Trotter, in Reviews

Charlie Trotter, the man whose revolutionary pace made him more galloper than trotter over the years, announced to the Sun-Times this past week that he plans an August closing for his legendary restaurant, Charlie Trotter’s (816 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-248-6228), considered to be one of the world’s finest for decades. Trotter plans to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy and political theory before he returns to the culinary fray at an unspecified time in the future. Hugely influential not only in Chicago, Trotter gets credit in an article at The Atlantic’s website for the fine-dining ubiquity of the dégustation menu, local/seasonal ingredient sourcing, and the chef’s table, among other things. Chicago magazine’s dining department has built an immense file on Trotter’s in the quarter-century since it opened in August 1987. Some excerpts appear below. Many more appear here.

• October 15, 1987, first-ever reviewer visit: There’s no salt and pepper on the table. . . . The crème brûlée is one of the best I’ve had.

• March 18, 1988, reviewer visit: It’s really difficult to classify this cooking as derivative of any ethnic group because it’s all so original.

• June 20, 1990, reviewer visit: Pastries were flaky and tender and expertly made, as were the cream sauces and mousses. It all ran together into some kind of orgy of the taste buds that makes it hard afterwards to recall which was which, since my tape had run out and I couldn’t take notes on the spot, but it was one of the closest things to a near-death culinary experience that I’ve ever had.

• September 8, 1994, kitchen-table visit: Early on, the kitchen is quiet but later on gets more noisy, although Charlie accounts for most of the noise.

• July 23, 2002, reviewer visit: Grilled Maine bluefin tuna with braised oxtail, black-cardamom-infused roasted carrots, chanterelle mushrooms, and red-wine essence. Where’s the oxtail? “It’s hiding underneath. They want to make sure it’s in every forkful.” How the hell does he do this? It’s astounding—like genius poetry.

• March 14, 2009, reviewer visit: Maybe a sign of the times, on the first floor there were two vacant tables for the first seating. One of the vacant tables was set for six so perhaps they would be coming in for the second seating.

• February 26, 2011, reviewer visit: There may be rumors of Trotter folding his tent here, but nothing in the experience tonight suggests it. Business looks better than what we saw two years ago, and the quality and creativity still shows up everywhere—a great fine-dining experience. He’s still incorporating new and exotic ingredients, but they feel natural, not manipulated with laboratory techniques. It’s still not pyrotechnic food, but exquisite. The service is better too, not so damn serious but almost error-free at a very high level. Still clearly four-star, whatever those Michelin folks think.


Everything in Moderation, Including Moderno

John des Rosiers, the chef/owner of Lake Bluff’s Inovasi and the upscale-takeout Wisma chain (which opened its Chicago French Market location Tuesday), plans to open Moderno (Renaissance Center, 1850 2nd St., Highland Park; no phone yet) in the old Rosebud space in May. More details on the central-Italian concept will trickle out in a series of about 12 videos launching this week, just as des Rosiers and his team head to the mother country to research. Videos will be released about every two weeks, in the moderno way. 


Urban Renewal

Among a slew of updates on Urban Union (1421 W. Taylor St.; 312-929-4302), including a projected opening date (January 17), an increased number of wine taps (six), and the naming of a pastry chef (Mitsu Nozaki, previously at Tribute and Boka), the chef/co-owner Michael Shrader released the menu. As Dish reported in September, the menu consists of small-plate dishes, many of which make use of a wood-burning oven. The seafood and meats average about $10, with the pastas and vegetables a few dollars less. Here’s a representative menu, with Shrader’s choices for pairings: 

• A shellfish platter from the raw bar
“Start with a little Champagne.” 

• Roasted Atlantic cod, Brussels sprouts, parsnip purée, toasted hazelnuts, and Champagne butter
“With a Spanish white or white Burgundy.”

• Wood-oven-roasted squab with braised cabbage and brandied cherries
“With some sort of red Burgundy, and I’d give you some veg sides—maybe the baby turnips because I love them. And I love rapini. And some frites with aïoli.”

• Braised pork-cheek ravioli, turnip greens, Parmigiano- Reggiano, and thyme
“Go more earthy with a Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”



“I went on a diet, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days I lost two weeks.”—Joe E. Lewis (1902–1971), American comedian and singer 


Cream of the Crêpe

Pascal Berthoumieux, the owner of Evanston’s Bistro Bordeaux, says most Chicago-area crêperies leave him flat—as a pancake, you might say. Early next month, he plans to soft-open Creperie Saint Germain (1512 Sherman Ave., Evanston; no phone yet), followed by a grand opening when the liquor license comes through, also in February (he hopes). “If I do mushrooms, there will be a twist,” he says. “I’m not interested in spinach and mushrooms.” While he can’t get too specific yet, Berthoumieux and his chef, René Lorenzano (Red Light), will make the savory crêpes called galettes de sarrasin, in the style of the Brittany region of France. Outdoor dining in warm weather, an all-French wine list, ciders, and a giant map of the Métro on the wall complete the francophilic atmosphere. Or milieu, you might say.


