Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pizzeria Mozza (Los Angeles, CA)

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sat 05/23/2009, 03:40p-05:10p

After my visit to David Myers' Pizzeria Ortica at the end of April, I asked myself if it was finally time to check out its spiritual counterpart up north, Pizzeria Mozza. The pizzeria is certainly one of the most sought after destinations in all of LA--this despite having been open for two years. In fact, we arrived at 3:40 in the afternoon, and the place was packed (see photo below). For more details about Mozza's history and founders, please see my post on Pizzeria Mozza's sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza.

Pizzeria Mozza Interior Pizzeria Mozza Interior
The space was positively buzzing when we opened the door. The bar, next to the entrance, was packed, as was most of the yellow and orange dining room. We were seated after waiting around ten minutes, which actually wasn't too bad. Our seat along the far wall gave us a good view of the open kitchen (second photo), and the tight seat spacing acquainted us with our neighboring diners.

Jack Warner Room
For a more serene and less noisy experience, you can try to book the Jack Warner Room, a historic space (and part of former the Alessi Ristorante) that accommodates up to 18 patrons in a wine cellar-esque environment.

Pizzeria Mozza Menu Pizzeria Mozza Wine List
Mozza's menu features classic Italian fare, with the pizzas, of course, taking center stage. There were a lot of items I wanted to try, thus giving the place a good amount of "replay" value, so to speak. The menu's reverse side is the wine list, which is value-priced and overwhelmingly Italian. Click for larger versions.

Breadsticks (Grissini)
These long, crunchy breadsticks (grissini) take the place of conventional bread service.

Pizzeria Mozza Beer List 'Avant Garde,' Biere de Garde - The Lost Abbey 'Great White,' Wheat Beer - Lost Coast Brewery
We were in a beer mood, so decided to order a couple from Mozza's small but interesting list (click for a larger version). The first was the Avant Garde, a Bière de Garde ("keeping beer") from The Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marcos, CA [25oz, $16]. This was a farmhouse style ale, with notable earthy aromas backed by a bready malt flavor and a mild hoppy bitterness--quite good. Next up was the Great White, a witbier ("white beer") from Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA [22oz, $13]. I'd actually had this beer on my last visit to Mélisse. I enjoyed it then and did here as well--a refreshing brew, with lovely, zesty notes of citrus and herbs, all over a backdrop of wheat.

Asparagus al forno, speck & Parmigiano Reggiano
Asparagus al forno, speck & Parmigiano Reggiano [$12.00]
This was a heavier preparation of asparagus than I'm accustomed to. Since the asparagus was done in an al forno ("from the oven," baked) style, it had a soft consistency with a sweet/bitter flavor accented by hints of smoke--a bit different, but still tasty. Offsetting the vegetal notes of the asparagus was speck (a type of ham from northern Italy), which provided a nice salty contrast, and the cheese, which added a subtle gravity to the dish.

Bone marrow al forno
Bone marrow al forno [$12.00]
As expected, the bone marrow was quite fatty, quite unctuous on its own. Its accoutrements made all the difference in the world here. The use of an herb salad, salt, and sweet garlic really tempered the weight of the marrow, and when eaten all together with the included bread, made for a superb combination. I preferred this to a similar version I had not too long ago at Church & State.

Margherita with mozzarella, tomato & basil
Margherita with mozzarella, tomato & basil [$13.00]
Now it was time for the pizza and naturally, I had to start with the classic margherita. The margherita is just about the most traditional pizza available, and consists of tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, cooked in a wood-burning oven. I quite enjoyed the tanginess of the tomato base (made from San Marzano tomatoes I assume), and how that played with the mozzarella, which added weight and character to the dish. The pizza had a nice basil tang, but I would've liked the herb's presence to have been stronger. The ever-important crust had a nice crunch to it, and I preferred it to the slightly too-soft version at Pizzeria Ortica. Overall, a very solid interpretation of a classic.

Fennel sausage, panna, red onions & scallions
Fennel sausage, panna, red onions & scallions [$15.00]
The pizza was topped with a house-made sausage, one with a subtle sweetness that really dominated the pie. However, the application of onions and scallions provided a tangy counterpoint to the meat, which helped in balancing things out. My dining companion preferred Ortica's "Salsiccia e finocchio" pizza, but I'm ambivalent. One problem here was that the pizza was extremely greasy, leaving large pools of oil on the plate.

Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, pecorino & parmigiano
Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, pecorino & parmigiano [$18.00]
During my last New York trip, I wanted to try the famous Clam Pie at Lombardi's, but my dining companion balked; I thus wanted to get my fill of it here at Mozza. The essence of clam was extremely apparent in the pizza, and this was countered by an equally intense application of garlic--a logical pairing but a bit overbearing in this case. The duo of cheeses, meanwhile, added weight and flavor on the finish. One notable thing about this pizza was the clams' texture, which gave the pie a nice chewy bite.

Pizzeria Mozza Dessert Menu
After our pizzas, we requested the dessert menu (click for a larger version). This was a mere formality, however, as we already knew what we'd be getting...

Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt & rosemary pine nut cookies
Butterscotch budino, Maldon sea salt & rosemary pine nut cookies [$9.00]
Yes, this was the infamous budino, as recommended by Christine during a blogger dinner at One Sunset. This dessert represented a fascinating study in the interplay between sweet and savory flavors. The pudding itself, as expected, was fiendishly sweet. It would've been far too monolithic had it not been for the use of rosemary and sea salt. The rosemary lent a pleasing tang to the dish, which helped in cutting the intensity of the butterscotch. The salt, on the other hand, gave the dessert a lingering savory finish that added much-needed complexity. Finally, the cookies provided a fitting textural contrast to balance out the creaminess of the dessert's other elements.

