Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Moto, Chicago IL

In a trip that included fantastic meals at Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Bongo Room, and Cafe Spiaggia it was my New Years Eve reservation at Moto with my sister that I looked forward to the most. With only a small amount of exposure to the world of Molecular Gastronomy I'd seen videos of Fat Duck's obsurd bacon egg with liquid nitrogen preparred tableside and read numerous reviews of the presentations at El Bulli and Alinea - according to rumor, Chef Cantu's presentations at Moto were just as impressive even if the food was "lower quality" in ingredients and flavor. Perhaps my hopes were too high or perhaps something was amiss, but on my first trip to Moto I thought the flavors were great; it was the presentation and service that were lacking. From the "too cool for you" attitude of the servers to the overall lack of "WOW" to the meal something just felt off.

Lodged in an area full of factories, galleries, and warehouses I couldn't help but think of Chelsea as the GPS steered us toward Moto and arriving at the neon green door I couldn't help but think "hmm, this is it?" From the obscure location to the cheap exterior to the bland interior and discolored paint and chipped wood leading to the bathroom I rather wonder where Chef Cantu is spending all his money. Additionally, after e-mailing and calling the restaurant days and weeks before the meal, I was surprised that the menu was only finalized 4 days beforehand and that A) many of the chef's most famous dishes were omitted, B) no "new" dishes were being created for the holiday, C) innovative items like the black box or aromatic utensils were absent, and D)the price was increased to $150 for 12 courses while the "additional surprises" promised via phone were nowhere to be found. Additionally, the meal which was promised to last 2:30-3:00 hours via E-mail in fact only lasted about 1:40 minutes leaving my sister and I stranded at the restaurant while my mother and aunt finished up elsewhere.

With all those things noted, I must say I was quite impressed by some of the tastes and textures presented at Moto and that although I felt it was quite overpriced for both the quality and the presentation, that which we did receive was all quite delicious.

Course One was (of course)the edible menu entitled “Chips and Salsa.” Essentially a tortilla chip printed with the night’s menu and served with a relatively standard guacamole, sour cream, and no-better-than-Pace salsa. Cute, but nothing to be wowed by.

Our second course, Scallop and Shiso, was the most impressive of the evening in terms of presentation and consisted of a scallop filled with a saffron liquid served on a tofu and vanilla puree with a slice of orange. This dish was then “topped” with a ladle of saffron and cheese laden liquid nitrogen and we were instructed to eat. Sticking a fork into the meaty scallop there was a notable “pop” as the liquid center came streaming out and as I placed half of the scallop as some of the cheese into my mouth my sister chuckled as a smoke billowed out of my nose and mouth. Of all aspects of the evening, it was most entertaining watching other tables receive this dish and blow forth the smoke.

Dish three, Greek Salad, consisted of a Kalmata Olive “shrimp chip” served overtop of braised African Octopus tentacles and pureed salad. In the eyedropper was a “liquid Greek salad” that we were instructed to shoot into our mouth after the octopi. Perfectly braised and poached, the octopus was delicious and the olive chip equally tasty while the liquid salad was definitely an interesting flavor with hints of vinegar, spinach, cucumber, and tomato all coming through quite potently.

Dish four, “Bar Food” was Chef Cantu’s famous chili braised quail with blue cheese, carrots and celery accompanied by a tiny piece of edible paper with buffalo wings printed on it. Unlike other pictures I’ve seen of this dish, there were no aromatic utensils and no ball-bearing tower structure, just a plate. Intriguingly, while the paper was the most ‘interesting’ aspect of the dish and did indeed taste like a very hot buffalo wing, it was the quail that was truly impressive and the flavors of each of the vegetables came through beautifully.

The next dish, my sister’s favorite of the night, was entitled “Stuffing Snow” and was described as the Chef’s holiday leftovers. In a small dish we were served what appeared to be a pile of snow, but in fact the snow tasted exactly like oyster stuffing and was complimented by two extremely tart dehydrated cranberries. Per my sister – what dippin’ dots is to Ice Cream, this is to Stovetop.

