Below are my thoughts on my first meal at Tru, which I liked. The cuisine at Tru is a bit more stark than that I subjectively prefer, but those preferences are idiosyncratic. I found Tru to be engaging, with a number of dishes that were tasty.
The dining room and sommelier team provided very good assistance, and their efforts contributed meaningfully to my meal. Chef Tramanto and the kitchen team were attentive, and added a number of items not ordinarily included in the Chefs Tasting Menu, which I ordered.
The restaurants decor is very much to my liking (more on that below). Interestingly, at the same numbered building as Tru is a not-so-great-looking restaurant with bold green and white (?) stripes on its awning. Tru is in the same building, but discretely tucked onto the other site. The telltale sign was the Relais & Chateaux plaque on the outside. There are no prominent pronouncements of the restaurant, from the outside, that I recall. The entry bar area contained a number of pieces of artwork (more on that later), and was quite comfortable. Very shortly after I arrived (at an uncharacteristic 5:00 pm, due to constraints on available slots), Chef Tramanto happened to walk by. I said hello to him, letting him know I was looking forward to the meal.
There were about 3-4 champagnes available by the glass. I chose Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle, the prestige cuvee ($40). I hadnt had this cuvee in probably more than two years. As other members have indicated, nice stemware. Very professional sommelier team, including with respect to the wine ordering, when I signaled a willingness to entertain by the bottle purchases. The sommelier team did the right thing in advising a by-the-glass pairing (the chefs menus contents are not disclosed on the menu, unlike the Grand Menu, which has an oscetra staircase as opposed to the chef menus oscetra), among other things. The sommelier team also did the right thing in trying to gauge early on the quantity of alcohol I wanted to take in, by asking whether one glass with every few courses would be appropriate. I noted that I could readily handle a pairing for each course. To my very happy surprise, during later stages of the meal, the sommelier team started providing two different glasses of wine to pair with certain courses (e.g., a comparison of CA and French whites, as detailed below). The wine list is impressive, with respect to coverage, by North American standards. Nice selection of champagne by the bottle, which did tempt me :)
Tru has its own bottled water, which was automatically served to me and for which I was not charged.
>> Amuse of Truffled celeriac spoon with duck consomme gelee. Presented in a curved large silver-colored, shorter-lengthered spoon.
This was a nice beginning to the meal. The celeryroot puree and black truffle sensations were very nice, and were augmented by a certain richness and complexity (in a good way, although I rarely consider complexity to be positive) of the duck consomme, which had been made into gelee and presented in small little cubes on top of the celeryroot puree.
>> Amuse of Cornet of savory ice creams
Next, a dining room team member brought forth a blue-colored artists palate, with holes in it, as the presentation format for two savory ice cream (I believe, although they could have been sorbet) cones. One was butternut squash, which I selected, and the other was sweet garlic, which was returned to the kitchen and not brought back. The cone smelled buttery, but the base of the cone was more dense than, say, the cornet utilized for the salmon cornet amuse at FL. The cones were different. The ice cream is solid and cold and was appropriate. It was not necessarily the sweetness of butternut squash that was exhibited; I thought that outcome was appropriate. The texture of the savory ice cream was controlled and not unduly dense.
>> Grand amuse-bouche, with Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle
(Served on a plate with four quarters, with different supporting dishes for each of the four components)
(A) Borscht shooter with creme fraiche and pickled fennel. Like Borscht, this part of the grand amuse consisted primarily of beetroot, although here the beetroot veloute was more refined than in a typical Borscht preparation. The pickled fennel had the texture of onions in the mouth, and this soup reminded me of a simplified Borscht (served room temperature or below).
(B) Beef carpaccio with micro arugula and olive oil. This was interesting, although I found it subjectively ever-so-slightly-stark. There was the beef slice, which was appropriate, and several dots of a thickish brown sauce on either side of the slice. The saucing was intended to mimic the taste of teriyaki sauce, I believe. Perhaps beneath the beef carpaccio there was a bit of lemon peel, for I tasted that as part of the final intake of this part of the dish.
(C) Curried egg salad with braised endive. I liked the utilization of small diced bits of chives that accompanied the eggs. The cumin component was strong in the scrambled eggs (nicely not overcooked and moist) for my taste, but I have a high sensitivity to cumin and curry that is likely atypical. The scrambled egg portion was almost wrapped inside a squat cone made from a layer of braised endive. Interestingly, the endive did not have that much bitterness and had a softened texture, thereby making it seem rather like cooked onion in the mouth. Perhaps that part of the amuse was a deconstruction of certain curries (I wouldnt know, as I generally shy away from curry dishes and Indian and other cuisines with curry). Perhaps the endive was intended to be a play on the onion component of certain curries, and the egg was a substitute for the milk or the cream component of such curries. There were two colored oils that accompanied this creation one might have had slight heat, to replicate the chili or other heat components of certain curries.