I knew coming in that Pizzeria Mozza wouldn't be deserving of all the hype, and it isn't. It is, however, a fun, casual spot, with a large menu of well-executed Italian fare. What more can I expect really? I will say that I'll probably be back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Charlie Trotter's (Chicago, IL)

Charlie Trotter's
816 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
Wed 05/20/2009, 06:30p-09:55p

If there's one restaurant in Chicago that deserves the moniker of iconic, then Charlie Trotter's would be it. I'd missed out on Trotter's during my last visit to Chicago, so I was determined to make it here this time. Since Trotter is largely a self-taught chef, I was especially curious to experience his cuisine, which relies on a progression of small courses, layered upon each other, and flavored with light, delicate vegetable- and herb-based sauces, stocks, and essences (an approach that seemingly recalls Jean-Georges Vongerichten's philosophy of "light intensity"). His end goal, thus, is balance, not only between the food, but also the wine, which Trotter views as integral to a meal.

Trotter attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and it was here that he developed his interest in cooking from his roommate (I wonder if he ever made his way over to L'Etoile). After graduating in 1982 with a degree in political science, Trotter traveled extensively, dining at the top establishments in the United States and Europe, experiencing what leading chefs could offer, and all the while, crafting the beginnings of his own style. Trotter then cooked professionally for several years, moving between Chicago, San Francisco (where he attended the California Culinary Academy, but never graduated), and Florida, before opening his eponymous eatery in 1987--yes, the place has been around for over two decades, and in the fast-paced world of fine dining, that's practically a lifetime.

Charlie Trotter's Exterior
Partially obscured by greenery, Charlie Trotter's is discreetly situated in an innocuous-looking 100 year old brownstone in Chicago's Lincoln Park district, a stone's throw away from Alinea (Grant Achatz even worked here briefly before going to French Laundry, but clashed with Trotter's management style).

Charlie Trotter's Dining Room Charlie Trotter's Dining Room
The restaurant is divided into three distinct dining areas, decorated in an elegant, but unexciting style. We were seated in the first floor room, which seats around 30. There are also South and North dining rooms, as well as a semi-private salon table seating up to 10 diners, and a Studio Kitchen for 20. Total capacity is around 100.

Kitchen Table Menu
Each night, the kitchen serves up a choice of three dégustations: the Grand Menu [$165], the Vegetable Menu [$135], and finally, the Kitchen Table Menu [$225]. We, of course, chose the most luxurious option, complemented with the optional wine pairing [$150]. Trotter was one of the first to come up with the idea of a kitchen table, and his version is actually located directly in the kitchen, with nothing separating diners from its hustle and bustle. It seats up to six, and is the hardest table to secure in the entire restaurant. Fortunately, the Kitchen Table Menu is available in the main dining room as well.

The Kitchen Table menu is created spontaneously, and ours is shown above; click for a larger version. Unfortunately, it had several glaring errors (courses 7 through 10 are completely wrong, one of the amuses is missing, and one of the amuses is incorrect) and didn't list any of the wine that we had. Thus, some of the descriptions below will be based only on my notes, and we can pretty much forget about identifying the wine pairings. This was a notable fault in service, and I must ask: why is it so hard to come up with a correct list of dishes and accompanying wine pairings? I had no such problem at Moto, L2O, Alinea, or TRU. Our server indicated that the restaurant would send over a proper menu, but as of this writing (June 13, over three weeks later), such a thing has not occurred.

Whole Wheat Pain Epi Bacon-Maple Syrup Rye Bread
Throughout the meal, we were brought a progression of breads, paired with a soft, mild butter. First up was a tough, slightly sweet whole wheat pain epi; next was a chewy, onion-y chive-ricotta bread, followed by a brittle, fluffy French baguette, finally finishing with a sweet-savory bacon-maple syrup rye bread (tastes like breakfast), which reminded me of Chinese cha siu baau pork buns!

Kumamoto Oyster with Indian Celery
Amuse Bouche 1: Kumamoto Oyster with Indian Celery
Champagne, Laurent Perrier Brut L-P, NV
The meal started out with a quartet of amuse bouches. First up was this beautiful Kumamoto, topped with plum sauce and hot and sour Indian celery. The oyster had a sweet attack due to the plum sauce, while the finish was imbued with the mollusk's signature crisp brininess. The celery added some interesting notes to the midpalate, but could've been spicier. Interestingly, the amuses were paired with the Laurent Perrier Brut L-P, the exact same Champagne that we had at Moto the night before. This time around though, it was much sweeter and less yeasty, though it did get significantly drier after I had the oyster.

Japanese Kindai with Celery Root
Amuse Bouche 2: Japanese Kindai with Celery Root
Champagne, Laurent Perrier Brut L-P, NV
Next up was a very special type of tuna: kindai, the world's first sustainably-raised bluefin. Kindai is produced by the Kinki University Fisheries Culture and Nursery Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, and is noted for its superior flavor and ecological friendliness. Each week, only a handful of pieces of tuna are shipped to the US, so kindai's a scare commodity. In addition to Trotter's, L2O also has it, as do Per Se, Le Bernardin, French Laundry, the Dining Room at the Ritz, and Manresa. In any case, getting back to the kindai here, it was quite strongly flavored for tuna, with distinctly briny finish and a texture that was chewier than I'm used to. The celery was instrumental in balancing it out.

