Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
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United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Have you had Doughnut Soup?: 18 Unique Courses at Moto

Win recently had a birthday and I wanted to take him somewhere really unique and special to celebrate. I’ve had my eye on Moto for a while and Win’s birthday seemed like the perfect time to make a reservation. Moto features truly amazing and innovative food; read on even if you’re not from Chicago because the dishes prepared at Moto are one-of-a-kind. Part chemistry, part technology, and seemingly part magic, I can see why Moto has received so many accolades from the national press.

Every step of our interaction with Moto’s staff was seamless. Moto’s web site enables you to make reservations online, a feature I loved as I sat at the computer late one night reserving our table. Someone from Moto called the next day to confirm the reservation and we were all set. When I booked the reservation, I typed in that I was looking forward to trying Moto and celebrating my husband’s birthday there.

Moto scores major points for attention to detail. Although I simply mentioned the birthday in my reservation form and never spoke of it again to anyone at Moto, they noted it. When we were seated in the warm, minimalist dining room, we were immediately greeted by a waiter bearing complimentary champagne and Win was wished a happy birthday. We also received a special menu that had been decorated with fresh leaves, inscribed with “Happy Birthday” and laminated as a keepsake. This was a really high-touch way to begin our meal and it set things off to a great start.

Moto’s food is Asian-influenced and avant-garde to say the least. Chef Homaro Cantu has been compared to Willy Wonka for his culinary innovation and ability to delight and surprise the senses. Moto offers diners a choice of 3 progression menus: a five course, a 10 course, or the Grand Tour Moto which features 18 courses and the most complete view of the range of Cantu’s cooking styles. Any guesses which one we had?

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all you probably could guess that we went with the Grand Tour Moto. We also opted to get the accompanying wine progression. Moto has received so many accolades and the menu was so intriguing that we decided we wanted to experience as much of it as we could. So without further ado, a recap of our meal:

The first dish we received was the amuse bouche. It was merely a spoon’s worth of food and our server told us it was Moto’s take on the Caesar Salad. The spoon included a parmesan flavored crouton and some romaine ice cream. I know it’s hard to believe but when you tasted the contents of that spoon, it tasted just like eating a (very cold) Caesar salad. And besides being totally unique, it was delicious.

The next course was called Maki in the 4th Dimension. One of the things Chef Cantu is known for is using edible ink and edible paper in his dishes. The New York Times, commenting on Cantu’s technological innovation with edible inks and papers, has said that Moto is “where the sous-chef is an inkjet.” This course was a very high quality sushi roll, wrapped in edible paper that was printed with pictures of sushi rolls. The top, bottom and sides of the roll were wrapped with this amazing, edible paper and it made for a beautiful dish. The roll was outstanding.

Another signature technique of Chef Cantu is using carbonation in unexpected ways. Take our next course, called simply Champagne and King Crab, for example. This beautifully presented dish was a simple glass filled with carbonated grapes, crab, caviar, and a somewhat rich sauce. The carbonated grapes had been filled with air and as such they now had a fizzy quality to them which struck such a great tone with the other flavors in the glass. Delicious and intriguing. Even more interesting was the déjà vu moment provided along with this dish. In addition to the main dish, each diner also received a colored piece of paper that he was to place on his tongue after eating the contents of the glass. You can see the paper in the photo above; it’s bluish purple and sticking out of the glass. The paper was supposed to embody all the flavors of what was in the glass and create sort of a déjà vu culinary moment, reflecting back on what you just ate. As skeptical as I was that this would work, I must say the edible paper tasted just like the dish before it, although it lacked the joy provided by the carbonated grapes.

The next course was referred to as Onion…Crouton…Nitrogenation on the menu. It was a delicious bowl of onion soup, served with a flavorful crouton and liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen created a smoky effect, making something hot appear cold…almost as if it was sitting in dry ice. The soup was exceptional and the smoke pouring off everyone’s bowls was sort of how I’d envision dinner at The Munsters’ looking.

The next course was probably my favorite of the evening. The menu simply calls it Lobster and Orange. It was buttered lobster served with a carbonated orange. As done earlier with the grapes, this orange had been pumped full of air. The carbonation inside the fresh orange gave it a fresh orange soda-like quality. The chef suggested that it be squeezed over the lobster. This was unbelievably good. The lobster was so buttery and fresh and the tangy, bubbly orange juice atop it was pure magic. If you go to Moto and are selecting between progression menus, I highly recommend picking a menu that includes this lobster and orange combination.

I must tell you that at this point, I was actually getting quite full. All of the courses were so delicious and even though some were small, the sheer number of courses was starting to add up. But we had 14 more to look forward to, so we plunged onward.