(D) Maine shrimp ceviche with butternut squash puree and herb oil, served on a little Versace ornate dish. Small shrimp were utilized, and presented side-by-side, surrounded by an orange-colored, relatively neutral butternut squash-based saucing. The shrimp was not particularly flavorful, and, of the first set of amuses, this might be the one that could be potentially improved upon. Perhaps I should have tasted it after certain of the other parts of this amuse, which had stronger flavors.
>> Double grand amuse-bouche
How kind of the restaurant to offer me yet another set of amuses, this time served in a long rectangular white-colored ceramic container that had an undulating base, just right for fitting in the five amuses in this collection. (The same container is utilized for the Kobe meatballs at D Rodriguezs Ola in NY). The restaurant is making an effort to pay attention to details, including as to the amuses. Throughout the meal, I got the sense that the kitchen and dining room teams genuinely cared about the diners experience.
(A) Artichoke barigoule with olive tapenade. Black olives were quite prominent in this amuse. I have a subjective sensitivity to the use of olives, but this dish was appropriately constructed for most diners.
(B) Sashimi of fluke with cucumber radish salad. This was quite nice, with a soy-based, thin saucing that had specks of white and black sesame (not noticeable in the taste). A clean taste from the vegetable julienne, and a slight variation on sashimi.
(C) Asparagus terrine. This was also quite nice, with a small (½ pinky) square representing the cross-section of a terrine. Inside this small square, there were probably 10 thin asparagus stalks cross-sections exposed, with some gelee linking them. Interestingly, along the edges of the terrine there were gelee sections that were almost like feuilles in texture almost sheet-like. Adorned by an edible pink flower, and with a nice beetroot-type sauce.
(D) Proscuitto with parmesan foam and balsamic reduction. This was appropriate; the parmesan foam was very suppressed.
(E) Beef (?) terrine. My notes do not have details, but there was a triangle of beef (likely) that was quite dark-tasting.
>> Tramonto's Iranian Osetra Caviar Staircase, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett Dr. F Weins-Prum Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2002
The presentation of the signature caviar staircase is, as members have noted, beautiful. The glass utilized for the staircase has a slight blue tint. It was explained to me that a local artisan had been asked to create the piece in collaboration with Tru. What I had not expected were the nice shadow effects created by the staircase onto the glass supporting it, given the light emanating from the ceiling at Tru. The oval shape of each rung of the staircase was nicely appropriate to the diner being able to scoop out its contents.
As members have noted, four caviars are presented on the upper rungs of the staircase, with various accompaniments on the lower rungs (diced egg whites; diced yolk bits; capers, onions). I subjectively believe that capers, onions, and even egg can distract with respect to oscetra caviar (despite certain of those elements being generally accepted accompaniments for caviar). So, for the oscetra on the top rung, which I sampled a spoonful of at the beginning and at the end of the four-caviar sampling, I ate it plain. I did not use the accompanying toast, which had fairly noticeable sugar levels and which I also believed was not well-matched to the oscetra. But then I am a minimalist when it comes to dish conceptualization, as a general matter.
The wasabi-scented tobiko (flying fish roe) probably does not belong on the staircase, with all respect to Tru. I appreciate one of the reasons why it is there. The staircase is as much about the different textures/crunchiness level of the four types of caviars than it is about their flavor. The tobiko were small-grained, and exuded a persistent, textured, uneven sensation in the mouth. The salmon caviar was larger, and more bulbous, such that one felt in ones mouth the burst of some of the eggs (thats probably not the correct culinary term) of the caviar and a flooding of the juices that had been entrapped in the eggs. There was another type of caviar, for which my notes do not have description, and then the familiar oscetra (which was of very good quality).
I would have chosen gentler caviars to lead up to the oscetra, when one progresses up the staircase. The wasabi (even though limited) in the scented tobiko is unhelpful with respect to preservation of the integrity of the sampling of the oscetra, as are the two other non-oscetra rungs. Smaller eggs, and more neutral-tasting eggs, should be considered in my subjective assessment, for the lower rungs of the staircase.
