Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saturday night at Tru: upping the ante.

After our night at Charlie Trotter's, I wasn't sure what kind of dinner I'd be able to consume at Tru on Saturday. Then I picked myself up, reminded myself that I'm a food blogger and of the power of mind over matter, and met Nick and Louisa at their hotel for a pre-prandial cocktail.

We walked a few blocks south and east to the restaurant, which is one block off of Michigan Avenue, toward the lake. We sat for a few minutes in a sort of anteroom graced by several pieces of modern art (neon and bright colors abounded against the pure white walls), lilies on every little table, and a cart of after-dinner drinks. After our table had been readied, we made our way into the main dining room.

Tru is in an office building, and the dining room is dramatically high-ceilinged. The large windows are dressed in dramatic velvet drapes, and the widely-spaced tables are covered in white linen and surrounded by chairs upholstered in blue velvet. Nick found the dining room a bit severe, but I quite liked the serenity of it all. Some of the art was particularly pretty, especially a gray-and-white photographic print of birds in flight hung over the banquette on the southern wall. Loved.

The service at Tru was as impeccable as the dining room. Once we sat down (with little velvet stools for our purses - also very convenient for this photographer's camera), our head waiter brought us our menus and a wine list, along with three little gougères made with Comté cheese. These were delicious - light, flaky, and buttery - but I missed the peppery bite of Parmesan from my own homemade version.

As you can see, the table was beautifully-lit for photographs - like this one of our two kinds of butter (unsalted on the blue glass, salted on the green). The butter was AWESOME, as was the bread. Our unanimous favorite were the teeny, salted brioche rolls. Delicious.

After perusing our menus for a bit, we decided to do the standard three-course meal, which we thought would be a nice break from our tasting menu marathons at Trotter's and Alinea. We each ordered an appetizer and a main, Nick discussed wine with the charming (and adorable!) sommelier, and out came our amuses.

They were three little cups of seriously meaty and perfectly clear beef consommé, with a teeny ravioli at the bottom. I loved my sea life-themed cup, and the soup's deep flavor and expert execution seemed to telegraph the arrival of a good meal.

Oh, did I forget to mention this? Well, my friends, this is Tru's caviar staircase. As Louisa rightly pointed out, it looks like something out of an Esther Williams movie. This is the culinary equivalent of a show-stopping pool number if ever there was one.

From top to bottom, you have four types of caviar (starting with creamy Osetra), egg yolk, egg white, capers and red onion. Each of us was presented with toasted, buttered brioche, a dish of crème fraiche and a mother of pearl caviar spoon. We dug in like kids in a candy store and didn't stop till every last bit was gone. Can you blame us?

Hot on the heels of our caviar came our appetizers. Louisa ordered the beet salad with apples, which came with three different kinds of mousse (One was pumpkin, but the others escape me - Louisa, help a girl out?). The salad was fantastic; the beets were perfectly cooked, and the mousse that I tasted was creamy and full of pumpkin-y flavor. And, like everything else at Tru, it was gorgeously presented.

My appetizer was a very indulgent choice: seared foie gras served with a roasted pear, a strip of crispy bacon and a chestnut cream. Foie gras and autumn fruit are a classic match, and this pairing didn't disappoint. The pear was tart and lightly sweet and cut the rich foie gras quite well. The bacon lent a smoky note to the proceedings, while the chestnut cream (dotted with whole chestnuts) grounded everything with its earthy flavor. Magnificent.

Nick's starter was the beef tartare, which did not photograph well, but tasted amazing. Louisa and I agreed that it was a close second to our all-time favorite, the steak tartare at Camille in Paris. The presentation of Nick's dish was just as pretty as ours - the egg was coated in gold leaf. Really!

The organ meat parade continued during our main courses. Louisa ordered the veal cheeks and sweetbreads, which were served with an onion tart, figs and raisins. Tender, meaty and full of rich, fruity flavor - this dish was delicious. I loved the play of textures between the sweetbreads and the veal; after all, these are parts of the same animal, and for all their differences, they have some of the same precocious, just-beginning-to-develop beef flavor.

I decided to round out my ridiculously self-indulgent evening with an order of the lobster. Poached lobster was served on a bed of the most tender pasta I've ever tasted. The sauce was creamy and spiked slightly with tomato and rosemary and studded with perfectly-cooked broccoli. I can't remember the last time I saw broccoli pop up in haute cuisine, but its peppery, vegetal bite worked marvelously - I tasted the lobster in a whole new way.

