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I Have Seen The Future And It's Kinda Goofy: Moto

I Have Seen The Future And It's Kinda Goofy: Moto
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  • I Have Seen The Future And It's Kinda Goofy: Moto

    Post #1 - August 15th, 2004, 5:16 pm
    Post #1 - August 15th, 2004, 5:16 pm Post #1 - August 15th, 2004, 5:16 pm
    But first let me describe breakfast the other morning.

    Dropped my son off at karate camp in Rogers Park, wanted a hearty breakfast, couldn't think of anywhere up north I hadn't been enough times already, thought of Edna's which I've never been to, drove from Rogers Park to west Madison, Edna's had the metal stuff over the windows. Maybe they don't open for breakfast except on the weekends? Assumed there would be no other choices worth investigating at Madison and Kedzie, headed east figuring I'd think of something, thought of the little dive I'd noticed opposite Follia some weeks back, Dino's Morgan Street Inn. Walk into Dino's, the place is fairly trashed from the pre-9 am rush in the meatpacking district, the Mexican guys are still frying like 75 cheap steaks at once for the 3.99 steak 'n' egg special, I stand there, they ignore me and ignore me, I glare at them as hard as I can and finally Dino comes to take my order, and the instant he does he gets a phone call. He answers it. It's an order for another 20 steaks. He goes through the most elaborate order-taking and order verification process I've ever heard in my life, checked and doublechecked, added up and then cross-tabulated, audited and divided by its square root. I have now been standing in this place ignored for like 12, 13 minutes, by rights I should be half done with my food already but my order isn't even taken yet. Clearly I am being treated like they probably treat everyone who hasn't been coming in for 20 years already.

    Then-- I do not understand this-- even though Dino is clearly taking this guy's order for food, Dino digs a credit card out of his own pocket and turns around so he can read it securely to the other guy. Now I'm really insulted. Yeah, that's why I've been standing here 15 minutes, Dino, to snoop credit card numbers from the likes of you. I take advantage of his looking away to turn around myself and walk out the door. It's not like it looked like it was going to be worth the bad service and dubious sanitation, anyway. It's now almost 10, my quest for breakfast is entering its second hour. I start walking and realize, heck, I'm not THAT far from Artopolis, at least I can get a coffee and a croissant in civilized circumstances. And I do, coffee and croissant are both fine, so's the sight of the occasional dark-eyed Sophia Loren-type beauty walking by, the kind that gave Michael Corleone the thunderbolt, they seem to make 'em by the gross in Greektown. Beats looking at Dino, I'll say that.

    Anyway, the point of the story is, walking from the car to Dino's I noticed where Moto was, a couple of doors over from Follia. How I missed it the night I went to Follia, I have no idea, but until then I hadn't known where that new hot spot was. And so last night, when I was restless for something good to eat, the silly but instantly irresistible thought popped into my head-- why not casually pop into Moto? Swing by for a nice 10-course artfully deconstructed bite? Treat Chicago's latest culinary temple as my neighborhood drop-in spot?

    And so I did.

    * * * * * * *

    When the theatrics overshadow the food, a restaurant and its diners are in trouble. At Market District newcomer MOTO, the show... hits a peak when servers approach the table with six-inch syringes to inject a single rice ball with sweet-and-sour sauce... It goes on like this through the 13th course - you'll wish you'd opted for the five- or seven-course meal or, even better, that you'd gone next door to Folia instead.
    --Laura Levy Shatkin, "What's New," The Reader


    Moto has had trouble getting respect. Grant Achatz at Trio received some ribbing for his science experiment preparations, but the general consensus seemed to be that he's such a magician that his food's worth the excess. (I certainly thought so.) Taking things to the next level of pretension and affectation has perhaps made Moto a must-stop on the trendy food circuit, but it also meant that the tables all around me spent much of the evening mocking or being amused by the restaurant they were dropping a wad in.

    Just as importantly-- and what this says about the prospects for his own place when it opens, you can judge for yourself-- Grant Achatz doesn't actually run the dining room at Trio, just the kitchen, and it was the tremendously warm and disarming reception you received from one of the city's best-managed waitstaffs that got you past whatever initial reservations you had about his cooking approach.

    Let's just say by comparison that the welcome at Moto is, well, arming. As in, your anti-pretension defense system immediately goes to Defcon 4, klaxons blaring, enlisted men running up ladders and sealing hatches. The room is white on white except for a black wall with mirrors at the end; the rail-thin, shaven-headed, goateed staff wears black lab coats (I don't mean that they wear Black Labrador pelts like Cruella DeVil, though maybe by this time next year they will, but rather they wear lab coats in black), and stalk the room like art gallery attendants; bottled water is served from the sort of glass cylinder that in the movies usually holds enough neurotoxin to kill an entire continent. And their description of the chef's approach is liberally filled with references to things like "his vision of the future of food," and how the wines are all "perfect" choices for the dishes (I'll be the judge of that, thank you very much). I did not order the wine accompaniments for my seven-course menu, but I did select a glass of Pouilly-Fume which went with something on it, and had to listen to a spiel not only about its tannic levels and acid percentage but also about there only being 14 cases of it in the U.S. and how rare and exquisite it was. Well, rare maybe, but something short of exquisite, especially after that buildup. But I guess if I wanted that sort of act, I was getting my money's worth, just like you do when the car salesmen keep telling you how great your new Jaguar is before you drive off in it and they deposit the very large check. (There was a wine broker of some sort a table away who seemed to be repaying obnoxious pretension in kind to the staff; I wondered, in fact, from his behavior if it might be someone we know...)

