Monday, March 12, 2012

The Trip

I return to the blogging universe and all 5 of my lovely readers to tell you a story of my first fine dining experience in the Fulton Market district in downtown Chicago.

Saturday we had reservations at a new restaurant called iNG, short for Imagining New Gastronomy. Another restaurant involving the Modernist Cuisine, or, Molecular Gastronomy. Owned by Chef Homaro Cantu, owner of Moto and Otom, which changed to iNG. We were set to have six courses with drink pairings.

After a long day of work, I get off and go home, anticipating the culinary adventure I would have later that evening. I get a text from one of my friends saying he has a flat and is two hours out. I started to worry. Missing out on this most epic of opportunities  would totally shatter me. We manage to get the reservation pushed back an hour, thankfully.

We arrived by cab, real classy like, right next to a Porsche that was getting the valet service. So we felt extra rich! I'm wearing my best outfit, red shirt, tie, jacket, pointy shoes, I felt like a million dollars. We walk in and get seated. It was not too busy, which was nice, we probably just missed the rush.
They started us off with cocktails; I went for the 5 Rabbit: 5 Vultures, an Oaxacan-Style Dark Ale brewed with piloncillo sugar and chile ancho. It was excellent(and only five bucks), and the Amuse-Bouche was wrapped in the menu folded into a box, on the inside were what looked like seasoned packing peanuts. They were some sort of starch composition and seasoned like you would a garlic crouton. Crazy, and a very cool sign of what was to come. Our server was Scott and he knew his stuff, explained everything very nicely, altogether a good guy, he told us how things were going to be done and disappeared to let us finish our cocktails and beer. He comes back to ask if we wanted another drink or if we wanted to start. We couldn't wait any longer, so we started.

The layout of the restaurant was very modern and minimalist. Crazy wavy walls, interesting red chairs which were slightly uncomfortable but unlike most reviewers, I don't come to a restaurant to critique a chair. All in all, pretty swanky.

The extremely cool thing about this place is that its quite possibly the first ever restaurant to use the miracle berry. The chemical called Miraculin, which changes the flavor of the food you eat, they served us spoonfuls of this powder and wedges of lemon. We were instructed to eat the powder and swash it in our mouth for about a minute, then taste the lemon to make sure the powder worked. After about a minute of looking like I have issues swashing this substance in my mouth to make sure my entire palate was coated, I swallow and bite into the lemon. It tasted exactly like lemonade, absolutely wonderful!
Braised pork belly, sunchoke, jalapenio, and a carbonated pineapple

The first course was called Hawaii Five-0. Scott instructed us to try the dish before we had the miracle powder. The initial bite was incredible, the very definition of salty and sweet. The pork was cooked perfectly and was fork tender, and went perfectly with the pineapple and orange. Absolutely delicious. It came with what I think was a pineapple fluff which rounded everything out. Then we took the miracle berry.

Every thing changed. Its different for each palate how you taste specific flavor profiles, but the way my palate works, it tasted exactly like a delicious pineapple salad. To say this brand new experience was mind blowing would be an understatement. We savored every bite and cleared our plates, they could have just put the dishes back on the rack, we left nothing.

The drink pairing was the Tiki, pineapple, ginger, mint and lime. Very tropical tasting and I'm not normally a foo-foo drink guy but I would drink this again. It tasted very refreshing and really made me want to go down to Florida and sip on this. The bartender is Mario Catayong Jr. and he's definitely good at what he does.

The second course is a very interesting spin on the classic Fish and Chips. A poached filet of mahi-mahi tuna coated with panko bread crumbs and topped with friend malanga root. On the bottom is an onion puree as well as a malt vinegar reduction. This one was very tasty and actually did feel like I was eating fish and chips. The fish was very fresh and absolutely delicious! This dish went quickly, the micro celery really brought out a bunch of the flavors.

And of course whats fish and chips without an English Lager. Samuel Smith Lager, imported from England. A very palatable beer and I wouldn't have any other beer with this dish. They got it perfectly. Cheerio!

