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#1
Posted June 4th 2007, 2:59pm
While looking through the Reader at lunch, I came across a clasified idicating that Moto was looking for a FoH staff for a new casual dining concept in the warehouse district. I for one would be very interested to see Chef Cantu's take on "casual" dining. Anyone know any more?
Last edited by Stagger on June 4th 2007, 4:38pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#2
Posted June 4th 2007, 3:27pm
Stagger wrote:I for one would be very interested to see Chef Cantu's take on "casual" dining. Anyone know any more?


I heard he was going to use a special liquid nitrogen "lite" that was only -305° F.
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Steve Z.

"Why should I eat a carrot when I can eat pizza?" - Dan Janssen
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#3
Posted June 4th 2007, 4:15pm
Some information on Otom (ie. "Moto" spelled backwards -- um, heh?), can be found here:
http://www.timeout.com/chicago/outandabout/?p=2115
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#4
Posted June 4th 2007, 4:53pm
I'm there. Stay tuned for upcoming post on the events board for an LTH dinner! Spoke with the GM today, and it looks like the opening will be in about 6 weeks. No reservations being taken yet, but if there is interest we might set up a late July LTH dinner at Otom, (or would that be an HTL dinner?)
Last edited by Josephine on June 4th 2007, 5:05pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
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#5
Posted June 4th 2007, 5:02pm
Josephine wrote:I'm there. Stay tuned for upcoming post on the events board for an LTH dinner!


With racoon meatloaf on the menu? :)
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#6
Posted June 4th 2007, 5:11pm
Funny you should mention that, but aren't they going to serve comfort food? For all but the intrepid (with Chef Cantu and C2 first among them) and those lost in the woods, raccoon is considered discomfort food.
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Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
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#7
Posted June 4th 2007, 6:53pm
We've been waiting to save up enough money to go to Moto again, now we won't have too. Can't wait to try Otom.
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#8
Posted June 4th 2007, 9:43pm
Josephine wrote:I'm there. Stay tuned for upcoming post on the events board for an LTH dinner! Spoke with the GM today, and it looks like the opening will be in about 6 weeks. No reservations being taken yet, but if there is interest we might set up a late July LTH dinner at Otom, (or would that be an HTL dinner?)


I look forward to our outing. It sounds like inspired fun.
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"A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things." Admiral Grace Hopper

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#9
Posted June 4th 2007, 11:24pm
Obviously, I'm pretty pumped to check out Otom. I think an inagural LTH dinner will be just what the mad scientist ordered! :D
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#10
Posted June 5th 2007, 12:04am
If these place escapes the nearly inevitable opening delays there's a good chance I'll still be around to see it open.

With Chef Cantu likely devoting a lot of time toward opening this new location, does it now seem like a bad time to go to Moto? I've not yet been, and it's certainly very high on my list.
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#11
Posted June 6th 2007, 6:32pm
Stagger wrote:While looking through the Reader at lunch

Stagger,

Speaking of the Reader and Otom, Mike Sula has a Food Chain blog post with Otom's menu

Enjoy,
Gary
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#12
Posted June 6th 2007, 7:42pm
What exactly is whipped cream risotto? I'm very curious.
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my chicago food photos

RIP LTH.
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#13
Posted July 24th 2007, 5:32pm
I just received the following email from Moto:

Joseph De Vito, Adriana Carrasco and the entire moto team are excited to announce the opening of OTOM, moto’s sister restaurant at 951 W. Fulton Market. Literally 2 doors west of moto but with a completely different agenda, OTOM is the comforting counter-point to moto’s exciting gastronomic adventure.

Visit us beginning at 5:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, for some of our favorites, including Chicken Pot Pie with Sweet Corn & Egg Noodles, Beer-Battered Vegetable Medley with home-made Tartar Sauce, and our delicious Bing Cherry Cobbler. Reservations are accepted, and recommended for parties larger than 5. Call 312/491-5804 for more information.


So Otom must be open now, or very shortly. Anxious to try it.

It's strange that the email mentions De Vito and Carrasco, but not Cantu. Anyone have insight into Cantu's level of involvement with Otom?
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#14
Posted July 24th 2007, 6:03pm
We asked about it at our engagement dinner the other night at moto- they are open for business.
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is making all his reservations under the name Steve Plotnicki from now on.
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#15
Posted July 24th 2007, 6:54pm
I'll go tonight.
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#16
Posted July 24th 2007, 7:27pm
There was a brief piece on Otom in last week's Time Out Chicago.
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Joe G.

"Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement
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#17
Posted July 24th 2007, 10:24pm
So true to my word, I sampled a few courses at Otom tonight. I came away feeling very meh about the place. It has the potential to be good but as of now borders on unremarkable.

