816 W. Armitage Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The Victim: Julie
The Damage: Uh, $275 each? Ouch.
The Background: Back when I lived in Chicago, Charlie Trotter’s was THE place to go if you had money and/or something very very special to celebrate. I was always hoping that someone would invite me, but no one ever did.
Apparently, none of my friends have money, and no one ever had anything to celebrate.
But now that Julie has moved back to Chicago and still has a little of that “But in pounds, it’s such a good value!” mentality, I thought it might be time to go.
The Entrance: I’ve always liked the location of Charlie Trotter’s. It’s on Armitage in Lincoln Park, an area for those folks who have the money to still live in the city. Full of old-school Chicago homes. Bungalows that have become non-bungalows. I love how our taxi driver drops us off in the alley next to the restaurant, right by the trash cans/rubbish bins. I’m not kidding.
As soon as we walk in, we’re greeted practically by name. Through their powers of deduction, they know who we are and why we’re there. We’re shown to a table upstairs…a good table, because there’s no one to the left of us. And fun to go upstairs because I totally feel like I’m in a Chicago bungalow. But I’m not.
The Service: The service is truly lovely. Very professional. The only downside is that they’re almost too scripted. And there are too many of them. I like to develop a rapport with my server (note…singular!). But here, there seem to be about three or four people who are waiting on us. (I feel like I’m back in London again.) This is “let me walk you to the ladies room” service, even though the ladies room is only 6 feet from where I’m sitting. (I am politely reminded to lock the door. It is a large loo. I can understand why.)
The Food: I felt too weird taking photos, and the lighting was so low that my camera couldn’t deal with things anyhow. (I either need to put my old non-digital SLR back into service and fire up the dark room, or buy a new digital SLR on eBay.) Here’s what I had and here’s what I thought…(They were very kind and packed up our menus for me.)
Kumamato Oyster with Sake and Preserved Radish. A nice oyster. But a very very very small one. Oh, and don’t eat that stuff the oyster is resting on. That’s rock salt. My blood pressure is high enough to begin with.
Cold-poached cod cheek with heirloom tomato relish and Thai basil. I liked the cod cheek–very tender–but I thought the tomato relish was a bit lazy. OK, maybe it was very summery and seasonal. But I bought some tomatoes the other week and threw them into a frying pan and…voila!
Tempura of Portuguese Sardine with White Peach Consume & Spanish Chorizo: This was my favorite dish. (Although a bit paltry on the chorizo for my tastes.) A great combo of flavors…salty, sweet, spicy.
Muscovy Duck Breast with Kumquats, Wild Liquorice, Szechuan Peppercorns & Napa Cabbage: There was a lot going on in this dish. I thought the duck was great. But otherwise, verdict is still out. Too many odd flavors for me. (And I LIKE liquorice.)
Four Story Hill Farm Salt-Crusted Veal Loin with Oregon Morels, Fermented Black Garlic & Sweetbreads: Maybe it was the jet lag, but I barely noticed the sweetbreads. And I was kind of excited for them. I remember the morels though. Some people like morels. I am not one of them. I remember the creepy texture of the morels more than anything else.
Red Shisho Sorbet with Mango & Grains of Paradise: I think I nodded off somewhere in between the veal and the shisho sorbet. I hope Julie didn’t notice.(Hey, I was jetlagged. And I had stayed out til 6 a.m. on Saturday night/Sunday morning.)
Raspberries with Honey and Sage: Delicious! I was not asleep during this dish and I loved it. Tart raspberries, silken honey. Great.
Michigan Cherries with Sugared Almonds: This was a substituted dish because I have grown increasingly allergic to chocolate in my old age. Lovely. But maybe too similar to the previous dish.
The Loos: Very clean and neat (easily a top 10 loo for me) with interesting reading material on the wall…cool restaurants that Charlie has been to and kept the menus for.
The Funny Bit: We were offered a tour of the kitchen, which we accepted. Of course. Julie asked, “So is Charlie working tonight?” And their immediate response? “He’s still very actively involved.” Hmmm…sounds a bit fishy to me. Define “actively involved.” They could have said, “Oh yes, he was in this morning” or something. But they didn’t. And remember, I’ve been to C in Cabo. He definitely wasn’t actively involved there.
The Verdict: If you don’t go out to eat a lot, you’d probably like it here. If you do go out to eat a lot, you might say, “Well, hey now the food was good, but that sure was a lot of money for good.”