    In short, after all that buildup, the food at Moto had a lot to answer for. Could it measure up?

    * * * * * * *

    The amuse-bouche was, curiously, not a little canape thing but a large hot bowl with a small quantity of cold sweet corn soup topped with some micro-arugula. Served with a spoon into which was threaded a sprig of rosemary, and on which was speared a piece of garlic. Along with this I was treated to an explanation of how Chef expected me to carry the scent of rosemary on my fingers and into the gestalt of everything else I would eat that evening.

    Now right there, that was getting off on the wrong foot in a bunch of ways. One, because I have eaten at Trio and know that the whole hot-water-poured-over-rosemary scent thing is a signature-- at least Chef could do the same trick with a different aromatic, be a little more original. Two, because, well, let's just say that a dad with a kid still in diapers doesn't pay $100 for dinner to think about what his fingers might smell like. That said, the soup was quite good. Next.

    Next was... a plate with two chopsticks and a piece of paper on it, showing a photo of sushi. I kid you not. With boundless appreciation for their own cleverness, I was informed that this was edible rice paper with an image printed with edible inks; the reverse side was dusted with soy powder and nori seasoning or some such. After failing to be able to pick up this Post-It Note with my chopsticks, I popped it into my mouth. It was... disgusting. Salty and fishy, not in a good way, like eating brine-soaked fax paper. I drank half my $11 glass of wine to get rid of the vile flavor. A stupid stunt rather than a course, that should be banished from the menu forthwith.

    Happily, just at the moment that I'm thinking of throwing a couple of twenties on the table and making a run for it, a much better course arrives, albeit annoyingly accompanied by precise instructions on how to eat it. It was a tribute to fennel, a Fennelpalooza, consisting of fennel candy wrapped in more edible rice paper (I refused to eat mine as a silent protest), another micro-arugula salad with both fennel puree and a fennel gelee (the first was quite tasty, the second way too salty), and finally a fennel slushie which compared nicely with some of Achatz's similar creations, a concentrated burst of aromatic herbiness that was quite pleasing if a little like drinking after shave. Apart from the gelee, my only knock against it was seeing the micro-arugula again so soon (and not for the last time, as it would turn out). Achatz fed me ramps three times but it was a nice demonstration of how he could use different parts in different ways; this was more like, he got a big bag of micro-arugula and it's goin' on everything tonight! But let's give credit where credit is due; this was the first part of the meal to suggest that a first-rate chef was actually at work here.

    Next up was some sashimi-- a nice slice of hamachi, another of salmon, and one of a cooked scallop topped with a seaweed cracker-y thing which the waiter, now suddenly shifting to a cutely self-mocking mood as if to puncture the restaurant's well-honed air of pretension, referred to as "The Cheetoh of the Sea." I was reminded of the moment halfway through Wayne Newton's Vegas act when Wayne gets a little pompous talking about America or Jesus or something and one of the trumpet players spontaneously blasts a raspberry which cracks everybody up and gets us all back into good-time mode, even though we all know that the moment was precisely scripted to happen at every show and if you really interrupted Wayne Newton that way, a week later your torso would be found in the desert. Frankly, good sashimi is just good sashimi, no great sign of the chef's hand there, except that it came accompanied by a little demitasse of milk whipped with roasted sesame oil as a palate cleanser, which was kind of interesting, smoky-tasting, good as long as it didn't separate back into milk and globs of oil.

    * * * * * * *

    If the fire alarm had gone off at that moment and my meal had ended, I doubt very much I would have ever gone back. Some interesting things had happened, but up to that point my patience had been tried fairly severely, with not that much to show for it. Happily, as we entered the entree portion of the meal, the average went way, way up.

    A small piece of skate was panfried with a brown sauce, reputedly containing horseradish, though the overall effect was surprisingly mild, nicely prepared but more inoffensive than impressive.

    The next was pretty much a wow by comparison: thin slices of smoked capon (that's the expensive-restaurant word for chicken), with a lipstick-red smoke ring, sandwiching some stewed smoked capon, topped with what was called "Kentucky Fried ice cream" (more saltiness), with a beet puree and two big elf (?) mushroom chunks. (This was, incidentally, the one pretty-good-sized portion of the night; we won't comment further on being filled up with chicken for $85.) Really tasty, not least because-- as with Blackbird's slow-roasted pork belly-- it reminds you that so much restaurant food is cooked for two seconds at 1000 degrees and something that's slow-cooked really stands out by comparison. At last, an experience at Moto that had really been worth having, and that I hadn't had somewhere else before.

