietary restrictions or aversions - and they said nothing; and that because they didn't order any, they assumed there would be no fish in any course. Okay so..from right to left theres a mushroom emulsion with bacon, a sunchoke and lobster potage, and some fried fluke and with radish, cuke, and black sesame slaw. All three were great. The mushroom emulsion with bacon was straight umami and really awesome. The potage was good, but the flavors were a bit muddy. The fish (essentially a fish fry) was good. The mushroom was the standout.
Presskopf of Duck and Pheasant, Apple Carrot Aigre Doux - A duck & pheasant terrine, a peppery salad, some other stuff. Okay so Ive always been kind of into charcuterie, and in school I really loved my garde manger classes; one of my great mentors is a Garde Manger chef - But one thing I never really understood was the fuss about were terrines. Ive had quite a few and they have all been good but nothing to write home about. I remember reading a quote - maybe MFK Fisher or Julia Childs...someone said something like they never got terrines until they had the one and it was the greatest thing they ever had. Thats kind of like what this was. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever had, but it was a-freaking-mazing. So now I get terrines. I subbed out a cheese course later in the menu and seriously considered asking for this again.
Sauteed Casco Bay Sea Scallop, Pomme Mousseline, Alsace Tokay Jus de Poulet - This was a perfectly executed dish. Scallop was perfectly rare and melt in your mouth tender, with a beautiful golden sear - the mashed potatoes er, uh, pomme mousseline were very good - especially with the chicken/tokay jus. Everything on the plate came together really well. Im getting hungry just thinking about it.
Crepinette of Wild Sturgeon, Wrapped and Roasted in Cured Ham and Cabbage, Pinot Noir - This was also a really good course. On its own, the sturgeon was the weakest part, as it more or less so tasted like any old steamed white fish but when it was combined with everything else, it was awesome. The cabbage was flavorful as were the cured ham and the Pinot reduction.
Filet of Venison, Wild Huckleberries, Alsace Red Cabbage and Knepfla - Not a whole lot to say here. It was great. Venison was fork tender. Knepfla were delicious and butter. Sauce was savory and tart. Cabbage was cabbage and the chestnuts were...chestnuts. I loved the (what I think were) cocoa nibs used to garnish the venison. Really nice touch.
Composition of Tapioca Pearls, Blood Orange Sorbet - So this was essentially the best intermezzo ever. Its made of some tapioca pudding, passionfruit, pomegranate seeds, and blood orange sorbet. Just fruity and refreshing and not too sweet. I really loved this.
Guanaja Chocolate Parfait, Wild Hazelnuts, Gewurztraminer Slow Poached Pear - For those of you reading from the Albany/Saratoga area, this was more or less so the same thing as the Il Duomo from Mrs Londons, with some poached pear. So in other words it was awesome. For those of you who aren't from the Albany/Saratoga area, well..sucks to be you because you don't have Mrs Londons at your disposal (Check out this blog by Rose Levy Beranbaum where she proclaims Mrs. Londons has the best croissants in the world)
Alsace Vacherin - I subbed this course for a cheese course. Just...wasn't in the mood for the funk. Made up of crispy meringue, chocolate and pear glace, and vanilla coulis. This was OK. Weakest course of the night. We made some meringue crisps in school earlier that day and they were much more flavorful than these ones were. I know thats a silly point to make but this meringue had an off taste to it. Not sure how to describe it. Ohhhh well.
Didn't really take notes on these...they were..pear pate de fruit, anise meringue, spearmint marshmallow (the chocolate cone thing) - some sort of white chocolate bon bon thing...a financier or something. I dont really remember these but the photo says I had them.
So Everest is pretty good stuff. They have a $50(ish) pre theater 3 course prix fixe that I'm sure is quite the bargain especially once you figure in amuse & mignardise.
So on to Tru. This was pretty intense. I was kind of uncomfortable, being the first person in the dining room which is serious kinds of fancy, as well as being the only solo guest for the duration. The service here is seriously top notch. My waiter brought over some (picture) books for me to browse to keep myself entertained. A nice touch - its weird eating by yourself. Anyway...sad story is I felt a bit too out of place to be snapping photos...so the ones I have here (for only a few courses) are stolen from starchefs.com.
So the first thing brought to the table was a comte gougere. It was one of those puffs that you see in photographs that you dont believe actually exist - perfectly round and even. Dont know how they pulled it off but I'm envious that they can do it. It was as yummy as a gougere can be.
