A PRELIMINARY WORD...
This evening happened because I wanted very much to get back to Trotter's, after a wondrous farewell dinner there on 4/11/01 that I gave a friend who was moving out of town. Delighted, I told just about everybody in my life about it at appalling length, including a physician friend (hereafter: The Doctor) who'd had a mediocre-to-poor time at Trotter's back in the late Eighties after it opened. I'd also heard in early 11/01, along with the immediate food-crazy universe, that CT's might close. Therefore: I decided (a) to get back in there for one more ecstatic meal before the place was gone and (b) to see to it that The Doctor got the by-God culinary experience of his life. Missions accomplished.
THEY DON'T READ MINDS: A QUICK DIGRESSION
For anyone who wants to get the best out of a night at Trotter's, I very much recommend the following and apologize in advance for yelling in print: TALK TO THEM! Talk to them REPEATEDLY , IN ADVANCE, AND IN DETAIL! I called the reservations desk a total of four (4) times, not only to make and confirm the reservation, but to tell them about likes (seafood! poultry! chocolate!) and hatreds (lima beans! beets! overcooked anything -- in my case -- and raw poultry/fish/meat in The Doctor's case). I asked two (2) separate times to simply go off the menu and let the kitchen cook for us. I also asked, twice, in advance, for a souvenir menu and wine list (more about this later). I was assured that all this had gone into a database; I learned later that indeed it had, and had been noticed.
ENOUGH ALREADY! ON TO THE FOOD!
I arrived first, and was given an excellent flute of 1999 Iron Horse sparkling wine. Very dry, very fine. While I waited, I spoke off-the-cuff with a front-of-house manager who said: Trotter's is not closing, although CT himself will be back and forth to England to prepare and open the London restaurant. The Chicago restaurant and Trotter's to Go are staying open! The Doctor arrived next, and we seated with prompt, warm fresh rolls and eau minerale.
The amuse course consisted of a salad of morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and tiny ramps (tied into little round knots; cute and convenient to eat) on a small puddle of pretty, fresh-green arugula puree, topped off with a vinaigrette which, our server Jason told us, had a stinging-nettle component. I didn't discern the latter, but took his word for it. This was accompanied by a very pleasant, rather grapefruity domestic Sauvignon blanc. Very, very nice start.
A very elegant square of turbot -- poached in olive oil, I believe, it was so tender! -- over cooked-until-melted-down baby leeks arrived, and so did a fine round (and not oaked to death, for once!) New Zealand Chardonnay.
A course of sliced, delicately sauteed poultry breast ("poularde", said Jason) followed, with more of those ramps beneath and Pinot blanc beside; so say my notes, but The Doctor and I concur that this course didn't have the immediate 'star power' of the others. It may interest those who have been following the Trio thread earlier that this was the only course which had any associated foam or froth -- I tasted chicken broth as a major component, plus a bit of salt, but couldn't identify anything else.
By both The Doctor's lights and my own, this was the *wow* course of the evening, and nothing could have been simpler: each of us got a chunk of duck foie gras, sauteed, with two or three small sections of ruby-red grapefruit and an underlayment of chopped pine nuts, caramelized and crunchy. The wine was, for a wonder, not Sauternes but Muscat -- and it worked; all that sweetness sang a duet with the rich liver and the grapefruit tang, instead of competing or clashing. Jason didn't bother coming by to see how we were loving this course -- the purrs and moans from our table were presumably enough for him to tell.
AND THEN WE ATE:
A clear Yukon Gold potato soup followed, made with stock instead of cream; very light, and seasoned with a bit of cumin. In the soup were a few Granny Smith matchsticks and a little cabbage-wrapped package with little tender bits of solid potato in it. Excellent soup. Oddly, my notes say "Domestic Pinot gris, nothing to write home about" for this course.
Jason told us this was a ragout of spring vegetables, and sure enough, we got an interesting stew which, for me, featured the heirloom carrots (in three different colors/flavors) and onions/shallots (two different colors/flavors/sweetnesses). Here, the big news WAS the wine: a huge, smoky Spanish red with big, big heft and character. NOW I could believe Charlie's got a million bucks worth of wine in those three cellars!
NOT TO MENTION:
I must note here: Jason plus two more servers/assistants did a stellar job of removing plates/glasses/debris, replenishing water and bread, and decrumbing the table around The Doctor's and my conversation and between the courses. We barely noticed them, both because they were inconspicuous and because we were enthralled with the food, the wine, and the talk. All credit to those professionals...they were excellent.
Did I say the foie gras was the only *wow* in the progression of courses? Silly me. The next course to arrive at our table consisted of sliced, perfectly medium-rare venison loin on a pool of wonderful creamy corn grits...that's right, you read correctly: grits. Done beautifully, moreover. Over this we got a red-wine reduction/sauce and to drink, we got another big, muscular red, a Cab this time.
MORE? THERE'S MORE?
We got a breather at this point, in the form of a warm coconut tapioca soup, with two mounds of sorbet (one each of pineapple and papaya, according to Jason). My notes don't detail a wine for this, although there must have been one; I was starting to flag by this point.
BUT CHARLIE STILL WASN'T DONE WITH US...
Dessert. Ye gods. All I'd told the receptionist was that both The Doctor and I adored chocolate. Honest. What happened at this point was five separate little desserts: took two servers two trips apiece, and the table (dagburn it, how'd they cleared and decrumbed AGAIN without us noticing?) was covered with yummy-looking plates and two different dessert wines (NOW we got a Sauternes, plus a drop-dead amazing Washington State Eiswein!). Here goes:
(1) Jason called it a "chocolate scone". The texture was more like that of a brownie baked ten minutes before. This had a little collop of ice cream on top with a slight tang to it; may have had a goat-cheese component.
(2) This one's still somewhere on the Trotter website menu list, as a matter of fact, as a "mango and macademia nut brittle cake with passion fruit ice cream." Superb. Can't blame CT for keeping it around; it's a winner.
(3) A warm key lime meringue tart with Meyer lemon sauce. Lovely bright citrus flavor; should have clashed with the sweet-sweet Eiswein. Didn't.
(4) There's always one oddball in the crowd, and this one was it: my notes detail this as a savory custard, garnished with tiny, finely diced heirloom grape tomatoes. Amazing.
(5) The final entry was an elegant, satiny little panna cotta with berries (Blackberries, say my notes; raspberries, says The Doctor. Lovely, in any case.)
THE FINAL WORD. HONEST.
Following this, we got the check ($305 for the two of us, including tax. No. I'm not kidding. We got at least two of those wines free, by my admittedly giddy reckoning), along with the evaluation survey that every table gets. I'm not ashamed to say we tipped outrageously. Jason chose, at this point, to make sure he had my name and mailing address so that he could forward the souvenir menu and wine list, and here is the only disappointment of any kind associated with this evening: they have never arrived. I'm afraid (!?) that all I have are my notes and some glorious memories. Did the Snail Mail fail us? Did Jason lose my address? Did he fail to follow through from sheer exhaustion? No clue. But I don't count it as a dropped ball; everything else was just too fine.
There you have it, folks: my first detailed, extended review for this forum. Feedback is welcome!