Tru (Chicago 2017)
We were lucky enough to be able to try Tru on our recent trip to Chicago. Tru is one of a small group of restaurants in Chicago that have been awarded 2 stars by the Michelin Guide--a huge honor, and one that creates enormous expectations on the part of the diner. For those who haven't been to a 2 or 3 Michelin star establishment, these are all multi-course restaurants, with a normal dinner taking several hours. Service is expected to be extremely professional, plating is expected to be impeccable, and the quality of both the food and the experience is expected to be extremely high. Needless to say, with only twenty-four of these 2 star restaurants located in the United States, you're dealing with pretty rarefied air.
The restaurant itself is located on a quiet side street just a block or two off of Michigan Ave. (the "Magnificent Mile"), and is the definition of clean European refinement. White walls. Museum-quality modern art, including from Andy Warhol, Peter Halley, Ed Ruscha, and Yves Klein. Crisp white linens and well-dressed wait staff. Great location, and sophisticated atmosphere. We'll be honest, the atmosphere was a little bit cold, dark and reverential (low lighting, except for spotlights illuminating each table), but, at the same time, you would never mistake this for a casual-dining option.
Tru has a fantastic wine list that is accessible at many different price points, and also offers wine pairing options for each level of their tasting menu. As we often do with multi-course tasting menus, we opted for a vintage champagne that we felt would pair well with the various ingredients on display throughout the meal. Our choice for the evening was a Saint-Chamant Cuvee de Chardonnay Brut 2005. An absolutely delicious effort full of light citrus, nuts, and pear, and that beautiful yeast/bread characteristic you get with an older champagne. It was really a fantastic value, and it paired beautifully with the different courses we were served throughout the meal.
When we sat down, we were almost immediately served with a cheese-puff and almond cookie amuse-bouches on an interesting little sponge-like porcelain plate. They were perfectly fresh and delicious, certainly weren't overpowering or even all that assertive, and were frankly different from the often sweeter or richly-savory palate cleansers that you frequently get as an amuse-bouche. Tasty, either way.
Our first course was a light salad of mache, with celery, shaved black summer truffles and a rhubarb gelee spooned into the bottom of the dish. The mache was delicious and crisp, and the truffle was very fresh and aromatic. The pairing with celery was a bit odd, as it tended to overpower the truffle a bit. Cameron thought the rhubarb added a slightly sweet and acidic counterpoint to the richness of the truffle, while Natalie found it a bit sweet.
Our next course was an old-fashioned English pureed-pea soup with creme fraiche swirl and brioche. It was just a beautifully-vibrant green, perfectly smooth, and incredibly fresh. We’ve never had a pea soup that we really enjoyed at a nice restaurant, but this was excellent. The mint and pea flavors were well balanced, and the cold soup was smooth and refreshing. A perfect course near the beginning of the meal.
Our third course was an aromatic mussel veloute bathed in a chunky green curry sauce. Now, we're not normally huge curry fans, but this one was pretty amazing! It came out bubbling hot, and the mussels were likely cooked in the hot broth and then removed from their shell immediately prior to serving. They were tender (not chewy) and gave the curry just a bit of texture. If all curry tasted like that, we'd both have some every day. The presentation was beautiful and inventive, and took you back to driftwood and the ocean. This really was the perfect comfort food, without being overly heavy.
The fourth course was incredibly inventive: diver scallop, served with lily bulbs and yuzu koshu sauce. This dish was so inventive, unique, and elegant. The scallop was perfectly cooked, and the inclusion of the lily bulb gave the dish a hint of fresh lilies. The broth was succulent and light as well, with great light citrus notes you'd expect from an expertly-prepared yuzu broth. Delicious!
Our fifth course was a generous serving of roasted halibut with parsley in a barigoule sauce. In case you were wondering (as we were), barigoule sauce is a traditional Provencal dish made by gently cooking artichokes, onions, garlic, carrots, various herbs and spices, white wine and fish or chicken stock together until extremely creamy, then straining out the veggies and serving over fish. The portion was just perfect all around--just enough fish, the perfect amount of sauce. And, what a sauce it was too! Absolute velvety perfection is the way we would describe Tru's barigoule. An enormous depth of flavor while still remaining subtle and delicate. This was truly one of the best fish courses we've ever been served.
Our sixth course--the one we had been looking forward to the most--was Tru's signature dish. Jidori chicken with black truffle, black garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms. The dish is famous enough that it was mentioned by name in the restaurant's Michelin Guide write-up, so, needless to say, we had high expectations. It came out as a beautifully plated dish, with a generous serving of shaved truffles on top. The flavors were really gorgeous, with exquisite truffle notes wafting up from the warm dish as you sat and admired it. But, unfortunately, the chicken was a bit dry. Apparently it either hadn't been cooked using the sous-vide method (which guarantees moisture retention), or was cooked at too high a temperature. This could have been easily remedied. To the extent the restaurant fails to utilize sous-vide methods, it needs to start now.
