Monthly Archives: August 2013

Tru – Celebrating Our 6th Anniversary

When I moved to Chicago in 2001 Tru was one of the first high-end restaurants that I tried. I was pretty blown away by the whole thing. The hushed service, the modern dining room, the caviar staircase. As time went by, and after a couple more dinners there (and elsewhere) the experience became stale. Much like when I ate at Charlie Trotter’s and eventually Ria, it felt as if I was still eating “fine dining” from the late 90’s.

My parents gave us a gift card to Tru for our 2nd wedding anniversary and we sort of begrudgingly decided to use it for our 3rd anniversary since it was going to expire. It was around this time that Anthony Martin had fully taken over the kitchen and Rick Tramonto had fully moved on. Eating at Tru that night was like eating at a different restaurant. It felt like the kitchen had been liberated and immediately thrown into present day fine dining. We went back for our 4th anniversary. We were out of town for our 5th, but we made it in for our 6th last night.

The meal we had was just stunning. Every time we go it is evident that Martin is pushing the restaurant to get better, the food to get more creative without sinking into novelty. Some standout dishes:

Bright melon in rose essence, cured duck breast – tiny spheres of cantaloupe in a consumme made from the melon with tiny strips of duck that had been cured with ancho chilis. The cure from the chili made for a wonderful contrast with the sweet melon.

Cool as a cucumber, Arctic char roe – a play on the ultimate 90s fancy appetizer of cucumber with salmon roe. In this version the cucumber took the form of ice cream and the more subtle Arctic char roe stood in for the beat you over the head salty salmon roe. There were also little pieces of diced cucumber scattered throughout the dish, which resulted in a fun play on the textures of both the cucumber and the roe.

Atlantic summer fluke, saffron mussel velouté, lemongrass – a thin disk of barely cooked fluke sat on top of the deliciously rich velouté. The saffron provided a perfect backdrop and complement for the taste of the fish.

Blonde morel royale – and egg custard filled with tiny morels served with a croissant and garlic butter. Even though I loved this dish (I’m a total sucker for chawanmushi) I’m glad it was small.

Scottish salmon, poached in olive oil, cauliflower in textures – this was the real highlight of the night. Even in Alaska I don’t think I’ve ever had salmon like this. Buttery, fatty, and oily but somehow light at the same time. The salmon was served with a small cup of coconut curry that you were supposed to drink between bites of the salmon. The curry injected some heat (both temperature and spice level). This is what really elevated this dish above just being “really good salmon”.

There are plenty of other things that have changed at Tru. There is now a composed cheese course (but you can still get the cart), and the once awesome dessert cart is no more. Now you get a selection of mignardises (which are still very good) from a handheld serving piece.

On the other hand, many things have not changed. Service is still top notch, and has thankfully lightened up a bit.

Overall it was a great evening and I’m so glad that we’ve stumbled upon a great anniversary tradition. We ended the night with a carriage ride most of the way home, with Chicago providing a wonderful closing scene on an absolutely perfect evening.

Tru
http://www.trurestaurant.com/
676 N St Clair St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 202-0001

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Grace

My family was in town this past weekend (parents and grandparents), and whenever that happens it turns into an all out eating event. This trip was no different. We were able to hit Perennial Virant, Eleven Lincoln Park, The Florentine, and Shaw’s (for brunch). This highlight of the weekend though was dinner at Grace on Friday night.

We’ve been fans of Curtis Duffy since his days at Avenues and were totally blown away by our first dinner at Grace back in March for Marissa’s birthday (it also didn’t hurt that this happened). I knew right away that I wanted to bring my family in the next time they came to town.

My family LOVES to dine, so I always take it as a personal challenge to bring them to new and interesting places when they come to town. My grandparents in particular aren’t super-adventurous so we tend to stick to nicer, more “chefy” places, but that’s fine. Between the food and the service I was guessing that Grace would be a big hit.

Boy was I right. My grandparents had actually just been to Per Se the week before (for the umpteenth time) and when the meal was over they pronounced Grace the better of the two restaurants. Given the meal we had at Grace I had a hard time arguing with that sentiment.

