Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tru, Chicago

Tru, Chicago, 5/13/2017 (8-Course, $158 excl. Taxes & Grat.), French, Michelin 2-Star

Chef Anthony Martin offers Progressive French cuisine, at Tru, showcasing the most pristine ingredients with creativity and presentation. With an elegant ambiance of white draperies punctuated by a museum-quality contemporary arts collection including Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol. Tru has a dressing code policy: jackets are required for gentlemen and elegant-casual attire is required for ladies. It is located one block east of the Magnificent Mile in a prime location of Chicago. Known for its signature offering, coral caviar, a selection of up to ten types of caviar sitting on coral-like tray. The coral-caviar tray reminded me of the Beluga caviar that I had at Da Vittoria in Milan. No other caviar in the world can beat the taste and flavor of Beluga.

There are two types menu, the abbreviated menu ($125) and expanded menu ($158) which includes two additional dishes - scallop and pastry. I chose the 8-course tasting menu with scallop and pastry and started with Amuse Bouche.

1). Comté Gougère – Comté (Greyère de Comté) is a French cheese made from the unpasteurized cow milk in Franche-Comté region of eastern France. Its aging time ranges from 8 to 36 months. I had 36-month old Comté in France twice, but only the less aged are available in US. Its texture is hard and flexible and taste is strong and slightly sweet. It is ideal to use it for soufflé, quiche and gougère. Gougère, in French cuisine, is a baked savory made of Pâte à choux (egg, flour and cheese.) I can easily eat ½ a dozen if served warm.

2). Cookie – A roasted pine nut cookie with apricot jam, mildly sweet and crunchy.

1st Course – Mache, Celery, Summer Truffle, Green Curry

It was a salad with quite a few ingredients, including Mache (French name of the edible salad green), celery in three forms (raw, blanched and purèe). What was special in this salad was the truffle vinaigrette and the summer truffle (in lighter color with dark-brown edges). Summer truffle was from Burgundy, France and tasted lighter than the ordinary dark color truffle. But, it was still quite delicious.

2nd Course – Chanterelle Mussel Velouté, Green Curry

A bowl was placed on a wooden board with an empty mussel shell on the side for decoration, Inside the bowl, soup was slightly thicker than broth and thinner than bisque. Soup was cooked with green curry (sweet green curry, a central Thai variety of curry.) Chef used Thai curry because its less pungent and spicy taste complement better with mussel’s seafood flavor. In the soup, there were also beach mushroom, chervil and shredded baby ginger. Even though soup was sumptuous, mussels were still tender, Chef probably used other shell fish for the soup base.

Bread – Sun Flower Seeds Bread and Sourdough Bread Served with Butter and Goat Butter

This was the 1st time that I saw a real bread basket after a week’s fine dining in Chicago. Being a New Yorker, I am more used to the New York style of re-filled bread basket.

3rd Course – Diver Scallop, Lily Bulb, Yuzu Koshu Sauce

A large size of scallop from the East coast, topped with lily bulb which is the root part of lily flower. It is considered a very healthy type of vegetable, tasted a bit like sliced watercrss. Yuzu koshu sauce (mixture of lemon zest, grapefruit zest, lime zest and related citrus juice, Thai chili, salt and pepper) was served to balance scallop’s seafood taste and flavor. Scallop was juicy, a bit crispy outside and tender in the center.

4th Course – Roasted Halibut, Barigoule Sauce, Parsley

Barigoule sauce is a traditional Provençal dish of artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in a seasoned broth of wine and water. In addition, artichoke was also included in blanched and fried forms along with celery, parsley and sun-dried tomatoes.

5th Course – Veal Tournedo, Chanterelle Mushroom, Black Garlic, Mustard Blossom

Two pieces of veal were roasted to medium-well done, served along with chanterelle mushroom, black garlic, mustard blossom and potato purèe. Sauce was made of wild mushroom reduced, cooked tapioca, and rosemary. The veal was tough and chewy, it was overcooked regardless my specific request for rare-medium. I signaled my server and he took it back to the kitchen.

