The Final Week of Charlie Trotter's
After 25 years, Charlie Trotter's in Lincoln Park plans to close. I was able to get a reservation last weekend.
Faroe Island Salmon with Roasted Salsify, Preserved Shallot, and Kumamoto Oyster
This was the starter to the much-anticipated meal. The stars of this show were the rich and velvety salmon and the delicately briny Kumamoto oyster, paired alongside the mild rooty flavor of roasted salsify.
The shape of this pretzel bread reminded me of a kernel of popcorn just about to blossom into a white puffy cloud. Its crust was crackly, flecked with the perfect amount of salt, and I immediately regretted eating mine so quickly.
Marinated Hamachi with Green Tomato Juice, Kalamata Olives, and Avocado Sorbet
I almost thought I was about to dig into a piece of charred meat until our server told us that the hamachi was marinated in squid ink, which explains its pitch black and burnt-looking color. Hidden beneath the delicate raw fish was a little bit of crab meat, which imparted a tart pickled flavor. The avocado sorbet was surprisingly sweet, and combined with the crunch of the cracker and the wispy rice puff, this dish played on textures and the contrast of sharp and sweet.
Marine Dayboat Cod with Braised Beef Cheek, Cumin Scented Apple Chutney, and Chanterelle Mushroom
This lightly steamed cod was paired with little profiteroles filled with a concentrated sweet apple chutney. The stripe of chicken liver pate on the left added a remarkably deep, meaty, and mineral-like flavor. The Saskatchewan chanterelle mushroom brought a chewy forest element, and the little circle of beef cheek reminded me of rich oxtail with a more accessible texture.
This piece of the bread service had a crackly crust, revealing a very light and sweet interior.
Muscovy Duck with Smoked Coconut, Spring Onion, and Venezuelan Chocolate
The centerpiece of this dish was rare Muscovy duck resting on a savory Venezuelan chocolate sauce. Little baby spring onions were hidden beneath, and the white froth you see is a young coconut foam.
Light, fluffy, spongy, and herbed focaccia, had enough oil that spreading on extra butter seemed like overkill. But I did it anyway.
Elysian Fields Farm Lamb Shank with Curried Sunchoke and New Zealand Spinach
What's not listed on the menu description is the antelope loin, pictured on the left, resting on pickled lamb's tongue. While pickled lamb's tongue might sound scary for some, it was thinly sliced and only had an ever-so-slightly gamy flavor. Plus, it was very tender. The braised lamb shank all the way on the upper right was fork tender. But the real surprise was the New Zealand spinach: I've never had spinach with such a concentrated iron and herb-like flavor.
Raspberry Sorbet with Lemon Verbena Cream and Chambord Curd Tart
The server let us know that this crumbly tart actually had Meyer lemon in it (most of the menu items had variations on their descriptions, much like an improv jazz session). The green sauce you see at the bottom is a bold cooling mint puree, next to a Chambord reduction. The impossibly flavorful raspberry sorbet tasted of ripe fruit picked straight from a tangled bush in the backyard.
Brown Butter Corn Bread with Michigan Cherries and Bourbon Ice Cream
Sweet corn was presented in three different ways: in an ice cream, mixed in brown butter corn bread, and as popcorn hidden beneath. The green shoot you see poking out of the cornbread is a little piece of fresh baby corn stalk that tastes like grassy corn silk. The Michigan cherries were stewed in red wine and served as a foil to the sweet corn flavor, which reminded me of the end of summer.
Triple Criollo Riviera Cake with Lemon Balm Puree and Strawberry-Tonka Bean Sorbet
This sweet and fudgy chocolate and strawberry cake was paired with an intense strawberry sorbet with the unusual flavor of Tonka bean. The best way I can describe Tonka bean is almost like spicy vanilla; combined with the strawberry sorbet, it almost tasted like a strawberry Jolly Rancher, if you can believe it. Those little brown dots attached to the sorbet are cacao nibs, and the powder underneath is tapioca starch. When the sorbet melted into the starch, it became a cold, jelly-like sauce to pair with the velvety chocolate cake.
These sweet little bites arrived at the end of the meal, but by the time I had gotten to this point, I was stuffed. I ate them anyway, because when you're at the end of a food marathon, you sprint across the finish.
Kitchen Dessert Plate
The staff was kind enough to let me into the kitchen and poke my head around. Here is one of the dessert plates, which we were able to try.
Staging of the tart before a lucky recipient out on the floor gets to devour one of Charlie Trotter's final creations.
The Hard-Working Staff
Some of these chefs are going to go on and change the face of dining; it's not a question of if, but when.