Dec. 30th, 2010

Tru: The Art of Progressive French Dining

Chicago Restaurants: Dining at TRU has been a dream of mine for some time. Being the devout foodie I am, I was so excited to get the opportunity to dine at one of the Windy City's most acclaimed restaurants.

Upon entering the very chic lobby, a delightfully perky, but not overly perky, hostess greeted us by name and escorted us to our table. As we walked to the table, I became more and more excited as the adventure was truly beginning. Passing the lounge, which was lit well enough to carry on an after-business hours' conversation over a glass of wine or cocktail, one could not help but notice the astonishing artwork throughout the space. Modern classics adorn the space throughout the entire building. The main dining room features many coveted pieces and while they are precisely centered in the diner's view, they do not detract or distract but instead enhance the overall dining experience, complementing the true purpose of the restaurant: the food.

A playfully whimsical, yet acutely sophisticated and refined cuisine has made TRU a Chicago landmark. As a great fine dining establishment, TRU has left its signature on progressive French gastronomy providing an inventive, fanciful touch to all its dishes. Classic in flavor and techniques, the cuisine blends these ideas with witty, original and oh so amusing elements into each artful presentation. No wonder that TRU's signature dish is the caviar staircase, an exquisitely presented glass staircase with classic caviar accouterments. Playful, entertaining and fun are reoccurring themes at TRU, often forgotten in the rigidity of fine dining.

For our visit to TRU, we were presented with the Chef's Collection: an eight-course tasting menu highlighting the Chef's talents, creativity and exceptional ingredients. In addition to the Chef's Collection, TRU offers several different menu formats: A prix fixe three-course, which can also be ordered a la carte; the lounge menu consisting of a combination of the Chef's Collection and other menus available a la carte as well; a six-course Grand Collection; and a selection of Luxury items, where patrons can add a whole roasted foie gras, waygu beef or the signature caviar staircase to the menu of their choice.

Dinner began with an aperitif. This was by far the best aperitif I have ever had. The sommelier explained that it is gently rolled over ice between two glasses, because fully shaking it damages the drink. What really made this drink special was the sprig of fresh thyme lining the glass. There was no thyme in the drink itself as that would overpower, but when bringing the glass to your nose the thyme aroma gently flavored the aperitif instead. It was unbelievably pleasant and an excellent precursor for the ingenuity and good-humor with which the TRU staff approaches food.

The first course of the evening arrived and immediately became a contender for our favorite dish in Chicago: White Sturgeon "Caviar," avocado, hazelnut. The sturgeon "caviar" were little white sturgeon flavored pearls made by infusing milk with sturgeon then the base liquid turned into pearls with a gelling process, most likely a form of spherification. The sturgeon "caviar" rested upon a layer of avocado puree, which was lightly spiced and had just a touch of heat. It was one of the best avocado purees I've ever had, keeping the glorious rich texture of avocado that is often lost when avocado is pureed. It was presented in a custom caviar tin, monogrammed with the TRU logo and labeled "private stock." A mother-of-pearl spoon really added a touch of elegance to the presentation, carrying on the caviar theme. A remarkable dish all around.

Second came Linear Foie Gras, Blackberry Ice Wine Vinegar, Caramelized Popcorn. Another standout of the night, this was one of the best foie gras dishes I have ever had. Foie gras, in spite of some controversy, is one of my favorite foods. This was a cold terrine style presentation, which in recent years I have come to favor over the more common seared presentations. None of that livery aftertaste was present here. The caramelized popcorn (possibly an homage to the Wind City specialty) added that classic sweet pairing to the rich foie gras while the blackberry ice wine vinegar cut the fattiness of the liver and provided balance to the dish. The unique accoutrements blended the traditional flavor profiles with a modern interpretation.

Up next was an Heirloom Tomato Salad, White Tomato Mousse. This acted almost as a palette cleanser with the fresh acidic flavors of tomato. Poured tableside, a chilled tomato coulis finished the presentation. A little chiffonade of basil added another level of brightness to the dish. After the richness of the foie gras this intermezzo was wonderfully timed.

Braised Duroc Pork Belly, Illuminated vegetables was the fourth course. A rich pork broth was poured tableside to finish off the dish. It also helped keep the pork hot throughout the time it took to consume it. Julienned root vegetable and crispy potato strings accented the dish. But that pork broth was something out of this world. It really tied the whole dish together. It elevated the taste of the pork belly and emphasized how well the vegetables rounded out the pork.

The procession continued with Farm Ricotta & Corn Agnolotti, Burgundy Truffle Consommé. A very rich beef broth was served tableside over the agnolotti. Tableside presentations are something I never tire of and always seem to bring a sense of drama and importance to the dish. Beautiful handmade pasta filled with farm fresh ricotta, corn and freshly shaved burgundy truffles was absolutely superb.

The fish course for the evening was Alaskan Halibut, Young Carrot with Ginger. This was a perfectly cooked piece of fish with a reduction of carrot and ginger that was done so slowly that the carrot sugars began to caramelize, creating a deep intense color. The perfectly glazed baby carrots and brightly colored carrot foam rounded out the dish.

The final savory course was Glazed Veal Ribeye, Green Garlic, Asparagus, Wild Mushroom. The veal was a perfectly cooked medium rare. The flavor of garlic was pronounced within all the elements of the dish but was not at all overpowering. This was a strong finish to an undoubtedly fabulous meal.

A Cheese course and pre-dessert of strawberry foam with the taste of a late summer sweet, farm-fresh strawberry with just a touch of cream broke the barrier into the sweet side.

Dessert consisted of baked peach slices with brown sugar streusel, vanilla bean ice cream and peach syrup. The ice cream was so creamy and rich, who would have thought plain old vanilla ice cream could be that good. More remarkable than the flavor was the color: like freshly fallen snow, flawlessly white and clear.

Our dinner ended with a selection of mignardises. A lemon curd in a bittersweet chocolate cup and mango marshmallow were my choices. The tangy rich lemon with a very, very good chocolate was the perfect ending. And the mango marshmallow was so cute and fluffy I felt bad eating it. Just when we thought it was all over the waiter brought a liquid bittersweet bonbon with a chamomile tea center. It burst in our mouth with a rich explosion of tea flavor leaving the fabulous chocolate to melt as the last taste of the night. What better why to end a meal than with chocolate?

From amuse bouche to petit four, TRU was flawless. The service was perfect leaving nothing to want. Despite the formal setting it was remarkably cozy and welcoming. The dining room even offers a tiny stool for ladies to rest their purses on, so there is no awkward fumbling — an excellent touch for any woman who has struggled with placing their evening clutch. The kitchen is in great hands with newly appointed executive chef/partner Anthony Martin, as he so masterfully proved during our dinner. TRU is definitely a must visit for any food lover in the Windy City — it' s no wonder that they were awarded a Michelin star shortly after our visit.

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