First of all, this was my first visit to the area. All I can say is wow. It's like a 21st century Meatpacking District that never quite gentrified. Surroundings aside, Otom is not an unattractive restaurant. Sure it takes advantage of some of the most overused trends in restaurant interior design, but it's certainly a step up (for those who know, there IS pun intended there) from the outside.

As wide as the cocktail list is, the menu is narrow. I believe there are six app choices and maybe seven-ish mains. These apps include such culinary modern marvels like bacon Caesar salad with black pepper, grilled cheese, sliders, and soup of the day. Mains include mac-and-cheese, chicken pot pie, apricot-glazed ribs, breaded cod, and things like that. I have no problem with comfort food, but the modern touches promised on earlier preview menus were completely absent. Besides the name and location, there is effectively nothing that links the two restaurants. Those expecting Moto-lite will be severely disappointed, and those like myself expecting American comfort food with a bit of modern technique will be duly let down.

I sampled the brasiola, arugula, and apple salad. I usually never order salad, but this was honestly the most interesting of the starters. It was fine but nothing special. Pine nuts and the thinly sliced meat gave the salad a bit of warmth and depth. I also had the mac-and-cheese, served in a cute Staub-like crock. This had andouille and fennel and was quite tasty if a bit runny. The cheese bechamel was more thin sauce than rich and creamy binder. The flavors were on, however. To finish, I had the banana split, the most creative dish of the night. Here were three caramelized pieces of banana encased in a crisp chocolate shell, topped with nuts and classic split accompaniments. One banana skewer was topped with pineapple, one with caramel, and the last with minced marashino cherry. While quite sweet, I enjoyed this dish; it's actually evocative of David Burke's cheesecake lollipop tree.

Service on the whole was extremely solicitous, sometimes to a fault. I have no problem if multiple staff members ask me how I'm doing, how I'm enjoying my food, how I enjoyed my food, if I enjoyed myself. That part was fine. The fact that the waitstaff seemed eager to fire everything at once was a bit overkill. The restaurant, not even counting the empty front bar/lounge, was not even half full, yet my salad was out in about three minutes and my mac-and-cheese placed in front of me by the same server who was at the same moment using his other hand to clear my salad bowl. The mac-and-cheese was too hot to eat anyway, so a few minutes of intermission time would not have been a problem. My dessert followed about two to three minutes after I ordered. I was almost shocked the cooks could physically assemble the dishes so quickly. I'm all about efficiency, especially as a solo diner, but this was a bit much.

For a restaurant that's been open for a week, I can see this place surviving. I do think, however, the menu, if it remains this simple, needs to be expanded. Or better yet, follow the course of the banana split dessert and infuse a bit of whimsy and creativity into classic dishes for a more unique value prop.
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#18
Posted July 25th 2007, 12:42am
BryanZ wrote:I was almost shocked the cooks could physically assemble the dishes so quickly. I'm all about efficiency, especially as a solo diner, but this was a bit much.


While I would agree that this pacing is far to fast, even for a single. I think I can explain why your dishes came out so fast. It is the general tendency in the professional kitchen to fire the smaller tables faster, with a 1 top being at the head of the line. Basically, it is easier to time and, in general, the smaller the table, the faster the party will progress through the meal. While none of these are absolute, they are usually right on the mark. Sounds to me like pretty much everything was put in as an order-fire, your tickets were bumped to the head of a lot of deuces and larger tables you got your food as soon as it came up. It is, however, entirely the responsibility or the restaurant and server to make sure that the diner, single or otherwise, are not rushed. Obviously, I do think that more time and more meals are required before any decisions are made on weather or not this is a chronic problem.
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#19
Posted July 25th 2007, 8:42am
That's a pretty fair assessment. Indeed I was pretty much done with my main course by the time a large party, who had been seated before I had arrived, even received their mains.
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#20
Posted July 25th 2007, 9:04am
I just put a proposal for an LTH outing to Otom on the Events Board:

http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=14511
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#21
Posted August 10th 2007, 7:56pm
Two of my girlfriends and I went to Otom on Wednesday night, and I do have to agree with Brian Z that the food experience was really underwhelming. The ambience is fabulous, with the communal table in the lounge, lit up by little votive candles truly eye-catching. The service was faultless. I mentioned very casually about my friend's recent birthday, and out comes a (complimentary) birthday dessert at the end of the meal. Our server was very solicitous, very knowledgeable, and very on point. The food was OK- my ceasar salad was ordinary and my friends' arugula and apple salads (they were very gracious in witholding the beef for the vegetarian girls) were underseasoned. I had the chicken potpie for an entree. The filling was luscious, with nicely cooked chicken and fettucini in a rich creamy sauce- but the crust was so salty, it was almost unedible. My friends both had the sea bass and the fish too was very salty. We indicated this unbelievable saltiness factor in the comment card we were given at the end of the meal. The dinner was very disappointing.
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#22
Posted August 29th 2007, 11:26pm
Starting very shortly, you'll see some new reviews of OTOM - which we found out is pronounced with two soft 'o's, as in atomic or ah-Dom - either here or in the planning thread on the events board:

http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=14511

We were served only items off the normal menu, so impressions recorded in this thread should offer general interest and application. Tune in to hear about the moderately famous person we ran into:

http://tinyurl.com/ypammu

the amazing golden shoes, extremely frank conversation with Executive Chef Daryl Nash, and some remarkable short rib ravioli. Thanks to the bright and lovely happy_stomach for setting our event up.
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#23
Posted August 30th 2007, 6:40am
Did you have any interaction with Robin Robinson? She's a real sweetheart with lots of stories to share.
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Steve Z.