The wine pairing offered for the caviar staircase, Riesling Kabinett, was the only place in the long progression of pairing of wine with food where the sommelier team could have done better. This wine is slightly too sweet (including in aftertaste) for the caviar, which, given my subjective preferences, should be matched with a more neutral wine and perhaps is ideal with one of its traditional accompaniments of vodka.
That being said, I enjoyed experiencing the Tru caviar staircase very much. The oscetra was very good, and the overall notion of comparing the texture and flavor (e.g., salinity, ocean aspects, juiciness although such term is not ordinarily associated with caviar, bursting aspects or not) of the caviar is a promising one.
>> Octupus carpaccio, tear drop tomatoes, micro arugula, olive vinaigrette
The octupus carpaccio was a circular, 4 inch diameter slice of material that amusingly looked like salami (with many circular, white-sectioned portions inside) or other salumi. Nice visual pun, given the seafood orientation. The circular central composition was a cross-section that had maybe 10-20 "circles", in cross-section, that represented the "legs" of the octupus, in cross-section. These whitish sections mimicked the white section of salumi. Quite intense tasting, especially because there were green and black Kalamata olives, diced and strewn on the plate.
Interesting dish conceptually, but I am subjectively biased strongly against almost all olives, particularly Kalamata (sp). The dish is too strong for me, and that's almost all attributable to the olives. The dish had significant (arguably excessive) amounts of olive oil. The oil was very strong in this dish that I almost asked myself whether grapeseed oil (a la Tetsuya) or argan oil might have been mixed into the olive oil. The dish is rather Mediterranean in orientation, with the olive oil and olives being so highlighted. An interesting dish, and appropriately executed for what it is intended to be, but it is not to my subjective liking. But then many dishes, including many Ducasse dishes that have a Mediterranean orientation, are not to my subjective liking.
>> Fighting fish bowl: marinated tuna, salmon, hamachi, avocado creme fraiche, root chips. Prager gruner veltliner smaragd Acheiter Wachau 1999
Yep :) Of course, this was the dish that, prior to the meal, I had anticipated even more than the caviar staircase. It has certain connections to my interest in living foods and my desire for proximity to that being ingested. This utilizes the baseless martini glass, supported by a glass bowl. The intended utilization is ice in the glass bowl to support caviar or a drink in the stemless martini glass. Wonderfully, Tru had water in this glass bowl "base". In the water was a live fish that was, whether artificially so or naturally, a deep purple. The fish -- mine was sort of lethargic (even after prompting by me through tapping on the bowl) -- didn't always move, but the movements were made very visible by the mirrored long rectangular "plate" that supported the fish bowl.
The live fish was subjectively mesmerizing :0 I even liked the dining room team members joke that this was Trus fish and chips.
In the stemless martini glass are medium-sized cubes of yellowtail, salmon and tuna. The marinade enveloping such cubes was significantly too stark for me -- a medium consistency sauce that adhered to the fish cubes. Sauce expressed predominantly dark soy, and might (?) have had a very limited amount of sesame oil. Integrated into the fish cubes were cured/pickled thin strips of cucumber, which did temper the saucing a bit.
Also helpful was the availability, on the right-hand-side of the mirrored supporting tray, of a pile of root vegetable chips (including lotus root). The chips did reduce the severity of the saucing. One chip was a bit different from the rest, and might have been a thin feuille of smoked or otherwise intensified seaweed. Another was potato, in a lattice design for the chip.
Two puree-consistency items were artistically presented on the mirrored supporting platter. One was creme fraiche-like, although denser. This did go well with the raw fish. Another was avocado puree, which presumably was usable against the chips for a variant of gaucamole or against the raw fish.
A dish I found intellectually provocative.
>> Seared Hudson Valley foie gras, pain d'epice, roasted pineapple quince, apple gastrique, with gutierrez de la vega casta diva cosecha miel alicante 1999
The foie gras was very good. Seared, the Hudson Valley foie was room temperature on the inside and molten and soft there. The inside was ever so barely touched, the way I believe foie should be in many contexts. Of some interest to me was the exterior of the foie, which had a texture (almost more sheet- or barrier-like), with respect to the thin outside areas only, that was ever so slightly crunchy, in the way candied sugar might be. Wonder what technique produced that result.
Pieces of quince, sauteed to render them cooked and quite savory (as opposed to sweet, as far as cooked quince goes), were nice accompaniments. The saucing was good, with the apple gastrique carrying cidery flavors well and being noticeable, but not dominating. Below the foie were nice pieces of pain depice, which most diners would have liked. As I have a subjective dislike for cinnamon in many preparations, I only sampled a little bit of the pain depice.
