motoFirst things first: Moto was great. I had a wonderful time. The food was delicious. The wines were paired with precision. The service was excellent. The room was cool. All around, great restaurant.

Second thing: Moto is not a restaurant. It’s an experience. What I mean by that is yes they serve food, and you might be tricked into trying to compare the whole thing to some of your other places to eat. Don’t. Moto is more than that — and in some ways less. For example there are a lot of things you cannot do at Moto. You cannot smoke. Moto is smoke free. You cannot use your cellphone. You cannot take flash photography. And your entire party must order the same thing. This last restriction is not nearly as onerous as it might initially sound because there are only two items on the menu. They are “ten” and “gtm”: the ten course tasting menu and the grand tasting menu of twenty courses respectively. In essence, you’re deciding how long of an experience you’re interested in having. They estimate the ten-course menu runs between two to three hours. The twenty course meal runs about double. We decided on the ten and it took about two and a half hours to complete.

I said that Moto was more than a restaurant. Here are a couple examples: almost all of the service staff are culinary school graduates. They also work on designing and preparing the dishes. They are smart, knowledgeable and have an admirably subtle sense of humor that comes out in the food they produce and the tableside introductions they present for each dish. The menu changes regularly and rapidly. The meal you have a week from now very well may be different than the one I enjoyed last night. Don’t worry about complications like dietary restrictions or allergies. Part of the reservation process and followed up durring the initial seating by the host is an interview to work out all of those pesky details. Armed with new information the chefs adapt the menu to the particular needs on these grounds. After all, it is in their interest to keep you from going into anaphylactic shock. Stephanie told them about her allergies to shellfish and milkfat and they adapted two of the ten dishes on our menu to accommodate.

Chef Homaro Cantu cooks using the principles of molecular gastronomy. From Wikipedia:

“Molecular gastronomy is a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking. It pertains to the mechanisms behind the transformation of ingredients in cooking and the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general (from a scientific point of view).”

The result are dishes that often taste nothing like what they look like. We had a delicious canolli that was actually duck (in a consistency like chocolate): the powdered sugar one would expect on a canolli was powdered jalapeno, the chocolate drizzle was a 30-item mole sauce. Another example of this was the signature cubano pork sandwich shaped like a burning Cuban cigar (and served in the restaurant’s finest ash trays), tobacco leaves replaced by collared leaves, the cigar’s smoldering “ash” fashioned out of black and white sesame. By no means is every dish done this way, food that looks like other food. Many of the dishes were wholly original and unique. There was a yogurt parfait infused with apricot and then sliced in rounds. The apricot infusion formed a yellow smiley face on a white background. All of this was presented of a wide splash of raspberry and blueberry sauce and I swear it looked like a variation on the Comedian’s pin lying in a pool of blood before Rorschach picks it up. Our waiter said that it was not an intentional reference to Watchmen, but I thought the imagery was brilliant, regardless.

The whimsical approach is not limited to the food. I decided against the wine pairing, as I had a 3:00 am scheduled maintenance at work this morning and even 10 small glasses of wine would probably send me over the brink. Stephanie enjoyed the wines and I had a little sip of several of them to get the idea. I ordered a single drink before dinner: the Martini Library. The “library” consisted of eight plastic pipettes two each blue, green, and white and red. Each color was its own drink: a gin martini, a melon martini, a lemondrop and a cranberry margarita. The margarita was brand new on the menu last night. Somehow they managed to get crystals of salt suspended inside the drink inside the pipette for a full salt-on-the-glass margarita experience. The pipettes all sat inside an ice-filled glass to stay cold without getting watered down, and it was very fun to squeeze the individual tubes to get to the goodness inside.

We considered taking the camera to take some pictures, but eventually decided we would simply go and enjoy the experience as presented, without considering how we were going to record it. Many other people have decided the other way. There were a pair of Japanese women sitting next to us shooting away at every dish with a Canon 40D and some nice L glass. Many other people have done similarly and you can find lots of example pictures on Flickr of their experiences.

Each dish is an adventure, and none of what we ate last night was disappointing. I’m tempted to simply describe the place as: post-modern edible art.

When I got home and before I went to bed, I thanked Stephanie multiple times for taking me for my birthday. She gave me a unique and wonderful adventure. One of the many reasons I love her so much.

Thank you, babe!

Further reading:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/03/technology/circuits/03chef.html
http://www.kevineats.com/2009/05/moto-chicago-il.htm

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