Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tru Dat

Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago, which is one of my favorite "eating cities." Some people rate places based on their architecture, museums, sports teams, etc., but I'm all about how awesome is the food there?! I keep a long list of eating spots I want to try in different towns. I think I'd have to live half the year in Chicago in order to make a dent in my list.

Sadly on this trip, my colleague (and awesome friend) and I only had one night to dine as we wished. To a girl like me, that's a daunting and depressing task. How to choose just one restaurant in such a foodie city? I thought if you've only got one shot, you might as well go big or go home. With all the recent hype around Next, that was first on the list, but it's nearly impossible to get tickets (unless you're my cool friend E.G. who somehow snaked some tickets 4 days after I left town and is now out of my will). We happily settled on Tru and decided to go for the over-the-top tasting menu.

I can still recall my first chef's tasting menu experience. It was a 2002 business dinner at Nobu in Manhattan. I was with a group of very sophisticated and successful professionals I'd met earlier that day. They choose the restaurant and insisted we get the 12-course tasting menu (did I mention they were also picking up the check?). I don't think I've ever seen such a parade of endless and exotic dishes in my life. Although I wasn't the most adventurous sushi eater at the time, I was not about to not eat each course in front of these men. What I learned was two-fold:
1) I needed to take more risks with food, as my palate was opened up to a whole new world of ingredients, flavors and dishes. It was liberating and exciting, like travel is for me.
2) There is a physical capacity the stomach can hold. Seriously, I actually threw up half the food later that night as I experienced first-hand what the term "gluttony" is —and it rightly should be one of the seven deadly sins.

OK, back to the tasting at Tru. . . . First off, math is not my strongest suit but the 9-course chef's collection menu somehow ended up being 13 courses. I was a little afraid of a repeat gluttony episode, so we took our sweet time savoring each course—almost 4 hours! That was probably also a good idea because did I mention that each course was paired with wine. . . and we started with cocktails? What a rookie move!

I don't want to be too indulgent here but let me give you a quick rundown of some of the highlights. The photos do not do justice to the taste or presentation. I have a new found appreciation for food stylists and photographers.

Cucumber salad on gelee, bouchot mussel veloute
(beyond sublime, near genuis)

White sturgeon "caviar," avocado, hazelnut

Duroc pork belly, stone ground grits, pickled ramps

. . . which I liked a lot.

Scottish salmon, sorrel, smoked cream

Glazed veal, fava bean, morel mushroom, tokyo turnip, prosciutto

Selection of cow, goal and sheep's milk cheeses

Gold flaked chocolate filled with liquid mint, which you must eat in one shot and close your mouth when you bite down or you'll find yourself covered in liquid mint but is insanely delicious! Give me a bib and I'd eat a dozen.

We closed the place down around 1:30 am, and Ronda was bold enough to ask for a kitchen tour. Our noble hosts let us ooh and ahh over the rows of copper pots, the industrial burners, the food prep for the next day, and all the other behind the scene stuff I found fascinating. It's like walking into the airplane cockpit for the first time when you're a kid.

Ronda enjoyed a moment of imagining herself in the kitchen fray mid-service. . . .

Somehow I get the feeling she wouldn't look quite so refreshed and glamorous on the job.

The time came when we had to say good-bye to our fabulous service team, Aaron and Chad, and head out for a night cap (because we needed more alcohol).

As a parting gift, they gave us a personalized menu, which we lost later that evening (keep reading for how that could've possibly occurred), but the hostess was nice enough to reprint for us the next day when we stopped by and had the chef sign it! It was TRU-ly a first-rate experience in every detail.

Per Ronda's suggestion, we ended up here, found some seats next to our favorite piano man and sang with abandon. Let me just come right out and say this: The more you drink the better we sound.

We certainly enjoyed ourselves on our one night out on the town. Unfortunately, the "night" ends in Chicago at 5 am.

Thankfully, I had enough sense to order a burger and fries from room service at 4 o'clock in the morning when we got back to the hotel. I'm embarrassed to say I ate the whole thing, which is impressive after our 9-13 course (depending on your math) tasting menu. And possibly more shocking than that is we ate a lunch of deep dish pizza at the famous Gino's East the next day!

It's no surprise that I've been on a diet since I got home.


  1. you ladies are applauded for your fortitude and for seeing a good night through. having been to the red hen myself, i can vouch for it as a good time, post dinner. the menu, as described, appears to be quite memorable. not sure the pizza stop was required, but who's to say? when in chicago...

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