Dish six, my favorite of the savories, was the famous “Cuban Cigar” and although it was not served with the faux-ito (wait, I thought we were supposed to get “additional surprises,” not less) it was truly spectacular in form and flavor. Fried pork shoulder, wrapped in a flour tortilla and flash fried was then wrapped with a candied collard green and placed in an ash-tray serving dish with embers created by tomato and pepper with an “ash” of ground black and white sesame seeds. Sweet yet savory, crisp yet tender, beautiful to the eye and palate – a winner for sure.

Dish seven, “Brisket and Coleslaw” was a substitution for each of us since we do not consume beef flesh, but regardless of the protein I don’t think this dish ‘worked.’ While the sea-bass substitution was actually fantastic in texture and flavor and the cornbread puree delicious, the beans were incredibly spicy and no better than something from a can while the nitrogen frozen coleslaw was simply bland.

Dish eight, “Steak and Eggs,” was another substitution – this time receiving butter poached skate wing instead of the beef. Again the protein was fantastic and the skate actually the second best I’ve ever had (Daniel Humm’s version at EMP was transcendent) while the rest of the dish was merely okay. While the dish was described in detail, I don’t recall exactly what the tots or ketchup were made of, but neither made that big of an impression. The egg itself was actually a sack of curry and lemon served in the center of a greek yogurt and paprika 'white' – it was quite tasty.

Dish nine, Pina Colada, is a dish I’ve seen refered to in the past as “Under the Sea” and was the first of our desserts. While there was a lot going on here, the overall effect was indeed that of a pina colada and the highlight of the dish white ball filled with ginger milk that was placed whole in the mouth and allowed to explode. Additionally interesting was the tangerine fish. Other items on the dish included nitrogen frozen raspberries bits, dehydrated edamame sand, and raspberry "coral.” Pretty and tasty.

Dish ten, Smores, was truly fantastic and my favorite course of the evening. A chocolate shell housing liquid graham cracker over a burned vanilla creme with "campfire" dust sat to the left while a licorice stick with a liquid-smoke filled vanilla truffle sat to the right. While all aspects of the dish were fantastic, the graham cracker was particularly impressive and showed off pastry chef Matthew Gundlach’s talents with sweet sauces.

Dish eleven was a wonderful surprise considering my personal love of Tiramisu. Entitled “Grilled Panini,” the dish was anything but your standard boring sandwich. Ladyfinger "bread" dusted with cocoa grill marks, creme fraiche and espresso cream slices inside, and a cup of biscotti soup for dipping – wonderful, beautiful, and delicious – if Chef Gundlach ever decides to open his own patisserie or sweets shop I’d move in next door.

Dish twelve, our final course, was entitled “Champagne Truffles” and consisted of a single small bon-bon served on a long plate. Instructed to place the whole truffle in our mouth I first watched my sister do so and got a great chuckle out of the confused look on her face. White chocolate housing warm liquid champagne and rolled in champagne pop-rocks the experience of this dish can best be described of what it would feel like to uncork a bottle of champagne in your mouth. The snap-crackle-pop literally went on for 10 minutes.
When it was all said and done, I can’t say I regret my experience – but I also cannot say it lived up to my expectations. Given his training there is no doubt that Chef Cantu is a talented man with the skill-set to make amazing food, but given the ingredients used and the lack of props I rather wonder if the goal on NYE 2008 was simply to get people in and out as quickly as possible – despite the elevated pricetag. With presentations far less intricate than others have described in the past and no lobster, foie gras, sweet breads, or other high end items on the menu it almost seemed as though the goal was to maximize profit instead of customer satisfaction. Additionally, I personally was not a fan of the attitude of the female server, nor the 18% automatic gratuity considering the fact that our male servers fumbled over the descriptions multiple times and one of them even managed to knock over our neighbor’s wine glass with one of the plates – the concept of a tip is that better service gets a better tips, if the gratuity is automatically included there is no incentive to perform better than average.