Nick's main was, again, in the dark. He had the venison, and though venison is not my favorite thing, this version was deeply flavored and beautifully cooked. The meat was a jewel-like magenta color ringed by a razor-thin black sear. The best part of the venison, in my opinion, was the cabbage-wrapped cabbage that came along side. Cabbage taken to the next, sweet level. Amazing.

Next up, that lovely ritual of civilized dining, the cheese plate. I rarely partake, but I had a hunch that the cart at Tru would contain at least one or two cheeses that even this cheese-phobic could love. Most delicious of all was the cheese at 10 o'clock in the photo above - a triple cream, mustard-coated cow's milk cheese.

Eaten on a house-made hazelnut wafer with a bit of orange blossom honey, the triple-cream was a little bit like heaven, except not light and fluffy. Not light at all.

After a palate cleanser of tapioca and sorbet flavored with herbs and citrus, it was time for...

...dessert! Tru is a collaboration between savory chef Rick Tramonto and pastry chef Gale Gand. I've been a huge fan of Gand's ever since her show first aired on the Food Network way back when, so I was very excited for the last few courses.

Nick pre-ordered the gianduja souffle, which came with pumpkin ice cream. Louisa had the blueberry and lemon vacherin (you can see it in the background above), which was INSANELY good. The buttermilk cake was like a pancake, elevated, and the contrast of the warm cake, creamy mousse and cold sorbet was delightful.

My dessert, the deconstructed chocolate bar, blew Charlie Trotter's chocolate out of the water. A gravity-defying squiggle of milk chocolate cream was topped with a bit of tempered dark chocolate, accompanied by Butterfinger-esque crunchies, coffee ice cream, caramel mousse, and malted caramel. Oh. My. God. Just a few days prior, I'd been talking about how much I prefer fruit desserts to chocolate ones. If Gale Gand made all my chocolate desserts, she might just end in converting me.

But wait - there's more! Out came the mignardises on their little cart (Again, note the elegant, French-style service - carts galore!), and I couldn't help myself. I tried five out of six options available. The pumpkin macaron was a bit too soft and sweet for my tastes, but I do have to admit it melted in my mouth.

Just above that is the apricot marshmallow, which was delicious. Fluffy as a cloud and impossibly fruity. The chocolate-whiskey lollipop was nice and boozy (we were warned ahead of time that the alcohol hadn't been burned off), and the passionfruit pate de fruits made me very, very happy (as all jellied things are apt to do.

Finally, the cannelé, which was a revelation. I've never been much of a fan; the cannelés I've tried have all been far too rum-soaked for me. I'm not a rum-lover, and I don't care for mushy pastry, so you can see my issue. This one, though, was perfect. The rum glaze had hardened to a satisfying crunch, and the spongy cake inside was, well, spongy - not mushy. I must master the cannelé.

And, finally, the last touch that signaled a trend in the weekend's dining. These pumpkin-saffron truffles were huge, but we were instructed to eat them entirely in one bite. As it turns out, they were coated in only the lightest chocolate shell, and the filling was a milk-like (as opposed to ganache-like) consistency. All of that meant one thing: it exploded in your mouth.

Trust me when I tell you that - no matter how long or specific the disclaimer - you are never, ever prepared to have something explode in your mouth. (Insert your giggling here - believe me, we did.) It's delightful and surprising, every single time.

All in all, I think it's safe to say that I loved our meal at Tru. I loved the service, I loved the dining room (though, like Louisa, a bit more buzz would've been welcome), and the food made me indescribably happy. It's not revolutionary, but it's interesting, and is also beautifully and thoughtfully done.

I can't wait to go back.

676 N. St. Clair Street (between Erie and Huron)
Chicago, Illinois


fatima k said...

Hello Meg! We have given you a blog award:

Michelle Joni said...

Wow... I want to live vicariously through ALL your meals. wait scratch that. I want to come WITH you to all of them!

Wendy said...

Great report Meg! Dayne and I had dinner in the kitchen at Tru years ago and it was spectacular. The china cups are by Versace!!

and congrats on the award!

Meg Blocker said...

@fatima: oh, thank you! i will be attending to this honor shortly!

@michelle: $75/night for a hotel in the loop this should GO!

@wendy: i would kill to eat in that kitchen. maybe for my 35th...

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