Crêpe Lock

Feeding what may be a crêpe minitrend, the chef Dale Levitski (Sprout) says the bar in the middle of his upcoming bistro, Frog N Snail (3124 N. Broadway; no phone yet), will serve sweet and savory crêpes. Frog N Snail, which Levitski announced in mid-November in the Tribune, will offer French classics such as steak au poivre, quiche, and bouillabaisse to an area of Lake View that is now steak au poivreless. “My family had a boat on Belmont Harbor in the seventies,” Levitski says. “The neighborhood is very true to my heart. I’ve always wanted to open a place there.” His goal is to open by the late spring, by which time we’ll be covering this trend in our spinoff newsletter, The Crêpe Paper.


Little Asia

Two recently opened Asian spots, in miniature: 

Wasabi Café (3908 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-698-6252)
Seats: Around 100
Opened: December
Service: Full service
Owner: Paul Lim
Also owns: House of Sushi and Noodles in Lake View
Different spin: Both restaurants are Japanese, but House of Sushi and Noodles has a sushi buffet; Wasabi doesn’t.
Quote: “Our [hot] kitchen entrées compared with other Japanese restaurants are very strong.” —Seungyun Oh, the manager 

Hutong Fresh Asian Café (1113 Lake St., Oak Park; 708-383-9888)
Seats: 70
Opened: November
Service: Fast casual
Owners: Simon Wang and Diana Johnson
Wang’s family also owns: Sushi House, with five west-suburban locations (and one in Kansas)
Different spin: Hutong’s menu is pan-Asian, with mainland Chinese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian, and Japanese food—but no sushi.

Quote: “The kung pao chicken is very good here. And Grandma’s tofu. That’s our family recipe from Beijing.” —Wang 


On the Fritz

Fritz Pastry (1408 W. Diversey Pkwy., 773-857-2989), we heard from Roscoe View Journal, closed January 2, to reopen around the 14th with a new look and a new baker named James Gray. Gray, a Whiting, Indiana, native back in Chicago after a stint in Pittsburgh, says the new Fritz’s signature items will be cookies, such as chocolate chip–pretzel and fresh, seasonal doughnuts. The owner, Travis Schaffner, says, “The main thing is try to get the shop more self-sustaining, so it doesn’t have to rely on large wholesale accounts.” The previous baker, Nate Meads, is headed for, well, something. You know how these things happen: 

Dish: So what your plans?
Nate Meads: I’m going back to fine dining.

D: When, where, what?
NM: There should be an announcement in a few weeks. I don’t know the name of it.

D: Is it open?
NM: I don’t know?

D: You are gong to be a pastry chef somewhere.
NM: Yeah.

D: Did you audition for someone?
NM: Yeah.

D: Who?
NM: I don’t remember.

D: Where?
NM: I don’t remember.

D: Were you in the world of fine dining before?
NM: Yeah. I worked at Tru.

D: So let me get this straight. You have a job as a pastry chef in the world of fine dining, but you don’t know where or for whom or the name of the restaurant or whether it’s a new place about to open or an established place.
NM: Right. You know how these things happen.  


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Things to Do

1. Save some Benjamins at Benjamin (1849 2nd St., Highland Park; 847-748-8737), where Tuesday evenings mean $25 flat for select bottles of wine and 25 percent off the North Shore spot’s small-plate menu (knocking the price of ahi tuna crudo down to $8.25 and Cook’s Ranch bison-brisket sliders to $6.75).

2. Give your New Year’s resolution a fighting chance with the aid of Look Better Now dinner options and a Feel Better Now cocktail list, offered weekdays in January at Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727). The $20, three-course menu offers waist-whittling eats, such as poached salmon with piquillo pepper sauce, and the beverage selection includes the lo-cal Grapefruit Fizz, with grapefruit vodka, fresh grapefruit, mint, and honey ($8).

3. Or chuck the resolution (five days was an admirable run) and reward yourself with what Food & Wine declared one of the best burgers in the country, at Custom House Tavern (500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200). The burger—which is crowned with Wisconsin cheddar, caramelized onions, house-cured bacon, and a signature steak sauce—costs a mere $5 (down from $14) through January 8.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

After four and a half years in Wicker Park, Crust served its final organic pizza on New Year’s Day. . . . As reported in Eater, Matt Maroni has gone the way of fellow Chicago food-truck pioneer Phillip Foss (ex-Meatyballs). Maroni announced he’s selling his truck, Gaztro-Wagon, and shuttering the Edgewater sandwich shop of the same name. The chef will also take a step back from Mörso, where he will transition to a consulting position. . . . Eater reported that the La Grange and St. Charles locations of Prasino are upping their craft-beer quotients and morphing into Wild Monk. The Wicker Park Prasino will stay Prasino. . . . And another Chicago tradition bends to the economy: One Sixtyblue will close after dinner service this Saturday night, but take heart: Come spring, the place will reopen with a new name and a new concept.