Wednesday, October 6, 2010

moto, chicago il
945 w. fulton market, chicago, il
wedneday october 6th, 2010, 8:30pm-1:00am

dining at moto was the main reason for our recent trip to chicago. featuring the avant-garde cuisine of chef homaro cantu, the restaurant had been on my radar for quite some time. dubbed molecular gastronomy, cantu's style of cooking relies heavily on science. moto was recently featured in an eight episode series on the discovery channel entitled future food.
moto is located in chicago's meat packing district. i found this to be a very odd choice of locale for a restaurant, let alone one of this caliber. knowing it would be dark upon our arrival that night, we took a walk by the restaurant earlier in the day to get a few pictures. the neighborhood is filled with factories and warehouses, and the odor that lingers is quite unpleasant. upon entering the restaurant however, the undesirable location is soon a distant memory.
arriving right on time for our 8:30 reservation, we were immediately seated at a two top in the middle of the crowded dining room. the room, which accommodates roughly 45 diners, was loud and bursting with energy. there was no stuffiness or pretension to be found, and we were immediately very comfortable. throughout the night we were able to laugh out loud and have a great time without worrying about disturbing other diners.
we were given the drink menu, which included a vast selection of wine and some house cocktails. also available were wine pairings to go with each of the ten or twenty course menus. we were given a few minutes to look over the drinks, and were told that our edible menus were being made!

we each started the night off with a cocktail. mine was called the siesta and was served in an erlenmeyer flask. the siesta consisted of corzo anejo, coconut, vanilla-agave, and cinnamon. the drink had a frothy quality to it, and was quite enjoyable.
the edible menu is one of chef cantu's signatures. he uses an inkjet printer and prints with an edible soy based ink on edible paper. the menu is then affixed to a food item and served. our was served on a house made chip with some tomato salsa. the flavors of this course were fairly pedestrian, but it is the presentation that makes it a winner.

moto offers two dining options, a ten course tasting menu, or the grand tasting menu, which is twenty courses. considering the fact that our trip to chicago was primarily to visit moto, our choice was a no brainer. we also requested to spilt the wine pairing offered with the twenty course meal, figuring that each having our own pairing would be too much wine by the end of the night. this ended up being very wise, as the pours were still quite generous, and seemed to get bigger and bigger as the meal progressed. below are pictures and descriptions of each course. while i do not mind snapping a quick picture of each dish, i refuse to take notes during a meal. at one point, a few courses were served out of order, and there was one course that was substituted from the ten course menu instead of the normal course offered as part of the gtm. given these factors, some of my descriptions may be somewhat vague. due to the mix up, i am also unable to list which wine accompanied each course, so i will only mention the wine pairings i remember.

course 1 - margarita ceviche

this was a foam of some sort on top of ahi tuna. the foam was done up like a snowman with some sort of dark colored salt for the eyes. the server poured a margarita from an erlenmeyer flask over the dish, giving it the necessary lime element to be considered ceviche. this course was very light, and was a good way to get our palates dancing. this dish was served with a dry brut champagne.

course 2 - co2 grapefruit

the next dish, which was also featured on the ten course under the name white steel, was a perfectly cooked piece of white fish, a vanilla flavored sauce, grapefruit, and tobiko roe. obviously, this dish had a very interesting combination of flavors, but everything somehow worked very well together. a nice gruner veltliner was paired with this course.

course 3 - bubble tea

this was the first, and most likely the last, time i have drank a scallop through a straw. served in a small glass, this was a watermelon broth with thai basil and scallops. the broth had a fruity flavor from the water melon as well as a bit of a kick to it from the basil. overall, this was probably my least favorite course of the night.

course 4 - yellow snow

this course is where our meal veered off its intended course. entitled yellow snow, this was meant to be a palate cleanser, and was suppose to be served in between two of the heavier savory courses. the yellow snow was green curry, lemon pudding, pineapple, and what i believe was a lemon powder of some sort. the dish was enjoyable, however i think it would have had more impact had we gotten it at its intended time.

course 5 - 40mhz pheasant

this was pheasant done two ways. on the left are two tiny pheasant breasts. on the right is a pheasant funnel cake. the breasts were pretty basic in flavor, but the winner was definitely the funnel cake. made from the dark meat of the bird, the funnel caked pheasant had a huge gamey flavor. the line of sauce was actually mixed by sound by using a sonifier. this course was paired with a grassy sauvignon blanc.

course 6 - nuac man

this may have been my favorite course of the evening. on the right we have a delicious cube of pork belly, and on the left are miatake mushrooms. on top of the miatakes is a man made mushroom made from mushrooms. basically, chef cantu deconstructs a bunch of mushrooms, and bonds them back together in the shape of a mushroom. the man made mushroom was very light in weight and texture, and almost felt like styrofoam. it tasted exactly like a mushroom, and just melted in my mouth. instead of wine, a german smoked beer was served with this course.