    The next was a wow, too, though portion size wasn't why. A couple of tiny slices of beautifully soft, bright red tenderloin ("cooked to a perfect 135 degrees"), sitting atop some silky rich braised oxtail meat, and off at the side some mushrooms in a vanilla bean sauce, the first weirdo combination a la Achatz's chocolate-and-green-olive of the evening, and a surprisingly successful one. This was a knockout dish, though it had the effect of making me wonder why I wasn't just paying $34.95 for a whole big plate of this instead of $85 for a series of tiny plates leading up to a taste of this.

    That should have been my last course, in fact, but then for some reason the waiter appeared at my table and said that the chef had decided to send me an extra course-- roasted Indiana bobtail quail, in a brown sauce. Simple, savory, accompanied by some odd little shredded black mushroom which a lot of buttery could not entirely rid of a slightly swampy taste. I had no objection, of course, to trying one more "entree," which wasn't one of the best ones but was certainly satisfying as any roast poultry is, especially at the price.

    Score at the end of this round: Moto is a very good restaurant hiding inside a very weird restaurant.

    * * * * * * *

    One other thing Trio did right was make sure you went out with a killer dessert (or two or three). Spring also redeemed a very hit or miss meal for me that way with a stunningly good chocolate mousse in a ginger soup. Alas, Moto didn't quite get that lesson, and the final innings lowered their score a bit. Two palate cleansers consisted of a little glob of onion ice cream (they made a joke about it tasting like Funyuns; enough with the snack food jokes, and anyway, what it really suggested was a Dippin' Dot) and a cucumber slushie which just kind of repeated the fennel effect from earlier to a bit less interesting effect. (To be fair, Trio overdid the hot and cold liquid shooter thing in kind of the same way, repeating it at dessert time with a less exciting version.)

    My actual dessert was called, again with rather arch cuteness, "Breakfast Cereal." It was roasted quinoa with shaved milk ice-- and good though it was, it should have been the palate cleanser for something more robustly luxurious and decadent. Instead, it was too virtuous and thin to be an entirely satisfying dessert. It was then followed, bizarrely, by an even more breakfast cereal-like final touch, candied dehydrated corn - in other words, Sugar Corn Pops-- in a cream gelee. At this rate, before long we'd be having Fennel Smores.

    Then, as I prepared to sign my credit card slip, a curious thing happened-- the manager, or sommelier, or someone of higher stature than a waiter asked me if I was "in the business." Suddenly I knew why I had been favored with an extra entree. But why did they think that, I wonder? Because I was dining by myself? Because, after a couple of years of posts like this, I eat like someone visibly trying hard to analyze and memorize every flavor? Because of my "Hello, My Name is Phil V." nametag? Beats me, but if I knew why, I'd repeat it and snag extra courses every time.

    * * * * * * *

    So what's my final verdict on Moto? I started out wanting to slap it, I ended up thinking it's so damned odd that I kind of want to protect it from a world it's just not ready to go out in alone. It's Blanche DuBois plunked down on the most Stanley Kowalskian street in Chicago, the street of Dino's and the $3.99 steak and egg special and service with a snarl.

    One thing I've noticed in recent years is the rise of the "faux-cutting-edge" restaurant. You see this especially in tourist destinations like Vegas or Orlando (the new Todd English Bluezoo, for instance). The decor is 21st century chicer-than-chicer, tiny tiles and weird metal light fixtures and dramatically swooping walls, what you might call "minimalist glitz," but the food, though excellent, is actually rather conservative-- because the audience is, after all, not folks who've eaten at Trio or French Laundry or Pharmacy and are looking for the next bizarre innovation, but folks from middle America on a splurge. They want to feel like they're having a hip-to-the-minute experience, see something you won't see in Provo or Knoxville, but the restaurant knows better than to really weird them out on the actual food. (Nine would be a local example of the same thing-- game-show-on-Mars decor, solid surf and turf food that wouldn't scare them at Ditka's.)

    The decor at Moto is not game-show-on-Mars, in fact it's understated. But the whole science experiment reputation serves the same function, of making you think you're having an experience that's way way out there. Yet besides the fact that the science experiments were the parts that mainly fell flat, that stuff wound up being confined to the beginning and the end of the meal; the middle, which was by far the more traditional and also by far the most successful, indeed genuinely excellent parts of the meal, was almost free of such touches, at least if you consider tiny portions on big plates and mushrooms in vanilla bean sauce to be closer to normal than to exotic.

