I have been meaning to go to Moto for ages, since before I left Chicago. I would bike past it every day on the way to work, and it was reputed to be a molecular gastronomy place as spectactular as Alinea. So when C turned up in Chicago at the same time as me, it was really the perfect opportunity. I hadn’t eaten at anyplace even remotely like Alinea, and I very much wanted to know if it was the style of food itself that was so amazing or if it was Grant Achatz’s particular genius.
When we walked in for our 7pm reservation on a Wednesday evening, there was one other table of 2, and that was it. For the entire evening. Not another soul. Yikes.
We did the 20 course tasting, and shared one wine pairing. This set us back an unholy sum, and though I don’t regret our meal, I have to say that it’s not worth the price. Save your nickels and go to Alinea instead.
For one thing, it is downright inconsiderate to serve 20 courses when each of them is the size of a normal high-end appetizer portion. We were 5 or 6 courses from the end when we started to dread them, and we were so uncomfortably full when we were done. I woke up the next morning still full. Compare this with the many 1- and 2-bite courses in Alinea’s 24 course barrage, which left us sated but not even a little bit uncomfortable.
The wines offered were all interesting, and several were very good, but we didn’t love all the pairings, and found all the whites to be served much too cold. C can fill you in on the wine specifics in the comments. 🙂
Here’s the course by course rundown:
First, your Edible Menu. Actually rather tasty: a crispy toast with the menu pasted on, plus a roasted garlic clove, some salted butter and a balsamic drizzle. The cheesy presentation started here, unfortunately, in the “here’s the dazzle you’ve come for, rubes” tone in which they let you know the menu is food.
Instant Risotto – freeze dried rice and peas, with a hot liquidy sauce poured over to rehydrate, plus a bit of fried fish. Tasty enough, but I didn’t love the texture of the peas.
French Onion Soup – a broiled smear of pureed bread and cheese on the side of the dish, a tangle of braised onions, and a tableside pour of broth. Plus a handmade “funyun,” and I can’t lie, I love that kind of high-low irreverence. A little weird scraping gummy toast-cheese off the side of the bowl, but again, tasty and I did enjoy this one. However, this is one place where they really suffered from a direct comparison to Alinea: the spoon had a spiraled metal handle, which held a few sprigs of fresh thyme, in order to provide the scent of thyme to the diner while eating, similar to the olfactory components Alinea adds to some dishes — but the metal coil was awkward to hold, and was thick enough to keep your hand far enough off the herb that it couldn’t warm the thyme to release the scent, so instead of being clever and pleasurable it was mostly just annoying.
Urban Garden – here’s where the trompe l’oeil really kicked in: a tiny clay flowerpot arrived, filled with a dirt made from crispy brown balsamic-flavored breadcrumbs and topped with a scrap of edible paper trash and a “packing peanut” amid the microgreens sprouting in the dirt. There were bits of heirloom tomato and mozzarella under the crumbs. I enjoyed the crispy crumbs, and the presentation was mildly amusing (if perhaps with a little too much “oh we are witty, see how we are slumming” about it for my taste), but overall a mostly ordinary dish.
Deconstructed French Fries – This one was awesome. Teeny brunoise of cheese, bacon, and jalapeno confettied over a smear of potato and butter and sour cream puree, with a drizzle of french fry oil. Again you had to kind of scrape it off the side of the dish, but it tasted perfectly of french fries and all the toppings, with a smooth, unctuous mouthfeel. Completely compelling and freaking delicious.
Red Bull Paella Shooter – Essentially all the flavors of a paella chucked into a blender and turned into a thick soup. Delicious and deeply savory but I wanted it just a bit looser, so half of it didn’t stay stuck to the shotglass. It was served from a Red Bull can direct at table into the shotglass for the full faux impress-the-rubes effect. They drilled a hole into the back of the can to drain it then fill with the soup, so they could pull the pop-top and everything. (The craft-project nerd in me totally digs that, and I wonder if the server had been less of a hipster poseur — or more convincingly theatrical — if I might have appreciated this more.)
Cuban Cigar – A cheapo ashtray with an extremely convincing half-smoked cigar ashed out in it. The cigar wrapper was braised collard greens, and the filling was a pulled pork barbecue, with a red pepper sauce at the tip for glowing ash. I forget what the gray ash was, I think maybe some crushed sesame. Rich flavors that all worked together, and a clever conceit. A little awkward to eat, and again with the slumming — I think my issue with it was that it was pervasive rather than an accent. This dish would have been fine if it was the only low-rent joke in the bunch, in the way that a crude joke is funny when an otherwise sophisticated person tells it, but cringe-inducing when your lecherous drunken uncle tells 20 of them in a single evening.