"Why should I eat a carrot when I can eat pizza?" - Dan Janssen
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#24
Posted August 30th 2007, 6:50pm
OK. I finally uploaded the pictures from our trip to Otom. They're not all perfect, so I'm just going to link the smaller pictures here, heh. If you'd like to see them full size, the gallery is here.

First impressions: the place is very modern but not obnoxiously so. The chairs we sat in were fairly comfortable; we were sitting down for almost four hours, and I never felt stiff. I liked the small, simple votives everywhere and the orange-and-honey wood color / design scheme worked nicely.

The bar had a nice cocktail menu, but unfortunately, I didn't get to peruse any of the mixed drinks. We did, however, have a really decent Cline Zinfindel that they offered by both the class and the bottle (reasonably at $38 ), so that got me off on the right foot.

As most people have stated, the service was impeccable. We were served by the general manager most of the time, who was always on top of it with water, bringing out fresh silverware and plates, taking away the finished platters, bringing out bread, etc. In fact, we were visited at the beginning and the end of the meal by Chef Nash, who was extremely polite and receptive to what we had to say. Everyone who worked there gave us a very warm reception, and I really appreciated that.

They even had special menus printed up for us that said "Welcome, LTH Forum" on them with our logo! Talk about kind of feeling celebrity-like. Which totally fit in with us seeing Robin Robinson from Fox News take up short residence behind us by the lounge to enjoy a drink.

All in all, first impressions were fantastic. Onto the food.

I felt the pacing of the meal was perfect. A lot of past posters have stated that the pacing has gone too fast; but we never seemed to have a situation where one plate was taken away while another was brought out. There was always a few minutes in-between courses, which was nice, since we had a lot of food!

We were served two courses of appetizers, two main courses and two dessert courses. With each course, they brought out 3-4 full-sized portions (plated as they are typically served) and we ate family-style. A few times, they specifically added a piece or two of something (i.e., with the pork ribs) so that everyone would be able to try at least (1) of that dish. I think it's pretty safe to say that we had enough food. When all was said and done, we had sampled 18 different dishes!

Bread course:

There were three or four types of bread, but I only took pictures of two. They had two different butters on display; a regular whipped butter and a honey butter, which I thought was the standout of the two.

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This was the pumpernickel bread which everyone pretty much agreed was the best of the selections.

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The sunflower wheat bread - I had a few of these as well. Pretty decent.

Appetizers:

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Marinated bean salad with red onion, oregano, rice noodles and caramelized shallot vinaigrette

Incidentally, this bean salad was the best appetizer we had. Lovely mixture of flavors, fresh, creamy texture - really good!

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Wilted spinach salad with golden beets, smoked oyster mushrooms, red pepper & roasted garlic vinaigrette

This salad was a little too strong for my taste, and I think it was the smoked oyster mushrooms.

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Beer-battered vegetables with caramelized onion & sherry vinegar aioli

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House-smoked turkey cobb salad with bibb lettuce, crispy pancetta, blue cheese, hard cooked egg, avocado & grain mustard viniagrette

What really made this cobb salad for me was the avocados. Maybe because I'm obsessed with avocados and would put them on anything, I don't know. I liked this salad, though. Decent.

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Chinook salmon ceviche with lime, chili, cucumber & wonton chips

Someone more knowledgeable than me made a comment that they used a fattier salmon in this than you would normally see in a salmon ceviche and because of that, it had a different flavor. Whatever it was, I was a huge fan of this appetizer. Probably my second-favorite. The salmon just melted in your mouth and the lime was not at all overpowering. A really nice dish.

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Trio of miniature burgers with bacon & cheddar, mushroom & Swiss, fried quail egg & shoestring potatoes

I was kind of non-impressed by this. GAF made a comment to the chef at the end of the meal that perhaps this didn't totally work because the mini-burgers weren't really that "juicy." He, like I did, had the quail egg one, which seemed like an interesting concept, but paired with the (we assumed, house-made) ketchup and mustard, was actually quite pedestrian. I would have actually preferred a more interesting dipping-sauce to go with it, but I love weird condiments, so...

Entrees:

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Macaroni & cheese with creamy rosemary-white cheddar sauce, smoked carrots & parmesan-panko crust

We were all huge fans of this. Definitely one of the best entrees we had. Everything worked in this dish.