    Here's a restaurant who's reputation is beyond-Trio in its weirdness, yet the heart of the meal - and the best parts by far - reminded me far more of expertly-crafted un-exotic meals using local meats and seasonal produce that I've had at restaurants like Blackbird or North Pond or the late Grace. Moto may in fact be outsmarting itself by trying to live at the cutting edge, a place where you can only have a season or two before someone goes further than you dare or can bear. There is, I think, an outstanding contemporary restaurant inside chef Homaro Cantu's head, and if he could just get his vision of the future out of its way, it might fully escape and sweep away all the doubts that Moto as it exists now provokes.

    Moto
    945 W Fulton Market
    Chicago, IL 60607
    (312) 491-0058
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  • Post #2 - August 15th, 2004, 5:50 pm
    Post #2 - August 15th, 2004, 5:50 pm Post #2 - August 15th, 2004, 5:50 pm
    Mike,

    Let me be the first to congratulate you on a post so well done I actually nodded along as I read.

    Interesting, and apt, observation on the rise of the "faux-cutting-edge" restaurant. I also got a chuckle from, I'm assuming apocryphal, restaurant Pharmacy.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
  • Post #3 - August 15th, 2004, 5:58 pm
    Post #3 - August 15th, 2004, 5:58 pm Post #3 - August 15th, 2004, 5:58 pm
    Pharmacy.
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  • Post #4 - August 15th, 2004, 10:58 pm
    Post #4 - August 15th, 2004, 10:58 pm Post #4 - August 15th, 2004, 10:58 pm
    Mike,

    I look forward to the day when I can pay for the pleasure of reading your writing.

    Bob
  • Post #5 - August 15th, 2004, 11:02 pm
    Post #5 - August 15th, 2004, 11:02 pm Post #5 - August 15th, 2004, 11:02 pm
    Bob, that day was 1996! Going price down to 87 cents!

    (Actually, my ad clients have been paying for that privilege for years, but you wouldn't want to read that stuff. Anyway, thanks for the compliment...)
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  • Post #6 - August 16th, 2004, 12:12 am
    Post #6 - August 16th, 2004, 12:12 am Post #6 - August 16th, 2004, 12:12 am
    Mike, that was the best piece of restaurant writing I've read in a long time; I really got a feel for Moto (I think that's a good thing), a place that almost seems a parody of sorts (though I'm not sure of what). Does it not seem it will be short-lived? Anything that mannered, that stylized seems doomed to a short life, but maybe that's part of the plan behind this performance art place.

    Bob, I've got Mike's encyclopedia at my bedside, and I find myself opting for it more regularly than many other late night literary options (it's an excellent browsing book).

    Hammond
  • Post #7 - August 16th, 2004, 10:34 am
    Post #7 - August 16th, 2004, 10:34 am Post #7 - August 16th, 2004, 10:34 am
    Something to keep in mind is that Cantu is 27. Not that this should alter one's perception of the food but it opens up the possibility that this is a person still trying to work out how his talents and aspirations fit together.

    He obviously has a predilection for "food as concept art." This can be incredible when it creates some sort of friction between expectation and reality or on that rare occasion where it catalyzes a real paradigm shift ... but you can't aim to rupture reality with every course. It becomes overwhelming and pedantic ... not to mention failing in that adhere to that basic artistic dictum "show, don't tell." Discovering that your hands carry the scent of rosemary is much more exciting than being told that they will. Redefining something highly circuscribed - food, restaurants, etc - puts you on a high-wire and opens you up to "emperor has not clothes" style arguments. If you fail to execute, it's easily generalized as a failure of your vision. And Cantu has moments where the idea is so important to him that he loses sight of the reality of the experience - "wouldn't it be neat to use edible inks and play with junkfood flavor combinations" becomes such a driving question that the fact that it doesn't succeed as food fails to register. It's somewhat ironic that where his experiments often fail is exactly where junkfood succeeds - they are not compulsively edible, simple, or assertive. Staging a food science jousting match with Doritos sets you up for failure ... few foods are more equation-based and lab-coat designed than snack chips. A real lab doesn't publish the failures ... it uses them as the stepping stones to success. Perhaps with maturity he'll get past the point where the joy of play is sufficient yet still keep it as a necessary element.

    It seems there are a couple of directions he could go: tone down or dispense with the wacky humor and experimentation; take it further (hopefully improving upon it) and dispense with the traditional elements (could this succeed artistically and/or financially?); merge the two, emphasizing more interpenetration. Ultimately, the last option seems the most likely to succeed in satisfying the chef and the public but it requires a maturing process/period and a willingness to adapt/evolve and to be rigorous about his experiments, not just whimsical.

    rien
  • Post #8 - August 16th, 2004, 11:41 am
    Post #8 - August 16th, 2004, 11:41 am Post #8 - August 16th, 2004, 11:41 am
    rien wrote:but you can't aim to rupture reality with every course. It becomes overwhelming and pedantic ... not to mention failing in that adhere to that basic artistic dictum "show, don't tell." Discovering that your hands carry the scent of rosemary is much more exciting than being told that they will.