Japanese Tai
Amuse Bouche 3: Japanese Tai
Champagne, Laurent Perrier Brut L-P, NV
Number three was listed on the menu as a "tempura" but it clearly wasn't. It was, however, also a Japanese fish, a tai snapper. It had a great, dense, firm consistency and a sweet, delicate flavor, thanks in part to the accompanying miso-based sauce. The pairing of the root vegetable did wonders in terms of texture.

Fava Beans with Pickled Watermelon Radish
Amuse Bouche 4: Fava Beans with Pickled Watermelon Radish
Champagne, Laurent Perrier Brut L-P, NV
Closing things out, we had a plate of fava beans, tarted up with Chinese chili sauce and watermelon radish. Those two elements added contrasting hot and acerbic components to the mild, tender beans. A simple course, but one that effectively set the stage for the main meal to begin.

Japanese Freshwater Eel with Cilantro & Banana
1: Japanese Freshwater Eel with Cilantro & Banana
Riesling, Dr. Loosen
Our first proper course of the evening was Japanese unagi terrine with roasted banana, pickled cilantro, and togarashi (shichimi) spice. It was an interesting dish that recalled the essence of unagi kabayaki, or grilled eel coated with a sweet soy-based sauce. The resultant mishmash was cool, dense, and sweet, and the notes of banana were quite apparent, distracting even. These fruity flavors were balanced out somewhat by the togarashi (a blend of seven spices), which stood in for the pepper typically used as a condiment. The paired wine was a Riesling from noted producer Weingut Dr. Loosen. It showed prototypical notes of honey, stone fruit, and blossoms, backed by a crisp acidity; it went well with the sweeter nature of this course.

Spring Onion with Indonesian Vanilla & Fiddlehead Ferns
2: Spring Onion with Indonesian Vanilla & Fiddlehead Ferns
Another Riesling
One of my favorite courses, this was a troika of onions (spring, cipollini, Spanish) paired with Indonesian vanilla granita and fennel. The onions were a joy to eat, displaying a great tangy-sweet flavor complex with a crisp, snappy consistency. The granita was a superb complement, with its sweet-savory flavor and cold temperature contrast. We had another Riesling paired with this course, a drier, more mineral-focused example than matched the leaner flavor profile of this dish.

Alaskan King Salmon Confit with Black Tea & Rose
3: Alaksan King Salmon Confit with Black Tea & Rose
Something from Guigal
This was a fascinating dish that looked like it could've come out of Alinea's kitchen: salmon confit, black tea gelée, dehydrated rose petals, ikura, saffron-sugar tuile. An intriguing study in seemingly disparate tastes, the black tea provided a subtle sweetness, but this was contrasted by the ikura, which gave the dish a briny, tangy finish accented by floral notes of rose. There was textural play as well, between the soft salmon, jelly-like gelée, and hard/sticky tuile. However, all this hoopla overpowered the salmon, rendering the fish's signature flavor too faint.

Soft-Shell Crab with Strawberries & Arugula
4: Soft-Shell Crab with Strawberries & Arugula
An Archetypal Rosé
Next was a small fritter of soft-shelled crab, over arugula purée and strawberry, with pig's feet. Not usually a huge fan of soft-shelled crab, I was a bit skeptical at first, but it worked out quite well. The crab was very flavorful on its own, and together with the crunchy pig's trotter, formed an intensely savory duo that was nicely tempered by the sugariness of the strawberry and the delicately bitter rocket. The key here really was to eat everything together. The paired rosé wine was lovely and light, with a crisp nose, lively acidity, and subtly sweet flavor quintessential of the style.

Steamed Halibut with Spring Peas
5: Steamed Halibut with Spring Peas
A Paul Jaboulet Aîné Viognier
We have here steamed halibut and steamer clams, with spring pea purée and a shellfish emulsion. My dining companion was a fan of this dish, and even asked if it was prepared in a sous vide fashion; it wasn't, but apparently it was marinated in a Cryovac package. It really did have a great texture--tender, but not mushy--and a delicate, briny flavor that was accentuated in the citrus steaming process. The pea purée added a lovely tanginess to the fish, and the clams proved to be a fantastic textural contrast. Overall, this was a very balanced dish that went nicely with the soft, heavier, mineral-driven Viognier.

Marcona Almond Risotto with Green Almonds & Red Wine
6: Marcona Almond Risotto with Green Almonds & Red Wine
Sherry: Amontillado?
This was a rich risotto, accented by a red wine emulsion. The use of marcona almonds gave the dish a sweet nuttiness and a lingering almond finish, which was balanced by the vegetal flavors of the green almonds and sorrel. Simple but effective, it was the best risotto I've had in a while, and went nicely with the paired sherry, a Amontillado with a nutty flavor that recalled the almonds.

Roasted Suckling Pig with Caramelized Endive
7: Roasted Suckling Pig with Caramelized Endive
Pinot Nero a.k.a. Pinot Noir
Pork usually leaves me unimpressed, but this was a superb preparation. The meat itself was tender and delicious, but the best part was the skin, which had a fantastic crunch and powerful flavor. The weight of the pork was deftly balanced by the tartish bitterness of the included endive. The wine here was also quite good--a spicy, tangy Pinot Nero (basically Italian Pinot Noir) that matched the flavor of the pork.

