Our 6th wedding anniversary was a couple weeks ago, but in true form we celebrated a little late. Since I was off work this week, I took the train downtown Friday afternoon to meet C at his office (this avoids his having to make an extra trip downtown). We had reservations at TRU - we took the El for a few stops since C works in the Loop and the restaurant is over near the Mag Mile. TRU was one of the big-name restaurants we'd not been to and was on our list (already been to Trotter's and Alinea).
Here is a shot of the interior (luckily we were on the early side so I was able to get a shot before lots of other people showed up. Right after I took this photo, a couple was seated at that corner table.) Very elegant.
We weren't going to go super decadent, but we ended up choosing the Sommelier Collection. Basically the menu lists 10 wines you are going to get, and there is a course to go with each, but it's not on the menu. All of it is a surprise. Unlike most tasting menus, where the food is selected and then wine pairings are selected to go with it, the wines are chosen first and the chef has to come up with a good dish to pair with it. It was very fun. The sommelier came out and poured each wine, talked about it, and then a few minutes later the food would show up and be explained to us. We really had a great time with it.
So here goes:
Fonseca Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2001. I was very intrigued by the fact that this started out with a port rather than ending with it. But the sommelier made this into an apertif cocktail, mixing it with an ice cube containing clove and cardamom, and 3 drops of orange bitters. Absolutely delicious. I want to try this with the port I have at home (though I have a feeling this is better port than what I have).
First course - Cardamom marshmallows with orange salt, in a tart cherry coulis, topped with clove tuiles. This was not really my thing. It was very interesting, but every bite was so tart I could barely keep my mouth from puckering. I like trying new unusual things though, so it was still worth it to me. And it was the only thing I didn't particularly care for.
The next 3 wines were poured at the same time - this was "a study in pinot grigio". :) From right to left (because that's the order we drank them in): Castelcosa Pinot Grigio Ramato Delle Venezie 2006, Henschke Pinot Gris Innes Vineyard Adelaide Hills 2006, Rolly Gassmann Tokay-Pinot Gris Vendages Tardive Alsace 2001. OK. So the first one I did not care for particularly, though it went well with the food. I thought it had a very odd smell that I could not place, though it did not taste quite as bad, I did not really like it. It was very strong flavored for a pinot grigio - the dark color comes from leaving the skins in contact with the grape for a long time, not sure if that is why I didn't like it or not. The second one was extremely light bodied, and the skins are not kept with the grape for any of the winemaking process, yielding a very light colored wine (almost clear!). I would never have picked this for the food, but it worked very well. The third was extremely sweet, the sweetest of all the wines we had the whole night. Almost like a dessert wine except it wasn't syrupy. It also went very well with the food pairing, though.
This was called a "mussel parfait". On the bottom was a mousse of mussels, pecans and leeks, topped with sauteed leeks and steamed mussels, topped with mussel foam. Now I personally can't stand foam - I think it looks like someone spit on my food - but I knew that TRU is well known for lots of foams so I was expecting it. The trick is not to eat just the foam (I tried, not a good idea), and just dig in, which worked much better. This was pretty good with the Italian Pinot Grigio, I do love mussels, but still that wine was not that great in my opinion.
I took another photo halfway through this course so you could see what was under all the foam. You can't see the mousse on the very bottom though - this is mussels and leeks, and a tiny bit of foam left.
Goat ricotta gnocchi in a blistered tomato parsley sauce, with fried basil on top. This went with the Australian Pinot Gris. I never never would have paired a tomato sauce with a light bodied white wine, but amazingly enough it worked quite well. The gnocchi were amazingly light and pillowy (not like the ones I have made myself, delicious though those are) and the sauce was delicious as well - though C and I thought it might have been even better using yellow tomatoes for the sauce; less acidity and a better match for the wine both in terms of taste and appearance.
Scallop sashimi with Pata Negra (smoked ham), in canteloupe water with shiso leaf oil, and a shiso leaf on top. I am usually OK with scallops but wasn't sure how I would like raw ones. I shouldn't have worried - it was delicious. It was buttery and tender, with a delicate sweetness. The smoky ham added a nice flavor to it as well. This was the perfect foil for the sweet French Pinot Gris.
Next wine pouring - Can Rafols dels Caus La Calma Penedes 2003. This is a Spanish Chenin Blanc aged in new French oak barrels. Generally Chenin Blanc is not aged in oak, so this was interesting. It was really intense. (If you've had a Chenin Blanc before, you know it is not normally this dark in color - there's the oak!)
Foie Gras with Grilled Fennel and Granny Smith apple, covered in apple gelee - brioche toasts in the background. I have some ethical problems with foie gras and wouldn't order it off a menu (though I did it once in Paris out of curiosity for what it would be like), and I do have to say YUM. This stuff just melts in your mouth. If you've never eaten it before, you spread it on the toast and just savor it. C did not like it nearly as much, though he liked it more with the fennel and apple spooned on top - may have been because my parents ate a lot of liverwurst when I was young, and so the livery flavor sort of is comfort food to me in a way. Anyway, you can't see it, but there is a tiny pile of fleur de sel on the lower left corner of the plate, and putting a few grains on each bite really made the flavors sing.
Delicious pumpernickel bread with onions. I ate a few of these but kept forgetting to take a photo before I tore into them. In the background you can see 2 butters. The one closer to me is salted and the other is unsalted. Both were delicious.