A little while later, the replacement dish was brought back to me. Its kitchen has replaced one small piece of flank steak for 2 pieces of veal. I did question my server why the replacement did not come in two pieces.

6th Course – Green Asparagus + Morels in Pastry

This item is only available if you order the expanded menu. After I had the truffle croissant at Acadia, I was sort of expecting something similar.

This dish came with a puff pastry with sautéed asparagus and morels on the side. Sauce was made of cream, sherry and chive). It was not as spectacular as what I expected, although it was still delicious.

My server offered me a cheese course as a complimentary. I had 5 varieties ranging from mild to strong, my favorite was goat cheese with rosemary. I chose honey instead of jam. Oddly, the cheese selection did not have Comté which one of the most popular cheese selection in French restaurant.

7th Course – Ruby Grapefruit, Fennel Consommé, Aged Balsamic

This is the palette cleanser. Ruby grapefruit sorbet was served with fennel leave and aged balsamic balls made with the molecular gastronomy technique of dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate. Sorbet was quite good and refreshing.

In addition, there were a few orange-flavored Madeleine. Chef made extra efforts to bring up the taste and flavor by sprinkling powder sugar and orange peel on top of them. The texture of Madeleine was excellent. 

8th Course – Dulce de Leche, Banana, Dark Chocolate

Banana purée was at the bottom, dulce de leche mousse was served in frozen condition, covered by dark chocolate. Vanilla powder was dusted all over the plate. It was a rich in flavor and light in texture desert.

Petit Fours – Black Cherry Soft Candy, Cannelé and Chocolate Candy

1). Black cherry jelly candy was full of flavor.

2). A cannelé is a small French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust. It takes the shape of small, striated cylinder approximately five centimeters in height and is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. It tasted especially good when fresh while outside is crusty and inside is 80% done. It requires more technique and labor to make than madeleine. I had it once in NYC two years ago, this was the 2nd time that I had in US.

3). Chocolate sheet was rolled and filled with bourbon infused sugar, ginger, black currant and lemon grass. It rendered a very sophisticated flavor.

4). House made sumptuous chocolate truffle.

 Petit Fours was my favorite course for the evening, especially the chocolate candy.

I started my fine dining week in Chicago at Boka and liked its savory dishes more than its desert. I ended my fine dining week at Tru and liked its desert more than its savory dishes. At present, in Chicago there are more fine dining restaurants focusing on American Progressive style instead of French (Progressive) style. I wish there would be more restaurants focusing on French Progressive style in the future in Chicago.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Oriole, Chicago

Oriole, Chicago, 5/10/2017 (17-Course, $190 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 2-Star

When I made the reservation, the receptionist alerted me the unusual appearance of the entrance, but I was still lost until a delivery men pointed out. The restaurant is located in premise which was probably a warehouse, its entrance doors are comprise of two pieces separated horizontally instead of the conventional way of separated vertically. When the door was being opened, upper piece would move upward and the lower piece would move downward. After the guest walk into the restaurant, the door would close. Inside the restaurant, it was decorated with many Japanese-Korean style white lamps. It can accommodate approximately 20 guests, with an open kitchen. The restaurant offers only one set of menu. Chef Noah Sandoval opened this restaurant only slightly more than a year ago in the interesting Fulton Street Market section of Chicago.

Bread and butter were served – seaweed bread, cream cheese with Myer lemon and peel, and ramp flower and ramp jells

1st Course – Golden Osetra Caviar, Coconut Dashi, Lychee and Sea Grape

At the very bottom, there was pickled apple with lychee sorbet on top of it. Then, a layer of shiso (belonging to mint family in red-leaved or green-leaved forms) and chive were topped with Osetra caviar, coconut-dashi gelate and sea grape (light green balls). Using sea grape and coconut dashi was the most interesting method of enhancing caviar’s taste and in the meantime to make it tasted sweeter.