While Moto was certainly a memorable experience with delicious food, the experience simply didn’t warrant the cost and I’d be hard pressed to return given the reviews I’ve read of Alinea, Avenues, L2O, and the experiences I had at Tru and Trotter’s the night before.

Cafe Spiaggia, Chicago IL

Call it ignorant or whatever you like but as a midwesterner brought up on chain Italian and (even worse) chain pizza I still have problems today seeing Italian as "fine dining." Sure I've been wowed by a handful of high-end Italian eateries - Babbo, Al Angelo, and Rigsby's to be exact - but generally I prefer to spend my dollars on French, fish, or 'new-American.' As another mark of my upbringing I can honestly say that it is rare for a pizza to wow me, be it New York, Chicago, St. Louis, or a matter of fact, if I had to choose a "favorite" pizza it would likely be something along the lines of Californian, or Batali’s at Otto - blasphemy, I know. With all that said, tiramisu is amongst my favorite desserts on the planet and gnocchi is my favorite savory carb - a standard by which any restaurant serving it is judged. Being in Chicago, unimpressed with their pizza in the past, and wanting Italian for lunch I was delighted when someone recommended Cafe Spiaggia as a lunch option - gnocchi, tiramisu, thin crust octopus and creamy polenta? Oh my. Doing my research prior to scheduling reservations I must admit I was surprised I’d never heard of Chef Mantuano before and was even more amazed that the Café shared a kitchen with the main house restaurant – what a brilliant idea, akin to the celebrated Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

After a huge breakfast at Bongo Room and a number of hours browsing the Museum of contemporary Art and Water Tower Mall a late lunch at Spiaggia was perfectly situated for a light meal and a quick walk down North Michigan Avenue had us there in no time at all. Hidden on the second floor of what looks like a mere office building it would be easy to miss Spiaggia and the café if one weren’t looking, but the moment we arrived the man at the desk pointed us to the second floor and with reservations for 1:30 we were seated immediately. In mere moments water was poured, specials explained, and orders were placed. Browsing around the tiny restaurant I was immediately struck by the quaint yet beautiful interior, sweeping view of Michigan Avenue (still decorated for Christmas,) and well heeled patrons – call it “mid range” if you like, but in my opinion the setting was on par with “fine Italian” in many other cities.

A few minutes passed before we were brought bread – a lusciously soft Italian with hearty crust and a fantastic Tellagio flatbread that easily topped the options served at Babbo and Spago respectively – and house olive oil. While the bread was impressive, the olive oil was even moreso in its elaborate undertones of mint and lemon – suffice it to say I vastly overconsumed from the bread basket, as did everyone else.

Another fifteen minutes passed before we were brought our two appetizer dishes – the POLIPO of Wood roasted baby octopus with cicerchie toscano beans, frisee, and olive vinaigrette and the FUNGHI of Wood roasted mushrooms with Anson Mills slow roasted yellow polenta. While both dishes were excellent and perfectly prepared, it was the polenta that truly wowed while the octopus was merely “good.” Cheesy and decadent in all ways with pefectly roasted porcini, oyster, and hen of the woods mushrooms the polenta was better than the dish at Simon’s Lola and on par with the stellar cheesy mushroom risotto at Alex earlier this year – worth every cent despite the somewhat small portion.

The octopus, a whole roasted African if I’m not mistaken, was truly excellent but was unfortunately overwhelmed by the strongly flavored olive tapenade with hints of spice. After the superb presentation at Al Angelo and Babbo earlier this year I must say I’d probably skip this dish on future visits, yet at the same time wish I could prepare octopus so perfectly at home.

Approximately twenty more minutes passed (and another bread basket) passed before the delivery of our mains – the gnocchi, the cappelacci, and a bianca pizza – once again we ordered too much, but once again it was worth every cent (and unlike Bongo Room, this food was made for travel and reheating.) Sharing all items around everyone had a favorite, but everyone agreed that for the price this was some of the best Italian food to ever grace our palates.

