Serious Eats: Chicago
iNG's Flavor-Tripping Thanksgiving
For me, Thanksgiving is all about the familiar. No matter where I am, I basically eat the same food with the same people. Sure, we may experiment with brining techniques, but mostly I just crave the traditional favorites: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Which is a way of saying that I'm not looking for innovation with my Thanksgiving meal. Except...
I ended up at iNG—Homaro Cantu's year-old restaurant in the West Loop, which is sort of like a test lab for
molecular gastronomy modernist cuisine, albeit with a heaping dose of humor. It's also known for dishing out doses of something called the miracle berry—an actual berry cultivated in Africa which makes sour things taste sweet. Cantu has been an outspoken advocate of the miracle berry for years and is even releasing The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook soon. Meanwhile, iNG has become known for its "flavor-tripping" experiences, where nothing looks or tastes quite like what you'd expect.
Honestly, all I had originally wanted to do was sample some of the restaurant's noodles, but was instead lead astray by the idea of subverting everything I knew about Thanksgiving in one fell swoop. I couldn't pass up the opportunity.
I can already sense your apprehension, but let me clear a few things up before it feels like I'm trying to lead people down into some rabbit hole from which they can never return. First, it does work; lemons taste like lemonade, tart cranberries taste like cranberry sauce. Second, though it looks like a pill, it is dissolved on the tongue much like a SweeTart. Third, the sensation only lasts for about 30 to 45 minutes, which also means that you can "redose" for dessert and still return home with all of your taste buds in order. Let's move on.
The actual dishes were a mix of the traditional and the whimsical. All the favorites were there: the turkey, the cranberry sauce, and the sweet potatoes. It's just that they didn't always look that way. Some dishes were simply well executed dishes that could have been appreciated at any restaurant. (The best example was the "Turduckel," which featured duck confit and turkey leg meat stuffed into a perfectly prepared quail.) Others were so odd that it is hard to properly describe them. (The "cheese course" looked like three cheeses on a plate with apple slices, yet only one was an actual cheese. Oh, and when all the separate elements were mixed together, it tasted like apple pie.) Both were delicious.
This will all probably make more sense with pictures, so check out the full slideshow to see how my flavor-tripping Thanksgiving went down.