The servers at Moto created some suspense around the next course. Early in the meal, they brought us each a frozen ball in a dish and told us to just let it sit there and melt. This nameless ice ball would be used later in the meal. So, intrigued, we followed orders. As the meal went on, our ice ball melted and at course five we saw its purpose. This dish was Foie Gras with Vouvray, Pink Peppercorn and Apricot. The ice ball melted into a sort of soup, dotted with pink peppercorns and apricots. Foie Gras was served on top. Very, very good accompanied by the sweet and spicy combination of apricot and peppercorns.

Next up was a bit of an intermezzo. Called Artichoke and Macadamia, it was a spoonful of artichoke ice cream and a toasted macadamia nut with 100 year old balsamic. I love artichokes and macadamia nuts, but oddly enough I didn’t care for this. The balsamic was really powerful and I didn’t think the flavor combination “sang” here.

The next dish was billed on the menu as Sweet Potato Pie with Savoy Cabbage and Squab. The links you see in the back of the photo are a handcut sweet potato chain. Also featured on the plate is Moto’s Escher box of sweet potato. These were delicious and so carefully crafted you just had to marvel at them. The squab had beautiful flavor, as did the cabbage.

If you refer back to the photo of the Artichoke and Macadamia dish, you’ll notice a brown box in the background. That box contained bass and it had been placed on our table to cook the dish called Bass Prepared Tableside with Wakame. The bass was slow cooked while we enjoyed the preceding courses. When it was ready to be served, it was accompanied by a lovely sauce that complemented it well. Outstanding.

Pork Belly with a Red Wine and Beet Puree Applied Your Way was next. This dish came with a syringe-like applicator full of the puree. Our server instructed us to squeeze it over the pork belly for best results. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the pork belly because I’m simply not the world’s biggest pork fan in general. Win loved it though. Looking at the photo above, you’ll also notice some beige dots on the left-hand side of the plate. This was Kentucky Fried Ice Cream, small balls of ice cream flavored exactly like Kentucky Fried Chicken. The accuracy of the taste of this ice cream was amazing, as it did taste just like it was supposed to. That said, it was rather bizarre and not a real palate pleaser. So the ice cream got points for originality, accuracy and technique, but it was definitely something for which you needed to acquire a taste.

Next was another intermezzo. This time it was dubbed Margarita with Chips and Salsa. We were served two spoons. One had tequila flavored ice cream and the other had a cube of jelly and some puree, the combination of which mimicked the flavors of chips and salsa. It was a fun and original pairing. I liked it; Win didn’t like it as much.

Up next was Lamb Loin with Braised Pizza, Garlic and Braised Kobe Beef. This dish was served with spiral handled utensils studded with garlic at the ends. According to our server, these utensils are Chef Cantu’s own design and they allow the scent of garlic to waft up from the bottom of the utensil as you eat, enhancing the experience of the dish. As silly as this sounds, you really could smell the garlic as you ate and it probably did add something to the experience.

For the next course, Chef Cantu showed off his use of edible inks and papers once again. It was a cheese course dubbed Edible Literature of Explorateur with 100-Year Old Balsamico. As you can see from the photo, we were served two kinds of cheeses, each topped with a piece of paper telling about the cheese. Very interesting and informative presentation. While I have never met a piece of cheese I didn’t like, I must say that I didn’t care for these cheeses. Paired with the stewed cherries they came with, they were pretty good, but I didn’t care for them alone. Win didn’t really like them either. Very strong, almost bitter and just not pleasant to us. I know there are people out there who would love that cheese, but we are not those people. So I’d say that this course had great presentation and technological innovation, but these particular cheeses just missed the mark for me.

Next up was a dish called Green Curry, Hearts of Palm and Salted Sugar. When presented, the dish featured candied hearts of palm and curry-flavored ice cream balls made using liquid nitrogen. Neither Win nor I liked this dish. The hearts of palm were odd and the green curry ice cream was off-putting. We just didn’t find the flavors pleasant and didn’t eat more than a bite of this one. We joked with one of our servers about this dish not being our favorite and she was surprised that we didn’t like the “sweet taste of the curry.” We actually didn’t find it sweet at all, so there was obviously a disconnect for us with this dish.

But things were soon on the upswing again with the advent of Oatmeal Stout with Venezuelan Chocolate. This will sound disgusting, but you’ll have to trust me that it was actually quite good. This dish, officially heralding the start of the dessert portion of our meal, was like sweet oatmeal cooked in beer and with chocolate. I really don’t know how else to describe it beyond saying that it was very unique, with complex flavors, and a full, stout beer taste.

Squash Ice Cream Pellets was our next course. The chef once again used the liquid nitrogen technique to create these. They had a pleasant squash flavor and that was interesting to taste in an ice cold format. Win didn’t love these but I thought they were good.

Now, for the most delicious dessert you might ever have. We were presented with a cup of Doughnut Soup. Oh my goodness, doughnut soup. All night we had been seeing people receive these little white cups, take a sip, and immediately smile and start gushing over how good it was. So needless to say, we were very excited to get our own to try. Moto’s Doughnut Soup is amazing. It is a warm, rich drink that tastes exactly like a doughnut…probably most like a Krispy Kreme if I had to label it. It’s made using pastry cream and other ingredients that mimic a doughnut’s taste. This dessert was so unique, so decadent and so satisfying, we could have ended the whole meal right there.

