945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
Ph: (312) 491-0058
It’s been 4 months since Swan (click for review- it’s on the very bottom) and I, along with several of our friends, went to Chicago and tried this innovative restaurant. Why is it innovative? It isn’t just about executing the latest trend to perfection, but rather creating the very next trend 6 months before anyone else even stumbles across the idea. Savory foams? So last year. The standout for our meal was definitely carbonated fruit, which I expect to see in restaurants in NYC shortly. Hopefully, sooner than later, as I’ve been obsessing over attempting to recreate the fizzy fruit myself. (A nice sous chef explained to me the secrets during our laser presentation.)
For a more recent review on Moto, click here.
Upon being seated, our very knowledgeable waiter came by and told us that our menus were presently being cooked. We exchanged amused glances, but he assured us they would be out soon.
He wasn’t joking. When he brought us the menu, he emphasized that we should choose before eating it, or… else. Little did he know that we wisely took pictures of it beforehand, so 4 months later when I did my review I’d still remember the official names of each dish
The menu consisted of edible paper which was completely cool, adhered somehow to a thin crisp that tasted vaguely Indian-food-like. It was placed over a warm salad of beans that, when eaten together, was yummy and soothing. The green liquid, which our waiter had failed to explain to us (but I assure you, he did not fail to explain any other dish and explained them each very thoroughly), was a palate cleanser (according to Augie), though we weren’t sure what to make of it at first and I attempted to dip my crisp in it. It was cucumbery yet slightly sour. An interesting start/amuse bouche, to say the least. (In the third picture, on the bottom of the menu, it says “moto welcomes swan chen“, my friend who had made the reservations, which we thought was totally cool.)
We chose to go with the ten course tasting menu, which a close up of which is the second picture.
Our first course, a Vietnamese tom yum gong soup with nitrogen flash frozen eggs, was served first with a bowl of the hot broth, while the eggs were poured in as we watched. The eggs dissolved as we watched, so for the two photographers, we missed out on eating the frozen eggs. I’d never had this soup anywhere else (though it is available), so I couldn’t compare except to say that it was sweet & sour at the same time, with micro greens sprinkled throughout. Tasty, and the presentation wowed me, but the dish was still only so-so.
The next dish, scallop tempura with carbonated fruit, was a big disappointment for me. My main complaint about tempura/breaded & fried foods is that the breading tends to be on the thick side. I found this to be no exception; plus this wasn’t even tempura coated but simply breaded. The scallop itself was tender (I wound up, to my own disgust and embarassment at my poor table manners, picking off most of the breading and leaving a big pile/clump of it on the side of my plate), though lacked any defining flavor. The real star of the dish was the carbonated grapefruit (I’m no fan of grapefruit, but it was tingly!) and pineapple. Apparently, citrus fruits in particular absorb the carbonation process very well and taste wonderfully tingly and delicious carbonated. (The sous chef also told me that grapes do very well, and because of the skin, retain the carbonation for longer than most other fruits where the carbonation dissipates through the fruit’s meat. Champagne grapes, he called them; can I tell you how much I drool thinking about if I could only duplicate the process???)
Dish #3, as you can see, is completely offensive and revolting to look at. Calamari with yuzu and nori is what the menu says; my notes say squid dyed with beet juice and squid ink. My memory tells me… Ok, I won’t say it.
Most people at this point would have turned their nose and said NO, but we’re not FC for no reason. We’re adventurous! plus we’d paid for this meal, and I wasn’t about to just not try something because it looks disgusting. I’m Asian[-American]. I’ve eaten disgusting-looking things before that wound up tasting delicious.
This wasn’t one of those things, unfortunately. On each side was a piece of squid, dyed with the beet juice on one side and with squid ink on the other side, with an alternating colored yuzu foam to complement, and a dyed crouton-esque piece center. The waiter instructed us this dish was to teach us how to appreciate beyond just appearances; I am just too damn superficial. He suggested closing our eyes and tasting the various components to really get a sense of the flavors the comprised the dish.
One girl tried this and said it wasn’t as bad with your eyes closed. The rest of us left our eyes open and thoroughly did not like this dish. The taste just wasn’t appealing (I don’t like beets normally, but when they look like turds, even worse) and the squid ink was so much as to stain our teeth and lips, which further turned us off this dish. It was interesting, I’ll agree, however not something I ever want to see or try again.
Our fourth course was a palate cleanser- dippin’ dots? Pretty much, but you won’t find artichoke with balsamic dippin’ dots coming to a stand nearby anytime soon. The ice cream was lightly flavored and refreshing; underneath was a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar (which, when heated, is supposed to sweeten up immensely but in the end, still tastes like balsamic vinegar). The colored thing that looks like half of a macadamia nut poking out there… I WISH I REMEMBERED what it was, because I recall liking it and it having a nice texture contrast with the ice cream. (This is why I have to do reviews sooner than later. Any FC girl reading this and remembers, please tell me what it is!! Thanks.) I liked the ingenuity of this, but I felt that the balsamic vinegar flavor overpowered the lightness of the artichoke ice cream.