Garretson Wine Company The Celeidh Paso Robles 2007. This was a rose wine with Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon - but it was so dark rose, it was almost surprising it wasn't classified as a red (I mean - look at it!). Anyway, it was definitely deeper flavored and much fuller bodied than any rose I've ever had. When you swirled the glass, the wine just kind of STUCK there. Very interesting. The only thing that gave it away as a rose was a slight floral character, which I don't normally find with reds.
Pacific Skate with Duck Sausage, Marcona Almonds, and Parsley, in a roasted garlic duck consomme. LOVED this. Nice texture to the fish, excellent spiciness in the sausage but it still had clear duck flavor. The almonds added a nice flavor touch as well. By itself, the fish wouldn't have been able to stand up to the wine, but the combination did so beautifully. Very inventive.
St. Emilion Chateau Grand-Pontet 1998. An almost 10 year old wine, the tannins had definitely smoothed out over time, but still bold and assertive. After taking a sip of this, I said to C "meat is coming!!!" :)
Prime Beef Ribeye over Irish Oatmeal Risotto with Valedon Blue Dates. What did I tell you? Here's the meat :) You may remember that we don't eat beef. I do make an exception for set tasting menus, and remember all the food was a surprise. The beef was marinated in coffee with cardamom and cinnamon, and it was some of the best I've ever had. You didn't even need a knife to cut this (they gave us steak knives - uh huh, totally for show). Like butter. The dates were soft and sweet. All of this set off the wine beautifully.
And I do believe I forgot to take a picture of one of the wines :( I will describe it anyway.
Priorat Les Eres Joan Simo 2004. This was an extremely dark red wine served in a very large glass. If the previous wine was bold, this was a very in-your-face, tannic and very full bodied wine. I love these kinds of wines (sorry I forgot the photo).
Wild boar loin over jasmine rice, rutabega puree on top, with smoked huckleberry jus. The chef came out to present this dish (no not the famous chef/owner, but the executive chef), he was very friendly and we chatted for a bit about how we were enjoying the menu. I got the impression not too many people are adventurous to do this menu. But C and I love wine, and how different wines totally change character when paired with certain foods, and we talked about that a bit. (You could tell the sommelier was having fun with this as well.) Anyway, the texture of the boar was very similar to farmed pork (I'd not had boar before), with a bit of extra gamy flavor - which is NOT a bad thing in my book. I didn't like this quite as much as the beef, but that is more to pump up how good the beef was, rather than to diminish this dish. Was very good.
Allagash Curieux Tripel Ale. Wait a minute, what's an ale doing in a wine list? That was what I thought. But this sommelier definitely likes to push the envelope. This was fruity and not too hoppy, though I will admit I didn't manage to finish it.
Cheese course - one year Comte (on left) and 18-month Beaufort (center), brioche toast (right), hazelnut chicory mousse and raspberry gelee. These were both gruyere cheeses made with different methods and aged for different lengths of time. Both delicious. The Beaufort was particularly nice with the raspberry gelee, and the Comte was excellent with the candied hazelnuts (far left). I do love my cheese :) I am still not so sure about this with the ale, though.
Palette cleanser - red wine sorbet with watercress
Pahlmeyer Chardonnay Napa Valley 2005. Yay - not a dessert wine! This Chardonnay was not too oaky and was a very good finish - but by the time I had this, I was definitely feeling wine fatigue!
Popcorn sherbet with corn custard and a corn fritter with bourbon caramel sauce. I thought this had to be the weirdest dessert idea EVER. But it was delicious! Sort of reminiscent of buttered popcorn Jelly Bellys? Except C doesn't like those, and he still thought this was pretty good (the fritter was too heavy for him though). It went beautifully with the Chardonnay. Nice job!
And then they brought THIS! Aw. I forgot to photo before we blew out the candles. Very dense tiny little brownie. We were insanely full but yes, we ate it. :)
And THEN - they wheeled out this cart with all sorts of teeny tiny desserts...you could basically choose as many as you wanted, but I kept it to 3.
The top one is a little s'more cake, middle is a chocolate-dusted hazelnut, and bottom is a carrot cake macaroon. Then I found out they had boxes for you to take these home in if you are too full - so I went for that:
As if that wasn't enough - they gave us these on the way out:
Little pineapple upside-down cakes. Yummy. We ate these today.
Overall I was very impressed by TRU. I love going to these insane gourmet restaurants, but once I've experienced them, I am ready to move on to the next one and don't feel the need to go back. I would totally go back to this one.
So the downside of taking the train is that you are slave to its schedule. The outbound schedule to our area was 10:30 pm and 12:30 am. We finished the meal at 10:15 pm. Even with a cab we wouldn't have made it back to Union Station in time. So we decided to walk the whole way instead of taking the El. It was a beautiful night - I thought it would be chilly but it wasn't, and C led the way down Michigan Avenue and then Wacker Drive so we could walk along the river - he likes that walk because it's not the "concrete canyon" that much of downtown Chicago is - still tall buildings but things are a little more open. Things were so pretty that I decided I wanted to play tourist a little :)
River cruise boats at the Michigan and Wacker intersection
I thought this was a nice view - the building on the far right is the new Trump Tower.
Marina City condos (I think these are totally ugly, but they are a Chicago icon)
Sears Tower in the distance
It took us an hour to get to Union Station, and then we had over an hour to wait for the 12:30 train :( We finally got home around 2 am, which was the only bummer of the evening. (I normally go to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 pm - I was dying by the time I got to go to bed) But this was definitely a great date. I look forward to celebrating many many more anniversaries with C :)