But this is Moto and we ordered the Grand Tour Moto so we still had several dishes to come. French Toast with Hot Blueberry Syrup was next. This was a nice one. When it arrived at the table, there were a few pieces of a French Toast-like bread/cake surrounding a dark blue bubble of some sort. When you popped the bubble with your fork, a delicious warm blueberry sauce spilled out. Delicious and interesting way of serving the sauce.

Our final “official” course was referred to on the menu as Chocolate Cake with Hot Ice Cream. It was an interesting sampler of desserts that might seem a bit more conventional by Moto’s standards. Very tasty all around, but by this time I was extremely full.

Although our meal was officially done with the Chocolate Cake, our server brought an additional course to conclude the meal. This one was great in both creativity, technique and taste. It was popcorn-flavored “Styrofoam” with a caramel dipping sauce. The food was meant to look just like Styrofoam packing material but it tasted exactly like rich, buttered popcorn. Unique texture and excellent taste. While the caramel sauce was quite good, I actually liked the popcorn Styrofoam even better on its own because its flavor was so unusual and outstanding.

As I mentioned earlier in this entry, our meal was accompanied by the Wine Progression for the Grand Tour Moto menu. Matthew Gundlach, Moto’s wine director and sommelier, has put together an interesting, challenging and delicious wine progression here and he very helpfully described each wine for us throughout the meal. He was a pleasure to have visit our table, as he knows his stuff and is very down-to-Earth and witty.

Here are the wines we enjoyed throughout the evening:
1999 Henri Mandois “Premier Cru,” Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France
2004 Pheasant Grove, Riesling, Canterbury, New Zealand
1999 Jacques Puffeney “Cuvee Sacha” Arbois, Jura, France
2004 Echeverria “Unwooded,” Chardonnay, Molina, Maule, Chile
2002 Yves Breussin, Vouvray Reserve, Loire Valley, France
2001 Nittnaus, Sauvignon Blanc Beerenauslese, Neusiedlersee, Burdenland, Austria
2003 Valckenberg, Gewurtztraminer, Pfalz, Germany
2003 J. Palacios, Petalos del Bierzo, Galecia, Spain
2002 Torii Mor, “Deuxs Verres,” Pinot Noir, Wilamette Valley, Oregon, USA
2000 Midnight “Starlight Reba” Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley, California, USA
2004 Bruno Verdi, Sangue di Giuda “Paradiso,” Lombardy, Italy
2004 Elio Perrone “Sourgal,” Moscato d’Asti. Piedmont, Italy
2002 Jackson-Triggs, Riesling Icewine, Niagara, Ontario, Canada

As you can see, this list is quite varied in the types of wine served and the geographies from which the wines hail. Several years ago, we spent some time in Ontario wine country, so it was fun to see a Riesling Icewine from that region on the menu. The wine that I found the most unique was the Sangue di Giuda, or Blood of Judas. This was a strong, bubbly red. I’ve never had an effervescent red before so that was a very interesting glass to try.

In case you’re wondering, Moto was very generous with their pours. At the start of the meal, we were told each wine would be poured to about ¼ of a glass. In reality, I think Moto was more generous than that and we probably had about 1/3 of a glass of wine with each step in the progression.

So taking a tally, that would mean that the Grand Tour Moto resulted in 20 food courses, a 13-step wine progression, and of course that complimentary glass of champagne to wish Win a happy birthday. This meal took close to five hours and we were the last customers to leave at 1:00am. Moto graciously arranges for cabs to be waiting for those customers who need them, so despite the late hour an easy exit was available.

We loved Moto and left full and thrilled with the whole experience. My one small concern when I chose it for Win’s birthday was that perhaps it would be too gimmicky and focus more on the special effects stuff and less on creating delicious, substantive dishes. Fortunately, that little concern was proven totally wrong. Moto’s cuisine is such a unique combination of culinary expertise, artistic ability, chemistry, and technological innovation. The food is delicious, visually appealing, and every course challenges your senses and gives you something new to think about and experience. As I mentioned, there were some courses we adored and some we didn’t care for, but every one was new, interesting and worth trying. Moto’s staff is polished, informed and helpful. What I liked best about them though was how friendly and casual they could also be. Perfect, gracious service without any phony airs.

Moto is pricey, but it is absolutely worth experiencing. The whole dining experience is completely unique and the food is exceptional.

945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
Telephone: 312-491-0058
Web Site:
Note: Moto’s online reservation system is excellent and convenient

Next time At Our Table: Easy and Delicious Tea Cookies

Note: The first photo in this post, showing the interior of Moto, comes from the Moto web site and is property of Moto. All other photos in this post were taken by us.