I really enjoyed this dish. The sommelier team's wine pairing was also pleasing. I've always believed that heavy-in-the mouth wines like certain (not all) Sauternes are not ideal choices with sauteed foie.
>> White truffle scrambled eggs, truffle buttered toast, Puligny Montrachet Paul Pernot 2000, Mount Eden Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Santa Cruz 1999
The meal continued along very very nicely with a large martini glass being presented to me. The glass was quite beautiful, with a bluish hue to its walls, but what was absolutely riveting to me was the large portion of the yellow of scrambled eggs! Glorious eggs! This was one of the dishes I liked best in the meal. Luscious, flavorful scrambled eggs that had more yolk to white than if the full egg had been incorporated. Tons of it! The martini glass volume was at least double that of a normal martini glass. I was smitten by this dish :)
But, to make matters even more glorious, who was to arrive at my table to shave generous amounts of fresh Alba white truffles onto the eggs that I was coveting (even though I knew the eggs were mine) than Chef Tramanto! He had one of those stainless steel truffle shavers, and was kind enough to load my already cherished heap of scrambled eggs with big fat slices of white truffles. I smiled at him thankfully. The aroma was just as it should have been, as was the taste. I would not have changed this dish in any way. It was classical in conception, and excellently executed. The martini glass concentrated the already significant aromas of the white truffle. I inhaled and gobbled (graciously, hopefully), inhaled and gobbled some more. Perfect scrambled eggs, pristine large white truffles :)
But heres where the sommelier team also came through with the goods. Instead of serving me a single paired wine, there was an interesting contrast between the Puligny-Montrachet (a bit weaker on the nose and in the mouth) and my preferred California chardonnay Mount Eden (wonderful). The Mount Eden was a very good pairing with its dish :)
>> Lobster-lobster bisque
The lobster bisque was served in a very ornate Versace-designed thin cup made by Rosenthal. Later, I was to learn from the maitre d' that different patterns of Versace cups of the same size are matched to the different soups at Tru. One sees a cupboard when one enters the kitchen area. On the top shelf, it has different patterns of similarly-shaped Versace cups. Each cup is matched with a different type of soup at Tru. The lobster-lobster bisque cup is a medium blue, for much of its surface, with depictions of an aquatic scene in the typical Versace-super-ornate method, including a curled piece of shell or coral in a coral color. The part of the cup where it is held is gold-colored (query whether gold-leafed). The Versace cup was cradled by folded white napkins, on top of certain parts of which were strewn edible flowers leaves from different flowers (more on this later).
The bisque itself had unduly strong butter connotations, but it was rich and intense and expressive of lobster. There were orange-colored specks of dried lobster coraile on top of foam, which in turn was on top of the bisque. The foam itself had nice lobster flavors. Perhaps the coraile powder and the lobster flavored foam are why this dish is called lobster lobster bisque. There was a long silver spoon holding room temperature-minus diced raw lobster. This component was relatively neutral-tasting in flavor (appropriately).
An interesting part of this dish were the edible flowers. When added to the bisque, they conferred in some instances a bit of matteness and bitterness that was a nice offset to the rich, butteriness of the bisque. Overall, an interesting dish.
>> Sauteed John Dory, white truffle cauliflower puree, cauliflower mushrooms, fines herbes
The John Dory was nicely sauteed. I also liked the pun manifested in the use of both cauliflower puree (used almost like a potato puree in this dish, with that sort of density) and the cauliflower mushrooms (mushrooms that reminded me of the texture of certain cloud ear varieties, that has an almost seaweed-like crunchiness, although not similar to seaweed in taste). Im not sure Id tasted cauliflower mushrooms before, but they were the color of cauliflower and they were an attractive textural contrast to the cauliflower puree. Nice saucing, with some butter components.
The one aspect of the dish I wondered about was the utilization of both white truffle oil in the cauliflower puree (I believe, at least) and large slices of black truffle on top of that puree and generally in the dish. While I really enjoyed the fresh black truffles slices (also pristine in quality) and I would never complain about getting truffles, I wondered whether black truffles should be utilized in a dish that also had white truffle oil.
Overall, this was an appealing dish. Its tastes were robust and the saucing was hearty and powerful an aspect of Trus dishes that I noticed particularly as the principal-dish-equivalents in the tasting menu were presented. I think most diners would like this type of flavor profile, although, given my subjective quirks, I would have preferred a bit more subtlety (but that is an unusual aspect of the way I perceive meals).