    It seems to me that the "artist" is telling you so that you understand that it's all part of a tightly controlled experience (as if you might not notice). This, I believe, could be a sign of immaturity, but I must admit, being told that the rosemary scent was intentionally engineered into the larger food orgy might actually help me appreciate it more. Sometimes, the audience may need to be "told" -- reminds me of my all-time favorite Twain quote about Wagnerian opera: "the music is better than it sounds" (meaning, I think, that once you factor in the Norse mythology and understand the lofty intentions of the composer, the experience becomes more rich and fun than just sitting through a six-hour opera -- as if that weren't a gas enough all by itself).

    Hammond
  • Post #9 - August 16th, 2004, 11:56 am
    Post #9 - August 16th, 2004, 11:56 am Post #9 - August 16th, 2004, 11:56 am
    Mike G wrote:Bob, that day was 1996! Going price down to 87 cents!

    (Actually, my ad clients have been paying for that privilege for years, but you wouldn't want to read that stuff. Anyway, thanks for the compliment...)

    Well, I have to admit that I often see as many as one or two movies a year, although there was a brief stretch (roughly 1980-2003) when I usually didn't see that many. I was quite the Obscure Band Hipster for most of my misspent youth, much too busy scurrying from one nightclub to another to stop at a theater.

    Anyway, the point is, speaking as an editor for some two decades myself, you write good.
  • Post #10 - August 16th, 2004, 1:02 pm
    Post #10 - August 16th, 2004, 1:02 pm Post #10 - August 16th, 2004, 1:02 pm
    It seems to me that the "artist" is telling you so that you understand that it's all part of a tightly controlled experience (as if you might not notice)... Sometimes, the audience may need to be "told" -- reminds me of my all-time favorite Twain quote about Wagnerian opera: "the music is better than it sounds"


    As one of the graphically challenged, I've never given much thought to the intrinsic loathing I bear for visual art that incorporates text.

    And as one of the culinarily priveleged, I've even longer born an equally intense loathing for conceptual food.

    Which causes me once again to ponder the words of the Elmwood Park Italian Deli sandwich guy, in response to our visitor's query re where's a good restaurant:

    "Ya wanna eat, or ya want food?"
    Chicago is my spiritual chow home
  • Post #11 - August 16th, 2004, 6:44 pm
    Post #11 - August 16th, 2004, 6:44 pm Post #11 - August 16th, 2004, 6:44 pm
    Steve Drucker wrote:
    As one of the graphically challenged, I've never given much thought to the intrinsic loathing I bear for visual art that incorporates text.

    And as one of the culinarily priveleged, I've even longer born an equally intense loathing for conceptual food.

    Which causes me once again to ponder the words of the Elmwood Park Italian Deli sandwich guy, in response to our visitor's query re where's a good restaurant:

    "Ya wanna eat, or ya want food?"


    Aside from standing in frank admiration of this topic, which is beautifully informative, excellently written, thought-provoking, and includes this memorable quote from the sandwich man, which I will re-use, I must also demur gently, Steve.

    Bread and circuses, I think someone once said (yeah, I know who). If I had to choose, I would most definitely choose good food first. But if the food is good, I am only too happy to have it come with a show built around the food, which is what conceptual food, at its best, offers. Yes, it can be a condescending presentation, though for many years top flight restaurants, modeling themselves on the French, were condescending to everyone who had not proven themselves, so this is hardly new; yes, the experiments can fail miserably unless the chef has the rare ability to pull it off. Unfortunately, it sounds a bit like Moto is, mostly, an over-priced combination of camp and comfort food, which might be worth a giggle, but probably not.

    But I would not dismiss conceptual food out of hand. It can be damned good, you know. And very engaging.
    d
    Feeling (south) loopy
  • Post #12 - August 16th, 2004, 8:06 pm
    Post #12 - August 16th, 2004, 8:06 pm Post #12 - August 16th, 2004, 8:06 pm
    Yes, comfort food-- that's what the better part is.

    You know, one thing I was thinking about after posting is, for all the fact that it has a Japanese name and chef and so on (and suddenly, after hearing that he's 27, I think of him looking like the bafflingly high-energy talk show host in Lost in Translation), there really aren't many Asian touches on the menu-- especially on the better stuff. I mean, sure, the sashimi was, and the godawful paper trick, but nothing in the entree part of the meal. The beef and chicken and so on could fit right in at a country club. Compare that to Trio where Asian/fusion was a fully assimilated set of influences, Achatz didn't make that many dishes that were explicitly Asian and yet many were Asian-seeming in some way.

    So maybe, as someone suggested, Moto is only expected to be a sensation for a year or two, doing the 21st century equivalent of the spinning salad bowl, and then when it gets old, it closes or at least reconcepts. And maybe Cantu will settle down then into what seems to be his real talent, which is for very high quality classical comfort food, not these tricks which reminded me of Samuel Johnson's comment to an aspiring writer (this is too cruel to Cantu, but there's some truth in it), "Your manuscript is both original and good. But the part that's good is not original, and the part that's original is not good."
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  • Post #13 - August 16th, 2004, 8:21 pm
    Post #13 - August 16th, 2004, 8:21 pm Post #13 - August 16th, 2004, 8:21 pm
    Mike,

    On a related though different track, don't you feel it was unfortunate to eat there alone?

