Moto, Chicago

Gastronomical adventures in the windy city are often only attributed to Alinea, Next and Charlie Trotters. Unbeknownst to most is a little hub of innovation and madness called Moto, with the Willy Wonka-esque Homaro Cantu, serving up a style of food only a handful of people the world over are actually masters of, with impersonators a plenty  – a cuisine formerly known as Molecular Gastronomy and what I like to refer to as ‘surreal’. Located near the top end of the meat-packing district, one wonders, whilst walking there, who on Earth would have a restaurant in this neighbourhood – isolated, stark, empty, but then half way down on the other side of the road, cafe’s, bars, restaurants all start showing their cheery heads and one promptly walks straight past Moto before checking the building numbers or Google maps and swiftly turning around and hunting down the front door and finding it located right beside Next/Aviary and feeling a slight glow of happiness, especially as there happened to be a table booked for drinks at Aviary later in the evening!

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Tasting menu
Dim Sum
Crudites
Corn

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Tasting Plate: A plate of amuse bouches that actually represents the entire menu in terms of the principal flavour. Starting from left and moving all the way to the end where the desserts are , one finds that it isn’t such a drastic change from the savoury side to the sweet side as they’ve tempered the sweetness for the nibble to harmoniously fit together as an amuse.

Dim sum: steamed bun, hamachi on oyster leaf, daikon purse, braised konbu. The whole thing is steaming when brought to the table, but the steam isn’t hot – it’s cold! Underneath the baskets is a bowl of jasmine tea that was chilled with liquid nitrogen, thus giving the effect of steam, but being all cold. Love!

Crudites: Various seasonal vegetables with the  emphasis on the cauliflower pannacotta, the puffed pasta and the beetroot meringue! Garnished with micro herbs grown in their aquaponic vertical garden back in the kitchen.

Corn: Not deconstructed, but reconstructed! On the left we have a corn cheesecake with black potato crisp, bay leaf gel. In the middle is a deep fried courgette flower and on the right is corn on the cob: the centre of the cob is a popcorn ice cream (savoury), around it are corn nibs that have been freeze dried and placed back around the ice cream then blow torched to give a roasted effect. I love this place!

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Grapes
Zen garden
Forest log
Red wine salad

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Grapes: Light fruity plate – semi dried grapes and carbonated grapes! Yes, the grapes have been injected with CO2 so that they’re fizzy inside!  Quite a laugh! Served with a bit of yoghurt, toasted quinoa and micro kitchen-garden herbs.

Zen Garden: A new way of looking at cheese! Underneath it all is a freeze-dried peach puree which is covered with a toasted almond ‘sand’, the brown balls are Camambert and Exploratory cheese rolled in cocoa powder and black cocoa replacer (toasted barley cocoa substitute). Also in the garden is apple and bayleaf gel, freeze dried shallots, shoots from the vertical garden and of course, a rake to play around with!

Forest foraging 2.0: Ramp and mushroom purees, fiddlehead ferns, crosnes, wild mushrooms, pea powder and lemon dew….a walk in the forest!

Red wine salad: Prior to the plate appearing on the table a huge douglas fir branch with a few oak chips is placed on the table and blow torched  to release a few aromas. The idea is to invoke all the flavours of a complex wine in their food forms. So, we have a smoked beetroot puree, crispy bacon (smokiness), petit marsh and tarragon (herbal), dates and blackberries (fruitiness), truffle (earthiness). All these are then pureed and centrifuged to get a clear vinaigrette – a complex wine ready to be eaten!

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Cassoulet
Lamb
Coffee
Bourbon

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We continue the madness with Cassoulet on a stick: all the ingredients of cassoulet – duck confit, sausage, swede and carrot, skewered with rosemary, dipped in white bean gel and coated in crispy breadcrumbs! Served with grilled bread and BONE MARROW BUTTER! Hurrah!

Spring lamb course: Served on a cleaver and bone! We have aubergine puree with lamb loin carpaccio, fresh chickpea hummus, broad bean leaf (left). Next is smoked lamb breast ham, roasted leg of lamb with sauteed fresh chick peas. Lamb neck sausage with fennel, confit lamb shoulder with artichoke and lamb pate. Full on lamb! My only issue with this dish was that it wasn’t hot. Great flavours all around, but very room temperature/tepid.

Coffee service: Coffee gel with banana, lemon, coconut, mint. Inside the cup is pumpkin seed cake, candied pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed ice cream, dried lemon zest puree, roast cinnamon ice cream, banana mint, roast bananas and a disc of frozen espresso whipped cream and glazed with coffee gel.  The sugar cubes are coconut meringues and the milk is a vanilla froth. Looks dreadful, tastes great – wasn’t quite sure about the banana as it overpowered most of the delicate flavours.

Bourbon barrel and whisky cocktails: A bourbon stave is brought out with edible old fashioned whisky cocktails: mint julep, whisky mac, old fashioned and whisky sour! In the flask is a non-alcoholic bourbon: caramelised sugar, toasted corn and bourbon barrel chips – a tea!

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Egg drop soup
Smell the glove
Smell the glove 2
After dinner menu 1
After dinner menu 2

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Egg drop soup: neither egg nor soup! It’s mango puree suspended in a lemongrass gel with a coconut, pandan and mint cream on the side (Thailand in a dessert!)

Smell the glove: Now as bizarre as this sounds, it has reflections in reality. So, you first get a leather glove, encased in a smoke chamber, which is full of vanilla smoke – you inhale the smoke, smell the glove, take it all in. Then a plate of a chocolate glove, smoked cookies, caramel, raisins is brought before you. The idea being that it’s earthy, it’s pungent. Many years ago I did a chocolate course at L’artisan du Chocolat where we were given a single estate chocolate that had distinct notes of leather naturally present in it! This dish reminded me of it! Secondly, a lot of whisky has leathery notes in it too! So this multi-sensory, multi-level does, really, throws the glove down on most chocolate desserts! And it’s light – the chocolate just being a vessel to hold in the various flavours!

Next up is After Dinner Menu: A fruit salad consisting of apple and pineapple with their corresponding mints. Then a jasmine marshmallow with the menu printed on it is frozen in liquid nitrogen by the table and placed on the salad, and then smashed into little ‘croutons’! A refreshing and light end to a very surreal meal!

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Exquisite and exciting, a playful, laughable take on experimental cuisine! My only reservation would be that whilst there was substance to the style, it wasn’t very strong and the flavours could have been a bit more intense. Nevertheless, a must-stop for the adventurous foodie and a pit stop at Aviary, the bar of Next (Alinea sister) is a necessity to have the most exciting cocktails ever!

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Recommend you go: 9

Food: 8

Website

 Moto on Urbanspoon

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