course 7 - baseball snacks

peanut fried quail, popcorn powder, coke reduction, and an edible cracker jack prize made up the baseball snacks course.

course 8 - astronaut tartare

this one bite course was beef tartare done like astronaut ice cream. this is exactly what you might expect, freeze dried beef tartare. it had a very similar texture to astronaut ice cream, but tasted like beef. an interesting course to say the least.

course 9 - cuban cigar

perhaps chef cantu's most well known offering, the cuban cigar was my most anticipated course of the night. many of cantu's creations play with your perception of how you think the dish will taste based on its appearance, and then do something completely different. this course took that idea to the next level. pork, onions, and pickles are wrapped in collared greens, which is wrapped with an edible cigar band. the "ash" in the ash tray turned serving dish is black and white sesame seed. visually, this course is incredible, but this is still a restaurant, and taste is still the priority. this dish does not disappoint.

course 10 -  forest roll

here is another prime example of a dish that looks like one thing, but tastes completely different. inside the roll was rabbit, mushroom, and brussel sprout. the rice was a risotto, and the wasabi was dehydrated peas. this course was one of my least favorites taste wise.

course 11 - reuben lasagna

playing on the famous rueben sandwich, this dish consisted of layers of beef brisket, pasta, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese. it is served with a dehydrated potato chip and a house made thousand island dressing. with big bold flavors all around, this dish was terrific.

course 12 - shabu shabuccino

this was kobe beef in a broth of some sort. the "sugar" was actually truffle butter. a very tasty course overall, i can still vividly taste the truffle butter!

course 13 - mexican cannoli

probably the heaviest dish of the evening, the mexican cannoli is another example of cantu's obsession with making something look one way, but taste totally different. inside the fried tortilla shell was braised duck leg and sour cream. on the outside, we have have corn powder, jalapeno powder, and mole sauce.

course 14 - crepes that are cheese

an interesting course, the "cheese" is actually made from crepe dough. i thought this one was just ok overall.

course 15 - frites, frozen & fried

fried sweet potatoes topped with sweet potato sorbet. interesting textures and temperatures here, but a fairly boring course comparatively.

course 16 - green curry lime

this course is a slice that looks like a lime, but is made up of an interior of lime and curry, a pith of coconut and a rind of cilantro. on top are finger lime vesicles. a very light and delicious course.

course 17 - banana split

this was basically banana flavored ice cream served with pipettes of chocolate and strawberry sauce. there were a few other ingredients present, but i cannot recall them. this was a very fun and palatable dish.

course 18 - acme bombs

basically a s'more bomb, this course was lit with a blowtorch after being dropped off at our table. the wick was marshmallow, the was shell chocolate, and the interior was liquid graham cracker. instructed to put the entire bomb in our mouth at once, the dessert exploded upon biting into it. delicious!

course 19 - cookie crumbs

as we neared the end, the wine was really starting to kick in, i honestly do not remember much about this course. i know the blob in the middle was ice cream of some sort. i do recall enjoying this dish.

course 20 - neroli float

the final course was a flask filled with a delicious neroli soda, and topped with one of chef cantu's famous edible packing peanuts, which were featured on an episode of future food. 

as the time neared 1:00am, the restaurant had completely cleared out, leaving us as the only remaining diners. i took this opportunity to snap a few pics of moto's interior using the flash.

at the end of the meal, we were given the wine pairing menu to take home, along with a signed copy of the nights tasting menus.
as a final touch, we were presented with some of chef cantus famous edible packing peanuts in a vacuumed sealed pouch. we were told they were for our ride back to st louis, however, we plan to keep them to help remember our visit. we were also given the entire season of future food on dvd.

as a whole, the service we received at moto was exemplary. we did not have one designated server for the night, rather a team of 4-6 people handled our table. dishes were brought in perfect synchronization, and were described fluidly. at moto, the servers are also cooks, and they rotate back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room every few months. being that the dishes are so involved, this means that the servers have an in depth knowledge of how each dish is prepared, and can handle just about any question. everyone was extremely friendly, and we were all laughing and joking by the end of the night. at the end of our meal, a cab was hailed for us, and one of the servers walked us to the door.

overall, i can easily say that our dinner at moto was the most fun and interesting meal i have ever had. while nothing i ate there was the best thing i have eaten in terms of taste or quality, the presentations and the excitement of what the next course might look like really made for a wonderful evening. this is not to say that the food wasn't good. the majority of the food was delicious, and i certainly feel as though my palate has been expanded. the meal lasted almost five hours, and we were not bored or checking the time at any point. after we work our way through some of chicago's other fine restaurants, we would love to return to moto at some point to see what else chef cantu has cooked up!

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