Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chicago. Show all posts

Moto: Chicago -- Taste Molecular Gastonomy

I found myself in Chi-town for one night only. One night to eat at one restaurant. If you can only have sex with one Baldwin, you are by God gonna pick Alec. Don't use your "Baldwin" up on Billy.

I picked restaurant Moto - mother kitchen of innovative TV series  Future Food.  While only a few episodes were shot, this profile of Chicago-based genius chef Homaro Cantu's dive into molecular gastronomy does exactly what every TV show and restaurant desires to do -- leaves you hungry for more.

Why is everyone's last meal something they have had dozens of times? If I am going to the electric chair, I don't want a cheeseburger. I just want to narrow my eyes, lock eyes with the jailer and say, I trust you. 

Making a reservation is a restaurant’s one chance to make a first impression. Moto has it down -- when I called, the person asked me if there was anything at all I didn't like to eat, or objected to. As Harold's mother in Harold and Maude said, I object to the question. "I eat everything", I assured them.

Moto is in a hip, slightly sketchy, warehouse neighborhood on Fulton Street. It’s the kind of transitional area where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a body being dragged to the river or an intricate Chihuly piece dangling from a lamppost.

Once safely inside Moto, the diminutive hostess led me into a flatteringly lit room. She led me to a stark table, as flowerless as a prison cell in a down economy, and I knew instantly that the food was to be the star.  

Not all stars shine brightly, but Moto’s North Star is the service. All the waiters are also chefs, there at Moto, or currently in culinary school. They waiter for three weeks, then chef for three.  This way they can explain everything, because they know their shit, and this is a good thing since the food can be freaky. Often what you see here is not what you get.

I was given no menu. Instead a long plate was placed in front of me, with 15 tiny items lined up like edible Von Trapps.  This was the first of my fifteen courses; each item represents food to come. They want you to experience the food without bias, so there is no explanation about anything, except #14. At this position on my plate was a teensy, tiny sachet, like a Ken doll’s scrotum, and I was told to only sniff this one. I was intrigued. Was it going to smell like scrotum? I moved down the plate bit by bit, in order, tasting each item, trying to imagine what it was made of, and what the next taste was that was coming up.  All will be revealed.

Moto menu presentation

A waiter swooped in and removed my plate, almost too soon. I guessed we were moving on to course two.

Another waiter dramatically placed a chopsticks rest by my right hand, upon which he cradled a pair of shiny metal chopsticks. Then he vanished. There was a danger about this course, encouraged when two stacked dim sum baskets on top of a bowl were deftly placed on my table and the lid was whipped off the top basket, like he was whipping off the bed covers. The vapor from dry ice crept up through the bamboo slits. We are impressed.  He explained each clever fishy item in the basket, indicated the tiny, lone Bao glazed with hoisin sauce in the other basket, and invited me to sip the cool, Jasmine/mandarin tea in the bowl beneath the last basket.  

It was about now that I realized I didn’t know the price of this meal. I know they say if you have to ask then you can’t afford it, but what if this meal cost thousands of dollars? Would I have to wash dishes or father children to pay my check? Perhaps they actually take your limbs as payment  -- Chicago is tough town.  One can’t use the “there’s a roach in my dessert” ploy here to get a free meal, because your dessert may have a "roach" as a component.

I relaxed my hand, and let the waiter free. Whatever it cost, it’s fine. I was in too deep; no turning back now.

The dining room is like Vegas, windowless and clock-less, so one has no concept of time. At one point a waiter told me that my meal would take about 3.5 hours -- fine with me, I made it through Nicholas Nickelby with nothing but a Snickers and hope for a happy ending.

The service was the best I have had outside of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans or Le Cirque in New York -- caring precision at it’s best.

Among the dishes -- re-constructed corn re-assembled into savory ice cream on a stick, encrusted with neatly lined up corn kernels that tasted an looked like roasted corn, though they were not. Each tiny kernel had been hand-placed, with care, like African orphans in Madonna’s home.

A miniature Zen Garden in a box was presented to me. I was fine just admiring the tiny rake resting atop the gently pink sand with tiny pebbles on it.  The waiter let me have a moment to be one with the garden, before introducing it as my genius fucking cheese course. The sand was in fact almonds, ground into a delicate edible powder, I imagined, by the soft undulation of angel’s breasts. The tiny pebbles were actually velvety, smooth, gooey, mind-blowing cheese. Zen Garden as Cheese Course. I shot a look at the waiter that should have felt like a hard punch to the face.  He told me not to eat the rake and scooted away.