>> Roasted Labelle farms squab breast, maitake, squab sauce, Giuseppe negro nebbiolo monsu langhe 2000
This was very good as well (North American standards). I am very sensitive to overcooked squab, and the cooking here was not that way at all and was appealing. I liked the redness in parts of the squab flesh, and its nicely executed skin. Maitakes added darkness, which was reinforced by the squab sauce. A satisfying dish, well-paired with the wine.
The cheese selection was strong by North American standards, and included some unusual (in a good way) French cheese. There must have been nearly 20 selections on the cart. Nice use of P Starck Forges de Laguiole cheese knife, which I use at home. I chose only the Roquefort, which was from a smaller producer and was appropriate.
The accompaniments for the cheese were unusual (not in a negative way), and were (1) slightly sun-dried, but moist, or confit tomato section, which would have gone well with certain cheese (not including the Roquefort I chose), (2) a pear accompaniment, which I did use, and (3) a small disc that was likely shortbread.
>> Pineapple soup with basil syrup
Presented in a shotglass was a pineapple soup that had little elements of the texture of pineapple retained in it. It was appropriate, and surpassed my expectations with respect to pineapple (which is not a particularly good ingredient, in my subjective assessment). The basil syrup was appropriately subdued, and was lodged at the bottom of the shotglass.
>> Gale's dessert collection
Two items were served on one underlying long-ish rectangular ceramic tray. On the left was a panna cotta with a nicely-executed, concentrated (in a nice way) passion fruit sauce (no seeds). The medium-density of the passion fruit was intended to highlight the softness of the panna cotta. This was nicely paired with a glass of Kracher Beerenauselese Cuvee Burgenland 2002. This is the type of light in the mouth, not super sweet dessert wine that I like. This is apparently made from an usual late-harvest grape called something-Riesling (unrelated to Riesling) combined with late harvest Chardonnay (hint of oak). The scent of this wine was quite nice.
The other dessert item was a chocolate concoction, with a quasi-soft center. It tasted quite good, although I only had a bit of it due to my dislike for chocolate in general. The dining room team had previously asked whether there was anything I didn't eat. I did not mention chocolate because I sometimes like to have a meal run its course (and sometimes not). Sprinkling of icing sugar on top of the chocolate concoction, even though a common technique, seemed somehow cute in this context. Adjacent to the principal component of the dish was a nicely executed almond ice cream (in a quenelle), which was presented on top of crushed small pieces of chocolate. This part of the dessert was paired with a Banyuls Rimage Domaine du Mas Blanc, Dr Parce 2002. The wine had some bitterness in its aftertaste, which was appropriate.
>> Lollipops, other items on a cart.
I sampled the lemon with peppermint lollipop (the other variety is orange with cinnamon).
>> Overall Thoughts on Cuisine
I was pleased with my meal at Tru, and intend to return to better understand the restaurant. Tru deserves to be in the top tier of North American restaurants, and has a very gracious dining room and kitchen team :)
While I have only taken in one meal at Trio and Tru, I would think that the decision, if one had time for only a single gastronomic meal in Chicago, would rest between Trio and Tru in the first instance, and not extend to places like Charlie Trotters.
>> Miscellaneous Information
I had originally garnered a reservation for only 10 pm. The day of the meal, I was able to switch the time to 5 pm. The meal did not feel like it was unduly early. When I entered the restaurant, I was the first diner. There's a nice lounge area surrounding the bar, at which I sat temporarily. Upon entering the restaurant, Yves Klein's Venus Bleue statue 1961. This is quite beautiful, with a very unusual, vibrant blue appropriately lit. Quite interesting artwork.
I was seated along the banquette close to the Warhol. Several tables to the right of me was the Andy Warhol depiction of Marilyn Monroe that was part of the reversal series. Black background with the actress depicted in a turqoise green -- a similar color to that of the banquettes. The decor is fairly pleasing to me -- very tall ceilings. White streamlined curtains shielding diners from the outside world. The decor is sumptuous, yet limited in principal colors (white, black, muted turquoise green). Cute little stools for women's handbags.
Nice 'cool', mature decor, quite to my liking. Flowers are unusual, in a good way. White large tulips with a very unusual (in a good way) of fuzzy-stemmed large winter stems.
Unbeknownst to me, there is a 2-4-person kitchen table. The table is in a separate room, adjacent to the pastry area.
There is music in the dining room, which typically would be a negative factor for me. However, the music that was being played by Tru was appropriate and it might have even been slightly enhancing towards the beginning of the meal.