When the news broke early this year that Charlie Trotter would be closing his restaurant after 25 years, I knew right there and then that a trip to Chicago was in order. I’ve heard about Trotter’s for years. Not only was Charlie Trotter awarded 10 James Beard Awards and voted as one of the best restaurants in the world, the kitchen served as a training ground for some of Chicago’s most famous chefs (Grant Achantz, Graham Elliot). So why is one of the best restaurants in the world closing its doors after 25 years? Trotter explained in several interviews that it has nothing to do with financial reasons, but rather due to a longing to travel the world and return to school to study philosophy and political theory. When I heard that, I thought why not? Chef Trotter has published 14 cookbooks, was the host of an award winning PBS cooking series, and ran one of the most popular restaurants in Chicago. The fact that he wants to broaden his horizons and do other things with his life is pretty amazing and it also made me want to try his restaurant more than ever.
As I was pulling into the beautiful community area of Lincoln Park in North Chicago, my excitement grew, as it finally hit me that it was really happening. I found free parking very close to the restaurant, which was a nice beginning to the evening. I made my way up the stairs of the beautiful Relais & Chateaux property, and walked into a packed waiting area, right by the bar. A couple of moments pass and out comes Chef Trotter! He walked by and greeted everyone. From that moment on I knew we were in great hands.
Since Trotter is often credited as the man who popularized the tasting menu, you can expect that and only that at his restaurant, however there are three different selections: the Grand Menu, the Vegetable Menu, and the Kitchen Table Menu, all of them equally offering the best seasonal ingredients available from over 90 different purveyors of the highest quality food, prepared intricately through a progression of courses that all lay down the foundation for the next dish to come.
The first course was an amuse-bouche of geoduck clam with Hawaiian hearts of palm and cucumber. The vinaigrette was light, supporting and not blocking the basic flavors of the ingredients. The geoduck is one of the largest clams in the world and one of the longest-lived animals as well, featured right on my plate. For a unique species of fish, Trotter has a unique presentation, as the clam is cut into thin strips and placed on top of the hearts of palm and cucumber slices, offering interesting bright flavors I have never experienced.
The next course was Hamachi, or the Japanese Amberjack, a yellowtail fish that is a seasonal favorite in the colder months when the meat has a higher fat content. The raw Hamachi was enhanced by green tomatoes and a nice chunk of avocado. I felt this dish was a nod to sushi rolls, only it offered much more complex flavors, and it was definitely the perfect dish to follow the Geoduck clam.
Then came what was perhaps the most impressive dish of the evening; Steamed Alaskan Halibut with Green Almonds, Acorn-Fed Iberian Ham & Lemon Balm. Within the slightly firm texture was a rich clean taste, sitting on a mouthwatering seasoning that really just brought fish to a whole other level. I would often take slices of the salty Iberian ham and combine it with the halibut, creating a unique and fascinating bite. I really loved the fact that once again there were several flavors to this dish that were absolutely new to me.
The next course was wild; Arkansas Rabbit Loin, in a roulade, accompanied by a puree of wild leeks (ramps) and burgundy snails, topped with some mustard cress. This dish was exceptional, once again presenting several mind-blowing flavors. I started to notice that each dish kept getting better than the last, yet I thought each dish was the best of the evening. So far, so good.
The last course before dessert really struck my taste buds; Broken Arrow Ranch Venison with Toasted Espresso, Porcini Mushrooms & Boudin Noir. This dish almost blew me off my seat. A perfectly seared medium-rare medallion of juicy venison sat over some Boudin Noir, adding some fat to the lean venison, just waiting to be dipped around the drops of toasted espresso. The flavors meshed intricately well. There was a side of parsley risotto, giving it a rich bright colour and a memorable taste as well. My stomach was filled adequately on the main courses, leaving just the right amount of room for dessert.
Granny Smith Apple & Greek Yogurt with Pistachio & tarragon.
This first dessert was sensational, moving away from the savory and into the sweet part of the evening, with a delicious cake combining the flavors of granny smith apple and greek yogurt with candied pistachios simply made one beautifully executed dessert.
Thyme Glazed Brioche with Georgia Blueberry Compote & Lavender Blueberry Sorbet.
Not being a fan of sorbet had me a bit worried before receiving the dish, but when I tried it I was thrilled because it didn’t taste like the sorbet I was used to having. I found this delicious, especially the pairing of lavender and blueberry, which was very interesting to my palate, as well as the introduction of the thyme into the rich and tender crumb of the French pastry, resulting in a dish that was nothing short of spectacular.
Crillo Cake with Parsnip Red Wine & Candied Vanilla.
Perhaps my favorite dessert of the evening, this one could take your breath away. Parsnip ice cream, a first for me, was so incredibly different but fantastic. Criollo is the rarest and most expensive cocoa on the market and it really tastes like it. The cake promoted such fantastic flavor on its own, but when combined with the candied vanilla as well as the parsnip, it felt like pure ecstasy.
Though the service wasn’t perfect (it was lacking in some areas), everything else was. The thing that amazed me so much about this evening was all of the new flavors I got to experience, and how everything tasted so fresh on top of being beautifully presented. My girlfriend ordered the Vegetable menu, because she doesn’t eat most seafood, and I got to try her dishes as well, and all of them were equally as impressive. It was nice to experience what I would say was vegetable haute cuisine, from an insanely good stinging nettle soup, to a savory miso tortelli that blew my mind. She also got three different desserts than me. At the end of the evening I got to experience over fifteen courses of some of the tastiest food I ever tried. I felt fortunate that I made the trip to Chicago in time to enjoy an impeccable world-class meal at Charlie Trotter’s before it is closed for good. It was a meal that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
16 West Armitage Avenue Chicago, IL 60614 T:(773) 248-6228
Below I am going to feature photos and a description of the dishes that my girlfriend ordered.
Belgian White Asparagus with Brocollini, Piquillo Peppers, & Manchego Cheese
Stinging Nettle Soup with Globe Artichokes, Sumac & Chipollini Onions
One Hour Poached Hen’s Egg With Morel Mushrooms, Swiss Chard & Licorice
Miso Tortellini with Red Cabbage, Turnip Confit & Ponzu
Ginger-Braised Bosc Pear with St. Germaine Sorbet & Candied Honeycomb
Mocha Ice Cream with Hazelnut Dacquoise & Steamed Coffee Cake
I also ordered the beverage menu, a selection of non-alcoholic beverages acting as stimulating compliments to the tasting menu to provide an exhilarating alternative to the wine pairing. The beverage menu enhanced each dish, and made the meal even more enjoyable.
Fennel, Apple & Lemon Balm
Pineapple and Lemongrass
Plum, Lime & Wild Mint
Roasted Pear, Almond & Orange
Black Currant, Cardamom & Pomegranate Ice
Acai Berry, Ginger & Vanilla
JarredReviews is my personal weblog. The opinions and experiences represent my own. If you read that I didn’t particularly enjoy a meal or restaurant, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try it and see for yourself. Restaurants can have an off day, people make mistakes, we’re all human. My writing is mainly so that you can find out about great restaurants that you may have not heard about, and also to give you an idea of what I enjoyed that you can experience for yourself. Food reviewing is very subjective and you must take this into account and use your discretion when reading any review; If I have had a bad experience somewhere, do not let that stop you to try the restaurant for yourself.