Our seventh course was the beginning of the dessert courses, with some good attention paid to the savory side of dessert (with both the seventh and eighth courses). The seventh--a caramelized onion tart with pecan cream--was probably the better option of the two. The pecan cream drizzled around the plate was sweet, the puff pastry was perfectly baked and flaky, and the caramelized onions contained just enough sweetness to make this a honest and appealing dessert course. Really nice effort on the chef's behalf on this one. Beautiful and inventive.
The eighth course may have been the biggest digression from what was expected the entire evening. We were served a small bowl of wheatberries, sprinkled with crisp garlic root and micro scallion shoots that appeared more in the nature of wild grass sprinkled atop the dish. While it was extremely "farm-to-table" and interesting, it probably isn't for everyone. Extremely savory, it presented a bit of a texture issue akin to a chunky hot breakfast cereal. With just a little acidity and sweetness presented by small peach or nectarine slices, or even a light berry drizzle or puree, this would have been on point. Unfortunately, the wheatberries by themselves simply didn't have the sweetness or acidity to really carry this dish across the finish line.
The ninth course was a return to what one would traditionally expect from a dessert course--ruby grapefruit pieces, a frozen fennel consomme, and spherified aged balsamic vinegar. Overall, it was a nice use of the spherification process with the balsamic vinegar, giving you a little pop of sweetness in every bite. However, we thought the dessert was just a little simple in its execution. Essentially, it's a unique-flavored sorbet sitting on bits of grapefruit, with a few spherified balsamic pearls sprinkled about the plate. We couldn't really taste the fennel, even with a raw sprig actually sitting on top of the sorbet itself. While fresh and tasty, it could have used a bit more "oomph" to make it a great dish.
Our cheese course came next, and we chose three different cheeses (two cow's milk and one blue) to round out the meal. The selections were fairly unique, although there were several we can get at our local grocery store (granted, our local grocery has hundreds of selections). We really enjoyed the ginger/plum jam, and the locally-sourced honey which served as accompaniments.
An interesting and refreshing dessert came next: a quenelle of mango, lemongrass and ginger ice cream over a bed of very light and creamy rice pudding with honey and edible gold flakes drizzled on top. It really had a clean taste profile throughout, with the rice pudding cutting some of the acidity presented by the ice cream, while still maintaining a good balance between creamy and acidity. The pudding itself had the perfect consistency--not gummy or dry. The local honey was welcome, and was added in just the right amount. Overall, a wonderful dessert.
We really enjoyed the next dessert (our 12th course for those counting)--black cherries marinated in port, served over dark chocolate and black truffle ice cream. Granted, this was not a particularly complex dish. Just marinated cherries over chocolate ice cream. When you go simple, you have to be 100% spot-on with your flavors or the dish will fall completely flat. We're happy to tell you that, despite its simplicity, this dish shined! It had everything you'd want: acid, chocolaty bitterness, sweet earthy notes from the port, and fantastic sweetness provided by the perfectly-ripe cherries. Nice presentation as well, with the dish seemingly floating in a terrarium.
As a nice intermezzo (not really a course, but kind of), the chef prepared a basket of fresh citrus madeleines for us to enjoy. Now, lets be clear--they were absolutely lemony and delicious. However, they were kind of ugly, to be perfectly frank. We've had perfect tasting, AND perfect looking lemon madeleines at Cafe Boulud in New York before. And that's a 1-star Michelin restaurant. Just saying . . .
Before our final treat, the wait-staff brought out a trio of house-made candies/sweets for us to enjoy. Definitely what one would expect at this level of dining, and we weren't disappointed by the quality. The sugar-coated gummies had a nice texture, and weren't cloyingly sweet, and the chocolate bites were rich and decadent. A nice touch near the end of the meal.
Finally, to finish out the meal, the waiter brought out a smoking bowl (thanks to dry ice) with a single chocolate sphere sitting on top. The aptly-named exploding chocolate truffle. We were advised to eat the truffle in a single bite, and that turned out to be an excellent idea. Upon biting down, we got a fun explosion of a very thin ginger / lime custard that was the perfect ending to a great meal. Sweet, delicious, and packed with flavor. Great effort on the pastry chef's behalf!
Overall, we really enjoyed our experience at Tru. The 15 different courses presented were, for the most part, well-prepared and were often inventive or whimsical. Where the kitchen went simple with a dish, it largely executed the dish perfectly. There were a few small disappointments though. The chicken wasn't as "on point" as we would have liked, and the wheatberry dessert was a bit of a miss. Also, we felt the dining experience was a bit too-heavily weighted toward sweet / dessert courses, with not enough emphasis paid to savory fare. Overall, though, we thought the meal was really solid. We think Tru deserves its two Michelin stars, and the kitchen and staff provided us with an experience on par with other 2-star offerings we've been to. We definitely plan to return next time we're in Chicago, and would recommend this restaurant to others as well.