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Roasted acorn squash & oyster mushrooms with seared tofu & crispy shallots

I was really pleasantly surprised by this! I've always been non-thrilled with seared-tofu dishes. However, the mixture of the squash and mushrooms and the sauce it was served in gave it a really "comfortable" feel. I don't think I've ever had a tofu dish that tasted like that. It was also commented that this dish had a really "meaty, rich" flavor, but the chef confirmed that this dish was, indeed, vegetarian.

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House-smoked apricot & chili glazed pork back ribs with crisp sherry slaw & pickles

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Braised beef pot pie with roasted root vegetables, veal demi-glace & puff pastry

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Grilled Top Sirloin with butter-poached new potatoes, golden onion rings & veal reduction

I'll be honest with this one: I love red meat, so when I saw this, I got really excited, but upon tasting, it wasn't quite as hot or tender as I was hoping. It wasn't bad by any means, but certainly not the standout I'd hoped for. Also: the potatoes it was served with I think were undercooked, as they were a bit hard.

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Beef short rib ravioli with shallot & sage goat cheese, candied sweet potato & brown butter

We all felt this was definitely one of the best dishes. It really worked, the short-rib was tender and flavorful with just the right amount of oomph. I would have probably ordered this as my entree if I'd come on my own and I think I would have been very happy with this!

Missing from my pictures: the Grilled swordfish with jicama-Anaheim relish & gooseberry soup, AND, the Braised lamb shank with white bean cassoulet, rutabega & olive oil. GAF took pictures of these and I think he'd be able to offer a more insightful commentary on these than I would. I thought both were okay, but those who were more food-experienced than I am all felt that the swordfish was overcooked.

Desserts!

We did not have a menu for the desserts, so my descriptions are approximate. Please excuse any mistakes I might have made...

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Banana-filled pops coated in chocolate and topped with caramel, maraschino cherry and pineapple

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House-made shortcake with strawberries and creme fraiche

I really liked this. The cake it came with was simple, but really good, and who doesn't love a dessert with strawberries? I mean, c'mon.

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Chocolate brownie with house-made mocha ice cream and freeze-dried marshmallows

Okay. I'll disclose. This was my favorite dessert. I love brownies, and I just loved the combination of the brownie with the mocha ice cream and fudge sauce. If I hadn't eaten so much already, I probably could have eaten this whole thing.

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Baked apple cobbler topped with house-made vanilla ice cream

A lot of people liked this. I'm not personally a huge fan of baked apple desserts (personal preference), but I really liked the topping on this cobbler, and it came out quite nicely. Plus, home-made ice cream? Mmm.

Conclusions:

Overall, we had a great experience. The atmosphere and service was fantastic. The food overall ranged from fantastic! to just okay. We definitely noted what they do well, and that is, so to speak, "Comfort food with a twist." Items like the bean salad, mac-and-cheese, pot pie, lamb shank, ravioli, all got good reviews on the food front. The traditional desserts (i.e., the apple cobbler and strawberry shortcake) seemed to be favorites among everyone as well.

Anyway, I hope this helps and would love to hear from other people that have gone and/or are going here to see how their experience is.

Thanks again to happy_stomach for organizing this and everyone who came for being such great company! Can't wait till the next LTH outing.

ETA: I don't know why my pictures aren't showing up. If anyone could help me with this, I'd greatly appreciate it. I already checked out the FAQ, but no dice.
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-- Nora --
"Great food is like great sex. The more you have the more you want." ~Gael Greene
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#25
Posted August 30th 2007, 7:53pm
GreenFish wrote:ETA: I don't know why my pictures aren't showing up. If anyone could help me with this, I'd greatly appreciate it. I already checked out the FAQ, but no dice.


I was able to fix most of your images by adding a ".jpg" to them (The board software expects images to have a file extension). This didn't work for a few of them, I'm not 100% sure why.

Nice post, thanks for the report.

Best,
Michael
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#26
Posted August 30th 2007, 10:57pm
Thanks for uploading the pictures! It was my first LTH event, and I'll have to get used to seeing the previous night's dinner posted in a gallery. It was definitely an enjoyable experience sharing all of the dishes with everyone.

So here's my requisite critique of the dishes that stood out (either in a good way or a bad way):

Wilted spinach salad with golden beets, smoked oyster mushrooms, red pepper & roasted garlic vinaigrette
When Chef Nash came out at the end of service, I was pretty surprised when he mentioned that there was no bacon used in this dish. The bacony flavor was rather overwhelming BUT I thought this was a very interesting attempt at making spinach salad vegetarian. Traditionally, spinach salad is made with bacon and its drippings, and the use of smoked mushrooms to replicate the bacon flavor was pretty damn creative. It could have used a little less aggressiveness in smoking the mushrooms.