Moto zen cheese garden

Course after course surprised me. Dishes had hokey names like, Kentucky Fried Pasta, but the hollow tubular handle of my fork stuffed with bundled fresh thyme made up for the name.

Moto’s idea of crudité includes heretofore thought implausible beet meringues.  They may look dense, but these fluffy puffy baked veggies are bloody brilliant.

Moto beet meringue

This is not the Special Olympics of dining, where every course gets a medal. Cardamom and ice cream may not need to meet again.

There was humor. I was served a small log on a plate, actually foraged from a nearby park. I imagined an apprentice chef wrestling for the log with a homeless man in the park who needed it for firewood. The log was topped with fiddle head ferns and morels hand-foraged by a man in Oregon named Running Bear (yep).  The “forest ground” was ramp dust. The dust was created with science, like hydrogen or nitrogen or magician.

Moto mushroom log

I have a veritable penchant for French food. When the waiter placed an adorable pot in front of me and announced it as de-constructed cassoulet, I wondered who was coming to eat this tiny dinner - Barbie, pissed that I had sniffed Ken’s scrotum? That bitch needed to get over the fact that dolls as pretty as Ken like other dolls as pretty as Ken.

Inside the pot was one slice of herbed, toasted baguette, and a thick lamb bone that jutted up and outside of the pot a good three inches. The groove of the lamb bone was filled with marrow butter. Drippings from roasting bones whipped into homemade butter. Some punk-ass chef in the kitchen had created what I had been seeking my entire life without ever knowing I was seeking it: Better butter.

Moto marrow butter in cassoulet

Pretentious? Nope. Food pretending to be other food? Yes. A crime? Not unless they murdered a lazy dishwasher and I am now spreading him on toast. 

A camaraderie had formed among the diners. A man next to me was so elated that they were accommodating his kosher practice that he was texting his mother, “They had me at Shalom.” 

A young man got so caught up in the whole experience that he hopped up and crossed to his lover, a beautiful girl in a sexy red blouse cut so low it seemed endless. She remained seated as he bent down and passionately kissed her over and over and over.  If he wasn’t going to propose, I was. These chefs find inspiration everywhere, so tomorrow night we might see a course called, “Cleavage.

Eventually, a large bowl filled with smoke was placed on my table. An element of your next course, the waiter/chef I came to know as “Lurch” mumbled as he slunk off, perhaps to giggle. As the flavored smoke drifted from a hole in the bowl, a black leather glove was revealed inside. My neighbor whispered to me that he had seen that online, it was known as “Smell the Glove.”

Moto "smell the glove"

After I paid, the waiter leaned in and asked in a low, quiet voice if I would like a tour of the kitchen. I thought that some sort of code for illicit sex, or illegal drugs, so I popped up like toast and followed him. To a tour of the kitchen.

Moto Test Kitchen

I chatted with the young chefs, and met the man responsible for the marrow butter.  He was used to praise it seemed, so I grabbed a skillet and whacked him on the head. The others freaked out and scrambled for cover; one girl with a half-shaved head locked herself in the room where they grow aero-ponic micro-greens. I dragged Marrow Butter Boy into the walk-in and hung him on a meat hook. I calmly sipped agar-congealed cactus juice from a giant pea pod, waiting for him to come to.

He stirred, and I got right up in his face and I calmly told him that even if it took all night, he would teach me the marrow butter process. He was sort of cute, all dangly on the meat hook. He extended his sleeve-tatted arm, revealing his cell phone, and called security.

I had one day, one dinner - and I chose well.

For me, the appeal behind molecular gastronomy is the chance to eat something I probably can’t even conceive. They basically fuck with food -- change the texture, appearance, taste -- they entertain me. People have fucked with your food forever, whether it was the US Marine Corps slipping saltpeter into my chow to keep us in our own bunks, or McDonald’s secretly adding beef fat to their French fry oil to enhance the flavor, and not bothering to tell vegans.

For years, hippies slathered in patchouli, wearing nothing but half-baked political ideals, danced in the fields to the beat of unseen drummers, hopped-up on what they thought were vegan potatoes, exchanging bodily fluids and body odor, who at climax whispered in each other’s home-pierced ears, Our baby will be conceived with a compassion to animals.  Little did they know that their hemp child, six year-old Flowerdancer, in all his/her home-schooled purity and dreadlocks, had pure bovine by-products coursing through his/her “vegan” veins.

To sum up Moto: If they de-constructed a mousetrap – it would be a better mousetrap.