Starting with the pizza, entitled BIANCA and topped with wild mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and white truffle oil – wow, what a pizza. Cracker thin crust, no tomatoes, minimal seasoning, just the natural flavors of the incredibly fresh ingredients – as good as any pizza I’ve ever tasted and reason enough alone to put Café Spiaggia on the must-visit list….yet the least impressive of our three mains.

The second dish tasted - and the favorite of everyone else at the table - the CAPPELACCI of Hand crafted butternut squash filled pasta with brown butter, sage and Parmigiano Reggiano harkened back to Batali’s famous Pumpkin Lune yet the portion was nearly twice in size and the price slightly less. Delicate yet toothsome, sweet yet savory, light yet powerful the dish was fantastic and though the pasta was not quite on par with that at Babbo, the filling was better.

The final dish, and my personal favorite of the meal, was the GNOCCHI with hand crafted potato gnocchi with wild boar ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Soft and flawless, the needle shaped pasta were light and airy yet texturally sound and each perfectly consistent – almost impossible to believe they were handmade. The sauce…oh my, the sauce…large piles of shredded boar seared medium and mixed with a juicy tomato/olive reduction and topped with flakey salty Parmigiano…every aspect of this dish crushed the version at Babbo and plate was literally wiped clean with the remaining bread before returning to the kitchen. Amazing and rivaled only by Rigsby’s stellar version for best Italian-style gnocchi ever.

Feeling full already with plans for Moto that evening we almost skipped dessert, but a single look at the menu made that unlikely. While all 7 desserts as well as the gelato and sorbetti selection sounded amazing we opted for a slice of the Tiramisu and 4 forks – we were not disappointed. After some recent mediocre tiramisus (both in Columbus and NYC,) the version at Café Spiaggia was a revelation with the whipped mascarpone cream providing a perfectly airy and light contrast to the heavenly buttery lady fingers soaked in Illy espresso and dusted with cocoa. The lightest hints of rum, evenly dispersed, were an additional bonus as too many other versions (including Batali’s) suffer from no rum at the top and too much at the bottom. While not quite as amazing as Jean-Philippe’s mind-blowing version in Vegas, the portion and price were certainly more palatable and the flavor and texture nearly as sublime.

Fully satisfied we settled the bill, less than $100 with tax and tip, and made our way back to North Michigan where we found the temperature to have lightened up and enjoyed another four hours of shopping the streets of Chicago. Great service, fantastic food, and bargain-basement prices for the service and quality – my next trip to Chicago will undoubtedly see me at the main house for some of the more experimental dishes, but for now I’ll be amazed that a mere “café” provided me with one of the best Italian experiences in recent memory.

The Bongo Room, Chicago IL

Columbus and even more-so Ohio in general lacks good breakfast spots. Somehow over the course of many years Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel have become the standard with the occassional IHOP thrown in for variety and trans-fatty repulsiveness. Sure, Columbus has recently received a gem of a breakfast spot in the form of Zen-Cha, but in general the places that serve a good pancake or french toast have a single option and lack the kitsch that makes them fun. With that said, along with fine dining dinners and unique desserts an awesome breakfast/brunch spot is always a must when I travel. From Griddle Cafe and Doughboys in LA to Norma's in New York to Tableau, Payard, and Bouchon in Vegas I've had some hits and misses along the way......on 12/31/08 Bongo Room hit it out of the park.

Arriving around 9:30am at the Wicker Park location we managed a parking spot directly in front of the building and were met by a restaurant that was only half full - none of those obsurd waits of legend.....of course when we left at 10:45 there was a line out into the cold streets. On entering the Bongo Room our server, a friendly young lady named Lani, greeted us with a big smile and a spring in her step and were were seated immediately at a booth for 6 - good thing, we ended up needing the room.