A bread tray was brought over - all the options looked great. I settled on a pumpernickel mini loaf. It was beautiful with a subtle flavor.
Next up was the amuse, which was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It was a hell of a way to start the meal and really set a tone for everything. It had a bit of a silly element to it which, frankly I wasn't thrilled about - and it also had the second snow man I have had in a meal in Chicago. I love for food to be playful but not juvenile. Or maybe Im just a typical sourpuss from New York. Anyway, heres a photo:
This was served in a cone of magically appearing snow, with some pine or juniper branches and maybe red currants or something. I don't really remember. It was supposed to look all christmasy and snowy which it did. It was made up of a truffle turnip snowman, cauliflower puree, truffle mousse, black truffles, and beef consomme gelee. So. Good.
Next up was the white sturgeon 'caviar' with avocado puree and hazelnut crackers. You can probably find a photo of this dish if you try hard enough. It was pretty good. They take smoked sturgeon and through culinary wizardry (aka sodium alginate...or maybe tapioca) they turn it into caviar...thats white. It was pretty tasty.
The following course was the linear foie gras, with black fig ice wine vinegar, caramelized popcorn tuile, popcorn shoots, figs. Not a bad foie course, but kind of bold considering how sweet it was so early in the meal. The popcorn tuile was essentially toffee with some pulverized caramel corn on top.
After the foie there was a celeriac soup with butter poached yukon gold potato, black truffle puree, some sort of crispy thing, poached quail egg, and gold leaf. This was a pretty solid soup not much else to say. Truffle was kind of lost in the mix.
Next was probably the best dish I have had in Chicago so far. And it was a scallop dish (something that is seemingly on EVERY tasting menu in the world). This was seared scallop with butternut squash & ginger puree, apple celery salad. It was served with a scallop cream, in a glass conch shell. Each bite was so carefully composed, with a scary good balance of flavors - the precise amount of salad and puree perched atop of each slice of scallop...topped with a single leaf of micro red amaranth (or some similar microgreen)...each ingredient played an important part and it was incredible. Go here and eat this. Oh and the scallop cream? Whipped cream with...scallop essence? I damn near shoved my tongue inside that conch shell to get every last bit of it. Amazing. I need to learn how to make it.
After this I had the flavors of the season, which were apparently pumpkin, date, chestnut, (compressed) pear, and madras curry. This was a small dish with all of these ingredients in a madras curry foam. Not my favorite dish of the night, but still good. The pumpkin was so flavorful I asked what variety it was and they told me it was regular old pumpkin. I cant decide if I believe them or if they know something I dont when it comes to cooking pumpkin. The curry was a little flat...I guess the idea is the foam lightens something heavy but...I still wanted a stronger flavor.
After this I had duck fat roasted day boat cod with bouchot mussel veloute and chanterelle mushrooms. I think there was a foam on this dish as well - if not then it was the veloute - either way, something was flavored with 'the flavors of southeast asia' aka lemongrass, thai chili, ginger... Pretty much the same feelings on this dish as the one before it. Fish was good, everything else was good...would have liked a more assertive flavor anywhere on this plate.
The next course was cervena venison, with brussels sprouts, crispy applewood bacon, and red currant & venison jus.
Venison was literally fork tender...incredibly cooked. The accompaniments added a nice textural contrast, as well as a welcome tartness from the sauce/currants. This was a solid course
Next there was the cheese course. All three I picked were wayyyyyyy too funky for me. Did not enjoy this at all.
After this I had an intermezzo of sorts, a pear foam with citrus spiced port. This was weird and sweet and not very pleasant. It also lingered in my mouth, kind of..defeating its purpose.
Lastly I had honeycrisp apple beignet with creme anglaise and vanilla ice cream. This was a perfectly fine dessert but considering this places reputation...specifically Gale Gands reputation, I kind of expected more. The ice cream had noticeable crystals in it, which didn't make it taste bad but definitely took away from the overall pleasantness.
Afterwords I was given about a dozen mignardises, which of course I didn't write any notes on. They were all veyr good and beautiful. I do remember the exploding salted caramel bon bon, which was fun.
As I was leaving the restaurant I was also given a financier to take home with me, which I ate the next day and was delicious.
So Tru was great, though Im not sure if it lived up to my expectations. Its hard to rate something like this because Ive heard about this place for so long and expectations are so inflated that if its not the best meal of my life I wind up disappointed. Really the only faults were the two courses in the middle being a little more subtle than I would have hoped. And a more pedestrian dessert than I expected. Not the end of the world