One night in Chicago and so many Michelin-starred restaurants. This would require some research. As a seasoned Michelin-starred restaurant patron, I know what I want and it's quite simple -- I want the same experience everyone else gets, but vegan. Having already dined at both three star (the highest rating) restaurants, Alinea and Grace, I took a look at the two-star restaurants. Of them, L20 had just closed, 42 grams states that they will not accommodate any dietary restrictions to include vegans, and Sixteen will serve vegans only four courses instead of their typical 10. Well, blah. That took me to the 17 one-star restaurants of which I did a lot of research. I ultimately landed on Moto who responded to my inquiry with: "We can definitely accommodate your restrictions with our 9 course tasting menu. It's $150 per guest and is a 2.5-3 hour experience." Done.
The outside was very unassuming with a simple red brick facade and a silver sign with green letters stating "Moto." We walked in to this West Loop location and were immediately greeted by the host. As we walked by some large booth-like seats, we were surprised to see a ladder laying in one of them. Not the best presentation, if I do say so myself. At least clean up a bit before dinner!
The dining room we sat in was very small with only a few tables. The decor was simple -- black and white walls with modern artwork. The chairs were plush white chairs with contrasting black tables -- very comfortable seating. The ambiance left much to be desired though as it was very loud and very bright. Not the most romantic place for sure.
Now before I begin, one thing to note is that the owner and Executive Chef Homaro "Omar" Cantu had just recently hanged himself in a new brewery location just a few months prior to this review. The restaurant was operating under the direction of Trevor Rose-Hamblin and the plans are for it to remain open in spite of the recent events. So, we were quite curious to see what was in store given the recent change in leadership.
The server knew immediately that we were vegan and greeted us appropriately. He also knew of my friend's allergies without us having to restate them. That's the kind of attention to detail I expect in this level of establishment so I was pleased with that. We were eating the Gather menu -- the vegetable tasting veganized. And, so it began.
We started with an amuse bouche of a split pea puree with dehydrated tomato.
For the first course, we had the foraged forest, as they called it. There was a lot on this artistic plate including fried pumpkin, seared hearts of palm, and mulberry powder. I wasn't a big fan of the mulberry, but the pumpkin was delish. The pairing with this dish was a chardonnay.
For the second course, there was an poached tomato in olive oil over a cracker and white and "purple" asparagus in olive oil with black olive puree. I loved the asparagus -- simple yet elegant. But the cracker was too thick and plain for me.
For the third course, there was okra three ways. Crispy okra, pickled okra, and an okra chip. The crispy and pickled okras were both very salty and excellent. The okra chip was kind of plain.
The fourth course was one of my favorites. It featured smoked daikon radish, cocoa nibs, hazelnut, creamsicle foam, mandarin orange, and compressed orange juice. Paired with sake, this was a taste explosion. Party in my mouth for sure.
The fifth course was my least favorite. The corn panna cotta set with agar agar was weird and rubbery. It was served with cilantro curl, jalapeno gel, and corn shoots. I'll have to given them an "A" for presentation though.
The sixth course was fried hen of the woods -- freeze dried with morels, juneberry jam, and shiitake mushroom foam. This course was mind-blowingly good. The mushroom flavors with all of the sweet accompaniments made for a savory spectacle. The wine was also very good -- Turner Pageot Grenache Syrah.
This next platter is also something to rave about. It included small bites to be eaten in whichever combination you chose. There was date spread, blueberry jam, cashew butter, and hibiscus along with mango panna cotta, rosemary thyme bread, pine nut with sherry reduction, and golden beet foam. It was a hit with the table.
The eighth course was a key lime mousse in a waffle cracker with strawberry sorbet and raspberry spread. The waffle cracker and sorbet were fantastic, but the key lime mousse left something to be desired.
Lastly, there was the "pecan pie" sorghum coated with chocolate ganache with a twill brown sugar cracker, peach sorbet and mint leaf. This was paired with a very nice 15-year aged sherry.
They even finished it off with a special sorbet with a rice candle as an early birthday celebration! And gave the table some gelee.
We all talked about the experience afterwards and agreed on a number of things. I loved that, for the most part, there were elements of every dish that were good and some dishes were hands-down winners. However, there were some dishes and/or elements thereof that weren't all that tasty. We were very impressed with the servers knowledge of these dishes given that they were made especially for us. The wine pairing I had was okay, but not anything to write home about. Some wines were good and some weren't. And as I mentioned, the ambiance left something to be desired. That said, we had a great time and enjoyed many delicious bites and when I saw the check, I felt that it was appropriate for the price. The meal was $135 (less than they said it would be) and the pairing was only $60 -- so for the value, it was well worth it. The total ended up being $266, which is quite low for this caliber of restaurant.
I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you are looking for a Michelin-star experience at a lower price point as you will definitely have fun tasting all the molecular gastronomy-style food you can over the course of three hours. It's an experience.
945 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607