    I eat 80% (or more) of my meals alone, but at a place like Moto, it seems that part of the fun is being there with an audience, an accompanist, a compadre; you know, it's kind of like going to a comedy movie, solo: you don't get the kick of the other's appreciation of the fun, and as Butch suggests (and I agree), entertainment value is equivalent to food value at many places like this.

    Hammond
  • Post #14 - August 16th, 2004, 9:06 pm
    Post #14 - August 16th, 2004, 9:06 pm Post #14 - August 16th, 2004, 9:06 pm
    dicksond wrote:... I must also demur gently, Steve....


    A superbly reasoned dissent.

    Back on thread: I am not so catholic as others of us when it comes to food. Should I want a blowout meal comprised of small portions, I'll follow the herd up to Katsu, rather than to places like Moto, which a priori (in its fullest meaning sense) I shrink from intuitively.

    Conceptual food, (ok, soapbox accepted) is it possible to grasp it as akin to conceptual sex--i.e. what you get these days in a topless place?
    Chicago is my spiritual chow home
  • Post #15 - August 16th, 2004, 9:31 pm
    Post #15 - August 16th, 2004, 9:31 pm Post #15 - August 16th, 2004, 9:31 pm
    David Hammond wrote:On a related though different track, don't you feel it was unfortunate to eat there alone?


    Well, I eavesdrop a lot. So I wasn't alone...
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  • Post #16 - October 18th, 2004, 12:57 pm
    Post #16 - October 18th, 2004, 12:57 pm Post #16 - October 18th, 2004, 12:57 pm
    I hope people saw the season debut of Check Please! this weekend, which featured Moto in the first review. It's bizarre enough to read about it, but as they showed each dish I just couldn't stop laughing. (And fortunately, with Tivo, I could hit pause when they briefly showed the menu closeups. My, my...) But all three were utterly impressed, and seemed to consider it among the high points of their lives. Go figure.
  • Post #17 - October 18th, 2004, 11:46 pm
    Post #17 - October 18th, 2004, 11:46 pm Post #17 - October 18th, 2004, 11:46 pm
    i looked forward to experiencing moto, as it came reccomended highly to me by trusted food professionals. i spent an uncomfortable 1/2 hr there before opting to leave.

    the $85 tasting menu was the choice among the table of 6. the problem was that it contained 1 pork dish and one of the diners was kosher. we asked if we could substitute that course. after the shock of the waiter that we would dare to challenge "chef" wore off, with much scurrying back and forth and many heads pointed in our direction, we were told that we could, but for a $20. surcharge each. with that, we left. we all thought that it was out of line. they gambled and lost out on what would have been a $6-700 meal.

    we walked over to redfish and had an excellent meal @ a fraction of that. trendy wild food? no. but a nice room w/gracious staff and good food.

    it wasn't about the $. it was about the hipper than thou attitude b s plus knowing what that food costs to put on the plate (3 of us are in the biz) which was part of our reluctance to leave, but we couldn't stay in good faith.

    i choose to spend my money where i feel appreciated and not taken advantage of or intimidated by. i would suggest that to all concerned. it is a service industry after all. it's not like they were subbing it with foie gras or lobster, i believe they offered capon.

    we were prepared to have a nice night out, and did, inspite of how it started.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #18 - October 18th, 2004, 11:56 pm
    Post #18 - October 18th, 2004, 11:56 pm Post #18 - October 18th, 2004, 11:56 pm
    I would rather have a TV dinner than deal with that attitude.I saw my sister this weekend and after saying our hellos the first thing she asked was if I saw Check Please with that weird Moto.
  • Post #19 - October 19th, 2004, 12:02 am
    Post #19 - October 19th, 2004, 12:02 am Post #19 - October 19th, 2004, 12:02 am
    I admire your refusal to pay a surcharge for a substitution. Admittedly the point of a tasting menu is the set menu, but when you have an utterly legitimate request, especially one they must have heard before, it's absurd to stick everyone with a fee for an equal substitution. I can only compare it with, say, Zealous, where the chef seemed more than happy to alter the menu to go with a couple of food allergies, as well as to serve each of us at the table something different for each course.
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  • Post #20 - October 19th, 2004, 12:11 am
    Post #20 - October 19th, 2004, 12:11 am Post #20 - October 19th, 2004, 12:11 am
    How rude of them. look at what Charlie Trotter did in this situation - this was in the Sun Times a few weeks back.

    SPECIAL ORDER: One wouldn't think international gourmet guru Charlie Trotter would ever have to order in, but when faced with the need for a kosher meal (for one guest in a large party at his famed Armitage Avenue eatery) -- Trotter turned to Daniel Nack and George Jewell, co-owners of of Our Town's new high-end kosher caterer Basel & Balfour.

