Two and a half years after Mike G's post, I finally made it to Moto. Given how much avant-garde food is written about in the popular press these days, neither my boyfriend nor I were surprised by very much last night. We had never had a meal prepared using so much
liquid nitrogen before, but our experiences with Trio, Alinea and Schwa sufficiently prepared us so that last night wasn't an especially "weird" meal.
We decided on the GTM, mainly because neither of us had done a full tour anywhere. My previous record was about 13 courses with a lot of discomfort by #11 or so. Last night was a physical endurance test for me. What was new and surprisingly enjoyable, since we had the first seating of the evening, was looking around the restaurant as it filled up, thinking, “I’ve had that and that
and THAT…” (i.e. looking around a restaurant on a first visit and having tried everything that everyone else was eating). I also felt kind of smug whenever I’d hear a table order only
the 10-course. “Wimps,” I thought. Of course, I was totally out of line. I started to wimp out at #12.
WARNING: no award-winning photos here…
So this was my first encounter with Cantu edible paper. I was disappointed. The paper just seemed adhered to the Italian flat bread (which was amazingly fragrant; I’ve never loved the smell of parmesan so much). I guess I would have been more impressed if there was more an illusion that the words were printed directly on the flatbread.
The menu transcribed, illustrated and selectively (but not necessarily briefly) annotated:
NITRO sushi roll
The red part was a pizza soup. The right side was a Caesar salad soup with brioche croutons. One thing I didn’t feel that Moto got exactly right for our meal was the hot/cold contrast within individual courses. For the ITALIAN food, I just didn’t think the pizza soup—despite its very laudable intensity of fennel—was warm enough. I loved the Caesar salad; it was sufficiently cold and refreshing. The contrast in temperatures simply wasn’t there. As Achatz said bluntly at the Steppenwolf talk (I think, about an audience member's disappointing experience with a dish at the world's best El Bulli), “[if the effect was not clear] they [the kitchen] messed it up.” Alinea's hot potato/cold potato is my standard.
RED/YELLOW beet cake
I loved the fresh-snow-like texture of the beet cake, but after having the beet-bacon amuse at Schwa in February, the combination of flavors seemed old hat.
GIN & TONIC fizz
BASIL CHEESE snow
TOMBO & grilled tuna
CARAMEL APPLE with bacon
This was like eating on Battleship consoles! Initially I thought such a set-up would feel gimmicky, but it didn’t. It’s was surprisingly disorienting not to be able see how much Dan had eaten or manipulated the food on his plate (especially since the mirror effect of a tasting menu is exaggerated with a table of just two people). Because of the fresh sage in the handles of the utensils, I felt compelled to use my fork and spoon simultaneously even though it wasn’t necessary. I fumbled a lot. The smell of sage lingered on my palms through the next course (until I had to go to the bathroom and thus wash my hands). The sage effect wasn’t as divine as the eucalyptus leaves and orange pillow at my Alinea dinner last year, but it was still a wonderful olfactory experience.
LEMON, basil & pickled cucumber
I just like to be able to say that I ate cockles last night.
JALAPENO & cilantro
For me, the addition of cream and sugar translates almost any flavor to utter comfort. The jalapeño was perfect.
BBQ pork with the fixin's
The pork was fantastic. I know it was cheek. My notes are incomplete about the orange sauce. The relatively large portion size really threw off my pacing for the remaining courses.
CHICKEN FRIED mac-n-cheese
Probably my favorite dish of the evening. The crunchiness of the dehydrated macaroni complimented perfectly the fatty smoothness of the quail meat. I normally don’t like smoked cheeses, like the smoked cheddar that topped this course, but I could have eaten an entire casserole of this stuff for dinner and still have been wowed.
*At this point in the meal, Dan and I were taken downstairs for our “field trip.” We got to see the laser coat our wine glasses with an orange-flavored film. I had seen many pictures of the laser and read too much about it. I wish, during our visit to the kitchen, they had showed us something else, maybe a centrifuge or two. Ah well. Dan bore an eerie resemblance to the cartoon character Dexter with his Moto goggles.
STEAK & eggs
The texture and taste of beef tartare usually makes me uneasy, but this steak felt smooth while tasting much more cooked than it’s very light braising. The egg was just an egg, but Dan and I both loved the hash brown block. It was perfectly crispy on the outside, and the interior, surprisingly, had the consistency, almost, of mashed potatoes.
FRUIT & pasta
My memory of this course is strangely blurry given that I listed it as a favorite to one of the Moto staff as we were waiting for our cab after dinner. The "pasta" was made from cheese and plated atop a sweet, milky sauce. That's all I can remember.
3 COTTON candy stages
The truffle lacked nuance (though I guess cotton candy isn't a very nuanced flavor), and the paper was boring. Again, I think I had just read too much about Cantu paper before my visit.
FLAPJACKS prepared tableside
I don’t think the tableside service added anything to this course. The mini flapjacks, cooked with liquid nitrogen on top of a metal box (see below) were served atop syrup that had been stored in bourbon barrels. I liked the idea of that, but the syrup was too strong in flavor for me.
CARROT CAKE planet
It was somewhat fun to have the cake planets delivered two or so courses before we were allowed to touch them, but the cake—like eating an extra buttery piece of toasted carrot cake surrounded by melted carrot sorbet—was so delicious, in the end, I don’t think the experience of watching it melt added anything extra.
*NOTE: By this point in the meal, I felt like I was going to lose consciousness because I was so full. Intent on making it to the nachos, I ate far into both the CHERRY bomb and DOUGHNUT soup before I realized I hadn’t taken pictures! I'm still learning. I don't have the discipline.
DOUGHNUT SOUP & pancake
I had read a lot
about Cantu’s nachos. I like conceptual food for the most part, but it turns out that I’m more interested in the idea of conceptual food rather than the experience of it. I reached my sugar limit with the truffle in the cotton candy course, so the nachos weren’t palatable at all. I’m glad I experienced the trompe l’oeil
effect first hand, the “ooooh…it looks like I’m eating shredded cheddar cheese but it’s really shaved mango sorbet!” But the nachos were still corn chips! This seemed like a big flaw in the nachos-as-dessert effect. Granted, the chips were made of sweet corn, but it was too close to regular tortilla chips, which hover at the middle of the savory-sweet spectrum. Part of me agrees with what Dan said. Maybe Cantu should have just given us real nachos and a beer to end the meal.
In summary, I usually don't mind some showmanship, but I think much of this food tasted good enough to do away with some of the gestures. Knowing a fair amount about canonical/20th-century performance art, I wouldn't make the cynical comparison to Moto's food, but I am sympathetic to the cynics. There's too much food in the world that I haven't tried to justify a return to Moto, and I have no interest in moving on to, say, wd-50, but I'm grateful for the experience. And, I hope making it through 20 courses earns me some "street cred." I'm building my endurance.