March 4, 2012
816 West Armitage Chicago, IL | www.charlietrotters.com
A widely acclaimed restaurant of near legendary status, Charlie Trotter’s appeared on my radar after hearing of Chef Trotter’s intention to close his eponymous eatery in August. Having just returned from Chicago for my first Michelin experiences three days prior, I was fortunate to be given another opportunity to dine in the area when work required me to travel to Chicago once more. This was a meal of significance not only in furthering the development of my palate, but also in celebrating the amazing career of one of America’s greatest chefs.
Some may find it surprising to learn that Chef Trotter did not go to culinary school. Although he has worked for various chefs throughout his career, he is predominately self taught. This fact makes it even more impressive that Charlie Trotter’s features two nightly menus. The first is a “Grand Menu” featuring various seafood, meats, and game. The second is a vegetable menu highlighting seasonal ingredients. My dining partners and I opted for the “Grand Menu”. We placed our order, nibbled on some bread, and waited for the menu to begin.
The first course of the night demonstrated the deliciousness of fresh ingredients, even when prepared with just a light touch. The flavor of the tuna, squid, and sea beans all played very well together. The dish had a nice sweetness to it, balanced with the slight acidity of the olives.
A visually stunning plate, our second course once again featured delicately prepared seafood. The slight sweetness of the skate wing, fattiness of unagi, spice of curry, and sour notes of the grapefruit and lime made this dish very complex. The various flavors hit your palate in different strengths and combinations depending on the balance of each bite. I really enjoyed the varying nature of this dish’s flavor.
When this plate arrived I had concern that the bold flavors of the crust might overpower the flavor of the quail. Chef Trotter displays his skillful control over the dish by executing a delicious, savory, and bold crust but leaving the subtle flavor of the quail itself intact. The duck liver mousse added a touch of richness to each bite. I enjoyed the light gaminess to the quail along with all the other flavors on the plate.
A perfectly cooked scallop sits atop beets and fermented black garlic. The sheer perfection of the scallop’s execution made this my favorite plate of the night. The beets on the plate were prepared in a way that really masked their typical flavor, giving them an interesting, almost meat-like flavor. The crunch of the fermented black garlic and the tang of the vinaigrette gave new dimension to the rest of the plate.
The final savory course for the night was a medallion of espresso crusted venison loin. The venison was cooked to a wonderful medium-rare, maintaining its juices and tenderness. This sat atop a bed of shredded lamb shoulder, which added some fattiness to the lean venison. The slight bitterness of the toasted espresso married well with the creamy richness of the parsley risotto. Adding parsley to the risotto for the additional color made the plate pleasantly vibrant.
The tart and almost savory nature of the ingredients in this course made for a very smart half-step away from savory into the sweet portion of the meal. The yogurt and cake gave a hint of sweetness while the remainder of the plate lent themselves to tart and savory flavors.
The next progression into dessert took a step further in sweetness over the last, but without being overly rich and indulgent. The caramelized bananas and candied hazelnuts acted as sweet components to the plate. The frothed pineapple packed a serious punch of sour and tang, much more than I had expected. Once all the elements were combined together, along with the financier, you had an interesting tug-of-war between sweet and sour.
Our final course of the night dives into a full dessert. A sweet, rich criollo cake is prepared in a soufflé style. Rich chocolate pours out from the cake as you cut into it. The candied vanilla, red wine, and ice cream add additional flavor elements that lend themselves to sweetness. While I did enjoy the overall taste of this plate, I did not find it as interesting as the two prior dessert courses.
Being the last two of my eight star Michelin tour of Chicago, I can’t help but reflect on the differences between Charlie Trotter’s and its fellow Michelin rated restaurants. While other restaurants are certainly more inventive and creative (Alinea comes to mind), Charlie Trotter’s was never behind in the realm of flavor. Although a couple of courses tonight demonstrated Chef Trotter’s creativeness, I think that the approach here is to offer well planned, executed, and balanced courses that highlight fresh ingredients in the most delicious way possible. Chef Trotter is immensely successful in this, making for a smart progression in flavor from beginning to end.
I feel truly fortunate to have been able to taste the amazing flavors of Charlie Trotter’s before its closing this August. It is my hope to return there again before its final closing, and I encourage anyone with the opportunity to dine here to do so before it’s too late!
816 West Armitage
Chicago, Illinois 60614
** 2 Michelin stars
Tagged with: Chef Charlie Trotter • Chicago • Illinois • Michelin Star