Rabbit Maki – Looks like I forgot to photograph this one. Oops. A loose rice roll with tender rabbit meat inside; we liked it, as I recall, and it was a well-balanced blend of Japanese and French but it ate a little messier than I’d hoped.
Pork Belly – Absolutely perfect preparation on the square of pork belly. Crispy skin, softly rendered fat, tender moist meat. The equal of any pork belly I’ve had in the Chinese restaurants of LA. This one came with Vietnamese flavors, which worked really well with the pork, and were nicely balanced by the bitter broccoli rabe. The trompe l’oeil mushroom was made from mushrooms turned into powder and reformed with the magic powder they use to make cornstarch packing peanuts, and was mostly pointless in terms of flavor even with the maitake ragu underneath it.
Reuben – An unnecessarily huge schmear of Russian dressing (let’s be real, if it’s there I am totally going to eat it), plus a wedge of a Reuben sandwich with lasagne pasta sheets instead of bread, and a dusting of dried dill flowers. If I am remembering properly, a pickle-flavored potato chip is what’s leaning up against the wedge. Delicious and rich, and a much better deployment of the slumming aesthetic.
Umami Cappuccino – By this time I was tired of the trompe l’oeil gag, so I lost patience with this dish, a savory broth with edamame and something else I’ve forgotten, plus a pitcher of mushroom foam “cream” and a square of truffle butter “sugar.” Too salty and a little disjointed, though truffle butter does make just about anything taste better.
Duck Cannoli – Yet more trompe l’oeil, but this was freaking delicious. If they were all this masterfully orchestrated, I might not have lost my patience at all. A rich duck shredded into a mole sauce, stuffed into a crispy shell and topped with crema and crushed peanuts.
Crepes that are cheese – Ew. For real, I have never been served anything this bad ever. We took one bite of each item and sent the plates back. The two on top are big blobs of mostly-raw crepe dough formed and dyed to look like two different types of cheese. The one at bottom is a fried piece of cheese stuffed with marmalade to look like a crepe. I still can’t believe they fucked that last one up so bad — I actually clapped my hands in glee when they told me what it was as they set the plate down, but the fried cheese had the texture and taste of plastic. They should be ashamed to have their heads so far up their conceptual asses as to let this anywhere near a paying customer.
Cereal & Milk – At least they made it up to me with the next dish. Freeze-dried strawberry slices full of berry flavor and fluffy crispy cereal flakes, with a dry ice vanilla soy milk poured over the top. It exploded in your mouth, literally, setting off little sparkly barrages on your tongue. We giggled like little girls and loved it unreservedly.
Foie Gras Cupcake – A little weird but it worked. A glistening bit of pan-seared foie gras with a foie-gras flavored mini-cupcake, berry reduction, and truffled milk.
Unknown – They told us they brought this dish to make up for the horrible crepes. I remember really enjoying this, but I completely forget what it was. Damn me for not writing this up sooner. I think there was a grapefruit involved.
Snow Balls – I forget this one too. Crap! C, help me out here?
Cheese Burger – Yet more trompe l’oeil. This time it’s a tiny 3-bite burger built completely out of sweet dessert ingredients. Not that good and a little too sweet for me. Adorable presentation on a flanged white dish.
Acme Bomb – Self-explanatory. I don’t remember this one either. We were so full by this point, and tending to obsess over the minutiae of the wines instead. The dessert wines were so badly matched to the sweet dishes it was absurd. They were all nice wines, though.
Truffle – Hey, guess what? A trompe l’oeil dish! Sigh. A “whole truffle” made from chocolate mousse and cocoa and so forth. Pleasant to eat.
Root Beer Float – Another fun one. Tasty, spicy homemade root beer, with dry ice doing something or other, and a homemade marshmallow. Light and refreshing, the right thing to have at this point in a very long, heavy meal.
And then we were done.
The restaurant was empty, we had a forest of wine glasses in front of us (we were definitely causing the waitstaff some grief keeping all those glasses going at once, but it’s not like they had anything ELSE to do so we didn’t feel too bad), and we were full past the eyeballs. It was really nice to have a long, extravagant, absurdly foodie meal with C again — I miss him and it was awesome to be able to hang out and bullshit for a few hours.