Shortly after we began to show up around 6 PM, we were led into the function room, and we finished our 21 courses at about 1 AM. Twelve of the courses were paired with specific wines as noted below. I comment on the quality of the food mostly when there's some level of surprise to it; to my mind, the quality of the ingredients is very, very high.
Clicking on the photos, with the exception of the very last, will offer slightly larger versions. (There are 30 images and it will take some time to load this entry.) If you use this, I urge you to right-click and choose "Open in a new tab" or window. In your browser's View menu, set the Encoding to Unicode (UTF-8) to view accents properly.Popcorn-flavored packing material
This was an amuse-bouche to introduce us to the tone of the evening. Imagine a very plastic meringue foam. These are made to resemble old styrofoam excelsior. As I've said elsewhere in the thread, while cornstarch may be peripherally involved in the creation of these, comparisons to either Pirate's Booty or genuine cornstarch packing materials are entirely off the mark. These melted warmly on the tongue, chewed well, but I couldn't bite through, just into. The buttered popcorn flavor was akin to a Jelly Belly. The trompe l'oeil made this a great starter. I enjoyed tossing mine into the air and catching it in my mouth as I would a piece of popcorn.Champagne and scallops1989 Herbert Beaufort Brut "Cuvee La Favorite," Bouzy, Champagne, France
Aware of my allergy to seafood, the kitchen served me just the champagne grapes. Infused with CO2 and then flash-frozen, the grape tingles when your bite releases the gas (or when your tongue crushes the grape against your upper palate). Nice presentation, but I'd had it elsewhere back in my Boston days. On the regular tasting menu, this course is titled "deja vu"; indeed, underneath the glass was our first edible-paper treat, with a photograph of the course.Maki in the fourth dimensionNV Masumi "Mirror of Truth" Junmai Sake, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Here I got a California roll, again decorated with the photograph of the course itself, rather than contained in seaweed. Since it was dusted with nori powder, I was still tentative about it, but had no problems. Again tasty, but still a bit obvious. (It's a bit unfortunate that the printer has gotten so much notice lately, as that takes away from its occasional presence in the progression.) Onion-crouton-nitrogenation 2002 Roger Lassaras, "Le Cras" Saint-Voran, Maion, Burgundy, France
The first standout course for me; after the meal, while we were waiting for the credit cards to process, we discussed our favorite courses, and I named this as one. Strong, vivid onion flavor, deeply caramelized. The presentation is very entertaining, of course -- pouring the broth through liquid nitrogen -- but at its core is a very satisfying and pleasing bowl of onion soup.Quail2002 Yves Breussin Vouvray Reserve, Loire Valley, France
Most of the table received at this point a course of lobster and orange (and I would've loved to try the fizzy orange); the kitchen thoughtfully provided me with a course of quail. The quail was carved to resemble a quail, a nice visual touch. It compared well with quail I've had at Frontera Grill and elsewhere.Duck pull apart1998 Domaine Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge, Burgundy, France
I love duck, always have some in the house, have to force myself to order something else when I go to a restaurant that has it on the menu, but this didn't make much of an impression on me. As the first really interactive course, it was enjoyable -- the duck was plated with a wonton that could be broken open to put the duck into. When we broke the wontons, the sauce contained inside poured down over the duck meat. It was a pleasing dish -- and maybe for me, the issue was that I could eat duck all night, so the portion sized right for the wonton was just a tease. But I think the course mostly worked well thanks to its interactivity.Sunchoke, Yuzu & Kalamansi
More foam. I found this course to be about the variety of textures rather than tastes; at first I took a fairly substantial slurp off the spoon, thinking it might be combined into a unit; when that proved wrong, I then tried each component, the foamy and the slithery and the liquidy. Delicate flavors, sharply contrasting textures.Sweet potato pie2000 Quinta do Carmo, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Estramador, Portugal
Two pieces: a chain carved from a single sweet potato, a ball contained (but freely) in a cube again carved from a single piece. I dangled the chain and ate the bottom link; I broke apart links and ate them separately. With my tongue, I rolled around the ball inside the cube. Fun. But the sweet potato, again, would've benefited from something to enhance its flavor. This was purely a "play with your food" course, and I enjoyed doing so, but the very mild flavor was not the reason to enjoy this dish. (Although I'm fine with the metaphor, there wasn't any part of the dish that provided an analogue to a pie crust.)Bouillabase deconstructed then reconstructed2003 Quinta Apolonia, Verdeno, Castilla y Leon, Spain
This is one of the signature dishes; the bouillabase cooks on the table in a polymer box Cantu invented. Here the kitchen swapped out the bouillabase's sea bass for a cube of tofu, the only piece of tofu I've ever actually enjoyed eating. As creamy as a just-melted marshmallow. A pleasant broth. This was the second winning dish of the night.Raccoon Road Kill
