I was originally going to go straight from work, but realized midday that I wasn’t appropriately dressed for the occasion. Mara was kind enough to pick me up from work and, after taking “the long way” home – we missed a turn and ended up in the most unfortunate chain of red lights, one-ways and closed streets! – I made it back, changed into an LBD, and raced back to Mara’s car. We arrived fashionably late at 6:35 pm Just in time to be seated next to MarathonVal and her husband!
(3 M’s: Mara, Me, MarathonVal)
Immediately upon being seated, we were greeted with a beautiful place setting.
I opened the menu to see what we were in for, and was amazed by the array of food that awaited us!
While we waited for the remaining guests to arrive, one of the waiters brought us a Basil Collins. It was absolutely PHENOMENAL – made with corn vodka and basil infusions, with a hint of carbonation.
Once everyone was seated, the feast began We started with three hors d’ouevres. First up was a Cauliflower Sphere, made of cauliflower puree, trout roe and an orange zest. It was an odd sensation – a little gooey in texture, but full of flavor. Definitely unlike anything I’ve ever tried!
The next hors d’ouevres – or should I say, canapés? – was a Mini-Beef Wellington. It was about the size of a ping pong ball. I ended up having two of these because they were so good. The beef was tender and juicy, and the outer shell was just enough coating – not too heavy.
Our final starter for the evening was a Scallop + Lemon Wonton. What impressed me was the fact that something that seems simple had so many different layers to it. Mara and I decided that this is what sets these chefs apart – I could never develop such rich combinations on my own!
Once everyone had finished their appetizers, we were served brioche and pumpernickel bread. As you know, this was my favorite part of the meal…
Ok, not really, but I always have a soft spot for the bread options These were tasty.
We were also served our first pour of the evening – a white called Alma de Blanco Godello Monterrei from Spain. It was from 2008 and tasted crisp, dry and fruity.
With our wine came an amuse bouche: sea cured salmon with a lemon cucumber jelly and edible button flowers. The taste was salty, zesty and savory all rolled into one.
Then it was time to get down to business! Our first course was the Peeky Toe Crab, which was served with prosciutto, pequillo and a cantaloupe-cava consommé that was poured over the top. The crab itself was very rich, and complemented the other savory-sweet flavors perfectly.
Our next course was Frog Leg – !?!?! – served with roasted garlic, carrot and watercress. I never thought I would see the day where I’d be trying frog leg, but as you would probably guess, it “tasted like chicken.” If by chicken you mean a rich delicacy with carefully chopped garlic, carrot and watercress puree It was definitely an interesting course and I’m glad that I can now say I’ve tried it.
Next up was the Olive Oil-Poached Scottish Salmon. This was my second favorite course (the best is still to come!). It was infused with Granny Smith apple, coconut and Thai long peppercorn.
The last of the savory courses was my absolute favorite: Braised Beef Short Ribs. This dish was so perfectly tender that it literally melted in my mouth. It was topped with unagi (eel), scallion pistou, and a miso emulsion, which is the foam cascading down the side. Miso emulsion = pure genius.
At this point, we were also served the red wine pour of the evening. It was called Niepoort Twisted Douro from 2006, and was made in Portugal. PAPA BENDER: You would have loved it
The main courses were over way too soon, but I loved each and every one of them in their own way. I was most impressed by the obvious care that went into the preparation of each dish. I really think that culinary professionals deserve a lot of credit! Amazing, amazing work.
Of course, then it was time for dessert Our first serving was Seedling Farms Plum, which came with sarsaparilla cream, milk chocolate and a ginger-lime meringue. I can’t decide which of those sub-parts I liked most. They were all incredible. I may have to go with the sarsaparilla cream!
We were also served Intelligentsia coffee (yum!) with brown + white sugar cubes and cream.
Then came…the tower.
More formally known as “mignardises,” these were tiny finger desserts. I was only going to try a few, but then Val reminded me that I have no idea when I will be going back to this restaurant, so I tried one of each In the left picture (clockwise), there was an apricot candy, pistachio macaroon, dark chocolate lollipop and cream-filled chocolate cup. In the right picture (clockwise), there was a dark chocolate shortbread, an almond tartlet and a passionfruit marshmallow. All excellent. All mouthwatering. All irresistible.
Three hors d’ouevres, two wines, four courses and two dessert plates later, I was a happy camper Perhaps the best part about this meal was that it was THREE hours long. Although we ate a lot of food, it was spaced out in such a leisurely way that I really was comfortably full when it was over. Plus, we spent the whole time chatting, so the time flew by!
After dinner, we were lucky enough to be given a tour. We found out where they keep their amazing dish and glassware, and paid a visit to the “bartender,” who actually works from behind the kitchen doors.
We also got to visit the site where the chefs do their amazing work.
And spent a little time with the pastry chef, who Mara actually knew through her sister!
She gave us a sample of what I think was a ginger-infused truffle. We were told to eat the entire piece in one bite without stopping to take a picture. Good call, because literally upon biting into it I was greeted with a rush of gingery juice that instantly filled my mouth with rich sweetness. Le sigh.
I still can’t believe I was able to enjoy such an incredible meal with even better company. I would like to give a big thank you to Ryan, Amy and Gina from Foodbuzz for coming to Chicago and making this happen. It was so nice to finally put faces with the amazing network that has done so much for me the past year and a half. When I look back on what I have been able to do, taste and see, it never ceases to amaze and astound me, and I have you to thank for that.
Upon leaving the restaurant, we were provided with a “takeaway” and told to enjoy it with the next morning’s cup of coffee. You can bet that I did just that It was a jelly-filled, muffin-like culinary masterpiece. It made me smile while I was eating it and remember the previous night’s experience.
Another big thanks goes out to the people at TRU for providing what was hands down one of the best meals of my life. Your hospitality did not go unnoticed! It was equally amazing to have the chance to meet Chef Rick Tramonto, who paid us a visit during our meal. (You can also see Katie from Salt and Chocolate and Alice + Jared from Eat A Duck I Must in the photo. Alice + Jared brought a book copy for Rick to sign!)
I’m looking forward to more Chicago meet ups in the future. Sharing good food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If anyone is ever in the Windy City, let me know – I’d be happy to meet you for dinner