Monday, January 09, 2006

Birthday Dinner at TRU

For my birthday on Saturday, my loving fiancé Stephanie made reservations for us at Chicago's most popular restaurant TRU. She and I have been enjoying Chef Tramonto's amuse bouche cookbook for a few months, so it was with great anticipation that we arrived for our reservation. Despite a couple of stumbles, we were not disappointed.

First the stumbles. Although the restaurant received a 27 Zagat score for its decor, I was thoroughly underwhelmed. The white curtains covering floor to ceiling windows and the stick lamps that could have doubled for emergency exit lighting did not create a particularly inviting scene. The bathrooms, however, were lovely.

Stephanie and I each chose to dine from Chef Tramonto's special degustacion menu, giving us each eight different courses. We began with tasty acorn squash panna cotta served on spoons and then moved on to the famous four-taste amuse. It included borscht soup on a spoon, squash terrine, carmelized shallots over cumin gelee, and cucumber juice shooter. My first course was the famous caviar staircase, the restaurant's signature dish. I was informed by the waiter that they were still serving caviar harvested in 2005 and thus not affected by the recent export bans by the US and EU. Stephanie opted out of the caviar course and was instead served four bento boxes of salads and terrines, each more enjoyable than the last. Next I had seared yellowfin tuna with tapenade and Stephanie enjoyed peeky toe crab over beets (the second time in two courses that she was served beets). With these courses we enjoyed Domaine des Baumard's Trie Speciale Savennieres 2003. We are big fans of Baumard (whom you have seen reviewed on this blog before), and the Trie Speciale was as good as I've had from them in a dry chenin blanc.

My next course was the highlight of the evening, and it is the best reason to introduce the exceptional service we received from sommelier Scott Tyree. I was anticipating my foie gras course and was considering a glass of Sauternes to accompany it. Mr. Tyree politely suggested that while the Sauternes would be a classic pairing, given the preparation he would recommend another wine. The gras was served barely sauteed with cabbage confit, raspberries, and blueberries. Mr. Tyree brought a glass of botrityzed rosé from Kracher in Austria. The berry flavors from the red Zweigelt grape perfectly matched the berries in the dish. I was stunned. Stephanie declined the foie gras course and was served ricotta gnocchi with about a pound of shaved black truffles. (Don't tell them, but she saved one and served it to me with scrambled eggs the next morning.)

We then moved on to soups served capuccino style in demitasse cups. Stephanie had pumpkin and I had cauliflower. These were followed by rather disappointing fish courses. My salmon with salsify lacked interest although it was paired with a perfect pinot noir from Rivers-Marie in Sonoma. Stephanie received delicious butter-poached lobster, but it came with the very same gnocchi she tasted two courses earlier. This upset us, but the chardonnay from Faila that Mr. Tyree selected to accompany the dish more than made up for it. It's subtle and restrained nose (I can only speak of the bouquet because Stephanie wouldn't share a taste with me) was an ideal match for the lobster. Stephanie remarked that it was the first time when she tasted a wine that worked as an ingredient in the final dish. I guess I have to try harder.

Our meat courses were superb. Stephanie enjoyed prime ribeye with mushrooms and I had venison loin with chesnut puree. She was recommended the romantic Chateau LaLagune Haut Medoc 2000, and I was introduced to a new wine - the Trinoro Le Cupole 2003 from Tuscany. I was told that it was primarily Cab Franc blended with indigenous varietals modeled on the great Cheval Blanc of Bordeaux. What a wine! The typicaly tobacco notes from the cab franc were present, but they smelled more like a Havanna than any I've ever experienced. Thank you Scott.

By this time, we were quite full and perhaps did not pay enough attention to Chef Gale Gand's desserts. We had creme brulee and semifreddo along with cheeses, truffles, chocolates, and lollipops. I finished the meal with the Cuvee Ste. Catherine Coteau du Layon from Baumard, and Stephanie drank half of an enormous glass of Banfi grappa. We left, perfectly sated, after four hours.

It was a wonderful birthday celebration thanks to the kitchen staff at TRU, sommelier Scott Tyree, and mostly to my beautiful fiancé.

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