Monday, April 16, 2012

The Most Expensive Meal of My Life

I love food and experiences - I would rather share an incredible meal with friends in a foreign country after an adventure than have a bunch of giant flat screen TV's, a flashy car and bunch of Hermes Birkin bags (which is probably why you should never rob me since you probably don't want to steal a 35 inch CRT TV).

But I somewhat inadventently spent a fortune on dinner one night with some co-workers in Chicago. We knew we wanted to eat somewhere special while we were in Chi-town for training which meant that we were ready to throw down some serious coin. Nick and I had gone to Moto, after all. Kumar on my team suggested that we go to Charlie Trotters since this amazing Chicago culinary institution was closing this summer after 25 years of service.

Charlie Trotters is a pioneering restaurant which some say had put Chicago on the culinary map. It's a classic Mecca to fine dining and has launched the careers of some of the best and most avant garde chefs around. Unlike the casualness of Seattle dining establishments, it required jackets as well as exceptionally good manners. There were two incredible tasting menus: a meat one and a vegetarian one. I opted for the meat one with seafood only, which they were happy to accomodate.

Then, my former teammate Paul talked me into getting the wine pairings. "I don't really drink wine except when it's paired with dinner, " he said and then added convincingly, "And think about how amazing each course here would go with the right wine. This isn't something you do all the time, it's an experience and this place is closing." So rather than a single glass of wine or a cocktail, I chose to go with the pairing. "What the heck, this is a special experience," I thought... but I should have looked at the wine menu.

This kushi oyster first course was decadent, unctuous and almost obscene. It was paired with a crisp champagne - and I got several glasses of it. 

Unagi terrine with grapefruit. Seriously? This thing was pure art and foam. The crispness of the lime and grapefruit cut into the sweetness and richness of the unagi.

The guys got quail but I think I got trout. Whatever this was, it was delicious. Kumar got the vegetarian menu and for whatever reason, his plate always looked prettier. Not only was the meal more artfully arranged, but the actual china itself was cooler! However, the server informed me that this plate was specially gifted to Charlie so I won this round.

Here is another look at the plate - you can see that it has names of some of the most prominent restaurants around - Le Bernadin and French Laundry to name a couple.

This next plate reminded me of the Top Chef Texas Charlize Theron evil queen challenge - it was a beautiful plate with a violent splash of carmine-colored beet and the most buttery-rich Maine lobster.

This was Kumar's plate, which I had to take a photo of since it was so awesome looking. Below this slotted plate were other ingredients whose smoky vapors got up to what was on top. I don't know what it was but it sure looked awesome.

More lovely yumminess - I am a fan of a perfectly seared scallop.

This was the first dessert course which was refreshing and a bit of a palate cleanser. I am a fan of places that sprinkle crumbs on dessert since, let's face it, a little bit of crumbles go a long way.

More yummy desserts.

Each of these courses included generous pours of delicious wines. One course paired a sweet riesling but when coupled with the rich food, it was balanced and left a buttery mouthfeel. We had sweet wines and ports for dessert. Everything was phenomenally delicious. 

And then the check came. I choked a little bit. $420! That included tax and gratuity but I looked at it incredulously, realizing that the wine pairing was expensive enough to be its own meal... or two. I signed the bill, shrugged and texted Nick, "ZOMG, I just spent $420 on dinner!" 

He was in Austin, eating at Uchiko and texted back, "Oh that's not too bad, my dinner was $640." 

My reply was, "No, not dinner for the whole table. My dinner was $420 for just ME." Ouch.

Needless to say, I forked over my own BECU Visa and did not expense this dinner. I have never spent so much money on food but it was a worthy experience and one that people won't be able to have after this summer. I am sure someone forked over tens of thousands to dine at El Bulli before it closed its doors; this isn't even in the same stratosphere as El Bulli but it was for my price range. And if we hadn't gone to eat there, we all would never had learned how well riesling and bacon pairs together.

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