Muscovy Duck with Kumquat Muscovy Duck with Kumquat
8: Muscovy Duck with Kumquat
Pinot Noir a.k.a. Pinot Nero
A lovely presentation of Muscovy duck here--it had a rich duck flavor with a bit of spiciness to it. The tender flesh was perked up by the application of a sourish kumquat sauce; and furthermore, the dish was also served with the duck's strongly flavored, slightly crunchy napa cabbage-wrapped gizzard, which provided a nice counterpoint to the meat. Pinot Noir and duck is almost always a safe combination, and that held true here, with the wine showing typical notes of tart red fruit and smoke that highlighted the bird.

Veal with Horseradish and Red Wine
9: Veal with Horseradish and Red Wine
Typical Tempranillo
I've been disappointed with veal many times before, so this dish was a pleasant surprise. It was done up with a horseradish emulsion, red wine essence, and Thumbelina carrot. The veal was a joy to eat alone, with its soft, tender flesh and lovely herbal notes. The meat's accoutrements added layers of flavor, with the carrot providing a pointed sweetness that was especially noticeable.

Grilled Bison with Porcini Mushrooms
10: Grilled Bison with Porcini Mushrooms
Rubicon Estate Cab
Our last savory course. I don't get to try bison or buffalo too often, so I relish every chance I get to taste it. The meat was grilled conventionally here, and served with a boudin (a type of sausage) purée and porcini. It was not what I expected. The bison had a slightly gamy flavor that was mitigated by bean-y, grassy notes and the earthiness of the mushrooms. The dish finished with a slightly smoky aftertaste from the sauce, which linked up well to the wine, a typical Cabernet, slightly hot, with hints of smoke backed by jammy fruit flavors.

Frozen Key Lime Meringue with Cilantro & Green Peppercorn
11: Frozen Key Lime Meringue with Cilantro & Green Peppercorn
Our parade of desserts started off with a bang. I don't think I've ever had a frozen meringue before, so it was nice to experience its biting, acetous, minty flavor, which was expertly tempered by the sharpness of the candied cilantro, leading to a lingering cilantro finish. You could say that this was like a palate cleanser.

Poached Quince with Sesame Ice Cream & Rosemary Shortbread
12: Poached Quince with Sesame Ice Cream & Rosemary Shortbread
Tokaji with 5 Puttonyos
The sesame ice cream with halva (sesame candy) were fantastic together, really capturing the essence of sesame and imbuing my senses with its nuttiness, a nuttiness that was superbly foiled by the tartness of the quince. In addition, the use of halva and shortbread provided a great temperature and texture contrast to the dish.

Meyer Lemon with Toasted Brioche Ice Cream & Caraway Meringue
13: Meyer Lemon with Toasted Brioche Ice Cream & Caraway Meringue
Tokaji with 5 Puttonyos
The ice cream was superb, effectively stealing the show here, with a taste that was simultaneously sweet, rich, and bready, really capturing the essence of brioche. The sour lemon and pungent caraway did a nice job in pairing with the ice cream, which easily could've been eaten alone.

Arbequina Olive Oil-Chocolate Chip Parfait with Dried Cherries
14: Arbequina Olive Oil-Chocolate Chip Parfait with Dried Cherries
Is it just me, or does this resemble a butterfly? The olive oil and chocolate combination formed a pleasing savory-sweet-bitter interplay, which was accented to great effect by the tartness of the cherries. The accompanying salty tuiles, meanwhile, added a great textural element and gave the dish a lingering savory finish. The paired Grenache had a light nose, with plenty of berry fruit and spice on the palate, leading to a short, tart finish. It was quite subdued for a dessert wine, and thus did not overpower the complex yet delicate flavors of this dessert.

Oloroso Sherry-Raisin Ice Cream with Chocolate Cotton Cake & Dried Plums
15: Oloroso Sherry-Raisin Ice Cream with Chocolate Cotton Cake & Dried Plums
Oloroso is sherry that's been subjected to oxidative aging. This results in a sweet, nutty flavor that was uniquely presented in the ice cream here, while the addition of raisins into the mix provided some nice sour notes. The raisins linked up nicely with the plums and also the cake, which seemed absolutely saturated; there were even bitter elements to the dessert that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Overall, a complex, multifaceted dessert that paired nicely with the wine.

Interestingly, our server didn't tell us what the mignardises were. Instead, she challenged us to identify them ourselves! I'm proud to say that we got it mostly right. We have here a pineapple gelée, an almond dragée (basically a chocolate-covered almond), a floral-spicy angelica-chocolate ganache (which reminded me of an Andes Chocolate Mint), and a delightful curry caramel.

Charlie Trotter's Bill
The damage. Note the 18% service charge, which was the same as at Moto, and a bit less than at L2O. Is this mandatory gratuity a Chicago thing? Tacking on 18-20% for a party of two is almost unheard of in LA.