    Nack and Jewell rose to the occasion -- sending over a "Trotter-worthy" feast -- plus all the necessary kosher plates and silverware.

  • Post #21 - October 19th, 2004, 12:51 am
    Post #21 - October 19th, 2004, 12:51 am Post #21 - October 19th, 2004, 12:51 am
    I've been corrected on this board several times today (each time with complete justification), so I hesitated to respond to this thread, given the general vibe, but is it not reasonable to alert restauranteurs to the dietary restrictions of your group before you visit the restaurant?

    If I knew I was going to a high-end (meaning big ticket) joint (and don't you usually plan for such feasts?), I might call ahead and let the people there know that one of our party was a vegetarian, a person who is lactose-intolerant, a guy who keeps Kosher, etc. Just showing up and expecting the place to accomodate you is not out of line (I mean, adjusting on-the-spot is what good service is all about) but why make things difficult?

    Hammond
  • Post #22 - October 19th, 2004, 1:20 am
    Post #22 - October 19th, 2004, 1:20 am Post #22 - October 19th, 2004, 1:20 am
    all i can say, and i've been cooking professionally for over 20 yrs, is that in my kitchens, anything that can be done, will be done. that doesn't mean you do everything that's asked. it does mean though that if you can accomodate a resonable request, you do.

    it's a people game in a service industry. talent without humility doesn't go very far for very long. and coupled with attitude and greed... it does not aid in digestion.

    the place was half empty. i wasn't aware that one of our party had any food issues until that moment. we also weren't aware of an all degustation policy for the table beforehand. if he was 1/2 a pro, he would have rolled with it and made everyone happy. instead, he's getting badrapped months after the fact. who does that hurt? who lost the large ticket table?

    one reason people don't last in this business is that they don't get that fact. there's more to being a restauranteur than owning one, or being an interesting chef. it's hard enough to do it right. profit margins are dwindling and competition is fierce. i'll go and spend my $ where i feel comfortable. no problem.

    again, it's not about the $. we've all had great food for $10 and lousy food for $100. but if i get spoken to in a condesending way, and know that i'm being cheated or taken advantage of, i won't be back. if more people wouldn't put up with that, there'd be better food and service all around and less mediocrity passing for hip or good.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #23 - October 19th, 2004, 7:10 am
    Post #23 - October 19th, 2004, 7:10 am Post #23 - October 19th, 2004, 7:10 am
    David Hammond wrote:I've been corrected on this board several times today (each time with complete justification), so I hesitated to respond to this thread, given the general vibe, but is it not reasonable to alert restauranteurs to the dietary restrictions of your group before you visit the restaurant?


    I suppose it is reasonable but I don't think it is necessary. If I couldn't eat wheat gluten or egg, I'd probably call ahead. But if I simply didn't eat pork, I'd come in and look at the menu. If I wanted the tasting menu, I would simply ask if pork could be left out.

    I've eaten quite a few tasting menus at high-end and medium-end restaurants. I would say that 80% of the time, I was asked by the staff if anyone in our party had any allergies or dietary restrictions.

    I find moto's response reprehensible and counter to the notion of service in a fine dining establishment.
  • Post #24 - October 19th, 2004, 8:24 am
    Post #24 - October 19th, 2004, 8:24 am Post #24 - October 19th, 2004, 8:24 am
    I agree with everybody.

    If you had genuinely unusual requests, probably best to bring them up up front, and yet as noted it's a common enough part of the prix fixe drill to be asked if you have any special requests, allergies, etc. Again, I compare it to Zealous where the chef not only happily made substitutions but seemed to be eager to whip up something as if on the spot in response to the challenge (I'm not convinced that really happened, but I admire the attitude that wants to give that impression).

    Merely being able to avoid pork-- I would guess that I've avoided pork by random chance at half or more of the high-end meals I've ever eaten. There's really no reason for making a big deal out of it, other than Chef's preciousness in insisting that the whole meal be eaten his way. That might be justifiable on the kind of menu that really is a series of related dishes on a theme, but I saw no sign that Moto's eclectic dishes were thematic.
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  • Post #25 - October 19th, 2004, 10:12 am
    Post #25 - October 19th, 2004, 10:12 am Post #25 - October 19th, 2004, 10:12 am
    we're talking about a simple substitution that they tried to embarass us with and profit from unreasonably. i say, that's a sign of unprofessionalism, vainity, immaturity etc... i'll spend my $ elsewhere.

    the black labcoat clad waitron unit was back and forth in hushed tones and pointed finger like it was camp david. if it were, they would have been more diplomatic. this isn't rocket science. we were uncomfortable w/the way it was handled, so we left. period. their loss, not ours. i'll go to el bulli if i want the saladore dali of food. not some pretender without a clue.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #26 - October 19th, 2004, 11:05 am
    Post #26 - October 19th, 2004, 11:05 am Post #26 - October 19th, 2004, 11:05 am
    Mike G wrote:There's really no reason for making a big deal out of it, other than Chef's preciousness in insisting that the whole meal be eaten his way.


