Thursday, February 10, 2011


Moto, in pictures.

Our edible 10 course menu, printed on brioche. Underneath is a cashew reduction and some balsamic sauce.

The wood grain close-up is actually 1000 year old wood from an Asian monastery that they imported. It's really gorgeous.

Our cork - the wine for this evening was a Neyers, Old Lakeview Road, Syrah, Sonoma coast, CA 2008.

Menu again. Just in case you forgot our menu WAS FUCKING PRINTED ON BRIOCHE! Putting the amusement in amuse, apparently.

Me and my wine, we got a real good thing.

1st course: "Snow Man" - This little fella is actually a lemon lime foam that was made to resemble a little snowman (it snowed about 3 feet a few days before we arrived in Chicago). Below it was a pretty straightforward ahi poke. The reason the snow man is melting is because it was doused with a splash of margarita. Wasn't terribly inspired, and the tequila overpowered all the other delicate flavors. Still fun though!

2nd course: "White Steel" - Actually my least favorite dish of the night. We have a seared piece of hamachi over a bed of bright red tobiko with some carbonated grapefruit. The sauce was a vanilla sunchoke puree. The fish was overcooked, the tobiko pretty flavorless and the puree did nothing to advance either of their causes.

3rd course: "Crab Cakes" - Much more inspired than the previous courses. What we have here is a cake with Alaskan King crab baked into it, rather than a bunch of crab and bread in cake form. On top is a sweet cream cheese dollop. The white mass in the foreground is braised fennel, next to which is graham cracker crumble and a freezing ball of butternut squash sorbet. I guessed it was a playful riff off of the Mardi Gras specialty, king cake.

The server deposited this candle on our table following the second course. We were the only table with a candle. Something was afoot...

4th course: "Salsa Snacks and "Scallop Surprise" (that's my name for it, since it didn't have a name) - First up is "Salsa Snacks." Had I been a little stoned, I might not have ever left the table. It is the high cuisine equivalent of going to Taco Bell at 2am after a night of drinking. To the right is enchilada sauce glazed sweetbreads. At left is a molten chihuahaua cheese ball, covered in baked beans and baked rice, and then a smear of salsa sour cream.

Then we have the Scallop Surprise dish. We'll get to the name in a second. We have big buttery chucks of poached lobster, and butternut squash puree. As for the mini diver scallops, those are actually gnocchi, cut and seared to look like a scallop. Oh, and remember the candle. Our server came over, pulled out the wick and poured the contents over the dish, and told us that it was melted butter sauce. I KNEW IT! Our waiter actually seemed disappointed that we weren't more shocked by this revelation. We reminded her that we were the only ones with a candle and that she brought it over 20 minutes into the meal. Our Spidey-senses never let us down.

5th Course: "Baseball Snacks" - By far the most outrageous dish of the night. It's popcorn-encrusted quail (or tofu for Ann, since she's a pescatarian), Coca-cola reduction, caramel-apple reduction, very Blais-esque popcorn powder and a fun reproduction of a Cracker Jack box that's actually cherry-flavored paper.

6th Course: "Mock Maki" Best entree course of the night. What appears to be a very traditional-looking Japanese maki roll, is something completely different. The rice wrapper is actually champagne risotto. The inner wrapper is actually pressed and paper-thin crimini mushroom wrap. Inside, we have sous vide rabbit (Ann had a daikon), a roasted brussel sprout, and the additions are a thinly sliced jicama pickled in beet juice (hence the red color) a Chinese five-spice puree and dehydrated peas that look like wasabi. It may look Japanese, but the flavor was deep and rich, straight out of northern Italy.

7th course: "Maitake & Pork" - Awesome last entree. Had the Mock Maki not showed up, this would have been my favorite. Grilled pork belly, bok choy, pickled matsutake mushrooms, and then a recomposed "styrofoam" maitake mushroom. The take a maitake, puree it, place it in a mushroom form and dehydrate it. The result is a perfect-looking mushroom, but the texture is completely opposite from what you expect a mushroom to taste like. Light, airy, crisp. But still possessing the umami flavor of the maitake.

8th course: "Truffled Ice Cream" - Our first dessert...truffled ice cream, jellied Gala apples, hazelnut crumble. The pound cake is actually astronaut ice cream.

9th Course: "Pineapple and Chai" - Compressed pineapple slices, with vanilla bean, sasparilla ice cream, coconut powder, and marshmallow. Fun dessert, and the compressed pineapple packs a punch. The sasparilla ice cream would sell like gangbusters at any store.

10th course: "Tea Time" - Navel orange gel, lemon butter cookie crumble, earl grey ice cream and chocolate mousse. So, if you want to know which dessert was the best...well, here you go. We didn't even stop to take a picture. Just an aftermath of deliciousness.

One final dessert beverage: Tonka bean soda, with a lemony freeze dried "packaging peanut" that steams when you eat it. I want every drink now, in a graduated cylinder.

So, about a third of the way through the meal, we struck up a conversation with our server. We both told him we were huge fans, admirers from afar, and that this would be a highlight of our trip.
"Do you guys want to check out the kitchen after you're done?"

Um, yes!

Ann and I squealed. Audibly.

Here's the photos from the downstairs lab and kitchen.

There's Ben (Executive Pastry Chef), finishing up the last of the night's desserts.

The Moto team that made our awesome meal.

Me, pretty much dumbstruck.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mangia la pasta? Produca pasta.