I started out a wuss here. This was a complete improvisation on the part of the restaurant, as noted elsewhere in the thread. Originally, I was the only person who averred. But everyone else had it and enjoyed it, and that provided me with the incentive to give it a try, as we had psychchef's plate. Once I tasted it, I found a nice dark-meat flavor, not gamey at all as I'd feared. I'm not interested in having a meal of it, but at these garnish-sized portions, it turned out to be tasty. And considering the time constraints they'd worked with, the staff came up with a clever presentation of roadkill, replete with a drawing of a raccoon on edible paper (i.e., flattened raccoon). (It would be a logistical nightmare for the restaurant, but it would be so cool if, when people called to make a reservation, the host offered them the opportunity to surprise the restaurant with a primary ingredient that would be turned into a course. Deconstruction's cool, but improvisational deconstruction is even cooler, and this would challenge the diners to think about their food long before they arrive at the restaurant.)Skirt Steak with a Red Wine & Beet Puree Applied Your Way 2001 Schubert Syrah, North Island, New Zealand
Wonderful course, because again you had to play with your food. I found the syringes to be too blunt to penetrate the meat, so I carefully slit the pieces of steak horizontally and inserted the tip of the syringe to create "jelly doughnuts" with skirt steak "dough" and beet puree "jelly"; just as with a doughnut, I got a burst of "jelly" flavor on each bite. With the remaining sauce, I calligraphed on the plate a note of thanks to the kitchen. Also on the plate: Kentucky fried chicken ice cream courtesy of the liquid nitrogen; it's been long enough since I had KFC that I couldn't tell you how well they matched, but it was OK.Margarita with chips and salsa
Unfortunately, I had the margarita sorbet first; its taste was so strong that I had no way to taste the chips and salsa portion. (And my bad; I think we were warned to eat the chips and salsa first.) Much too strong for a palate cleanser, but were I to have this again I'd approach it very differently and probably enjoy it.Prime Dry Aged Beef with Braised Pizza & Garlic 2001 Arnaldo-Caprai Sagrantino Di Montefalco "Collepiano," Umbria, Italy
The bruleed garlic, there strictly for aroma as you bring the food to your mouth, sits at the top end of the utensils; it's as far from the food as it can possibly be while not staying on the plate. Here I'd move the garlic into the spiral of the utensil or even find a way to attach it to the base of the fork. The "braised pizza" seemed like pureed sun-dried tomatoes to me, but maybe that's just the first analogue I thought of. It was very good, however.Edible Literature of Grana Padano2003 Bruno Verdi Sangue di Guida, Oltrepe Pavese, Lombardy, Italy
A very funny course, with the cheese educating you on its own history. The soft, creamy cheese had a nice tang to it. I think the literature would be improved by the use of the first person; there's no need for an omniscient narrator in that story.Green Curry, Hearts of Palm & Salted Sugar
I didn't really taste much salt in the caramel, but I really liked this dish, and I was sorry to see that many in our group didn't. I think there was a bit too much reliance on nitrogen over the course of the night (though with 21 courses to create, it's a handy tool to use, and it was never a crutch), but this one worked very well for me. Maybe having something that looked so much like peas be something that tasted so not-pea-like was an issue? Curries have never been a big part of my eating life and I don't really seek them out, but I thought the frozen cream carried the flavor well. I'd have this again. Also, I think the kitchen should take this further and turn it into a true trompe l'oeil, perhaps serving a "frozen peas and carrots" course, say, with the green curry forming the peas and perhaps the pumpkin below providing the "carrot."Oatmeal Stout with Venezuelan Chocolate
The chocolate was extraordinary. Strong, bitter without being offensive. Almost overwhelmed the oatmeal foam on top, but that flavor still came through. This was served in a small glass with a spoon, but once I reached the point where the spoon wasn't going to reach anymore, I just drank the rest down. Wonderful.Squash Ice Cream Pellets NV Campbells Rutherglen Tokay, Victoria, Australia
Great blend of pumpkin ice cream (as Matthew the sommelier pointed out, "Pumpkin is
a squash") and powdered pumpernickel bread. This was a much more convincing "pie" than the sweet potato pie, which had no allusion to a crust that I could see. Nonetheless, as at least the sixth serving of a nitrogenated food, it was a texture I'd gotten pretty used to at that point. But I'd call it the most successful of those dishes. I'd also have this again.Doughnut Soup
Breakfast for dessert. Tasted exactly like a warm glazed cruller. It's very nice, but I think drinking it out of a glass is actually an impediment; this seems like a perfect dish to serve in some kind of container that could burst on our tongues, soaking them in the flavor. You can't enjoy a doughnut without using your upper palate, and that was
missing from this course. I understand the point of the course is that the texture of the doughnut is gone, leaving only the heady, comforting taste and smell, but I still want to play with this a little more in my mouth.French Toast with Hot Blueberry Syrup 1994 Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium Riesling Beerenauslese, "Graecher Himmelreich," Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
