Holiday Sweepstakes: You Could Win* a KitchenAid 7-Qt. Pro Line Stand Mixer and More! Enter the Giveaway

Follow us:

Discover the unexpected in the Chicago Area. Explore All of Chicago
Restaurants & Bars 15

Yet another Trio review

estufarian | Aug 7, 200201:03 PM

After Mike G’s rave review (see link) we decided to make a return trip to Trio. We’d eaten there twice before (both over 4 years ago, before the current chef) and found it good but gimmicky. Presentation seemed to be more important than the food.
Also, reviews last week seemed to be more negative, but one man’s meat…etc. I can't attach 2 links to 1 post, so if you want the criticism try


They do request that each person at a table order from the same menu option (i.e. same number of courses), although certain courses appear across menus.

The advertising/promotion promotes ‘French Cuisine and French Laundry’ – this is fairly misleading. It’s clear from the outset that Ferran Adria is the influence here. I haven’t tried El Bulli (booked solid for 2002) but did try Talaia Mar (a protégée) which I loved, hence the motivation to try Trio.

Mike G ‘s review was spot on – some superb dishes, some curious and some disasters. But with 20 courses and a relatively young chef (28) what else would you expect?

The optional wines ($95 per person) we passed on – with the style of cuisine I wasn’t sure whether it would even be wine friendly. That may have been a mistake as it turned out that the menu was remarkably wine friendly. Great thought had been given to ensuring the progression of courses was lighter to heavier and white to red. We ordered a couple of glasses of champagne, followed by a half bottle of Zind Humbrecht Riesling and a half bottle of Red Burgundy (Vosne Romanee). Both bottles were excellent – and kudos to a wine list offering these in half bottles.

Before the details, a comment on service. Every dish was presented by knowledgeable servers, who were able to answer almost all questions (see below for exception). The pacing was excellent, no long pauses or rushed service anywhere along the way. The total 3½ hours plus is necessary – even then we were struggling at the end.

