Monday, January 15, 2007

Moto: Not only Post-Modern Dining but Old Friend Service

The most remarkable part of our dining experience at the ultra-hip leader of the avant-garde in cooking, Moto, in Chicago, was something quite traditional: impeccable service.

Chef Homaro Cantu is known for being a leader in what he calls "post-modern" cooking. (R- commented that it would give Top Chef contestant, foam and gelee loving Marcel, a ....-on). He goes well beyond the foams that are almost becoming de rigeur nowadays.

Though to be fair, nothing was quite as off the wall as some of the inventive designs from protege Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 in New York (an experience that included a squeeze tube of yogurt that transformed into noodles when squeezed into piping hot chocolate broth, and a vertical medallion of foie gras, that erupted with its sauce, when sliced down the middle, its two circular halfs forming a geometric flower, in the edible pea soil.)

What Chef Homaro Cantu achieves though is that the flavors were on par with the best we have had. (At least until the desserts, which are clearly not Moto's forte, and it certainly wasn't helped that the desserts only came after 14 previous courses.) Twelve glass wine pairing (designed to highlight the range of wine to echo the extremes of the food), with the 20 course Grand Tour of Moto "GTM" were quite overwhelming, starting with the steaming copper kettle filled with boiling liquid nitrogen and sesame oil, and a rabbit course splattered pollack with a thick impasto of brown sauce on a vertical canvas, augmented with metal silverware wrapped around rosemary for its aroma notes. There was cotton candy 2d and 3d, including cotton candy printout of a cartoon of cotton candy. Grilled fish, grilled by a liquid nitrogen dipped metal grille. Goat cheese snow, mixed with shaved goat cheese. One of the most exciting was the menu, freshly printed on a piece of sesame sun-dried tomato flatbread, personalized so that the menu ended with the line "Moto welcomes Benjamin Ho." The experience of seeing a yummy crunchy printed Ariel printed menu with bite marks set the tone perfectly. One of the desserts that worked with the carrot planet, that they brought out 3 courses before it was due, a perfectly smooth globe of carrot mousse, that slowly melted and mutated before our eyes while our other courses came by. A couple dishes featured carbonated orange (more curious than good) and the chicken-fried truffle mac and cheese was over-salted. But all in all delightful.

But what still impressed me in particular was the service, with none of the stuffiness that often come with meals of that price, none of the stuffy snob factor. Of course you don't have to go post-modern for such service. One of the things I liked about more traditional Jean-George (one of New York's 3, Michelin 3-star restaurants) was that I never felt looked down upon. The customer was always made to feel comfortable. However, I did feel out of place at Jean-Georges where the average age of the clientèle felt like it was probably nearly twice mine. Whereas at Moto, the youngish staff, who are all aspiring chefs that rotate through the front of the house and back, all acted as felt as if they would fit in perfectly amongst my friends. Whether that was really the case, or just a well-honed act, doesn't really matter.

They were great about explaining carefully explaining the wines in a way readily accessible. They also cheerfully brought us down to see the magic in the kitchen (a nice complement to the perfectly designed food experience) where we wore laser goggles and watched them laze orange-starch into a gas captured in a wine glass to infuse our wine.

As the nice quote from the nytimes, Apple and Whole Foods have effectively redesigned their shopping experience. Moto is doing the same for haute cuisine.
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