Not to go blow by blow, but some of the standout dishes included:

King crab and butter & mellon with caviar from the amuse course
An heirloom tomato dish that featured gorgeous tomatoes in various forms paired with some deliciously creamy (and also crispy) burrata
A squab course with the most perfectly cooked bird I’ve ever been served
A small piece of Miyazaki beef that brilliantly paired the meat’s luscious fat with a cube of watermelon
The final savory course of braised lamb that was perfectly portioned and actually a little sweet, creating a nice bridge to some desserts that were much improved over our first visit

It’s fun to watch any restaurant evolve, but I think it’s especially fun at higher end restaurants where the stakes are so high and the pressure to keep innovating is ever-present. Grace has certainly evolved since March. As I mentioned the desserts are better, but I also think the flavors used in all of the dishes have become more complex and interesting. The March menu relied on a lot of acid, which I actually really enjoyed since it helped prevent palate fatigue from setting in. This weekend’s menu still had that, but maybe with a bit more nuance (and even more use of differing textures on the plate, which I love). Also, and this point shouldn’t be underplayed, Grace is one of the few places that gets portion size right in the context of a longer tasting menu. We had 10 or 12 courses* and I didn’t leave disgustingly full which happens to me at just about every comparable restaurant.

Service continues to be among the most polished in the city. Warm and friendly while still remaining professional and appropriate given the price-point.

I know this all sounds a bit gushy and I’ll fully admit that I’m a Duffy fan-boy, but this was truly a great meal and the fact that we were able to share it with family made it even more special.

Grace Restaurant
http://www.grace-restaurant.com
652 W. Randolph Street, Chicago IL 60661
312.234.9494

*Comp disclosure – An extra course of risotto with Australian black truffles. Appreciated, but I don’t think the Italians have anything to worry about when it comes to the truffle business.

An Opening and a Closing

Probably the most significant Chicago restaurant world stories of the last week and a half were the opening of Three Dots and a Dash and the closing of West Town Tavern (followed by the opening and then closing of Chicago Taco). How did the Chicago food media handle each?

Let’s start with West Town Tavern. I never went, but everything that I had heard led me to believe that WTT was a nice neighborhood spot and it always seemed to be kind of just chugging along. A little googling revealed that the place had been open since 2002, so basically it was ancient by restaurant life expectancy standards. On July 22, seemingly out of nowhere, WTT abruptly announced that they were closing. Three days later we found out that the restaurant would be re-opening the next day (under the same ownership) as Chicago Taco. Chicago Taco opened for a night, and then closed, and that, it seems, is that. So what happened? Perhaps this would be an interesting story for a local food journalist to pursue. Well, apparently not. At this point we’re stuck with Eater comments (potentially the lowest form of discourse known to man) and Twitter speculation.

On the other hand, Three Dots and a Dash is now open. Paul McGee/Lettuce Entertain You’s tiki bar/soon to be bro vs. cocktail hipster Octagon of Truth is now fully operational underneath Bub City. I know this because Twitter was flooded with pictures and talk of the free drinks from friends and family. I also know this because Time Out Chicago posted this. Is it an opening report? Maybe. Is it a review? Coyly no, I guess. It does sound like the author and companions had a great time boozing it up, and we’re left with the comment

So how was everything? We’re planning to review Three Dots and a Dash once it’s been open for at least a month, but we’ll say that we finished every drink in front of us.

Well, if you’re going to review it in a month then don’t say anything. Besides, I’m pretty sure that I’d be pretty excited about any bar where I drank the entire menu (on someone else’s dime I assume). So in the end, what’s the point? Is this any better or more valuable than a press release? I will say that the upside to this potential tiki revival is that we’re finally going to get some pictures of cocktails that don’t look like this (found via Google Image Search)

Image

The difference in coverage between these two stories is pretty typical of the Chicago food media these days unfortunately. Non-critical coverage of the latest PR driven opening, and non-existent coverage of the closing of a venerable neighborhood restaurant. I don’t blame any individuals for this, at least not entirely. But this is what happens as media outlets cut budgets and people. All of us really come out worse off.

UPDATE: This was a major oversight on my part, but if you are interested in a substantive discussion of tiki that goes beyond “ZOMG we drank all of the drinks” check out the latest Airwaves Full of Bacon podcast here. It’s a great listen on tiki and other subjects, and really represents the best of non-PR driven journalism right now.