A few pieces of bread pudding, made from french toast, with blueberry syrup that flowed out from a chocolate bladder or pouch. One of the most conventional courses of the night; I liked it but it didn't grab me. Chocolate Cake with Hot Ice Cream
I followed the directions to have a bite of the rice paper with each bite of cake or ice cream, but eh, while I understood the contrast there, I thought the other two components were just fine without the paper; while there was a contrast, it wasn't a surprising one. Still, this was actually very good; I wonder if the ice cream might've been flash-frozen in the nitrogen to keep it frozen all the way through while the outside was bruleed. Very nice. Perhaps turning this into an ice cream sandwich, with the ice cream between two layers of rice paper, would bring it together better?Veggs
Someone on the other side of the table asked what these -- which weren't on our menu -- were called; I couldn't hear the entire name but did catch a reference to eggs, so I'll call it a hybrid of vegetables and eggs. Anyway, this course belongs in the middle, not during or after dessert, I think. That said, I love it. Each diner received a frozen pureed vegetable -- carrot, cucumber, and beet, which I tasted, and bell pepper, which I sadly didn't -- in the shape of a globe. I missed some of the explanation, but apparently the vegetables are pureed and put in a balloon that's then inflated; the puree coats the inside of the balloon, at which point the balloon is thrust into the ever-present liquid nitrogen, freezing the puree as solid as a rock. The balloon can safely be cut away, leaving the frozen vegetable ice. I was stunned; it smelled vivid, fresh, earthy. Each of the globes had one of the most potent sensory experiences of the night because of those smells. After that, it came down to enjoying a frozen puree in a novel shape, but even that was successful; the first tap of my spoon created a jagged crater in the egg that crashed through to the bottom, letting me pluck off shards. Again, with the vivid sensory engagement of this dish, comparable only to the curry and the margarita, I'd serve it much earlier in the evening, perhaps between the bouillabase and the skirt steak. But it's a winner.
Other notes: This event took 7 1/2 hours instead of the predicted 5 (although the last 45 minutes was mostly waiting for the table and the credit cards, respectively, to be cleared); one of the servers toward the end mentioned that the goal of the restaurant was to let the party flow at its own pace. As someone who's been trapped with annoyingly overaggressive servers, I appreciate the effort to regard the group's flow. But. Seven and a half hours? The restaurant staff needs to create and maintain a pacing that the party will naturally pick up on. Would some of these combinations of adjacent courses be enhanced by coming out closer together? We'll never know. But even if that isn't a factor, even if dishes are robotically brought out every 15 or 20 minutes, it's the venue's duty to pace the evening, and I'd want to know there was an improvement in that regard before I went back on a weeknight.
That said, service was stellar. They knew when to be coy about the preparation of courses and when to reveal something. Very professional without a molecule of pretension. I occasionally enjoyed watching them watch us eat.
I'm blanking on the sommelier's last name, but Matthew's pairings were all an education for me. I was pacing myself very carefully because it was the first time I'd had alcohol since my accident late last summer, when I was put on a prescription that prohibited anything higher than zero proof. And I'm pretty unfamiliar with wines anyway -- I probably buy three or four bottles a year for myself, aside from contributions to dinner events and whatnot. But even the one wine I didn't like when I tasted it alone became the perfect companion to the course it was served with, and that more than anything else establishes the strengths of his pairings.
There were times I actually wished the servers gave us less direction. I don't think there were any challenges on the table at any time, but there were mysteries, and with the explanations those popped like the balloons used to create the Veggs. (Well, I don't know if they popped those balloons.) Rather than an explanation, I'd like to see the team come up with enigmatic comments that might guide the patron to do the expected thing but might also inspire him or her to find something new. That might benefit the restaurant as well.
Nonetheless, it was a stunningly successful evening. Moto does not at all take itself too seriously; its goal is to have fun with food and to create an experience that offers unexpected stimulation to some senses in the hopes of jangling the others awake. In many ways I think this is Moto 1.0, with its reliance on flash-freezing and foaming, but what I see here convinces me that they're doing this well, and if every course isn't stunning, enough are to make the experience worthwhile. I look forward to going back periodically to see how they're progressing (and anticipate going back in March and April for specific events in my life and friends').
Mike G, please be reassured that with 21 courses, no fennel was harmed -- or otherwise involved -- in the creation of the dinner, and black lab coats as far as I could tell have been replaced by black Secret Service suits. And jazzfood knows, but for the record as it happened to be a disappointment in his first visit, given advance knowledge of my inability to have seafood, the kitchen compensated cleverly and generously. Early on -- also setting the tone for the evening -- one of the servers fessed up that the stylish water pitcher cost eight bucks at Crate & Barrel.