2nd Course – Fraises Des Bois, Foie Gras Mousse, Pistachio and Ras El Hanout

Ras el Hanout is Arabic for “Head of the Shop” and implies the best of mixture of spices that the seller has to offer. There is not definitive composition of the spices that make up ras el hanout, usually includes cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and coriander, etc. At the very bottom, there was a piece of crisp made of flour and ras el hanout with a bit spicy taste. The crisp was topped with foie gras mousse and pistachio pesto, wild strawberry and anise hyssop. Anise hyssop has the smell and taste of anise, although it is a member of the mint family. Using wild strawberry and pistachio pesto greatly improve the overall balance of taste.

3rd Course – Scottish Langoustine, Spring Roll with Shio Kombu, Rhubarb and Mint

Scottish cold-water langoustine with shredded radish were wrapped in rice paper. On top of this roll, there were shredded shio kombu (seaweed) and mint. On the side, there were rhubarb cream with red powder made of Korean chili gochujgang pepper. My taste bud was very happy with the luscious and stimulating combination of ingredients.

4th Course – Kampachi, Nigiri with Yuzu Kosho, Rhubarb and Genmai

Raw Nigiri fish filet was coated in yuzu kosho (made of yuzu peel and pepper paste), then coated by nori powder. On top, there were some puffed Japanese brown rice(genmai.) This is a variation of Japanese sashimi. The kosho paste was truly wonderful and sophisticated, it gave you taste bud a little kick from the chili pepper and still let you taste the luscious taste of fish. This was my 2nd favorite course for the evening.

5th Course – Bone Broth, Vietnamese coriander, Cinnamon and lemongrass 

In the vegetable pot, there was beef bone broth with carrot, lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander. In addition, there was an empty bowl, at the bottom of bowl there was some red chili oil to be infused by the beef broth served at the table.

6th Course – Beef Tandon, Puffed with Wagyu Tartare and XO

Courses # 5 and # 6 were supposed to be eaten together. While you ate soup, you could also enjoy the classic A5 Wagyu beef tartare. A5, considered the best quality of Wagyu beef was prepared with chopped Vietnamese coriander and was place in the middle of a piece of puffy fried tendon in the same plate. The server also told me that I would be getting a course with A5 steak later. I was thrilled that I had another A5 two days ago in Grace and would be getting it again for the 2nd time in a week.

7th Course – Beausoleil, Mangolica Consomme, Finger Lime and Borage

I knew this course would be another wonder, mangolica to other breeds of pig is like A5 to other breeds of cattle. Beausoleil oysters are farmed in floating trays in Miramichi Bay, New Brunswick. Because of their carefully controlled, rocking, uncrowded environment, Beausoleil oysters are always perfect. It takes about 4 years to mature at 2 ½ inches. Oyster was served in mangolica’s broth and served with finger lime cells (seeds.) Finger lime had such a unique taste, it was an ideal accompany of shellfish.

8th Courses – Hamon Mangolica, Black Walnut, Egg Yolk and Quince

On the side, there was a thin almond crisp, with mangolica ham, egg drop, kumquart drop, blue cheese drop, and some dill sitting on top of the crisp.

9th Course – Iceland Steelhead Trout, Smoked Roe, Spring Onion and Fresh Herbs

Iceland trout’s flesh looks almost like Arctic char, in pale pink. It was served with Applewood smoked trout roe, and micro-greens with green goddess’ sauce (with varieties of herbs.) Trout skin was crispy and medium and tender in the center.

10th Course – Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Hudson Canyon Scallop, Dried Wild Blueberry and Oxalis

Both scallop and foie gras were from Hudson Valley, and seared. Scallop was crispy outside and very tender in the center. They were served with duck jus, candied onion, pickled mustard (small yellow balls), and oxalis which had acidic taste reminiscent of sorrel. Chef used oxalis instead of fruit to provide a balanced taste with foie gras.

11th Course – Sourdough, with Cultured Butter and Puffed Grains

A slice of toasted sourdough with cultured butter and puffed grains and chive to serve as a mild palette cleanser.

12th Course – Capellini, Italian Summer Truffle, Rye Berry and Yeast

Capellini, not too thin, not too thick, served with summer truffle. Chef Sandoval came to the table to shave truffle onto the plate. It was also served with parmigiano cheese, rye berry and yeast. I asked chef why yeast was used as an ingredient in this course, he said the slight sour taste of yeast provide a more overall balanced taste. It was delicious.

