Camera in the Kitchen Part Deux: Moto
By Amelia Levin in Food on Aug 22, 2007 8:40PM
When Moto’s Homaro Cantu said he’s worked with NASA to develop space food for astronauts because, “One day we’ll all have to start thinking about Mars,” it was a pretty “out there” comment. But statements like these come from Cantu, a modest, hospitable and friendly person, because, well, he’s borderline genius. The dishes he serves at his nationally acclaimed, four-star restaurant fit just this description. They’re totally “out there,” but they’re incredibly ingenious, creative, scientific, and well, delicious.
Chicagoist was lucky to sample during a special event some of Cantu’s “molecular gastronomy,” although he wouldn’t himself describe his cooking as such. In fact, the only time Cantu says he’s used that word was to describe the NASA work. Either way, the experience at Moto is unlike most other Chicago restaurants, or others around the world for that matter. You don’t go there to stuff yourself or even just to satisfy your hunger with a nice dinner. You go there for the entire experience of trying something new, hopefully with an open mind. Here’s a look at the dishes we tried (aka ...Camera in the Kitchen) and some pretty photos, courtesy of our own Laura Oppenheimer — thanks, Laura! Wine descriptions courtesy of Food Editor Chuck Sudo.
One of Cantu’s signatures is creating an edible menu. Sound ridiculous? Here, the menu was supposed to taste like corn chowder, and strangely enough, it did. In fact, it tasted almost like a large, rectangular Frito chip with extra corn taste and small dollops of cream for the dipping. It really was quite addictive.
Next up, “Greek salad, two ways.” The two ways were clarified cucumber and lemon essence and octopus that had been cooked for 16 hours. “Oh my goodness how could that taste like anything but rubber,” you say. Our thoughts exactly, but this is Homaro Cantu, after all. Much to our surprise, the interesting take on calamari tasted nothing like rubber, and nothing like what this writer has tasted before: fresh, not fishy, and with a consistency almost like that of a super poached, super tender chicken. A smear of reconfigured olives the color of ripe avocados brought a briny, yet mild and creamy element to the dish.
Paired wine by Sommelier Matt Gundlach: A super smokey, medium-dry Fino de Rama alvear, with a subtly sweet aftertaste that closely matched the small “shooter” of clarified “juice.”
A beautiful plate of seared, boneless quail arrived at our tableside next, but not before servers brought out plates of black-colored brochettes dipped in liquid nitrogen that emitted “smoke” meant to resemble charcoal from a barbecue, in line with the next couple of courses. Clever. Later we got to eat the display which actually was dyed white bread. It was a little weird to eat something your mind tells you not to eat, but still pretty cool. Back to the quail: super tender, not at all gamey, with a light herb seasoning. A semi-pureed beet sauce sweetened and brightened up the dish, and hearty oyster mushrooms introduced an earthy flavor. To the right of the plate was a pureed beet and goat cheese concoction that had been formed into a sorbet using a vacuum chamber. It was strange, to say the least, but the flavors complemented each other nicely.
Wine: A delicate, fruit-forward pinot noir, from Berridge Estates’ Drystone vineyard in New Zealand’s Central Otago region.
Must … go … on …. Barbecue in the form of slow roasted Thai-style smoked pork. Rather than require a steak knife to cut, the meat fell apart in tender deliciousness sitting atop a bed of farmer’s market-esque, slightly braised collard greens. Another illusion — the pork was topped with baked beans, reshaped to resemble thin noodles, and here comes the really weird part — they were cold. This one was really out there, maybe to a fault.
Wine: Mesics-Tomerlin Timbervine Ranch Russian River Valley Syrah. This wine had a spicy kick and sandalwood undertones.
The illusion of illusions came next for dessert, courtesy of pastry chef Ben Roche. What looked like a mini Chicago-style hot dog, complete with green relish, tomato wedges and a poppyseed bun, was actually strawberry ice cream topped with kiwi and sandwiched between two shortcake pieces. Funny, it really did taste like a delicious strawberry shortcake. This coupled with a handful of tortilla chips made to look like beef and cheese nachos. But were they really chips? Actually, yes, they were, the kind you’d find at a Mexican restaurant, but the cool part was they were sprinkled with chocolate. Totally nuts, but hey, totally fun. It may not be your weekly outing — more like a once-a-year, or once-every-two-year occasion — but the Moto experience is a culinary “adventure” to say the least.
Wine: A late-harvest torrontes ice wine from the Santa Julia vineyard in Argentina. Crisp and sweet.