I admit that I had this image of Charlie Trotter's as somewhat of a grande dame of Chicago dining. I sort of expected it to be staid, solid, a bit conventional--I'm glad I was wrong. Despite the advent of avant garde eateries such as Alinea in Chicago, Trotter's has held its own, not standing still, but constantly evolving, constantly improving. The restaurant hasn't veered down the molecular path, but has found a way to remain fresh, to remain relevant within the confines of Trotter's culinary philosophy. Heck, the kitchen even prides itself on never serving the same dish twice. Put simply, there's a reason that Charlie Trotter's has been around, thriving in fact, for 20 years--I sure hope he sticks around for another score.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Moto (Chicago, IL)

945 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607
Tue 05/19/2009, 06:50p-11:00p

Many chefs, including Alinea's Grant Achatz, eschew being labeled a child of molecular gastronomy; however, at least one chef embraces the title: Moto's Homaro Cantu. Cantu has been called many things, from culinary genius to a flavor of the month, cooking's l'enfant terrible, and perhaps most poignantly, an inventor who accidentally ended up as a chef. Growing up in Portland, Cantu endured a troubled childhood, slacking his way through school and having close calls with the law. Though always curious (and always taking things apart), Cantu's first application of his innate inquisitiveness to cooking came when he was twelve, working at a fried chicken restaurant.

Cantu eventually graduated from the Le Cordon Bleu program at Portland's Western Culinary Institute, and afterwards, staged at dozens of restaurants along the West Coast, all the while crafting his own style. In 1999, at the age of 22, Cantu moved to Chicago to work under Charlie Trotter, who was one of his early inspirations. Cantu worked at Trotter's for four years, attaining the position of sous chef. In 2003, Cantu was recruited by restaurateur Joseph De Vito to open a new restaurant; De Vito originally envisioned something relatively safe, say Asian fusion, but after tasting Cantu's unique creations, was persuaded otherwise--Moto opened on January 12, 2004.

Moto, which in Japanese can translate to "idea," "taste," or "desire," is one of the restaurants most linked with molecular gastronomy. Though that movement is associated with blending food and science, Moto's objective is to apply principles of both science and art to cuisine. The kitchen is, therefore, simultaneously a canvas and a laboratory, focusing not only on comestibles, but on tools, packaging, and delivery. The output of said kitchen utilizes classical ingredients intertwined with such novelties as Class IV lasers (Cantu first demonstrated this in 2006), helium, Cantu's "food replicator" (an inkjet printer that creates "edible surfaces"), ion particle guns, and, of course, liquid nitrogen.

The goal here, though, is not merely shock value. Cantu has stated that his desire is to challenge convention, to change the way that people perceive and consume food. Accordingly, the postmodern cuisine at Moto tends toward reinvention or transformation, the deconstruction of what can amount to "comfort food" and its subsequent resurrection and reconstitution in a familiar, yet totally different form. Thus, good or bad, I knew that Moto'd at least be interesting.

Moto Exterior Fulton Market
Moto is situated in Chicago's Fulton Market neighborhood. The area was originally a meatpacking and food-warehousing district, but has evolved into a somewhat trendy locale, home to art galleries, apartment lofts, boutiques, and upscale restaurants (it reminded me of the R23's surroundings). There are still, however, numerous active warehouses in the vicinity, many of which handle fresh fish products; that fact explains the rather malodorous stench that occurs just outside the restaurant. Moto's sister restaurant, Otom, lies almost immediately to the west.

Moto Interior Moto Interior
Given Moto's repute, the restaurant's interior was much more restrained that I'd imagined, awash in subtle shades of lime green (Cantu's favorite color). Up in front, the lounge handles 20 diners, while there is also a private room for 30. However, we were seated in the main dining room, which accommodates 46.

Interestingly, seated next us was Chef Domenic Chiaromonte of Match restaurant near Toronto. Chiaromonte worked under Chicago's own Charlie Trotter, and, much like Cantu, is a noted proponent of molecular gastronomy and food as art. If you're heading up to Toronto, I'd put Match on your list to consider.

Moto Menu Moto Wine Pairing
Each night, Moto offers up a 10-course tasting menu for $115, or the 20-course GTM (Grand Tasting Menu) for $175. The 10-courser is actually comprised of a subset of dishes on the GTM, but with different names; below, I've included both sets of nomenclature. Wine pairings, selected by Sommelier Matthew Gundlach, can be had for a reasonable $70 or $90, respectively. Click for larger versions.

Fulton Sunset Martini Library
As we've been prone to doing as of late, we started off with a couple cocktails. I ordered up a Fulton Sunset [$12], consisting of gin, white grape juice, brandy, and lime. The grape juice gave the drink a sweet attack, with the gin and brandy coming into play later. Meanwhile, the spear of frozen grapes added a playful touch, and also served as a powerful foil to the alcohol.

My dining companion initially wanted a cucumber gimlet, but Moto didn't have cucumbers in stock. Our server tried to procure one from Otom next door, but no luck there either, so in its place was the Martini Library [$10]. The "library" consisted of red, blue, green, and white, with each color corresponding to a different drink: negroni, gin martini, melon martini, lemon drop. The drinks themselves were done by the book, so it was really the presentation that made this "cocktail" interesting. The use of pipettes made the drink visually stunning, and we had great fun squeezing the individual tubes into our mouths.

Tuscan Garlic Bread Menu
Amuse Bouche: Tuscan Garlic Bread Menu
I mentioned Moto's signature "edible surfaces" earlier, made with the help of an inkjet printer. Here is the most famous use of that technology: the infamous edible menu. Cantu uses a vegetable-based ink to print on a soybean and potato starch "paper." That paper is then affixed to a slice of garlic bread, and served with pickled ramps, balsamic vinegar, ramp butter, and pink Hawaiian salt. Taste-wise, the menu was fairly ordinary, but was nicely accented by the tanginess of the ramps.