13th Course – Japanese A5 Wagyu, Charred Little Gem, Furikake and Sesame Loaf 

There are some grades for WAGYU beef, and A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef. It is famous for its smooth velvety texture, juicy flavor, delicate but rich taste. Its appearance looks marbling, tiny pieces of fat finely distributed. Marbling is never too rich, it almost melts in your mouth. The marbling is also the evidence that cattle have been specially raised in the vast lush wilderness using carefully selected feed (corn and rice straw), pure water and clean air.

Beef is classified into four categories, Japanese black cattle comprised the largest number of 4 breeds. Its deliciousness consists of the following factors: the taste and flavor that spread out in the mouth, and the smooth texture. The standards of grading beef consist of yield grade and quality grade. “A” of “A5” means the yield grade and “5” of “A5” means quality grade.

This melts in your mouth steak was served with charred little gem (1/2 baby lettuce), sprinkled with lemon juice and toasted sesame seeds. It was unconventional that chef used furikake to sprinkle on everything, except A5, in the plate. Traditionally, furikake is a dry Japanese seasoning meant to be sprinkled on top of cooked rice, vegetable and fish. It typically consists of dried and ground fish, sesame, chopped seaweeds, sugar, salt, shiso, and dried miso, etc. Chef used it for a dish of A5 wagyu, but did not sprinkle any furikake on top of A5 steak. Chef also made a rather unconventional inclusion, he used triple-grounded roasted onion instead of potato purée (it almost looked like potato purée in photo.) Just the sheer thought of succulent A5 could make my taste bud happy.

14th Course – Cucumber, Sorbet with Basil, Champagne and Tonka

I guess Tonka is a very popular and fashionable spice these days, many chefs at the restaurant that I visited recently used it.

Cucumber sorbet was served with champagne, basil and tonka bean for its nice aroma. 

15th Course – Croissant, Raclette and Rosemary Apple Butter

A flaky croissant was filled with soft raclette cheese and rosemary apple butter. Although I was overwhelmed with many dishes at Oriole, I dearly missed the truffle croissant at Acadia.

16th Course – Gianduja, Gelato with Mascarpone, Preserved Cherries and Sakura Tea

Pickled cherries were at the bottom, topped with mascarpone and fermented cherry gelato. Since cherry was not very sweet most of the time, chef used Giandujo which is a sweet chocolate spread containing about 30% of hazelnut to provide sweetness and decoration.

17th Course – Mignardises, Black Currant, Salted Caramel, and Fernet

A wooden tray filled with three items. These were the equivalent of lovely petit fours – ice cream sandwiA wooden tray filled with three items. These were the equivalent of lovely petit fours – ice cream sandwich with black currant, salted caramel chocolate and fernet (a bitter and aromatic sprit) and soda bon bon.

Oriole’s pastry chef delivered a goodie box to each customer upon departure. Inside the box, it was a rhubarb tart, the most delicious rhubarb desert that I have ever had during this week of fine dining in Chicago. Oriole has provided with impeccable services and extraordinary cuisine in terms of taste, flavoring and presentation beyond what I normally can expect from a Michelin 2-Star restaurant. Chef was very creative and made many dishes to perfection. It would be the 1st restaurant that I think of whenever I visit Chicago again.

Acadia, Chicago

Acadia, Chicago, 5/10/2017 (5-Course, $115 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 2-Star

Acadia is a Michelin 2-Star restaurant in the south loop of Chicago. Going thru the list in alphabetical order, it is the 1st Michelin 2-Star that I came across. Chef Ryan McCaskey focused mainly on American Progressive theme. The place is elegantly decorated, however, without open or see-thru kitchen.

I ordered a 5-course tasting menu. I started with Amuse Bouche.

1). Lobster Roll -  Fine quality lobster from Penobscot bay in Stonington, Maine, served with mayonnaise and chive sandwiched in a bite-size bread. The cold and clean water of Penobscot bay is the perfect environment for producing the sweetest lobster.

