I’ve been to Tru one time before my birthday dinner this year. It was last year’s birthday dinner, too, and the beginning of my exciting culinary exploration of the city of Chicago that I joyfully admit, now consumes much of my time, thoughts and stomach capacity. It was there that I first discovered that Chicago wasn’t messin’ around; it is, in fact, pretty darn serious about its food scene. And I have to admit, I was shocked.
My first impression of Chicago’s restaurants was not one of diversity, quality or excitement. Initially, I noticed mostly the blatant cheesiness of “Eggsperience,” “The Rainforest Cafe,” and “Weber Grill Restaurant”. Thank God that was only on the surface! It does take a little, but not too much, digging to discover a bounty of deliciousness: from cheap eats to splurge worthy in categories ranging from authentic ethnic cuisines to burgers and pizza and everything in between.
The space is elegant yet very modern, almost to the point of being a bit cold. The massive walls are minimally decorated and the lack of music makes the room feel even more spacious and void.
The service helps warm the air, if only a little, once it’s understood that one’s nose is not pointed toward the ceiling but rather directly into the plate. But that’s not to say that it becomes anything less than professional. Oh, no! The synchronicity never faltered, a mark never missed and explanations never less than thorough. I’d go so far as to call it impeccable.
Of course we chose the “Chef’s Collection Menu” for a grand total of 13, yes 13, courses. They call it 9 but then they sneak in a bunch of extras. Fine by me. Can anyone say “hog heaven”? Yes, that’s were I was.
Here’s was 13 courses at Tru looked like on June 1st, 2011:
It began with these tiny little bites: Comte’ cheese gougére. You know you’re in for a treat when a simple little savory puff is just so right. Light, eggy, toasty, barely cheesy and salty. How can something so simple to be so good?
The Mussel Velouté was the second surprise amuse bouche. This light, faintly mussel flavored soup had a cucumber gelée base and a lemony cucumber salad with tiny edible flowers. Its gentile complexity was a nice wake up call for the palate.
Our first official course was the White Sturgeon “Caviar” with a layer of creamy avocado and crispy hazelnut crackers. Just know that I want to use explicit language to convey how good this is, but I can’t. I remember it as incredible from last year as well. It’s one of their signature items.
What’s interesting is that it’s really not caviar at all. It’s the fish itself, smoked, then pureed, then submerged, drop by drop, into liquid nitrogen. The result is creamy, soft little beads of heavenly flavor. Spread on a house made cracker with a mother of pearl caviar spoon, it feels just as luxurious as the real thing. Trust me.
The next course was Suspended Foie Gras with pineapple, mango & balsamic dots, and pecan tuille. After much debate and careful tasting, we decided that this wasn’t our favorite dish. The foie was lighter and almost spongy with a more delicate version of foie flavor and a faint, unidentifiable aftertaste. It seemed as if foie gras’s best qualities were taken away. I mean, isn’t it the dense, smooth, creaminess that melts in your mouth and the full, fatty flavor that makes this guilty pleasure so worth it? It is for me. This version was just about the antithesis of those things. Meanwhile, the pineapple was sweet and too powerful, masking the diluted flavor of the liver. The mango wasn’t necessary since the over all flavor combo was already too sweet and the vinegar wasn’t present enough to do anything about that. The tuille was good on its own but didn’t help the cohesiveness of the dish. In all, kinda disappointing.
But fear not! There is still plenty of wonderful flavors to come including the “inside of an English pea soup” with lavender.
At this point I had to ask our captain if there was a new chef in the kitchen. I didn’t remember there being this much molecular gastronomy in play last year. Well, the answer was “No” but he had, in fact, acquired a new toy: liquid nitrogen.
So the peas on this plate are not actually peas but pea puree manipulated to look like halved peas. Hmmm… And the flecks of silver are actually flecks of silver. I’ve heard of eating gold leaf, but not silver. Well, I guess you can because I’m alive and well to tell about it!
The best part of the pea soup, however, was the tiny bits of smoky bacon that burst in your mouth with flavor. That, and the very flavorful soup itself. Go figure… the tastiest stuff was the actual food.
Next up was the Dashi Flan with edamame, white sturgeon caviar (for real this time) and yuzu kosho. Um, what? I was a little afraid of this just because dashi usually overwhelms me with its strong fishy flavor. But Tru delighted me with a delicateness that mirrored that of the texture of the flan itself. It was delicious.
Did I mention the bread plate yet? Sorry. This arrived quite early on. Four in-house made, beautiful breads were offered with two kinds of butter. My favorite is the bread not pictured: the pumpernickel roll. The others, too, were quite nice and included a country white bread whose French name escapes me (read: I have no idea what he said), a buttery, toasty brioche, and a crispy herb cracker.
Now the serious stuff: Hello pork belly! This is the perfect portion of pork belly: 2 bites. It was braised perfectly, then seared to a big, fat crisp and served with stone ground grits, pickled ramps and ramp pesto. Lovely and not overly complicated. This is how I remembered the food to be.
The Scottish Salmon was beautiful as well, and I absolutely loved the bubbled antique plate it was served on. Some of the divots were filled with the acidic, herbaceous sorrel puree and the dollop smoked, whipped cream was like nothing I’d tasted before. Think about that. Smoked cream.
The Glazed Veal was a little boring, dare I say, not all that tender, and fairly forgettable. Morel mushrooms and fava beans are always a plus but after so many other outstanding dishes, this one got lost in their shadow. But, hey, they can’t all be our best outfit. Right?
Oh, how I love a cheese cart! And this one is wonderful. Between the two of us, we got to taste 8 gorgeous cheeses with honey, in-house made fruit compote and nut bread for accompaniments. This makes me happy.
What do you mean it’s already time for dessert? That’s it? We were just getting warmed up.
Pre-dessert arrived as a shot glass filled with a cucumber foam with yuzu and vanilla bean. Clean and fresh, savory and sweet. It served it’s purpose to clear our palates and transition us from to the sweet side quite well. Interesting, too, that the pre-app and pre-dessert were both cucumber based.
The Carrot Cake was a little lack luster with a purposeful void of spice and its very neutral accompaniment of fromage blanc. The best part was the spring pea ice cream.
Oh yes, and of course there was birthday cake. Just a bite, just enough. All that’s really important, after all, is the wish!
My favorite sweet of all was the beautiful selection of mignardises which included a chocolate truffle, vanilla marshmallow, lavender macaroon, fruit gelée, custard filled chocolate and booze-soaked, deeply toasted cake. Sooo much fun to eat! It could be the best part of the meal for me.
And just when you thought you were finished… one… more… bite. This thin chocolate shell was filled with a rich, liquid center. The details of it are fuzzy… could have something to do with the amazing and extensive wine pairings that accompanied each individual course. Yes, could have something to do with that. All I know is that we were instructed to consume this last bite in its entirety, lest deal with an explosion. We happily complied and were more than pleased.
After all that…
The Short Version (out of 10):
Overall impression: 9.75
Would I go back?
Oh, yes…. happily. I consider myself luck to have dined at Tru twice!