Bao bun, Caramelized onion, Bratwurst, mustard.
This probably took second place out of all the courses. Its  iNG's version of a Wisconsin brat. On the bottom is a bao bun with poppy seeds. Nice dense dough, very smooth taste. On the top was a very nice bratwurst with caramelized onion and creamed mustard. Being a brat fan that I am this dish was really awesome. On the side of the plate was an apple and vinegar sauce, which went really well with everything and added a very slight tart-ness.

The  drink pairing was the New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale. I've tasted it before and its always a good choice. It went very well with the food, very appropriate for what I was eating, the beer made with the brat made me feel like I was tailgating!
Short Rib, Iceberg lettuce, Bleu Cheese, Bacon

Now I'm a little beef biased, so when I saw this on the menu, I tried to be as neutral as possible, but when Scott dropped this one off I just about went gaga over it. Beef short rib with a parsley garlic compound butter on top, served with your usual wedge salad with the bleu cheese and bacon, one big crouton and on the bottom are whipped mashed potatoes. This dish took me elsewhere. I was in a beautiful valley with giant boulders of beef, rivers of red wine and bleu cheese crumbles raining from the sky. Absolutely beautiful.

The beverage with this course was nothing too crazy, but what goes better with steak than red wine? Nothing, that's what. It was a nice Cab from Matthew Fritz, ripe berry flavors with a hint of chocolate. It went perfectly with the dish.

Vanilla, Lemon Ricotta, Breadsticks
 This was probably the coolest, most creative presentation I've ever seen. They call it "The Mob Hit". They served it with the second round of miracle berry goodness because the effects have worn off by this time. Lemon ricotta that's covered with espresso powder, a little dehydrated strawberry powder, and on the left is an outline of a body made with cocoa powder and a little red wine reduction. Up top are breadsticks served with lemon cream. This was my least favorite in the taste department. The espresso powder on the ricotta really kind of ruined it and gave the ricotta a very grainy texture. We weren't fans of it, but towards finishing the dish we started to think we may have eaten it wrong. With all the drink pairings so far we were a little tipsy so maybe we didn't get all the instructions from Scott. The miracle berry DID make it taste and feel like I was eating a cannoli though, which I got a kick out of. The breadsticks were amazing though and with the lemon cream it was super delicious, they used a little bit of honey to make it look like a butter glaze but tasted like a sticky bun.

The drink for this one was a Gevurtztraminer by Emile Beyer, from Alsace, France. Very bright taste, little hints of honey and lemon. The miracle berry actually made it taste like a sweet juice drink, which was kind of cool!
Blood Orange, Walnut, Graham, Cream Cheese

The final course really left a great ending impression. Its cream cheese that they somehow, using liquid nitrogen, made into a hollow sphere. Apologies for the horrible photography on this one. Below the sphere are walnuts that were crusted in graham and behind the sphere are two heart shaped red velvet brownies. Very dense and smooth. before the dosing of the miracle berry it tasted reminiscent of cake and ice cream. Post dosing was an eye opener. It tasted and felt exactly like I was eating a delicious cheesecake. It was wonderful!

It was served with an iNG original called "Kiss in the Dark". It is served with a heart shaped ice cube on an absinthe spoon. The ice cube actually made of sweet vermouth and a port wine reduction. It starts off tasting like a dry gin martini, it had a little gin, some dry vermouth, bitters and absinthe. Scott comes by and asks us how our drinks tasted, we said they were wonderful. He then asked if we wanted to try the second half of the drink and of course we allowed that. He drops the ice cube into the drink and stirs it, breaking up and melting the heart cube, he then asked us to try it now and described that it would taste just like a Manhattan. Of course, it did. We were stunned considering there's no bourbon in there, but we could most certainly taste it.

We finished the final course, satisfied and ready for round two of the courses, but unfortunately we were full, slightly drunk, and don't have that kind of money. We paid our bill, which was $292, under $100 per person so not too bad at all considering drinks came with the courses as well as the whole 'mind being blown' thing.

I swear we walked out of that place in slow motion just like they do at the end of movies, smiling from ear to ear, victorious. If I spent that money on anything else I would have felt extreme buyers remorse but this time around, I would spend that much on food again in an instant. I want to thank Chef Nate Park, Chef Chris Jones and Chef Homaro Cantu and our boss server- Scott, for introducing me to the finer side of dining in Chicago.

Keep eating.

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