2). Fried Head Cheese – with aioli cream drop on top touched with a sprig of parsley leave.

3). Truffle Cookie -   this cookie dough also had Parmigiano cheese and thyme. It was served like a sandwich with truffle Bavarian cream in between. It was bite-size, but I would not mind to have a few more.

4). Beef Heart – Beef heart was slightly seared and grilled to get the flavor. It was almost raw, served with ponzu sauce, hoi-shin sauce, chopped peanuts, white onion; adorned with Thai basil, mint and broccoli leave. 

1st Course – Truffle Croissant

I noticed the croissant had 2 different colors on the skin, it was made with 2 types of dough and twirled together at the final stage before baking, the darker color dough was the one with chopped truffle and the lighter color was the one plain. It was accompanied by egg custard foam (lighter than egg custard) made of whole egg, vanilla and truffle. I dipped croissant into the custard foam and could not quite find any better terms to describe the taste and flavor besides “It was like in heaven”.

2nd Course – Columbia River Salmon, Fava Bean

Salmon, from Columbia river, was poached to perfection, tender and medium in the center. To complement the flavor, the dish also included fresh radish, toasted granola, tangerine leaves, fresh dill, pickled orange peel, cute pansy flower and lemon yogurt cream.

3rd Course – White Asparagus, Iberico Ham, Farm Egg

I was happy that white asparagus was on the menu again. White asparagus, from Holland considered the best quality, was served with Iberico Serrano ham from Spain. Egg from Slaga farm south of Chicago was low-heat poached en sous-vide to a condition that the egg was barely settled, but not soupy, with a very pleasant rich taste. In addition, there was Fontina cheese fondue, ham crumbles, arugula, water crest, red bean sorrel served with truffle vinaigrette. I loved the taste of this semi-cooked egg yolk, the edge and the center part were with the same softness and smoothness. Most of the sunny side-up eggs was a bit harder on the edge than the center.

4th Course – Stonington Lobster, Ramp Gnochi, Green Goddess

Lobster was from the same source, Stonington, Maine, as what served in the amuse bouche. Lobster was poached in butter to keep its flesh tender and juicy. On the side, there were green gnocchi made of ramp, green asparagus, chervil, thyme, cream and sour cream, lemon and sorrel interspersed with a few cute flowers. The quality of lobster was without of doubt, Chef’s cooking technique also had a lot to do with the luscious taste of this dish.

Red Fife Biscuit, Pretzel Roll – served with 3 flavors of butter, yogurt, mushroom and mixed herbs.

Pea Ice Cream, Japanese Cheesecake, Meringue

For transition to meat dish. Gently flavored pea ice cream was served with whipped light cream and pea leaves/ vine tips.

5th Course – Anderson Farm Lamb, Olive, Peas

Lamb supplied by Anderson Farm was roasted to medium-rare and served with charred onion, diced and sautéed potato, peas and strawberries. The inclusion of olive tapenade made this dish from a good one to an excellent one.

Bloody Mary – with strawberry sorbet, spiced tomato sauce, celery foam, tomato balls and parmigiano sable. It was a palette cleanser proceeding the desert. It balanced among many different flavors and produced a sophisticated taste. 

6th Course – Rhubarb Strudel, Nasturtium

At the bottom, there was a thin crisp with cashew cake, rhubarb compote and ice cream place on the crisp. This 2nd layer was then covered by another layer of crisp which was topped with poached rhubarb pieces, ricotta cheese cream and nasturtium leaves. Rhubarb was prepared properly without the tarry taste. It was a good treat for the seasonal desert.

Petit Four – Raspberry White Chocolate Bon-Bon, Rosemary Olive Cookie, Multi-Milk & Coffee Cream Macaroon. They were all yummy and cute, complementing with each’s distinctive taste and flavor.

After getting off the train at Chinatown station, it took about 10 minutes of walking to get to Acadia. Nevertheless, the mouthwatering experience of truffle croissant made the journey worthwhile.