    Exactly.

    I've never been to Moto (and based on all I've heard, I probably never will), but it's very clear based on Mike's initial review that these guys are artistes, auteurs, people convinced of their own culinary genius. Now, they may be rude fools, but most people who believe they are creating 'art' would probably respond in precisely the same way.

    Picasso is having a show. You say, "Hey, I love this landscape, but could you do the same thing for me, except hold the minotaurs - and please, no nudes?" Picasso says...well, you know what he'd say, and you'd get the same response from any artist who THOUGHT he was next Picasso.

    I stopped going to "performance art" years ago because I found such 'work' to be boring and usually lacking in any sense of what the audience would find interesting, what people like, what would please them. I would not have expected Moto's response to the substitutions request - however reasonable - to be any different.

    Hammond
  • Post #27 - October 19th, 2004, 11:31 am
    Post #27 - October 19th, 2004, 11:31 am Post #27 - October 19th, 2004, 11:31 am
    David Hammond wrote:I've been corrected on this board several times today (each time with complete justification), so I hesitated to respond to this thread, given the general vibe, but is it not reasonable to alert restauranteurs to the dietary restrictions of your group before you visit the restaurant?

    Hammond


    I think there are different degrees to be considered. In the Trotter's example referenced earlier, where a guest keeps Kosher, I would think most definitely the party should call in advance to inquire about their options. In this specific case, where a diner did not want the pork dish among the servings and Moto decreed that every diner must have a plate switch AND a $20 upcharge, I'm simply shocked. I would not think that a party would need to call in advance to inquire about what is such a relatively simple thing. For yet another comparison to Trotter's . . . my wife doesn't eat meat but enjoys all forms of seafood and shellfish. On a (wonderful) dinner at Trotter's she was attracted to the Grand Degustation side of the menu (some nice seafood dishes) but wondered if she could sub non-meat dishes where there was meat listed. Without the slightest fuss she was accomodated and we both had a wonderful meal (me, with the complete Grand and her with the Grand/Veggie combo as it were). If Charlie can be this accomodating, and surely he has enough awards to wallpaper his house, who is Cantu to be so unreasonable in some misguided pretense of "artiste"?

    Just my $0.02 worth, but this story has made it even easier for me to dismiss Moto from my "want to try" list.
    Objects in mirror appear to be losing.
  • Post #28 - October 19th, 2004, 11:58 am
    Post #28 - October 19th, 2004, 11:58 am Post #28 - October 19th, 2004, 11:58 am
    Hi,

    I was at Charlie Trotter's kitchen table recently, which someday I will get around to writing up.

    One of the people in our party made a request I found privately startling: "Could we have some olive oil for our bread" The waiter didn't bat an eye or smirk, he just smoothly ascended to this request. As he walked away to get the olive oil, my companion said, "Yeah, all the finer places like Macaroni Grill have olive oil for your bread." If my teeth could hit the floor, they would have. Trotters brought not one but three different olive oils, one each from Spain, Italy and California. It became an impromptu olive oil tasting with Spain favored by everyone, with me finding all were terrific. After a while, the waiter brought out a boutique bottle of first press olive oil from a very specific region of Italy. From the reverence the waiter offered it, the unique labeling and dark colored bottle; you felt you were holding liquid gold.

    I imagine any lesser place would have gone to great lengths to embarass and show their culinary supremacy by some snide remark. Really it is very sophisticated to say nothing and move on like it was a very reasonable request.

    And it makes a great story...
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #29 - October 19th, 2004, 2:34 pm
    Post #29 - October 19th, 2004, 2:34 pm Post #29 - October 19th, 2004, 2:34 pm
    my point exactly. by being civil or gracious, you only gain.

    btw, i've been an artist in multiple genres my entire life. while i don't ever comprimise my art for my audience, and believe it's quality will find it's own place, i'm aware that if i want said audience to support my efforts, you need to behave with a certain grace and humility. my arrogant artist days are fortunatly long gone. these days, i'd never tell picasso to lose the blue.

    the moment you put your stuff out, you place yourself in the position to elicit praise or critique. how you accept it greatly determines your success. or failure.
    "In pursuit of joys untasted"
    from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata
  • Post #30 - October 19th, 2004, 4:01 pm
    Post #30 - October 19th, 2004, 4:01 pm Post #30 - October 19th, 2004, 4:01 pm
    Thought it might be worthwhile to add a link to a report by someone who recently ate at Moto:

    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?sho ... t&p=710696

    It has pics. Sorry it's on eGullet, but it's not mine to repost. For reference, the author has been to Trotter's twice, Trio under Achatz this year, and several other top Chicago restaurants, plus places like The French Laundry and Gordon Ramsay's. He's experienced in fine dining.

    That said, he's a Texan and very much enjoys comfort foods and peasant foods.

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