When I heard Charlie Trotter’s was closing, I planned a trip to Chicago specifically to try it before I lost my chance. I booked my reservation not knowing it was the day before the official 25th anniversary. Between that and the closing a week later, the place was buzzing. The tiny bar in the lobby was full of people, and although it seemed like more of a service bar, they were serving glasses of wine while folks waited for a table (even with a reservation we were told they were running slightly behind).
I was glad we were seated in the upstairs dining room, it seemed more quiet, and cozy. We chatted with some other diners who were from Chicago but hadn’t been in years and also wanted go before the closing.
We were given the choice of two tasting menus, the vegetable or grand tasting. We both opted for the grand, although I was tempted to order the vegetarian to see everything they were offering for the night. I also opted for the wine pairings, but had to stop about half way through. The pours were generous, definitely not too much for most and not even too much for me any night, but I was tired and wanted to make sure I didn’t get too sleepy to enjoy my meal.
The service overall was fantastic, but I got the impression it would have been even better had they not been so busy. When I was cold, they brought me a pashmina scarf but forgot my friend’s request for a lighter, no dairy dessert (although in the end she really enjoyed what came on the menu and I suspect was secretly glad).
We started with the faroe island salmon roe with roasted salisfy, preserved shallots, and kumomoto oyster. This was a warm broth served with a single kumoto oyster, which was juicy and delicious. It sort of reminded me of Thomas Keller’s oysters and pearls, but it was definitely a unique and creative dish.
Our second course was the Hamachi with squid ink, green tomato juice, kalamata olives, and avocado sorbet. This was the first time I’ve had Hamachi prepared any way other than sushi. It was rare, and delicious. I loved the flavor of the avocado sorbet and learned that I prefer the fish slight cooked. The combination of different textures in this dish was really outstanding, and we noticed the theme throughout the rest of the meal.
The third course was a halibut with braised beef cheek, chicken liver purée, chanterelle mushrooms, and apple and onion profiteroles. I loved the combination of all of the flavors in this dish, the halibut was light and buttery, the beef and chicken liver added a salty component, and the apple and onion profiteroles gave it a hint of sweetness. This was another interesting and incredibly well executed combination of many flavors and textures.
Fourth was the Muscovy duck with smoked coconut, spring onion, and Venezeulan chocolate. This also came with bits of duck confit and the combination of the confit with the sliced breast was fantastic.
The fifth and final savory course was a lamb shank with curried sunchoke and New Zealand spinach. This also came with a slice of medium rare antelope. I’d never tried antelope before, and this was surprisingly not gamey and reminded me of lamb or venison.
The first of the sweet courses was a little bit of a palette cleanser, a raspberry sorbet with lemon verbena cream and Chambord curd tart. This was similar to strawberry shortcake; the tart was dense like cake but the dessert overall was very light and flavorful.
Next was the brown butter corn bread with Michigan cherries and corn gelato. The cornbread itself was light, not very sweet, and intentionally dry. When eaten in combination with the gelato it had the perfect amount of moisture and sweetness that you get with really good cornbread.
The final course of the evening was the triple criollo Riviera cake with lemon balm puree and strawberry tonka bean sorbet. This was a dark chocolate cake that had more of a consistency like thick mousse or ganache. The chocolate itself was not sweet; it was eating it in combination with the strawberries and sorbet that gave it the sweetness. The strawberries were some of the best I’ve ever had, they were fresh and juicy, and the perfect ending to an amazing meal.
After dinner, we toured the kitchen, which made an already incredible experience even better. We saw the chef’s table, several of the dishes we had just enjoyed being prepared, and caught a few glimpses of options from the vegetarian tasting we hadn’t tried. It was also the first time in a restaurant kitchen where we were not only allowed but encouraged to take pictures.
I have mixed feelings about my experience at Charlie Trotter’s. I truly enjoyed the meal and experience, but I’m disappointed I won’t be able to go back. The staff did hint that he would be moving on to other new and exciting projects; I hope it’s the case and would love to try anywhere new that Chef Trotter opens!