Trio of miniature burgers with bacon and cheddar, mushroom and swiss, fried quail egg and shoestring potatoes
There was a discussion between GAF and Chef Nash about the patties being too small causing the lack of juiciness and the disproportionate bread-to-meat ratio. I was a bit uncomfortable during this exchange because, well, how do you tell a chef that he can't pull off a frickin' burger? GAF definitely knows how to dish out constructive criticism, though.


Chinook salmon ceviche with lime, chili, cucumber & wonton chips
This was my favorite of the appetizers, with the marinated bean salad being a very close second. The chef gets to show off his knife skills here. I noticed the fat striations in the cubes, and it must have been from the belly of the fish (sake toro?).


Macaroni and cheese with creamy rosemary-white cheddar sauce, smoked carrots, and parmesan-panko crust
For a restaurant that aims to recreate american comfort food, it's inconceivable to screw up mac and cheese. They definitely did not disappoint here.


Roasted acorn squash and oyster mushrooms with seared tofu and crispy shallots
The faintly crisp tops and bottoms on the seared tofu contrasts nicely with the creaminess of the center. The oyster mushrooms were not smoked this time around :)


House-smoked apricot and chili glazed pork back ribs with crisp sherry slaw and pickles
This dish grabbed my attention as it immediately filled the table with a vinegary-smoky aroma. My expectations were running high and I almost grabbed a piece before pictures were taken (it could very well have been my first and last LTH event as a result). Unfortunately, this was the biggest letdown of the night for me because I always associate ribs with fall-off-the-bone tenderness. Maybe I'm just a bit bitter that meat ended up stuck in my teeth from trying to gnaw it off the bone.


Grilled Top Sirloin with butter-poached new potatoes, golden onion rings, and veal reduction
The sirloin was... too... chewy. The potato I had was cooked perfectly but some had pieces that were undercooked.


Beef short rib ravioli with shallot and sage goat cheese, candied sweet potato and brown butter
This was easily the best dish of the night. It was amazing how the meaty texture of the short rib filling stayed intact while being melt-in-your-mouth at the same time. The goat cheese lends richness that either ricotta or parmesan just couldn't bring.


Braised lamb shank, white bean cassoulet, rutabaga, and olive oil
Anything with beans cooked in fat is a winner if you ask me.
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#27
Posted August 30th 2007, 11:43pm
Thank you for all of the very fine camera work, GreenFish! I agree with your assessments as well; there was remarkable consensus among the seven of us from varied perspectives and parts of the cityscape.

Here are happy_stomach's comments for easy in-line reading:

It was a very enjoyable evening indeed. Thank you to all you who came out (including Louisa Chu and sister who stopped at our table to say hello) and the entire Otom team. Kathryn Simpson also deserves special thanks for making my role as organizer very easy.

My food highlights were similar to others'... The bean salad was excellent. I thought the contrast of textures between the beans and the rice noodles worked especially well. Beer battered vegetables are a comfort food I often forget about. Thanks to Chef Nash for reminding me that vegetables deep fried are quite yummy. My favorite appetizer of the evening was the salmon ceviche on wontons. The quality of fish was superb, and I liked the trompe l'oeil effect that Kennyz pointed out of the salmon somewhat resembling off-season tomatoes. The wontons could have been less salty.

In terms of entrees...I loved the macaroni and cheese. I know we're not supposed to make comparisons to moto, but I think I actually liked otom's version better than the extremely pleasing dehydrated quail version I had back in May as part of my GTM. I especially liked the rosemary with the cheese and the panko crust. I liked the tofu, and I could have eaten my own pot pie. The ribs, I thought, were dry and too sweet for my liking. In the fourth course, my favorites were the lamb shank (and I normally pass on this animal part) and the short rib ravioli, which in my book is a solid rival to Schwa's quail yolk version.

The desserts were forgettable except the strawberry shortcake. I loved the dense richness of the cake--very different from the tasteless, twinkie-yellow sponge that I think of when I think shortcake. The apple cobbler tasted funny to me. I don't know if I was just unfamiliar with the kind of apples that were used, but the taste was unusual and not in an especially enjoyable way.

I'm glad we were able to sample a range of dishes. Now I'll know what to order if I go back. Thanks again to my dining companions!



Late in the evening, Mr. GreenFish asked how we on the board rate cuisines both within and across categories, an excellent and important question. Using the example of vegetarian cuisine, would the best vegetarian restaurant compare favorably with the best pork BBQ joint? Do we suggest that there is comparable overall experience in store between a middle-of-the-road falafel stand and an average Chinatown restaurant? We responded that the best we can do is to describe our experiences subjectively and qualitatively, and allow the reader to form his or her own strategy for attacking a particular menu. There is no absolute scale, and it is hard to fit most restaurants neatly in any particular category.

