Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tru - Chicago, IL

In a recent Top Chef Masters episode, Gail Simmons said, "if you're in Chicago and not eating in a Rick Tramonto restaurant, you're probably eating at the wrong place."

So naturally, when our friend Will was in town, we decided that we should eat at the right place for once and for all, so we went to Tru, which is described as "upscale Mediterranean-influenced French food set in a whimsical setting for the serious diner." I think the last part of that description is incorrect, I think Tru is set in a serious setting for the whimsical diner. It's very formal, men are required to wear jackets, but fear not, they will lend you one if you weren't prepared. As formal as it is, it didn't feel stuffy and all of the waitstaff are so friendly and helpful that you feel completely at ease. You will see what I mean about the whimsical part as you see what our meal was like.

Tru offers two styles of dining:

Prix-Fixe: A three-course menu offering a choice of appetizer, main course and dessert.
Collections: Our pre-set tasting menus ranging from six to nine courses.

We opted for the Grand Collection, which consisted of six dishes.
  1. white sturgeon “caviar”, avocado, hazelnut
  2. english pea soup, olive oil,brioche
  3. wagyu beef ravioli, foie gras, chive
  4. alaskan halibut, young carrot with ginger
  5. glazed veal ribeye, spring garlic, asparagus, wild mushroom
  6. tahitian vanilla cremeux, hazelnuts, manjari chocolate ice cream
Are you salivating yet?

Up first was an amuse bouche of comte cheese gougere. I've never met a gougere I didn't like.

Next we had fennel panna cotta with bonito. I'm used to seeing panna cotta as dessert, but this was delicious. Susan said it tasted like fishy jello. hahaha.

Tramonto is often described as "a blend of mad scientist and magician in the kitchen." The next dish was definitely representative of his creativity and playfulness. It may look like caviar and taste like caviar, but wasn't caviar. It's actually white sturgeon cooked with cream and gelatin. I have no clue how he made it look like little eggs, but you could have fooled me. There was creamy avocado on the bottom, topped with faux caviar. It even came in a little caviar tin. It was served with a mother of pearl spoon and three hazelnut crackers. As you can see from the picture, those crackers aren't going to be enough for all that faux caviar. So Susan requested more crackers to eat with her caviar and he came back with this huge plate with yet again three little crackers. Susan stared at the huge plate of three crackers, then at the waiter and at the plate again. It was the funniest thing ever. I was dying from laughter.

Next, we were served English pea soup finished with some cream and prosciutto in a beautiful tea cup. I couldn't help but think it looked like a green tea latte. This was kind of hard to eat since the cup was so narrow, but I think we all wanted to just pick it up, sip it like a cup of tea and lick the cup clean if we could. I wasn't sure what to do with the olive oil brioche sticks, so I just ate it. When in doubt just eat it. Well, except for the crystals at the bottom of the caviar tin in the picture above, which who shall go nameless accidentally ate. =)

This was my favorite dish of the night: Wagyu beef ravioli with the foie gras, chives and edible flowers. It looked too pretty to eat, but of course, someone had to do it.

They brought out a little clear teapot filled with beef consomme and poured it into the bowl. The beef ravioli was out of this world, full of flavor yet so delicate. Look at how paper thin that ravioli is. At first I thought that the foie gras was a scallop, until you cut into it and ate it with a spoon full of the beef consumme, did you realize you were dealing with a completely different animal here.

Next we had alaskan halibut, cooked sous vide, which is a French way of cooking that cooks sealed food in water at low temperatures, locking in natural juices and flavors that are often times lost with other methods of cooking. It retains the flavors of the ingredients and locks in the natural juices. So it's no wonder the halibut was moist and flavorful and was the perfect canvas for the young carrot and some carrot and ginger foam. The flavors of the halibut were so delicate and the sweetness of the carrots was a nice contrast. I think the carrots might have been slightly overpowering, but the ginger helped to cut the sweetness a bit. This dish was almost a palate cleanser from the richness of the foie gras in the prior dish to the veal ribeye that was coming up.

This was glazed veal ribeye with spring garlic, which didn't taste like garlic at all. I've never had spring garlic before but it was very creamy and mild. It also had edible flowers, asparagus and wild mushrooms.

Next we had the option to add a cheese plate to our meal. She described each cheese and described at length the taste for us and we couldn't resist but to share a plate before our desserts arrived. Each row had a selection of cow, goat and sheep's milk cheeses.

I can't even remember what these were, but oh my lord, they were delicious. I've never seen honey that pale before but, that mango chutney was quite good too. The goat cheese with that grayish rind could pass for an oyster, no?

Now for the desserts. Up first was an amuse bouche of mango bavarian. A bavarian is a stirred custard that is mixed with gelatin and then lightened with whipped cream, poured into mold, and allowed to set until firm. On top of this was a thin layer of pineapple gelee.

For dessert, we had tahitian vanilla cremeux with manjari chocolate ice cream with toasted hazelnuts. There was a cake of some kind on the bottom with a vanilla mousse on top, with a tulle on one side of the plate and chocolate ice cream with toasted hazelnuts on the other side. Sometimes you can't decide between getting ice cream or cake and this was like having the best of both worlds. I've seen a lot of ice creams served with toasted nuts recently and they are really good. I must try them at home.

Just when you think you are done, there comes more. A cart of mignardises or little desserts pulled up to us and we were thrilled to hear that we could have as much as we wanted.

I was so full at this point, but I managed to squeeze in a pineapple marshmallow, macaroon, raspberry gelee and nougat, all of which were fantastic.

Here's a lollipop that Susan got.

And just when you think you can't possibly eat anymore, they bring out a plate of exploding truffles. He explained that we should put the whole thing in our mouths because it's all liquid inside. I thought, how can this square looking truffle have liquid inside, as if I haven't learned by now what these chefs are capable of. All you have to do is gently squeeze down on it and the truffle floods you mouth with this lusciously, light liquor of some sort and the cocoa dusted exterior lands at the surface of your tongue and just melts. Gale Gand, you are a genius.

The service here was impeccable. It's definitely the little touches that make it so memorable. From the little cushions next to each seat so you can rest your bag, to the individualized menu that they give you at the end of the meal listing every dish and wine that you've had, to the little muffin that they pack for you to have for breakfast the next day, you feel very well taken care of. It will cost you a pretty penny, but I feel lucky to have finally tried Chef Tramonto and Chef Gand's restaurant. It was Tru-ly an unforgettable experience.

676 N St Clair St
(between Erie St & Huron St)
Chicago, IL 60611

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