Menus were delivered and my eyes danced with delight at all the decadent choices......on the recommendation of a fellow Chowhounder I inquired regarding half orders and was informed that this indeed was no problem. With 6 wonderful sounding choices we opted for eight half orders (doubling up on the two most sinful sounding) and a side of bacon - little did we know just how much food this entailed! Shortly after ordering we were once again served Intelligentsia coffee as well as a wonderful collection of teas that were refilled frequently at no extra charge. While we waited for our food I watched the wide open kitchen work with fervor while our waitress prepped some wonderful looking drinks - both alcoholic and virgin - at the long bar.
Approximately 15 minutes after placing our orders the food began to arrive....and arrive....and arrive....and it looked amazing. Prior to entering Bongo Room I was pretty sure I'd never see anything quite as obsurd as Griddle Cafe's Black Magic Pancakes.....I was wrong. Options selected included each of the days pancake and french toast options and each was amazing in its own way.

Enamoured with the sheer decadence, both my sister and I opted for a half order of the White Chocolate and Carmel covered Pretzel pancakes. Between the two of us we received four of these crushed pretzel coated pancakes topped with white chocolate cream and buttery caramel and of all the options it was these that were closest to completion at the end of the meal. While my mother and aunt both contested it was simply too sweet, the pretzle pancakes were without a doubt my sister's favorite choice of the meal. With notable crunch from the pretzel topping and absolutely smothered in creamy white chocolate and drizzeled with caramel the dish was moist, sweet, succulent and absolutely over the top in every way.

My sister's second 1/2 order, also ordered by my aunt, was the Banana Peanut Butter Chip Pancakes with warm white chocolate sauce, chocolate crème anglaise, and fresh bananas. Named by my aunt as her favorite choice of the meal, these four monsterous pancakes also neared completion between the four of us and the delectably fresh bananas paired with natural peanut butter and milk chocolate was nearly as tasty as the banana crepes at Tru the night before, yet clearly less refined. Amazing.

My aunt's second half order was the only miss of the meal, in my opinion, and that is only because everything else was so darn good. Apple-pear and Dried cherry French Toast composed of Brown Sugar Crusted Brioche with warm apples, pears, dried cherry compote and apple pie spice crème anglaise with candied pecans, while tasty, simply had too much going on to be "great" and despite the multiple ingredients lacked the sweetness necessary. While the addition of pure maple syrup (heads up Over Easy) helped, the dish just wasn't up to par with the other wonderful choices.

The next 1/2 order was Pumpkin Carrot Cakes comprised of pumpkin spiced cakes with shredded carrots, vanilla bean cream sauce and cinnamon orange crème anglaise. Expecting something 'pumpkin pie like' this dish was a fantastic surpise in its taste, texture, and consistency which more closely represented a moist carrot cake topped with sweet icing. Honestly, had there been some raisins in this dish it may have rivaled even the best carrot cakes I've ever tasted (Bouchon Bakery and Worthington Inn) but even without it was truly remarkable.

My mother's other 1/2 order, the Red corn and Cranberry Flapjacks entailed ground red corn cakes with cranberry pieces and toasted pecan honey maple butter and was decidedly her favorite of the meal. With or without syrup the dish was incredibly hearty and Thanksgiving-esque, like a GREAT cornbread but more fluffy. This was likely my second favorite option of the meal.

My second 1/2 order, and my favorite of the meal, was the Pear Tarte-tartin Hotcakes comprised of buttermilk hotcakes topped with torch-bruleed pear slices, warm caramel sauce, and vanilla bean icecream. Perhaps it was the buttermilk, perhaps the icecream, perhaps the carmelized pears, I'm not really sure....but this dish rivaled Keller's Famous Bread-pudding French Toast for my favorite breakfast item of all time. The buttermilk hotcakes were simply fluffier than the pancakes of other dishes, the icecream sublime, the bruleed pears crispy and perfect. Amazing.

When all was said and done, the morning after a 6.5 hour eating extravaganza at Charlie Trotter's and Tru, there was quite a bit of food left on the table and I felt somewhat bad leaving food - especially after conquering my stack at Griddle Cafe earlier this year - but with plans for a late lunch and dinner it was important to pace myself. On future visits, I think 5-6 1/2 orders for 4 people would be more reasonable, or perhaps 8 single pancakes if there were more options.
Great/friendly service, great quality ingredients, great prices, a good vantage point of the kitchen, wonderful coffee.....a strong competitor for "best breakfast ever" and a DEFINITE return visit on my next trip to Chicago.