You'll get better service, decor, smells coming from the kitchen, silverware, and table environment at Emperor's Choice than at LTH, but the cuisine at the latter is far superior (if you pretend you're G Wiv's best friend). And Penang's rambling, hit-or-miss menu doesn't really fit into Chinatown-type places, as Sunshine doesn't in sushi joints. At the pinnacle of the thin-crust pizza houses, you're not going to get the same treatment as the zenith of the French bistro game. They'll both be GNRs at the end of the day, the beauty of this forum.

I'm reminded of Ebert's defense of his star system - giving Halloween four stars because it's the best Dead Teenager movie ever, but Godfather Part II three stars because for him it isn't the end-all of gangster movies. It's hard enough to compare across things that neatly fit into categories before dealing with those that straddle them.

So, what can I say about OTOM? It wants to be comfort food, but informed by an international ingredient and preparation style list, and served with Everest-like care in a hard-lofty Fulton Market room. A trio of miniature hamburgers, with precious, pretty toppings like quail eggs, served with simple ketchup and mustard and room temperature shoestring potatoes, on a white tablecloth with hefty silver service, while the diner is pampered by a continuous, elegant bread service with two kinds of butter and three kinds of artisanal loaves (of which the pumpernickel-onion was among the best bread I've had anywhere).

When I eat mac and cheese at Kuma's or Wishbone, pot roast at the Depot, or beef pot pie at the Duke of Perth, I can't say that I am really missing a master sommelier at hand, constantly refilled spring water, or the knowledge that there are at least three people working for the restaurant that are constantly and genuinely focused on my happiness at at a given moment. If you're going to take away the pubby or corner diner ambience, the bare tables, and the condiment bottles, and replace them with white tablecloths, objets d'art, and a perfectly controlled lighting, climate, and (conversation-friendly techno) sound, you're subjecting your 'comfort food' to a new context and scrutiny, effectively putting it on an altar.

Miraculously, I think Daryl Nash makes it work, because everything tastes good. I did feel comforted, and not just by the erudite and delightful company.

Even where dishes miss - an unmixed, almost deconstructed cobb salad, an overfirm swordfish, the fussy hamburger trio - the ingredient quality is top-notch, and a playful imagination is on display. We had the opportunity to enjoy our meat and potatoes with halved gooseberries, roasted rutabaga, jicama-hot pepper slaw, freeze-dried peas, oyster mushrooms, and other richly flavorful accoutrements, and all of the pairings seemed to make sense. I concur that the beef short rib ravioli is worthy of just about any menu in the city. I was amazed that the tofu was completely vegetarian, as the squash and shallots tasted like they had been lovingly roasted in about two quarts of rendered bacon and duck fat. While I never thought I would miss a parmesan-rosemary-panko crust on my macaroni, I just might next time I dig in at Cullen's.

In a space next to Moto and sharing the letters of its name, Otom neither self-consciously turns Moto on its head nor fully embraces molecular gastronomy (with a very few freeze-dried exceptions); this is perhaps one current disappointment. One expects either the anti-Moto or the post-Moto, and Otom is neither. GAF suggested to our gracious hosts that if they worked more in tandem, one could lead to the other (dinner at one, sweets at the other, depending on the time and creativity tolerance you had on a given night). But it seems clear that Otom is headed in a different direction, with a small measure of inspiration from Moto but not working to shatter or to embrace its paradigm, a partnership in geography and name alone.

As it stands, the prices are reasonable for an after-work snack - a particularly awesome one, if you go with the salmon ceviche and mac and cheese - and you can linger over a fine glass of wine or a Maudite (bravo on the beer list) in a low-pressure but still high-class atmosphere. I would not go back for a full tasting of the menu again, but I will be back for select items and good vibes. And I'll be an apologist for the young pastry chef and her banana-pops, which I found delicious, with just the right balance of salt and sweet.

Many, many thanks to happy_stomach for organizing, for Chef for the personal greetings and for welcoming constructive dialogue, and to Kathryn and the staff for the remarkably caring attention, worth a return trip in itself.
Last edited by Santander on September 3rd 2007, 11:14pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#28
Posted August 31st 2007, 4:31am
I arrived at the Otom LTH event an hour early, and did not make it known at that time that I was part of the group. I note this because one may otherwise wonder whether the welcoming vibe and attentive service we experienced are a regular part of the Otom experience. I can confidently say that they are. I sat alone at the bar for an hour, and Kirk, the General Manager, introduced himself and engaged me in a down-to-earth discussion about the wine list (interesting and quite reasonably priced, btw.). Meong (sp?), the bartender, shared his restaurant and bar favorites in the city, and generously let me taste whatever I wanted before deciding to order. Alone at the bar, reading a book and sipping a glass of wine, I already looked forward to my next Otom visit.