PARMESAN & rice / INSTANT risotto
1: PARMESAN & rice / INSTANT risotto
laurent perrier, BRUT L-P, tours sur marne, brut, nv
Our first course consisted of puffed jasmine rice, Parmesan, basil oil, and a fish our server called "blueberry bass;" the fish is more traditionally known as blackfish or tautog, a type of wrasse. But no matter the name, the fish was good eatin', with a pleasing firm texture, lean consistency, and rich flavor. The key with this dish, though, was the "instant" risotto. It had a fantastic crunchy texture which went beautifully with the fish, especially when mixed with the cheesy Parmigiano and basil oil. The paired Champagne was prototypical of the style, showing plenty of bready notes along with some fruity/floral flavors. A great start to the meal.

BREAKFAST with gazpacho / DENVER OMELET & muffin BREAKFAST with gazpacho / DENVER OMELET & muffin
BREAKFAST with gazpacho / DENVER OMELET & muffin BREAKFAST with gazpacho / DENVER OMELET & muffin
2: BREAKFAST with gazpacho / DENVER OMELET & muffin
balthazar ress, OESTRICHER DOOSBERG SPATLESE, riesling, rheingau 1995
We have here three seemingly disparate "breakfast" items that, when taken together, supposedly replicate the flavor of gazpacho (Spanish chilled tomato-based vegetable soup). First was a shrimp cake Tater Tot, which was a bit too tough for me, and tasted like an Asian-style shrimp paste cake. In the middle was a preparation of "scrambled egg," but really containing no egg at all. Instead, it was made of carrot juice and olive oil, and further flavored with cucumber, pepper, and tomato; the end result was sweet and refreshing--the veggie components of the "gazpacho." Finally, taking the place of stale bread, we had a puffed garlic "English muffin," with vegan popcorn butter. Think of a savory, unbelievably ethereal meringue and you get the idea. I ended up tasting each component individually, and was left wanting. It was only when I put it all in my mouth that everything "clicked." It wasn't a dead ringer for gazpacho, but rather a reasonably good approximation. The paired wine was a Riesling Spätlese, which had an intensely honeyed bouquet reminiscent of Sauternes. However, that nose belied its flavor, which was drier and not heavy at all, actually providing a nice crisp accompaniment to the course--quite remarkable for a 14 year old Riesling!

FRENCH ONION soup / GRUYERE & onions
3: FRENCH ONION soup / GRUYERE & onions
ramey, chardonnay, russian river valley 2006
The French onion soup here had most of the traditional ingredients at play: gruyere cheese, caramelized onion, and onion chip (to take the place of croutons), all in an onion soup stock. As you'd expected, it was a heavy potage with a correspondingly heady aroma. Flavor-wise, there were no tricks here; it tasted as it should. What was interesting was the onion chip, which had a great crunch and reminded me of Asian shrimp crackers. The paired Chard, from Ramey, was about what I expected from a California bottling. It was decent on its own, lightly honeyed and oaky, with a buttery finish. However, the intensity of the soup really changed the character of the wine, bringing out its latent acidity and crisp minerality.

GREEK salad
4: GREEK salad
Contained in the pipette was a so-called Greek salad liquid, containing the quintessence of cucumber, tomato, onion, and oregano--the building blocks of a real Greek salad. The pipette was embedded in a cube of feta cheese, another essential Greek ingredient; the final piece of the puzzle was a small basil leaf. I really enjoyed the bracing, refreshing liquid and how it worked in tandem with the heavy, substantial piece of cheese. The marrow of Greek salad was nicely captured here.

POISSON frites
5: POISSON frites
nigl, FREIHEIT, gruner veltliner, kamptal 2007
Cantu's version of the ubiquitous pommes frites substitutes monkfish for potato. The end result was that the "fries" had a firm, chewy texture not unlike that of fried squid. They were wonderfully salty, as fries should be, so the included paper cup of chili cheese sauce, which was reminiscent of the little flavor packet that comes with instant ramen, wasn't strictly necessary. Give me an entire basket of this!

Stormy Night
It was time for me to reload on the cocktail front. Here we have a Stormy Night [$12], a concoction of dark rum, fresh ginger, and egg white froth. Both my dining companion and I agreed that this tasted like a root beer float! It was the interplay of creamy, bittersweet, and eggy flavors that did it.

BISCUIT crème brûlée BISCUIT crème brûlée
6: BISCUIT crème brûlée
calera, viognier, mt. harlan 2007
First we have a rich, savory honey-soy crème brûlée topped with maple flake. Then comes a bacon cookie with white truffle powder. Taken alone, the crème brûlée wasn't anything special; the cookie, however, was sugary, yet simultaneously salty, with an intoxicating aroma of truffle. Eaten together, the two provided a fascinating interplay of sweet and savory, of different tastes and textures. The wine, a Viognier, showed light tropical fruit flavors with a touch of vanilla. It linked up nicely with the saccharine aspects of the food, while balancing out the more pungent components.