To the food – starting with
1. hollowed out watermelon ball containing paprika ice and garnished with candied watermelon rind. Refreshing, sweet with the paprika flavour lingering on the tongue. Excellent start.
2. Hot Coconut-Cold Coconut (described expertly by Mike G). Shooter with Hot frothed coconut milk over cold vanilla scented coconut water. One of my wife’s favourites, although I found the middle taste (of 3 sips – it’s too large to swallow in one) the most interesting.
3. “Bloody Mary” – without doubt the dish that most clearly indicated the Ferran Adria influence – almost straight out of his ‘Deconstructing Soup’ article in Gastronomica. The server even described this as a “deconstructed Bloody Mary”. Deconstruction is breaking out the components and reassembling them. On the plate were:- a confit of tomato (not sure what that means; it looked like a peeled Roma tomato); a celery ice; horseradish cream foam; a small celery leaf salad (slaw? – and maybe mache too); and a Worcestershire sauce gelee. Garnish was an oil and black pepper and the final touch was the server spraying a mist of vodka over the ‘ingredients’. Gimmicky or brilliant? Over the top certainly, but the components all work together. And the Worcestershire sauce gelee idea is great.
4. Shaved Botarga. This was new to me – and one of my top 2 dishes. Botarga (Bottarga) is made from tuna or mullet fish roe, which is salt cured then air-dried. The version at Trio was made from yellow mullet (one of the traditional sources) and the original small hard bar had been grated in irregular sized ‘lumps’. This was served on a parmesan ‘custard’ with baby arugula, basil, a tomato vinaigrette, olive oil and curls of dried Italian bread. The taste of Botarga is somewhat reminiscent of caviar – but a far more pleasing texture. I’m now on the lookout for Botarga – but a web search brought up a price of $15 an ounce, so I’m not looking too hard.
5. Black Truffle Explosion. See Mike’s review of Liquid Black Truffle Ravioli.
6. Sherry Vinegar Sorbet. Also see Mike.
7. “Oysters and Beer” This dish seems to have evolved since Mike’s less than enthusiastic review. However, evolution does not always improve the species. This is now presented in a glass cylinder. A malpeque oyster with a ginger gelee, a fish roe (?salmon) – large orange eggs, and an anchor steam beer foam. The server then presents “food in motion” – the cylinder is bottomless and as the glass is removed the ‘cylinder’ of food collapses and spreads over the plate. After tasting this, my wife commented that the previous time she observed food in motion also concerned beer with oysters, and it happened shortly after being consumed. Let’s be charitable and say that this dish was not totally successful.
8. Maine Lobster with Rosemary Vapor. Mike’s review is similar. We could smell the rosemary before the dish arrived and it didn’t really need the hot water to release the aroma. When anybody has this dish in the restaurant, you clearly know about it. This means you get arbitrary rosemary scented dishes throughout the meal. So my review is negative because it spoils other dishes (although fine for this one). I didn’t detect any morels in mine (although I’ve seen some around). Mine seemed more like porcini although I might have also had a lobster mushroom too (a food pun!) and we had a lobster nage foam with this dish too.
9. Atlantic Spotted Skatewing. I’m always nervous with skate – it often has an ammonia smell. But no problems here. It was sautéed and served with a mango ‘packet’ (containing a soft corn pudding), a corn and haricots vert salsa, a corn coulis with popcorn pieces and a curried mango sauce. I couldn’t taste the curry, but otherwise excellent combination, although didn’t zing.
10. Wisconsin Poussin w sorrel and pushed foie gras. Mike didn’t like the pushed foie gras – but in this dish it worked perfectly. The breast of the young chicken was served warm and sliced with a drizzle of honey accompanied by a fennel bulb on a lemon cream sauce; the pushed foie gras and a sorrel soup with candied lemon peel. It was garnished with fleur du sel crushed pepper and a marigold leaf. On paper it seems too much, but the combinations of flavours sweet/sour, cold/warm worked amazingly well. The pushed foie gras melts on the tongue – it’s almost like a foie gras emulsion and complemented the sweet flavours. Possibly my favourite dish of the night.
11. Spice Water – see Mike – I found the hazelnut dominated at first, but the star anise lingered. Refreshing.
12. Massachusetts Striped Bass. Another winner. Tied for best dish of the night. Topped with new potato slices and the liquid black truffle ravioli with shaved truffle and garlic chips and mashed new potatoes with truffle oil. The only criticism here was the reappearance of the truffle ravioli. Can’t the chef come up with an alternative? No imagination or what? But it worked better here as the sauce gushed over the fish. Every drop of the sauce was sopped up in this one. And a perfect match with the Burgundy (yes, red wine with fish).
13. Sassafras Root Smoked Squab. Served with baby whole beets and a coffee puddle. The squab had a vanilla glaze and we ‘innocently’ asked what kind of vanilla – and the server didn’t know. After the initial panic, he wasn’t sure whether we were serious or not, so went to the kitchen to find out. Upon returning he had probably deduced that we were ‘yanking his chain’ so asked if we had any ideas. I commented that it certainly wasn’t Tahitian (our favourite) but guessed bourbon. My smarter wife figured it was from a bean so speculated Madagascar. Indeed she was right – flooring the server (not literally). Boy, did we have respect from that point on. Visits from the owner, and a later visit to the kitchen ensued. Obviously I was taking notes so they must have been curious.
14. Ice Cream Sandwich. Mike had this as the first course. Olive oil ice cream in Parmesan wafers. Wrapped in coloured foil and brought to the table on crushed ice. A Ferran Adria specialty.
15. Elysian Fields Farm Lamb. The same starting point as Mike, but a different presentation. A rib-eye of lamb, with a crust of fig puree, shallots and chive in a chocolate-mint and port sauce. Served with a fig poached in port, a shallot, and a mint gelee containing bittersweet chocolate (instructions to eat this gelee first to cleanse the palate). By this point we were getting very full, so this dish became an ordeal. Tasty but probably too much.
16. Goat Cheese Mousse. Served with a chanterelle puree, clove oil and apricot milk. Interesting variation on a cheese course. Like dit.
17. Gulaab jamuns. I’ve never liked this Indian dessert (milk balls poached in rosewater), but this was the best version so far. Served with a buttermilk ice a pistachio crisp and redcurrant soda! Intellectually interesting, but not comfort food.
18. Key Lime Souffle. This is an oversimplification!. Four Chinese soup spoons were presented. One contained the soufflé which was a little dry and stuck to the spon. The next had fresh blueberries with a graham cracker tuile and a blueberry sorbet. The third was a warm caramel sauce and the fourth a graham cracker ice cream (semifreddo?). I’m not sure quite how they related. Four components but not a complete dish. But the caramel sauce did go well with the soufflé.
19. Chocolate & Olives. Mike was ‘sceptical’. He was polite. A chocolate disc on top of olive ice cream on top of chocolate beet cake on top of stewed strawberries. Oh and a touch of fleur du sel in the centre of the chocolte disc. Instructions are to dig deep to get all the flavours together. My favourite part was the fleur du sel. We both left this (and nobody asked whether we were full or disliked it).
20. Soy Milk Panna Cotta. In a baby arugula syrup and a fresh half raspberry (picked that day – the server told us so).

OK, so overall what’s the verdict.
First, definitely worth a try if you can afford it. You’ll get some spectacular flavour combinations and some weird ones. If you like ‘safe’ food, this isn’t for you. Among our foodie friends (I use the term advisedly as this isn’t a ‘Chowhound’ experience), most wouldn’t enjoy this. But a few would rush out and book the one kitchen table (seats 4). Mike was there about 10 weeks ago and about 1/3 of the dishes were identical, 1/3 new and the rest were different treatments of standard ingredients (let’s call these new too). So this is an evolving menu. As they learn what works best it can only improve. And I’d rather have a high-wire act that takes risks than one that plays it safe.
Was it my ‘best meal’? No! But it was a valiant effort, and the work and top-notch ingredients justify the high price. The night we were there (Saturday) only 3 couples ordered the 20-course menu and it’s not often ordered during the week. But I’d recommend taking the plunge rather than trying the 4-course or 8-course.


Want to stay up to date with this post? Sign Up Now ›

Recommended from Chowhound

Catch up on the latest activity across all community discussions.
View latest discussions