Tru, Chicago (April 2012)

Leaving Tru, I asked inly–before directing the same question to my brother, who dined with me–is there a better one-star Michelin restaurant in the country? If there is, I certainly haven’t found it.

From my initial email correspondence with the restaurant’s general manager to the deft handling of our table by Hanna, our server, and Aaron, our captain, every aspect of service demonstrated nonpareil attention to detail: the choice of black or white serviette, the synchronized clearing of plates, the sweeping of crumbs after every course, the ushering to the washroom (and the staff’s militant commitment to ensuring a safe return to your seat) and everything in between. And then there was the food, which is almost without fault, especially on the savory side. More on that shortly.

I made sure to get an early start to the day of my 6pm dinner, so that I’d be able to attend several panels on voting behavior before my brother arrived in the afternoon. By noon, though, mid-way through an underwhelming discussion about strategic voting in patriarchal parts of East Asian–few subjects could be further from my research interests–inanition set in due to two days of modest intake, and I was seriously wondering if I’d be able to make it until dinner on an empty stomach. Ultimately, I was glad I resisted the temptation to snack, for otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been able to manage the Niagara of plates that was about to descend upon us that evening.

We started the meal, as many restaurants do, with Comté-filled gougères (yes, I’m aware that other fine dining titans tend to use Gruyère), the ratio of which was tilted a bit more in the direction of choux pastry than I would have liked. But that’s not to suggest that their starch program isn’t on point. Indeed, Tru convinced me to end my year-long moratorium on consuming bread in restaurants. Let me explain why. Of the four breads on offer, I asked to have a round of rosemary impregnated brioche. With the gentlest squeeze, an indentation formed, leaving buttery residue on my digits. At that point I knew I would have to indulge.

Comté gougère

Brioche

As for the more substantial items, three courses in succession left me genuinely puzzled why the rouge guide would consider the restaurant inferior to the townhouse on Armitage from the previous night. First, there were the back-to-back fish courses–a roasted striped bass with a sensorily balanced combination of brown butter purée, pickled daikon, white soy powder and key lime supremes followed by tilefish anointed with an umami-laden mushroom broth, shitakes, sake, ginger and soy–beautifully cooked with each fillet teeming with moisture and flaking into bite-sized quadrilaterals. 

And then there was the anticipation that preceded the Jidori chicken. First black serviettes were placed on the table. Not a minute later the plated dish arrived on a halved piece of timber. Finishing tableside, Aaron glazed the breast with a rosemary-chicken jus. With the foie gras cream, chicken crackling, quenelle of mushroom purée and pile of honshimeji,  this was not a dish for the sodium sensitive, to wit, for me it was the jam.

Not everything was as stunning as the first twelve or so savory items, however; a coconut milk snowball palate cleanser that formally transitioned us into the dessert portion of the meal had the texture of poorly made ice cream: gritty, icy and the mango-passion fruit purée in which it was sitting was cloyingly sweet. And then there was the penultimate dessert course–a half inch plane of dark, dense Valrhona chocolate–which proved to be tantamount to the experience of driving with a flat tire: one may be able to make a little progress, but eventually it becomes clear that one has no choice but to stop. There was just too much chocolate and nothing the timid pear sorbet could do to cut down on the dish’s richness. However, with the unrelenting fusillade of friandise that included, inter alia, root beer floats, canalés, mango pate de fruits and exploding chocolate truffles, neither minor lapse had the slightest wobble in my affinity for Tru.

Olive tapenade-stuffed lemon vanilla mousse with fennel purée

White sturgeon “caviar,” avocado mousse and hazelnut toast points

Salmon mousse stuffed river salmon, salmon roe, breakfast radish, parsley and pumpernickle crisps
Dashi flan, actual California sturgeon caviar, edamame in yuzu broth
Butternut squash soup, ginger marshmallows, compressed granny smith apple and peppercrest
Bacon-wrapped duroc pork belly, sweet potato purée, plum purée, spinach, brioche crumb-topped potato dumpling and black truffle
Roasted striped bass
Roasted tilefish (I already started mowing through it before I snapped a shot)

Jidori chicken

72-hour braised Wagyu beef short rib, apple-parsnip-jalapeno purée, parsnip chips and herb oil-filled apple

Selection of cheeses with clover honey, fruit compote and fruit-nut bread

Coconut milk snowball

Rhubarb planks, strawberry gelée, goat yogurt sorbet and vanilla oil
 Acacia-honey parfait, black currant sorbet, moscato gelée and bitter almond tuile
Orange-ginger sorbet, orange-ginger gelée, orange supremes and candied ginger

Honeycrisp apple beignet and vanilla bean ice cream (again, I ate the donut hole before snapping a photo)

Red pear sorbet on a Valrhona plane and a pear chip


Campfire s’mores with marshmallow ice cream, rose petals and chocolate twigs

Root beer float with vanilla bean ice cream
 Mignardises
Exploding chocolate truffle with gold leaf
Almond financier with strawberry marmalade
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10 thoughts on “Tru, Chicago (April 2012)

  1. Interesting write-up, and the platings look uniformly terrific. I went to Tru last November and had some of the same courses as you (the tilefish, "caviar", pork belly, and jidori chicken) and found the cuisine to have too much salt. I suppose that one's enjoyment of Tru may depend on their tolerance for salt. Still, I'm looking forward to going back to Tru next week.

  2. diningsense,My salt threshold is unhealthily high, which may explain why I found Tru's food so delicious. And that high salt threshold may also explain why, for instance, I thought just about every dish at Le Bernardin fell flat. In any case, hope you have a better experience next week!Cheers,Andrew

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed your experience. Best one-star – that's high praise coming from you! Both the savories and the desserts have changed beyond recognition from two years ago. This chef is still young and obviously not afraid to change things around. It will be interesting to see how the restaurant evolves in the years to come.

  4. Hah, well, to be honest, Rich, it's high praise that you think my opinion has even a modicum of weight. As for Tru being the best one-star, that claim is based on an N of about 30, so the sample certainly wouldn't pass social science muster and suffers from omitted variable bias, given that I've yet to explore the laundry list of New York's one-stars. In any case, I think it's an exceptional restaurant. Do you have any plans to return?

  5. There are some good 1-stars in New York. I think Bouley's lunch tasting is a really good deal. There are also other 1 stars in Chicago that are underrated IMO: Topolo, Everest, Blackbird (the food, not the service), Graham Elliot, and Schwa. I am returning to Tru next week, actually, with my friend diningsense. Will probably do a write-up on it at some point (I have a backlog of meals I still have to write about).

  6. Even the mignardises are impressive! But it's the caviar that really made me take a second and third and fourth look.For me, wd~50 is easily NYC's best 1-star (it's ridiculous that they don't have more), and this food looks just as delicious as theirs if not quite as eccentric.

  7. donuts4dinner,I remember the incredible photos from your five donuts review of wd~50 and would really like to go the next time I'm in New York. By the way, if I remember correctly, you have a three-star Michelin meal on the horizon. It's just a shame they don't permit photos.

  8. Sure, that should be fun. But diningsense is heading back to Maine in a couple months. If your schedule permits, come back down to Chicago before June!

  9. Alas, I'm going to be slammed until mid-June. I may be able to swing a trip in the latter part of summer (late July/August). If I do, I'll definitely let you know. In the meantime, have a great time at Tru! I'm looking forward to reading your review.

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