For the most part, my take on the food echos what's already been said. Dishes that worked well worked really well, and there were a few misses. The short rib ravioli was rich and sublime, but the swordfish suffered from too long on top of the heat. The lamb shank was a perfect rendition of a classic dish, but the sirloin was a bit tough, and the potatoes that reached my plate were undercooked. The tofu was a beautiful balance of flavors and textures, whereas the spinach salad was overwhelmed by smokiness - the flavor of other ingredients such as the beets and the spinach itself completely lost. The mini burgers just didn't work for us, but the braised beef pot pie was terrific. I think there is a theme here: Otom does braised dishes extremely well.

I often dislike the texture of salmon ceviche, finding that the acid hardens the luxurious fattiness of the fish. Otom's rendition completely turned me around. I think it may have been closer to sashimi than ceviche, with the fish left in the marinade for just a short time rather than allowed to "cook" in it.

For certain dishes, I think we all bring biases from childhood memories or other sources about how they're supposed to taste. Ribs may be a good example. I absolutely loved the vinegary smokiness and slightly chewy texture, but I know others prefer a more succulent, falling-off-the bone style. For me, something called strawberry shortcake should be made with actual shortcake rather than the dense, wet, almost flourless substance with which Otom serves it. Others loved it Otom's way: de gustibus non est disputandum.

I look forward to going back to Otom, especially on cool fall and cold winter days. Thoughts of Otom's friendly, welcoming staff and comforting braised meat dishes are already warming me up.
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#29
Posted September 3rd 2007, 12:12pm
Is Otom a Moto, si? Otom

When a restaurant decides to divide amoeba-style, diners must divine whether the new boîte is a clone, a sib, a spouse, or a bizarro adoptee. What is the relationship between the two? In some cases, Vong or L’Atelier du Robuchon come to mind, restaurants attempt to replicate themselves. In others, such as The French Laundry or Per Se, the genetic code is similar although not identical. In still others - Everest and Ambria, say - the restaurants are distinctive, although similar rules apply through common direction. And then there is Moto/Otom.

How could owner Joseph De Vito, the guiding light behind team Moto, expand? The Moto niche market, while sufficiently enthusiastic, will not appeal to all those nighthawks who fly at twilight through the West Loop. The decision is close to brilliant. De Vito and his chef Daryl Nash (formerly sous chef at Moto) embraced the Moto style, down-marketed it slightly and serves food that tweaks comfort. It is an ingenious strategy, building the Moto brand, while not cannibalizing it (and there is talk about a future dessert bar (a la New York’s Room 4 Dessert: oomt?).

Recently seven faithful members of the LTH board (led by Happy Stomach) paid a visit to Otom to sample much of their menu. The evening was a notable success, even if Chef Nash still must figure out precisely how distinctive and disorienting he wishes his plates to be. Several of the dishes were excellent and proficient (particularly the main course meats), some were good but lacked the stuff of memory, and a few were disappointments. In general, those dishes that worked best were those that incorporated dollops of savory creativity. Otom is still in its three-month shake-down cruise and if the best dishes currently available are coupled with new creations, Otom will be very fine indeed. The spatial layout of the room was somewhat unusual. Our table (perhaps located where it was because of our visit) was at the front of the long room with the middle given over to the bar area and then at the back were placed most of the tables. Possibly were we not present the large front of Otom would be used for the bar crowd. From the list of cocktails, it seemed that the cocktails had much of the creativity of Moto.

Before describing the dishes, the bread at Otom is notable. (Moto does not serve bread, but at Otom we are in the world of happy carbs). The best of the three breads was the slightly sweet pumpernickel, which, when slathered with honey butter was divine.

The service for our group was a combination of French and Russian service. Six courses (two appetizer courses, two main courses, and two desserts) were served with several plates in each course.

The first set of appetizers were a trio of salads: 1) House-smoked turkey cobb salad with bibb lettuce, crispy Pancetta, blue cheese, hard-cooked egg, avocado and grain mustard vinaigrette (no photo), 2) wilted spinach salad with golden beets, smoked oyster mushrooms, red pepper and roasted garlic vinaigrette, and 3) marinated bean salad with red onion, oregano, rice noodles, and caramelized shallot vinaigrette. These salads are ordered in their distinctiveness and in their culinary interest. The cobb salad was a creditable rendition, but with little special appeal. I liked the inclusion of beets and mushrooms in the wilted spinach salad. Perhaps the beets and oyster mushrooms or peppers could have been more dominant, but it was an impressive creation. Most memorable was the bean salad which traded on the crispy rice noodles and oregano. Of the six appetizers, this bean salad was the one that I long to taste again, as much because of the creative texture as a dramatic taste profile.

