So in honour of Devilman's birthday, we ate at Moto tonight. Moto is of the (for lack of a better term) molecular gastronomy school of cooking, which, (at its most simplistic) means that the chefs use lots wacky scientific methods in their food prep--liquid nitrogen, foams, etc. Molecular gastronomy is the Science Fiction/Fantasy of Food. It's what they are serving on Fhloston Paradise, and on Risa, and I wouldn't be surprised if Paimon was in the kitchen right now frothing up some asparagus cotton candy foam and freezing peanut butter. When Drs. Frankenstein and Pretorius whip up a light midnight snack, that's what they are whipping.
The mothership of MG restaurants is El Bulli in Spain, but for some reason two of the most famous American offshoots are located in Chicago: Alinea and Moto.
Paul Witcover, Devilman and I ate at Alinea last summer, and it was some experience. After entering the restaurant through a secret sliding door, we left 20 courses, 15 wine tastings, and 4 hours later, shell-shocked and stuffed to the gills with mozzarella balloons, bacon and butterscotch (served dangling from a little wire), kobe beef with watermelon, among other culinary marvels.
Moto is a little more low-key than Alinea. Alinea is like a hushed temple, where cat-like ninjas perform a complicated ballet of shifting plates, wafting napkins, and whisking glasses. Moto's setting was much more standard up-scale restaurant, and while the servers were competent, they were not ninjas.
Famously, dinner at Moto starts with an edible menu, which is to say, the menu is printed out on rice paper and then affixed to a large cracker. After you have decided if you want 5,10 or 20 courses, you can eat the menu. It tastes like a cheesy rice cracker. We had the 10 courses, which sounds like a lot, but some of the courses are very tiny so you don't start to peter out until the very end. The coolest thing we were served, I think, was a sort of deconstructed sushi that was finished off with sesame oil that had been "cooked" in liquid nitrogen, which had the result of turning the oil into tiny little pellets. They were extremely cold, but normally when you put an extremely cold thing in your mouth it's also wet--icy--these seeds were icy cold and extremely dry, so it was a very odd, yet intriguing feeling. Another stand-out dish was o'opu (fish) served with buttered popcorn sauce, which, yes indeed was made with pureed buttered popcorn. Continuing the puree theme was graham cracker pudding which tasted exactly like liquefied Teddy Grahams.
For a fuller explanation of Moto, I refer you to Veal Cheeks, who ate at Moto last fall, and (unlike me) took both notes and pictures.
My verdict: Moto was interesting, but some of the food was flash for flash-sake--interesting but not necessarily delicious. The chili nacho dessert, for example, looked exactly like nachos, but the jalapenos were really kiwi, and the sour cream creme frache, and the beef was chocolate. This looked very cool, but it didn't actually taste that great. Kiwi, chocolate, tortilla chips don't really go together. Alinea, on the other hand, had some truly revelatory dishes. Who knew that cocoa and watermelon would be a fabulous combination?
Devilman's Final Verdic: "Moto is to Alinea what McDonalds is to Culver's." Both are good at certain things, and have their strengths, but we like Culver's better.
And by that mean, I mean, we truly do like Culver's better. Asparagus foam and edible menus are fine and dandy once in a lifetime, but Culver's custard tastes delicious every day.