SEARED buffalo hot wings / HOUSE-made pequin capon SEARED buffalo hot wings / HOUSE-made pequin capon
7: SEARED buffalo hot wings / HOUSE-made pequin capon
unibroue, LA FIN DU MONDE, chambly
Buffalo wings, Moto style, consisting of chicken leg and breast, braised celery, pecan chili, blue cheese celery purée, and more of that edible paper (this time flavored with Buffalo wing sauce). The chicken itself reminded me of chicken salad, and the cheese was similar to the cheese that comes with Handi-Snacks (a childhood staple of mine)! Eating everything together was immensely enjoyable, making this my favorite course of the night. A note about the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name of this course: a capon is a castrated male chicken, and a pequin is a type of chile pepper, also known as "bird pepper." And the wine pairing? Well forget hoity-toity wine, we're having wings here, so beer is the potable of choice! But since this was Moto, they wouldn't be so gauche as to pair a Natty Light (the beer I'd usually drink with wings). Rather, we got a Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde, a delectable Tripel ale with lovely stonefruit, spice, and herbaceous notes that really showed well with the chicken.

ARNOLD palmer
8: ARNOLD palmer
A bit of a palate cleanser after the gravity of the previous course. An Arnold Palmer is one of my nonalcoholic drinks of choice, and is comprised of an equal split of lemonade and iced tea (a mix of black and white tea, here). Anecdotally, the drink came about when a bartender at a country club resisted mixing lemonade in Palmer's iced tea. In any case, it was served here in granité form, and after adjusting to the bracing coldness of the dish, I found that the lemon clearly dominates, with the tea almost providing a savory counterpoint.

BAGEL with lox BAGEL with lox
9: BAGEL with lox
trenel, chiroubles 2007
After the "BISCUIT crème brûlée" course, we were brought these beakers and told that they contained salmon and thyme smoke. The idea was to smoke the salmon at the table while we ate (à la Cantu's "polymer box"). After a couple courses, the salmon was ready, and we were given a bowl filled with bagel cream cheese, bagel croutons, red wine onion, and capers. The fish itself was akin to a very smoky preparation of smoked salmon, with a slightly dry consistency. Unfortunately, the accoutrements dominated the flavor of the salmon when eaten together, and its natural flavor was lost. I really would've appreciated more fish, in order to balance out the flavors a bit. A fierce course like this requires an equally fervid wine. The Beaujolais was definitely up to the task, showing plenty of meaty, smoky flavors; it was too much for me by itself, but was tempered nicely by the food.

CUBAN pork sandwich / CUBAN cigar
10: CUBAN pork sandwich / CUBAN cigar
catherine & pierre breton, FRANC DE PIED, cabernet franc, bourgueil 2005
A traditional Cuban sandwich contains pork (both roasted and ham), cheese, pickles, and mustard; it was popular amongst cigar factory workers, so the presentation here does make some sense. And about that presentation, I must say that it was one of the most shocking I've seen in a while! Cantu's interpretation of the classic is made from pulled pork, pickled cucumber and onion, white bread, red bell pepper purée, an edible paper band, a collard green wrap, and dusted with black and white sesame "ash." The result is a tasty dish, with the pork providing a lovely sweet-smoky contrast, the pickles giving a pleasing tang, and the collard greens adding a great snap and crispness. Clearly, this dish isn't just about the taste though, which is typical. Rather it's about the relationship of appearance and associated perceptions. When I saw this, my mind was thinking "cigar," thus indicating to me that eating such a thing would be quite displeasurable. However, when I bit into the "cigar," I tasted something delicious, and that ensuing disconcerting feeling caused by these two contradictory ideas, that cognitive dissonance, is what makes this dish brilliant.

DELI-STYLE pasta / REUBEN lasagna
11: DELI-STYLE pasta / REUBEN lasagna
escarpment, pinot noir, martinborough 2006
Think lasagna, but done with items you might find at your local delicatessen: corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, dill potato chip, and caraway-semolina dressing--most all the ingredients needed for a Reuben sandwich. The beef was great with the cheese, a classic combination really, while the tart kraut was effective in balancing its weight. The caraway, meanwhile, mimicked the nature of rye bread, and the dill recalled the essence of smoked salmon and dill pickles. A powerful dish, it needed a masculine wine to pair with. The Escarpment was up to the task, demonstrating loads of black cherry, pepper, and smoke, with a distinctly tannic finish.

DUCK & molé / MEXICAN cannoli
12: DUCK & molé / MEXICAN cannoli
truchard, zinfandel, carneros 2005
Here, Cantu toys with our expectations and perceptions once again. When this was brought to the table, I immediately thought "cannoli" and had sweet thoughts dancing in my mind. Instead, upon tasting it, I was presented with a sensation not unlike eating a fancy taquito. Yes, this was an admixture of braised duck meat and sour cream, rolled in a crispy tortilla, topped with jalapeño powder and laced with mole sauce. The duck alone was great--tender, juicy, and flavorful. It was balanced by the tartness of the sour cream and nicely accented by the mole, which contained elements of both smoky and sweet (mole contains cacao, so it was a good stand in for chocolate sauce here). I quite enjoyed the paired wine, a Zin from Truchard. It was a heavy wine that displayed lots of raisin, dark fruit, and mint, layered over a base of smoke and earth.