Tru, Chicago IL

Getting out of Trotter's a bit later than expected I said goodbye to my pal and hopped into the waiting car on Armitage. I quickly flipped open my cellphone and placed a call...we were going to be late. "Not a problem" said the voice on the other end, "we'll see you soon." ...and what did you do after the grand tasting and an extra dessert at Charlie Trotter's, sir? I went to TRU with the 3 most important people in my life for the dessert tasting menu - that is what I did.

Arriving at TRU a short man in a suit took our car while another held open the door - "You made it, please have a seat in the lounge while we prepare your table" said the hostess. 5 minutes passed and another man appeared to escort us to our table in the main dining room; chairs were pulled out for the ladies and purse-stools impressed my mother and sister while the synchronized pouring of water caused me to chuckle. Napkins - white or black, your choice - were handed out with tongs - menus too were passed out in-synch. Call it contrived, call it unnecessary - I call it an unsurpassed and impressive level of service...especially since this level continued throughout the entire 2 hour experience. Orders were placed - 4 dessert tastings, 3 coffees - and we were off.

Less than 10 minutes (and a cup of bold Intelligentsia poured from a truly ornate pitcher) passed before we were brought our first item - the bread basket. A bread basket, really? Of course, this is a tasting menu! In the bread basket were slices of cinnamon almond brioche and dark chocolate madelines - both stunning representations with rich flavors yet a subtle simplicity that went well with the coffee.

Following the breads we were informed that our first course, the fruit course, would be coming soon and we were provided a palate cleanser which was prepared tableside - Key Lime Soda with Mint and Melon. Slightly tart yet generally smooth the thin and slightly carbonated mix in a small glass provided a very unique sensation and did its job quite adequately.

For our fist true (no pun intended) course, two servings of two different dessert were brought and served (again simultaneously) to opposing diners - perfect for sharing. Dessert one - 'Greek Yogurt ' with Mint, Honey, Grapes, Raisins, Frozen Mint Julep was absolutely sublime and consisted of a sweetened Yogurt Pana Cotta with a core of organic clover honey, a chip of smooth and creamy mint candy, fresh and delicious golden and red grapes and raisins, and a heavenly mint julep icecream. Each item was spectacular on its own, but when consumed together the effect was completely different and the sum was certainly greater than its individual parts. This was my mother's favorite selection, by far.

The second dessert in course one was 'Pear' with Port Poached Bartlet, Pepper Crumble, Lemon Meringue, and Spun Sugar. While delicious in its own right, the portion of this dessert was simply too small to share between two persons and fully experience its nuance and subtlety. While the lemon and sugar flavors were pretty to look at, they were largely forgettable - especially compared to the richness of the pear and the sharp contrast of the peppery crumble.
Plates were cleared, more coffee poured, and as we discussed the dishes just consumed we got our first glimpse of the cheese cart and some of the savory items being served to a couple to our left....between the food, the opulent setting, and the service I definitely need to come back for dinner some time.

Dessert course two was the 'custard' course and once again provided two items. The first dish, 'Carmelized Banana Crepes' with Peanut Butter Curry Ice Cream, Peanut Praline, Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce was named my aunt's favorite of the evening and was undoubtedly fantastic, albeit simplistic compared to the complexity of the Greek Yogurt. A small delicate crepe was absolutely stuffed with sweet fingerling bananas that were bruleed for crispiness and then covered with a smooth caramel with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Along side the crepes was a flawlessly smooth peanut butter ice cream with hints of spice akin to and better than the Queen-City Cayenne served at Jeni's back home. For crunch, small pieces of candied peanuts were paired with a dense chocolate smear - the King himself would've loved this dish.