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The salads were followed by a trio of more substantial appetizers, 1) beer-battered vegetables with caramelized onions and sherry vinegar aioli (no photo), 2) a set of miniature burgers with bacon and cheddar, mushroom and Swiss cheese, and with a fried quail egg, served with an order of shoestring potatoes, and 3) Chinook salmon ceviche with lime, chili, cucumber and wonton chips. I admired both the vinegar aioli and the creditably crispy shoestring potatoes, but neither the heavily battered vegetables nor the thin, runty, and somewhat overdone sliders were particularly memorable. Although the wonton chips were not wanton in my recall, I admired the firm cubes of salmon in their distinctive marinate. The ceviche could have been served with a thinner cracker that would have brought out the luxurious and bracing taste of chill raw fish.

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Chef Nash was on stronger ground with his meat dishes: these revealed his abilities to transform comfort food into memories, and were the cuisine for which Otom should strive: not Moto upendings of expectations, but energetic challenges to the tried and true. Our first quartet consisted of: 1) macaroni and cheese with creamy rosemary-white cheddar sauce, smoked carrots, and parmesan-panko crust (no photo), 2) roasted acorn squash and oyster mushrooms with seared tofu and crispy shallots, 3) braised beef pot pie with roasted root vegetables, veal demi-glace and puff pastry, and 4) house-smoked apricot and chili glazed pork back ribs with crisp sherry slaw and pickles. The pork ribs were a real triumph, as Chef Nash transformed a rather traditional dish to one with special resonance. Perhaps the slaw could have used more sherry, but the dish was heroic. The pot pie was an admirable rendition of the classic comfort food. Perhaps it might have incorporated a few twists and turns, but it was nicely prepared. The squash and tofu was deserving of praise, but it is difficult to treat tofu as the sensory center of a plate. Tofu does not – for me – lend itself to memory. The mac ‘n’ cheese was fine, but less evocative than the description. The sauce could have used a few more jolts of rosemary to deserve a poetic account.

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The second quartet included: 1) grilled top sirloin with butter-poached new potatoes, golden onion rings, and veal reduction, 2) grilled swordfish and jicama-Anaheim relish with gooseberry soup, 3) beef short rib ravioli with shallot and sage goat cheese, candied sweet potato and brown butter, and 4) raised lamb shank, white bean cassoulet, rutabaga, and olive oil. The weakest dish of the night was surely the overcooked fish. But the trouble went beyond the cooking; often the dishes on the menu read better than they taste – the promised snappy and distinctive accompaniments, such as the gooseberry soup, are more muted than one might imagine. What promises to make a dish stand out is no more than a back taste; the soup could have had more zing. I encourage Chef Nash to be less afraid of the power of taste, less subtle in his cuisine. In contrast to the fish, the short rib ravioli was the strongest dish of the night. Here the goat cheese, beef, and sweet potato blended in symphonic fashion. It was a superb dish. The lamb shank was also a fine dish, well worth ordering, although perhaps a more generous drizzle of olive oil would have made the dish stand out further.

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I have recently had a problem with desserts. Many pastries cannot meet the standards of the rest of the meal, just as many restaurants (although not Otom) find it hard to insure that the main courses equal the appetizers. We were served 1) apple crisp, topped with house-made vanilla ice cream, 2) strawberry shortcake with crème fraiche and mint syrup (no photo), 3) banana split pops with caramel, roast pineapple, and maraschino cherry, and 4) homemade brownie with home made marshmallow. Of this quartet, the brownie, although simple, stood out, mostly through the virtues of the honest, rough-cut marshmallows. The shortcake was rather dense for my taste, and the apple crisp was too salty. The suckers were easy to love, although not particularly complex in their creation.

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From the accounts of the restaurant, it is not certain how much input Chef Cantu has in its vision and its cuisine. Still, Otom stands on its own. It is a restaurant in process: a restaurant that needs to decide the extent to which its cuisine is designed to jolt the diner or blanket her in nostalgic comfort. For Otom to become a destination restaurant for its cuisine the former must be emphasized as with the bean salad and short rib ravioli, and this does appear to be the goal. Otherwise, Otom is in danger of serving 1970 food in a 2010 space.

Not all of the photos are up to standard, sorry.

Otom
951 W. Fulton Market
Chicago (West Loop)
312-491-5804
http://www.otomrestaurant.com/

http://www.vealcheeks.blogspot.com
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#30
Posted September 8th 2007, 6:41pm
I had a chance to have dinner at Otom a few weeks ago and would return, if for no other reason than the amazing staff.

Not being a red meat/pork eater, I adapted the Mac & Cheese to a vegetarian dish without the Sausage, and when it was brought out, it was clearly not cooked. Perhaps it had been placed in the oven for a minute or two, but it was clearly cold - not warm, cold.

I told my server, and barely before it was off the table I had several people at my table apologizing for their error. The apologies seemingly went on the entire time my food was being replaced, and upon receipt of the tasty meal, I was again visited by seemingly the entire staff.

The food was good - baconless Caesar Salad along with the Mac & Cheese. I'll be back again. They're making the effort with a certain concern that seems missing from too many restaurants today, and for that alone, they deserve every opportunity to please once again.
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