As I mentioned before, Charlie Trotter's holds a special place in my heart since it was the first place that I ever experienced a multi-course tasting menu. I went there for my 22nd birthday, but, due to a long period of unforeseen joblessness and wanting to try other places, I haven't been back since. However, once again, Chef Trotter blazes a new path in my life. I am pleased and honored to write about Charlie Trotter's as my first post about a multi-course tasting menu. As at Vie, I used my phone to take picutres as not to interrupt the other customers, so I apologize for the picture quality. Just note that everything had extremely vibrant colors and you will be on the right path.
After getting distracted while driving to Charlie Trotter's, I got a little lost on the mean streets of Lincoln Park. Apparently Armitage switches directions at some point, which made locating it a bit difficult. After almost getting T-boned by a bus, we made it to the restaurant unscathed. We walked into the beautiful townhouse on Armitage and began preparing for what was assuredly going to be an amazing meal.
I had checked the menu online earlier in the day, so I had prepared myself for that progression. However, apparently, at some point, they had completely changed the menu. Though I knew it was going to be good no matter what, I needed to get my bearings straight again with this new menu. As per usual, we opted for the Grand Menu with the accompanying wine pairings.
Without messing around with too much of an intro (since this will probably be a long post), I'll just dive right in. Our waiter/sommelier, Ryan, brought us the first course which was served in a bento box presentation. I liked Ryan right away even though he was wearing a bow tie, so I decided to regale him with tons of crazy stories. This ended up paying off for us in the end, which I will get to later. In the box at the top of the picture was a fluke sashimi with an orange and onion marmalade (no, Pipes, not Swordfish Meatloaf), on the right of the picture was a Firefly Squid with Sisho, and to the left was an Effingham Oyster with watermelon granite and smoked fish roe. Of these three elements, I thought the fluke was the best. Raw fish with a simple fruit based sauce is always a nice way to start off these meals since it is nice and light and would probably get lost if it was served later in the meal. My second favorite was the oyster. It was ever so creamy and briney and the watermelon granite and roe added a sweet and smoky taste, respectively. Lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, was the firefly squid. I think if I had been prepared for the taste, I would have liked them more (not that I didn't like them), but they did that thing where it pops when you bite into it, which was more than a little disconcerting. All said, this was a solid first course even if I wasn't totally sold on the squid. It was served, of course, with a champagne. Not just any champagne though, it was a Chartogne-Taileet "Sainte-Anne" Brut. While it says "Brut," it certainly was not as dry as most brut champagnes that I have had. I love starting meals with champagne, even if it is not quite the quality of champagne that we had here. This one paired particularly well with the oyster element since 1) oysters and champagne is a classic combination and 2) the sweetness of the champagne went nearly perfectly with the roe and watermelon. I asked Ryan if there was a better way to pour champagne whereby it didn't foam up so much, he told me that the foam depended on the temperature and glass, but in essence, there was no way to stop it from foaming way up.
Anyway, the next course was the course that Michelle was most looking forward to, Salt-Crusted Veal Loin with Toasted Brioche, Burnt Oak, Creme Fraiche, and Veal Sweetbreads. The veal, like the duck, was cut into thin slices. I'm not really sure where the burnt oak was, but the creme fraiche was gelled into a cake-like thing and topped with brioche. Again, the veal was nicely salted and savory. Creme fraiche is generally pretty sour, but whatever they did to it (baking or gelling) took away much of the sharpness and transformed it into something almost savory. The veal was served with a 2008 Jaffurs "Thompson Vineyard" Petite Syrah from Santa Barbara. I was a bit concerned because syrahs are generally pretty wound up in general, and the fact that this was a 2008 made me figure that this would be even more tannic. In 2009 went to a Pax Syrah tasting, and the 2004s were still so tannic that they were nearly undrinkable, so I figured this would be like that. However, apparently this one did not start with such strong tannins, so it was beautifully smooth to go along with the delicate veal. It had a bit of smokiness as many syrahs do that went nicely with the grilled meat. This was probably my favorite wine of the night.
The surprise meat course was a Cypress Wood Roasted Bison Tenderloin with Boudin Noir sauce and Huckleberries and Miatake Mushrooms. The plate in itself was absolutely stunning with streaks of the sauce across the plate, swirled around the meat. The meat itself was cooked on a skewer with petrified cypress wood (which burns at something like 2000 degrees). The wood made it taste like it was cooked around a campfire, which was awesome. The sauce was creamy and delicious, and the huckleberries added some explosions of tartness to round it out. Had this surprise course not come out, the duck would have been my favorite, but as it stood, the bison took the top spot for the evening. It was served with a 1999 Rioja "Reserva II" Roda made from Tempranillo. This wine was awesome too, though I still think I enjoyed the syrah more. Since it was 11 years old now, it was awesomely smooth and fruity. It had a little pepper flavor that many Spanish wines have. Overall, I loved this dish and its accompanying wine. The picture makes it look like its a little bit of a mess, but I assure you that it made sense in person.
Ok, so seriously, now it's time for dessert. For my first dessert, they brought me a Grapefruit Sorbet with Compressed Celery and Creamed Olive Oil. This ended up being mostly a palate cleanser for the actual desserts. I love grapefruit, so this was right up my alley. I don't really know where the compressed celery was, but overall it was tasty for a palate cleanser. Michelle ended up with a lemon sorbet with a black sesame sauce, which was also nice.
For the next course, I got a Warm Date Pudding with Yogurt and Pecans. This, simply, may have been the best dessert I've ever had. The date pudding was almost more like shredded dates than a pudding, but they were flavored with something, and it was amazing. The yogurt added a hint of tartness to cut through the sweet, caramel-y dates. It was simple but pretty much perfect. Michelle on the other hand got some sort of honey cream dessert with a tuile and clementine oranges. She said it tasted too licorice-y even though it didn't have any licorice in it. Being so nice, I traded her since I still thought hers was pretty good and she, of course, really enjoyed mine. These were served with a 2000 Felsina "Borardenga" Vin Santo Chianti. I don't particularly recall this wine which leads me to believe it wasn't terribly special.
Once again, Charlie Trotter, you are a trailblazer in my culinary life, so I'm glad to have you on-board as undoubtedly the longest post I've put up on here.