Pasta Dough in the making
Nick is noodle obsessed. He would eat noodles or pasta of some kind just about every day if he had his druthers. We've become pasta snobs; only ordering pasta at joints that make their own in-house rather than using dried pasta. Pasta, after all is about the pasta itself: the chewy, nutty, al dente goodness that fills your belly with complex carbohydrates.

For Nick's Christmas present, I purchased him an Imperia pasta roller, pasta drying rack and signed us up for pasta-making classes at Cook's World behind U-Village. He was like an excited little boy when he tore open the gift wrap and excitedly realized he had gotten a new toy!

A ravioli made in class
We donned aprons and took a few hours of a Thursday evening learning the ins and outs of making pasta from scratch. The pasta making course was taught by the executive chef at Serafina and its new Mediterranean spin-off, Cicchetti. There, we learned the ins and outs of making:
• A wetter pasta dough for a filled pasta, specifically ravioli

• Gnocchi - literally meaning pillows. Pillows of amazing goodness that is.

Fabio from Top Chef: "They are like little pillows!"
• A pepper and lemon-infused black pepper linguine

The class was fun albeit a bit slow in pacing. The chef made everything in the center with the class watching on and volunteering to participate (probably with Nick and I doing the lion's share since the class was shy). I would have preferred either a faster class or one where each group got to be hands on cooking something along with the chef. Regardless, we learned some important tricks:

• You can always add more flour to pasta dough but you can't add more liquid. If your dough is too dry, you'll need to scrap it and start all over again.

• We learned how to fold the dough up in thirds in order to roll it and what consistency it should be before you narrowed the roller opening and smoothed the dough further.

• Note: knead dough and lay it on a wood surface. (It's an Italian grandma thing that you have to roll it out on wood). Use lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking.

• Apparently 00 Flour is the best flour to use to make pasta which just means the flour is really fine but you want unbleached flour since the protein content is better. Bob's Red Mill all-purpose is great, which is what we used. You can use any all-purpose flour or a whole wheat substitute but should look at other specific recipes for semolina or other types of flour since the protein and gluten content is different and the liquids you add is different.
The Lab and Experimentation

Rolling out our dough

What's the use of taking a class and not putting your skills to the test? The next weekend, Nick and I experimented with our newfound knowledge and made ravioli. We got a bit of aggression out of pounding a bunch of dough into a slab of wood and rolling out sheets and sheets of pasta into perfect, soft yellowy pieces and cook up a storm of delicious fillings.
A long pasta sheet

Nick took a twist on his buccatini with Dungeness crab, chili and mint concoction into a ravioli filled with crab, jalapenos and mint. These were delicious but I personally prefer his original recipe since the crab was more distributed rather than concentrated in the middle of the pasta.

Nick's crab ravioli

Fresh, seasonal ingredients
Stealing from a restaurant emperor and the next Tom Douglas, I used the Ethan Stowell cookbook to make a ricotta and Swiss chard ravioli filled with egg so when you speared the ravioli with a fork, you'd get melty, bleeding yolky goodness: my favorite sauce. Ethan's original recipe called for duck eggs but we used normal eggs and only made two of these heaping raviolis (very carefully). After all, how many eggs can you eat?

Giant ravioli with egg yolk inside
I also did a sautéed mushroom ravioli with walnuts, and sage and tossed in a bit of truffle oil; these were nutty, earthy and delicious. I made up this recipe but it was tasty and probably the best ones that would hold up frozen.

Crab Ravioli

The results? We did a great job except that we rolled out the dough a little too thick; we should have taken the dough through a thinner setting on the pasta maker. It was hard to gauge until we cooked up the ravioli and ate it since it didn't seem thick at first except it took longer to cook than we had expected. Still, the end results were delicious. It was a fun way to spend an evening, make a mess, grate up tons of parmesan on the new microplane and eat way too much.

Nick really REALLY loves pasta

My ravioli is bleeding yolk

Chard, ricotta and egg ravioli with more reveal

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saving myself for Moto

I’m flying in a cramped Alaskan flight right now, on my way to Chicago. I am operating on one hazelnut Americano, some in-flight OJ and an oatmeal raisin cookie. The reason behind that spartan breakfast is simple. I’m saving myself for Moto tonight. I’m expecting it to transport me, shock me, and do things to my brain (and tongue) that I’ve never experienced before. And like previous “first-time” experiences, half-expecting to be let down from the weight of colossal expectations.

I’ve been a huge fan of what Homaru Cantu has been doing at Moto since he wow’d me during a late-night viewing of Iron Chef. It’s not often you find a chef that lugs in a massive laser printer into Kitchen Stadium, takes a photo of himself and his chefs doing a champagne toast, then taking that champagne concoction like a mad alchemist and putting in the printer. The result? Printing an edible, champagne flavored paper wafer dessert, that they then served to the judges. With the photo of their toast on it. Holy shit.

Personally, I feel as though the whole culinary gastronomy fad is fast approaching an apex. The originators will begin to fall away from those cutting edge techniques and playful approaches as more pretenders use nitros and foams and spherification compounds. But Moto is different. They are doing something beyond whimsical forays into cuisine chemistry. They are looking at ways to completely turn food upside down, shake whatever is clinging to the bottom out, and then proceed to reshape it without regard to convention or tradition.

That’s why this meal is special to me. It will be unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and unlike anything I’ll ever have again.

Ann and I are experiences people. We’re not big on buying lots of clothes or fancy electronics. Those types of things, as Tyler Durden succinctly said, end up owning you. It’s the transformative experiences that we really crave.

Happy anniversary, my love.