Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moto - Chicago

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George goes to this nightclub inside a warehouse and is swarmed over by hot models?  Then when he takes Jerry to it the next morning, there is no evidence that it ever existed and he's left scratching his head if he imagined the whole thing.

That's pretty much how DB~ and I feel about the restaurant we ate at last weekend in Chicago known as Moto.  As part of DB~ surprising me with this trip, she asked her friends in Chicago via Facebook about great restaurant suggestions.  They gave her Moto and she made reservations 2 months in advance...and we still could only get an 8:30 time.

Our cabbie (after going the wrong way initially until I corrected him using Google Maps on my phone) took us into the Meatpacking District of Chicago on West Fulton.  It was like the warehouses of the Strip District but taken to the power of 10.  It was pretty desolate in the area where we driving, not ghetto'ish just empty, and I started to think I may be losing my kidneys in some sort of overseas organ-stealing ring.

And then we pull up to a warehouse with a non-descript metal door and a small green neon sign that says "Moto".  We enter into a sleek, for lack of a better term.  The upfront area had maybe 5 or 6 booth seating areas, but we were whisked to the back half area where there were 10-12 tables of 2 set up.  It's intimate and coupled with the level of food served, we could see why reservations were at a premium.

The walls were silver with black accents.  The end of the room was covered in wood-grained paneling.  The cool feature is that the doors were seamless -- meaning that when closed in the paneling, you could see that a door even existed.

Moto is a different place, which is a massive understatement.  It does not have a traditional menu; rather, it is a 15 course tasting menu of small bites.  These small bites are part science experiment, part gourmet cuisine, part edible art.  You can also pair the tasting menu with a wine tasting menu where you get a small glass of wine with each course.  The young couple next to us got it and it's a good thing we didn't -- they were completely trashed by the time they were done.

For such a special restaurant, DB~ decided to do a slide show of each course using Animoto.  The pictures are in order of each course that we tasted.  I wouldn't do the night justice by discussing the ingredients in each course.  But I will discuss the mad scientist behind this restaurant, Homaro Cantu.  After finding out we were going here, I read up about him a little bit.  Back in 2006, he was on Iron Chef America and challenged Morimoto -- and won.  He uses lasers, not sharks with frickin' lasers, but lasers nonetheless to work with food.  He made something called a food replicator that is now in a museum.  We had food that was dipped in liquid nitrogen, freeze dried food, and food that was carbonated to give it a pop when you bit into it.  There was a TV show for Green Planet called Future Food filmed in the basement of the restaurant for a couple of years.

Here's the slide show:

Our favorite course was the "corn" course.  It was corn three ways -- the first was a corn souffle with a Peruvian purple potato sliver, a soft shell crab with corn and a squash blossom tempura-fried (the best thing we had all night), and a corn ice cream with charred corn kernels on the outside.  In the "lamb" course, we ate a small piece of lamb pancetta off of a lamb femur.  So, yes, there is someone at Moto who is responsible for cleaning femurs.  It also had small cuts of other lamb parts, like...neck sausage.

We also ate off a log that was covered in a puree of ramps, topped with morels and sunchokes and shallots.  The log was surrounded by moss, which were actually freeze-dried smashed peas meant to look like moss.

Something created to look like something else was a common theme at Moto.  The first 9 courses were savory courses, with the last 6 being sweet dessert courses.  One of the last dessert courses was called "egg drop soup".  The server brought out a bowl of white foam with small fruit bites in it and then dropped an egg yolk and white into it.  We bought were thinking "Ehhh...gross?" until the server said that the egg was actually pureed mango that was reconstituted into a gel-state to look like an egg; the white was a jasmine tea base of some sort.  It was fantastic.

Let me interject something about our stay at Moto --- it was very long.  Our entire 15 course experience took us 3-1/2 hours to complete.  We weren't done eating until midnight.  Around course 9 (the lamb femur) I got up to go to the bathroom, but mostly just to stretch my legs and wake up a little, as it was nearly 11 pm.  You wouldn't think eating would take a lot out of you, but it was tiring at a certain point!

As we were eating the egg drop soup, a server dropped off a globe filled with smoke, sealed on top with saran wrap, on our table.  Inside the globe, hidden within the smoke, was a black glove standing on its end.  This was for our penultimate course called "smell the glove" after the Spinal Tap song.  It was quite dramatic eating with a smoky globe between us.

The smell the glove course was a chocolate dessert glaze in the shape of a hand perched on some other sweet treats.  The final course was called "after dinner menu".  A sauce pan filled with liquid nitrogen, thus discharging smoke all over the table, was brought out and our server extracted a small white piece of paper with tongs.  On it were printed the names of all 15 courses we had that night.  It was perched on top of some fruit pieces and mint sprigs, then crushed by the tongs.  We got to eat our menu.

Throughout the course of the night, we chatted up our servers and told them we came here from Pittsburgh just for this restaurant (not a total lie).  So at midnight we got to go downstairs and tour the kitchen and meet the chefs who prepared our dinner.  One asked our favorite course and we said "corn".  A chef named Chad perked up and said he made that one and the "gazpacho" which was probably our 2nd favorite.  He then guided us around the kitchen and showed up the aeroponic room where they grow their own herbs and vegetables using heat lamps and rotating holders.  It was a great way to end a great night.

Some of the courses had a slightly strange taste hidden beneath them.  I couldn't tell if it was a smoke or an herb that I wasn't aware of, but I finally decided the taste was just "science".  Whether it was freeze dried beets or liquid nitrogen or food reconstituted to be something else.

Moto was not the best tasting food I've ever had in my life; even though they were tiny tastes, some of them were plain or undeveloped sketch plans.  However, we will probably never go to a restaurant with better presentation or originality of food.  It is a place that both of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Most outrageous meal ever. Hope it was the best birthday weekend ever, too. :) Happy bday, babe.