The second dessert of course two was certainly the most challenging in concept and potentially the best overall. 'Nutella' with Hazelnut Panna Cotta, Tellagio Cheese, Milk Chocolate, Creme Fraiche, Grapes, Grape Sorbet can only be described as the best peanut butter and jelly you've never had, Creamy smooth hazelnut panna cotta combined with lucious milk chocolate and creme fraiche provided an experience like Nutella, yet immensely more refined while the grape sorbet tasted like icey grape preserves, For texture, crisp cut grapes and crumbled hazelnuts made an appearance and the oddly placed Tellagio cheese chip provided a savory element that simply brought dish to a peak on the palate. Piece by piece or eaten as a whole, this dish was as much a work of art as a dessert and rivaled the figs at Trotter's early for most complex and wonderful dessert in a very long time.

With the time nearing quarter after eleven our third course arrived, this time with some decaf Intelligentsia, and once again mesmerized. Dessert one,'Chocolate Bar' with Wattleseed Ice Cream, Burnt Caramel Mousse, and Malted Caramel was quite literally a molecular gastronomy take on the Snickers...and it really satisfied. From the thick and heavy chocolate gnache to the heavenly smooth and airy mousse every single aspect of this dessert just "worked" and when consumed as a whole perfectly replicated the flavor of a snickers ice-cream bar - yet so much better. This dish would have been a "best of" during any other meal, but at Tru qualified only as the second favorite of the third course.

The final dessert of the evening was specifically requested (despite the fact that the tasting is supposed to be chef's choice) and thankfully delivered - for it was the best of the night. 'Hot Chocolate Souffle' with Cayenne Pistacchio Crumbs, Saigon Cinnamon Ice Cream, Vanilla Marshmellow, 5-alarm Chocolate Sauce was nothing short off perfect and absolutely the best souffle to ever grace my tongue. Wonderfully light, spicy yet sweet, 'hot' yet refined by the ice-cream - not as complex as other dishes of the evening, but 'better.' Despite being very full I'd have eaten another two servings if I had the chance.
Fully satisfied by the meal, we were further wowed ten minutes after plates were cleared when a small man (earlier seen with the cheeses) arrived with the cart of mignardises - and my what a cart. Being ladies, my mother, sister, and aunt each made a few dainty selections from the cart. but for myself I simply couldn't resist sampling everything the chef had to offfer - one of each please (mom says I need to eat more, anyhow.) Selections included a Coconut cookie, Rum Cake, Lemon Drop, Anise Lollypop, Opera Cake, Caramel, Chocolate Bark with gold leaf, and a Goat Cheese Macaroon. While each was delicious, specific highlights included the superb rum cake and the goat cheese macaroon - the best macaroon I've ever tasted and oddly the item my mother praises the most as single "taste" from the meal.

Feeling quite full at this point, I was once again tempted when the waiter again returned with a plate of candies - and after asking the ladies for their selections simply conceded to giving me one of each with a smile and a nod of approval. Four choices - Eggnog, Blood Orange, Gingerbread, and Caramel - each wowed in their own way, with the gingerbread and blood orange a particularly peaking my interest and the Eggnog wowing my aunt.

As a final nightcap after the candies, each of us were served a stellar passionfruit hot chocolate to "keep us warm in the Chilly Chicago weather." While I'd never really thought of these two flavors as going together, more credit is due to the chef for such a brilliant combination. While my sister did not prefer this dish, I was very pleased with the bold contrasting flavors......pleased enough too finish mine and hers as well.

Completely stuffed and incredibly happy with the choice to come to Tru I finished my last cup of coffee and requested a copy of the menu which was provided in a decorated envelope and we settled the bill - an incredible amount for just dessert, yet worth every single penny and then some. As the valet went to get our car we were each provided with a raspberry financier to go with our morning coffee - a financier that rivaled Mastro's buttercake for density and deliciousness when consumed with my Folgers at the hotel the following morning.

All told, between Trotter's and Tru I spent nearly $250 and six and a half hours on the nights festivities and don't regret the choice one bit - it was the best food day of 2008 and a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family both. For anyone looking for one of the best experiences in quality, quantity, service, and setting I would HIGHLY recommend checking out Tru - I will certainly be back.