PRIME RIB & bone marrow PRIME RIB & bone marrow
13: PRIME RIB & bone marrow
alma negra malbec/bonarda, mendoza 2007
Our last savory course came on a so-called "battleship plate," named in honor of the board game by Milton Bradley (another childhood standby of mine, though my favorite is still Connect Four!). Attached to the plate are Cantu's aromatic utensils: forks and spoons with corkscrew handles holding sprigs of thyme and rosemary--the effect was similar to that of the burning rosemary centerpiece at Alinea. On the plate were three pieces of triple-seared prime rib, a bit of parsley-black truffle bone marrow wrapped in potato, and mushroom, all tied together by a cauliflower-white truffle purée spread about the plate in an apparent homage to Jackson Pollock. Despite all this, the flavors here were very traditional. The beef was superb, and easily stood on its own. The complex of the mushroom and purée was quite salty, and so it was best to use only a small dollop of the stuff with the beef, to infuse the meat with a just a subtle bit of that signature truffle aroma. The marrow, meanwhile, was surprisingly light, and I loved the use of potato as a sort of faux bone.

STRAWBERRY flakes? / YOGURT parfait STRAWBERRY flakes? / YOGURT parfait
14: STRAWBERRY flakes? / YOGURT parfait
With the savories dispensed with, it was time to witness the desserts of Pastry Chef Ben Roche. We were first brought this shallow square bowl, filled with vanilla-infused sweet soy milk. Later, our server arrived with a canister of liquid nitrogen and proceeded to scoop out bits of frozen corn flakes and strawberries. The overall effect was like eating corn flakes with dehydrated strawberry, with the added benefit of liquid nitrogen adding a bit of gaseous fanfare, à la José Andrés' "Dragon's Breath" at Saam. The best part of this, though, was the leftover milk, which was intensely sweet and cinnamon-y, like the leftover milk from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch!

15: POPPYSEED & lemon
Lemon poppy cake, topped with candied lemon zest, with blueberry lavender cream. While this looked like a simple piece of cake, it was actually much more interesting. The dessert had a fantastic consistency that was half way in between cake and ice cream--a real "ice cream cake," if you will. Think of ice cream, but suspended in a matrix of bread, giving it a incredible light, airy, gossamer texture. The cake's delicate lemon flavor was then accented by the sharp lemon zest and sweet blueberry cream, all over a backdrop of poppy seed.

CORN cake / BLACKBERRY & corn
16: CORN cake / BLACKBERRY & corn
This was a hot corn cake with a caramel center, topped with saffron-lemongrass foam, with blackberry purée and blackberry chunks. The cake itself was akin to cornbread--heavy and dense, with the subtle sweetness of the corn apparent. It was fairly monolithic unfortunately, though this was partly tempered by the use of a tart blueberry sauce. A bit underwhelming, I think that this might have been better had it been served chilled.

ACME s'mores ACME s'mores
17: ACME s'mores
A popular campfire treat, s'mores (short for "some more") consist of marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between graham cracker. Cantu's version is a chocolate sphere with marshmallow base and fuse, filled with graham cracker liquid. The "ACME" is in reference to the Acme Corporation ("A Company that Makes Everything"), Wile E. Coyote's vendor of choice in his never-ending quest to catch the Road Runner. Our server used a blowtorch to light the "fuse," and instructed us to eat the bombe in one bite. Once in my mouth, it exploded instantly upon mastication, coating my tongue with its sweet liquid filling (the sensation was like that of the lollipops at Providence). The taste was similar to that of an actual s'more, even down to the bitter flavor of the charred marshmallow.

BURGER with ketchup
18: BURGER with ketchup
domaines de durban, muscat de beaumes-de-venise 2006
At around 1.5 inches in diameter, this would be a strong contender for the title of the world's smallest hamburger (that's not really a hamburger). What we had was ground chocolate, banana purée, maraschino, and lettuce, sandwiched in a sesame-peanut bun. I liked the concept here, but the peanut was just too overpowering, making the dessert taste like a Snickers bar.

ICE CREAM sandwich
19: ICE CREAM sandwich
This was an ice cream sandwich, literally. The "meat" was coffee ice cream, while mascarpone ice cream doubled for the "cheese." The bread was made from ladyfingers, replete with cocoa powder "grill marks." The resulting amalgam recalled tiramisu, with a rather dominant coffee flavor. The sandwich was served with a delightful cup of warm biscotti soup, which provided a rich, spicy contrast to the dessert.

CLASSIC pudding / CHOCOLATE-covered raisins
20: CLASSIC pudding / CHOCOLATE-covered raisins
sutton cellars, LA SOLERA 2ND BOTTLING, sonoma
Dark chocolate brownie, raisins, coconut ice cream smoked with corn, raisin and pumpkin purées, and vanilla powder. The key here was the interaction between the sweet and sour components of the dessert, with the chocolate and raisins performing a passable interpretation of chocolate-covered raisins. However, the best part for me was the ice cream, which was uncommonly dense and heavy, with the sweetness of coconut balanced by the savory component of the corn. This wasn't a bad dessert, but I expected a stronger, more forceful close to the meal.

Moto Bill
And finally, the check. Note the 18% service charge, even for a party of two. At least it was less than the 20% at L2O!

If we examine just the flavor of the food at Moto, we would come to the conclusion that it's solid, but somewhat pedestrian. However, that would be missing the point. If we view Moto's raison d'être as challenging perceptions and the status quo, then it is much more successful to be sure. Cantu combines classical flavors and hypermodern technique with his almost childlike waggishness, resulting in inherently deconstructivist cuisine that is whimsical and playful more than anything, but also creative, artistic, jarring, fanciful, and thought provoking. That last point is an important one. The food isn't as much about taste as it is about how that taste is achieved--the food is cerebral in a sense. It caused me to really think, to contemplate, which, given the amount of viand I consume in the name of haute cuisine, is a worthy achievement indeed.