Thursday, July 10, 2014

Moto Serves Perfection

by Connor White, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

Courses:Asparagus with Hollandaise: Poached asparagus wrapped in cured egg yolk and topped with lemon zest
Green Almond: Green almond with the shell on, heart of palm puree, cucumber
Grow Room: Buffalo tartare with house grown micro greens, lemon vinaigrette, crispy potato, olive oil
Buffalo Wings: Seared quail breast, celery confit, celery root puree, wing sauce.
Allium 3.0: Warm onion custard, pork belly, and various allium garnishes
Bitter Roots: Beet puree, beet marshmallow, coffee, Hudson Valley foie gras, brown sugar brioche crumble, roasted beets
Sus Scrofa: Braised wild boar shoulder, charred tomato sauce, mole powder, wild rice
Chili Cheese Dog: Raspberry sorbet “Hot Dog”, orange reduction “Cheese Sauce”, chocolate “Ground Beef”, on a sponge cake “Bun”
Chocolate Mousse- 42% chocolate mousse, lemon sorbet, dehydrated lemon, edible flowers 

I am currently doing my externship in Chicago. When I first arrived I was completely unaware of how much of a food hub Chicago is. I felt silly for not knowing. During my stay here, I’m making it a point to experience all of the food that Chicago has to offer. This past weekend I decided to get my start at MOTO in Chicago’s restaurant row, Fulton Market. Little did I know that I would be in for the meal of a lifetime.

Before going to MOTO, I decided that I should probably do my research. After a few clicks on Google, I had a much better understanding of the restaurant. MOTO is a one Michelin Star- rated molecular gastronomy restaurant. In fact, it is on the same block as two of Grant Achatz’s establishments, Aviary and Next. MOTO’s executive chef is Chef Richie Farina, a Johnson and Wales graduate who competed on season nine of the Bravo Television series, Top Chef. With a big reputation to live up to, I couldn’t wait to experience MOTO for myself.

I made my reservation for one on a Tuesday night. MOTO offers a Chef’s “Lab” Table experience, an eight course menu which featured both MOTO’s current dishes as well as some of their past favorites. When I made my reservation, I asked about their non-alcoholic pairings. Being only 19, wine wasn’t an option for me. I think it is still important to include beverage pairings to have a complete meal. These “Mocktails” would give me an idea of what MOTO was capable of creating. I ordered the pairing and my server informed me that he would be crafting these custom cocktails himself to accompany my meal. I could tell that a non-alcoholic pairing wasn’t a usual request but they went out of their way to make it happen for me.

As I waited for my meal to begin, I became captivated by the ambience of the dining room. Playing into the lab theme, the restaurant was equipped with the periodic table of elements that illuminated the wall. Chemistry sets and beakers lined the room. Surely I would be in for more than a meal. I was there for a show.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see Chef Farina serving the plates to the guests himself. Never before had I seen the Chef so much throughout my meal. He walked out my first course, greeted me, and I informed him that I was a CIA student. I was there to study as much as I was there for a meal. He encouraged me to take pictures and truly made me feel welcome. With each course he explained the concept of the dish, where certain ingredients were sourced from, and even how certain components were prepared. He was talking about food with me as if to hold my hand throughout the experience. Quickly, I was taken under MOTO’s wing.

Each course brought its own whimsy and personality. Every time I tasted a new course, I immediately deemed it my favorite. Partway through my meal I started comparing MOTO to the best meals I’ve eaten. Surely this was comparable. When the “Buffalo Wing” course was served to the table next to me, the server stated, “We’re trying to make celery taste more like celery than celery itself.” When I received the “Bitter Roots” course, that same waiter said to me, “we figured you would appreciate the Hudson Valley foie gras.” Finally the “Chili Cheese Dog” was served and I stopped comparing my meal. They had managed to turn a common hot dog into a masterfully conceptualized dessert. The dish was hysterical. It was a dessert that looked identical to a hot dog. I was instructed to pick it up and eat it just as you would any other hot dog. It had me laughing through the last bite. When the server came to clear my plate, she asked how it was. I was completely speechless. Dumbfounded, really. I realized in that moment that MOTO was the best meal that I had ever eaten. That realization gave me chills. She laughed and informed me that Chef Farina wanted me to join him in the kitchen for my final course.

Before heading into the kitchen, my check arrived. I knew that the menu was $125 plus the cost of the drinks. To me, I think it is incredibly important for us culinary students to dine out like this. It’s an investment toward your education, toward your career for that matter. I noticed that the drinks weren’t written on the check, so I told my server. He informed me that they were, in fact, on the house. I was flattered. The service at MOTO was spectacular. Everyone was so welcoming and genuine. It was fine dining without being pretentious. I was awestruck.

As I walked in to the kitchen I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly calm it seemed. The staff warmly welcomed me as one of them. Just then Chef Farina told me that he wanted to demo the dessert for me. I was thrilled! Chocolate mousse was placed into the bowl. It was then topped with dehydrated lemon crisps and edible flowers. Chef then prepared lemon sorbet for me using liquid nitrogen. He explained how the instant freezing technique was one that they used for all of their sorbets because of the incredible consistency that it creates. While enjoying her dish, I met MOTO’s Executive Pastry Chef Claire Crenshaw, a 2007 CIA graduate. She explained to me their unique system of calling orders. Instead of a traditional ticket system, MOTO uses a large television screen that shows each table, any specifications, and their current status. The tables were color coded based on the timing of their meals progression. This visual system made for a much more organized kitchen flow. The kitchen staff seemed thrilled to be fueling my education. Everyone really made me feel that they were happy to have me join them.

I thanked the entire staff once again and made my way out. I could have stayed there forever. The entire walk home I was smiling from ear-to-ear with a million thoughts racing through my mind. I was in utter culinary bliss. MOTO served food that was both flavorful and conceptual. It was cutting edge, yet familiar. Chefs Farina and Crenshaw, along with the entire staff, were cranking out food with such personality. The service was exceptional, the food was sublime, and the meal was perfect. Quite simply, MOTO was the best dining experience of my life. 

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