Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicago: Flavor Tripping

As a fan of Bravo's Top Chef, I was introduced to the art of gastronomy through two of the chefs on Top Chef Texas, Chris Jones and Richie Farina.  They had quirky personalities and very interesting creations on the show, but I knew one thing if I was ever in Chicago, I had to eat at their restaurant! First only aware of Moto, I tried to get reservations, but there were none available.  Open table provided a link to other suggestions, which brought us to iNG Restaurant owned by Homaro Cantu and Chris Jones, head chef, Nate Park.  After finding out iNG was Moto's sister restaurant and reviewing the menu and prices I knew iNG was the place I wanted to eat.  It was a more affordable meal, they use gastronomy, and they were wild and inventive with their dishes to create a flavor tripping experience.  I could not have been more excited for this meal.

We started our dining adventure out with cocktails and beer tasting.  I sipped on each, and passed them around so everyone could taste.  They were all very good beer.  The Mad Hatter reminded me of Andrew's home brewed: Mystery Double IPA.  The last two were my favorite, the Brother Thelonious and Dragon's Milk , both very rich dark beers, with spicy flavors.  One of the waiters told me to wait to drink all of the Dragon's milk until after the first dish, because with the Miracle Berry, it tasted like spiked chocolate milk.  It really did!  Andrew was very jealous!

After our drinks we started our Flavor Tripping menu of plates and drinks.

Dish 1: Strawberry Rhubarb. My favorite!  This was a salmon arugula salad with strawberry rhubarb, orange, and ginger.  The dressing came divided into the mustard spread already on the plate, and a the strawberry vinaigrette was in a chemistry pipet.  The drink pairing was a Lambic Vodka, Green Chartreuse, cherry, lime, and sour ale.  We were asked to taste everything separately, and then once ready to "Trip," we bit into the chip with Miracle Berry powder.  Once it started to kick in, all of the bitter flavors turned savory and the sour flavors turned sweet.  The drink was very bitter and sour before the berry, but became very a enjoyable fruity cocktail after.

Dish 2: The Thaw.  This was a pork belly, kombu, maitake soup.  This was very interesting, the broth of the soup was a strange combination of sweet and sour, not sure if it was the miracle berry influencing the flavors, but it kept me coming back for more, until my entire bowl was empty.  This was paired with a Brouwerij Van Steenberge, Atomuim, Pale Ale from Belgium.

Dish 3: Baozi Gyro.  This was 3 lamb gyros, one with hummus, one with tzatziki, and one with tabbouleh.  This dish had the least influence of gastronomy or flavor tripping, but it sure was tasty.  My favorite was the tzatziki, I just like anything with tzatziki. Paired with Abbaye de Leffe a Brown Ale from Belgium.

Dish 4: April Showers.  This was a deconstructed pot pie.  The meat was capon, a rooster who has been castrated to improve it's flesh for food (Gruesome, glad I just looked that up now), resembling a soap bar with iNG printed on it.  It was very tender and flavorful.  The "soap" sat in a bed of miniature veggies and was covered in foam the flavor of buttery crust, very weird, but cool.  The server added some "shampoo" of spinach and mushroom sauce and "conditioner" of garlic sauce.  Finally, a "sponge" of bread, was added to create the crunchiness of the crust the foam did not create. Paired with J. Hofstatter, Lagrein, Alto Adige from Italy 2010.

Dish 5: May Flowers.  This was a beautifully potted plant of dessert!  Yes it was the first of 2 desserts, which made me very happy.  In the pot was layered hazelnuts, then lime curd, then some vanilla cream, and topped with crumbled tea cookies.  When you first taste this dish it resembles the flavors of Key Lime pie.  Then half way through, you take a "shot" of the miracle berry, bite the lemon for some sweet lemonade, then go back to enjoying your potted dessert.  Now that the miracle berry was activated, the dessert tasted like an orange creamsicle. Delicious.  But the best part was that the chef told us one of the purposes of using gastronomy with cooking is to find ways to remove sugar and bad elements of food without removing flavor to make it healthier.  That is exactly what I wanted to hear as I was about to enjoy dessert #2!

 Dish 6: Easter Egg Hunt.  This was a Chocolate Forest Cake in cake form and drink form.  On the plate was a solid egg of chocolate forest cake, coated in chocolate, and then accompanied by some crunchy hay.  Also on the plate was a cracked egg filled with little pieces of chocolate and a cherry sauce drizzled.  They tried to also get the same flavors into our drink pairing.  They used whiskey, Kirsh, and chocolate to create a drink that also brought out all of the Chocolate Forest Cake taste. And to end it with a bang, we were lucky to receive an extra special drink tasting of.. umm I wish I knew what it was but it was a delicious liqueur. 

As we ended dinner, the host of the night, offered us a tour of the kitchens at iNG & Moto (2 doors down), meet the chefs, and see their new garden.  This was one of my top 5 dinners of all time, not only was the food amazing, the experience was just as amazing and I am so happy I was able to experience this with 2 of my best friends!

iNG Kitchen Pool Table

iNG Kitchen with the Chefs and the birthday girl
Behind the Lab Table
Chris Jones
Dining in the Lab
Secret Garden
 I can't wait to come back again to try Moto, and their new top secret restaurant... 

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