Surf & turf with MC Escher was definitely one of the favorites of the night. On the bottom right was a duck confit with a blood orange sauce, so tender and delicious, the meat melted in your mouth. But that wasn’t the impressive, super cool science part of it. The middle was a piece of fish sprinkled with powdered fat. It was clearly a dry powder but as soon as it hit your mouth, it melted into a soft liquid fat, fully flavored with duck. Why? Because it was the fat from the duck confit, powdered. So delicious. It really made the whole dish. The mushrooms were good too but nothing could compare to the powdered fat.
On the left was a piece of edible paper (of course) that, if you chewed on, tasted like sea salt. You were to lift the metal ball and the piece of paper would drop gracefully into the sauce. The paper itself was fairly tough; I ripped it, much like a piece of regular paper, and placed it in my mouth to melt. I wasn’t a fan of the paper but I enjoyed the artistic reference.
While we were waiting for our next course, they led us upstairs to watch a sous chef take a vanilla bean and, using a laser, smoke its aroma into wine glasses that he upended. (He was the one who told me the secrets of carbonating fruit.) Later, they poured a young wine into our glasses, and the vanilla smoke re-introduced oak into the flavor of the wine and mellowed it, taking the young edge off. It was impressive to use science to improve a young wine (is it cost efficient? Much like taking a Brita and filtering cheap vodka 6 times… it is not, for home purposes, a viable means of improving your alcohol. *Mythbusters reference- they busted this myth.)
The next dish was another favorite of the night; beef with cabbage was actually triple seared rib eye over mustard seared cabbage, on top of… this is the real kicker… kielbasa puree. It sounds disgusting but actually it made for a rich, thick and hearty sauce with a slight heat to it. I was ready to lick my plate clean but I thought I should maintain some of my dignity. The kielbasa puree was actually delicious mixed with the cabbage, and the beef was super tender and flavorful. Delicious.
Christmas in April (or, according to the menu, explorateur & pistachio) was a butter fried cookie in the shape of a Christmas tree, a raspberry sauce, and a lightly salty, lightly sweet creamy cheese of a sort, with a dropper of mint on the side and a spoon with lime peels threaded through the handle. Aesthetically pleasing, overall it was a hard dish to eat. Half of the girls don’t like cheese, I’m allergic to raspberry (NOT deathly, I did try some of it), and at least one of us hates mint I wasn’t sure how the lime peel was meant to complement anything since, in my experience, citrus and dairy do not mix well. Overall, I think I ate the most of this dish but out of boredom. The mint dropper fully cleansed my palate afterwards, which was pretty cool.
For the sweet courses, I think this was my favorite. Cotton candy two ways or cotton candy truffle was a white chocolate shell surrounding a liquid center that tasted exactly like cotton candy as it burst inside your mouth. The paper, of course it was edible and tasted just like cotton candy! We were mostly tired of edible paper at this point, but I enjoyed the truffle immensely and speculated on how they made it. I want another one.
Parsnip & feijoa (not Cantonese for ‘got fatter’, rather ‘fay-wah’) was an interesting dessert that I don’t remember. I would guess that it was not that memorable nor delicious, nor horrible tasting. From my friend’s review: “Feijoa is a S. American fruit like guava. Once again, they flash froze it and put it on top of a parsnip puree. It was interesting but not great.”
For our tenth and final course, we had Starbucks with chocolate. You read that right. Starbucks… Homaru Cantu-style. The little cubes of jello-looking items are whipped cream jello; a few girls said that if you let it melt on your tongue, it tasted just like whipped cream. I couldn’t taste it. The coffee ice cream was good, though melted too quickly for my taste. The fake-cannoli dead center was only okay; the peanuts were not memorable to me at all. I was happy the meal was over; I’d eaten some things that were delicious and that I wished more restaurants would make, and eaten some things I hoped to never eat again. I was full.
The texture was exactly like how you’d think it might be, chewing on it. They were hard to chew through, but okay as a snack, we just munched on those while they prepared our check. The taste was lightly sweet (not like the real thing). I am slightly of the opinion that they tricked us and just sprayed real packing peanuts with a sugar mixture to give it a flavor, to see if we’d eat it.
Overall, this place was interesting and a worthy experience. I did not feel ripped off for paying $135 (incl. tax & tip), for the things I got to try, to discover and most importantly, to learn. However, some dishes I felt were focused more on the presentation of science or the science itself and fell severely short in terms of taste or aesthetics (most importantly, taste). I think Cantu could do so much more and better with time, to serve a complete tasting menu that wows all of the senses with the taste, the presentation, and the science behind each dish.
Yvo says: If you are adventurous and want to try everything before it is anything, it is definitely worth it for you. If you’re just whatever, or are not adventurous, this place is not your thing. I strongly recommend it for anyone who’s adventurous and doesn’t mind paying a lot for food. Definitely an excellent experience with great service (with thorough explanations of each dish), though the location was shady (in the middle of the meat packing district). We waited inside for a cab that we had to call because it’s literally in an industrial area that was scary to exit after dark.
**Some pictures courtesy of C; I can’t tell which because they were integrated