816 W Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
Hearing that Charlie Trotter’s was closing in a month (because Charlie is going to travel with his wife and then go back to school) is like hearing that a guy your friends have been dying to set you up with is getting married to someone else.
I have been wanting to go to Charlie Trotter’s restaurant for years, but in my 20′s, I didn’t have money. Then, I got to my 30′s… and suddenly Girl and the Goat and Graham Elliot were a priority. Both did not disappoint. But, I felt like I had time to do an excessive Chicago culinary tour well into my 40′s, but Charlie Trotter’s early departure from this tour moved them up to this weekend.
On my phone, I plugged in what I thought was a shot-in-the-dark attempt at getting a reservation and got one, however late. We were seated at 9:15pm, although our reservation was at 9:30. I was surprised by the quantity of empty tables as we walked through the restaurant… and that we were walking past them to some other location. They took us up a steep flight of stairs to the hot second floor. Minutes later, a couple, that immediately started talking about head cheese, was seated directly next to us.
Our selection options were a vegetarian or a meat-centric prix fixe menu, which we attempted to research before we arrived, but there is no information online about the day’s selections. We were still quickly comfortable with the meat lovers $195 Grand Menu.
Just to clarify: that $195 does not include alcohol.
Our first service person told us in detail about the wine pairings (“this is a SYRAH that is made from FOUND grapes on a PINOT orchard”), but when we asked for their scotch options, he said they didn’t have scotch. We mulled that over for several minutes and decided on other options. Then, the second service person came and told us they did have scotch and whiskey… or rather that he could “get” some for us. This was said in a “you-want-whiskey-oh-I-know-a-guy” kind of tone.
After getting through the prohibition-like drink ordering, we had some time before the first course.
Eating in this restaurant is like eating in a mid-price restaurant that happens to have a prix fix menu… in the 80′s. We started to have a running theory that the reason Chef Charlie may be closing is so that he wouldn’t have to redecorate. It was like going on a date in a John Hughes movie. It felt like at any moment someone in taffeta would get proposed to.
Here are the specifics:
1. We were seated at 9:15pm and we left at 12:15am. There could have easily been 90 minutes taken off of this total time.
2. There were eight courses and three were desserts. I have a sweet tooth, but this was intimidating.
3. We had no less than seven people serving us during our time there. Some were more confident than others, but most seemed to have “senior-itis”. They were basically signing year books in the hallway.
4. The tuna with fennel was a great start. I want that as an appetizer every time I eat sushi.
5. The hamachi covered in squid ink was unimpressive… and a little scary. It still tasted great for however worried I was about undoing any teeth whitening treatment I have ever done.
6. The salmon, the duck and the antelope were the highlights and the reason why people should have come here… in the 80′s.
7. You would think that three dessert courses would come out quickly at midnight, but that is an inaccurate assumption, although the raspberry one was absolutely beautiful. Crunchy, cold and tart.
Two things that pulled us out of our overly critical experience:
1. The BREADS. Yes, they get capital letters. Amazing. Bacon rolls. Pretzel rolls. Yes, yes, yes.
2. With Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin playing in the background, we would occasionally remember, fondly, the world outside.
The final score is an 8 out of 10. Not better than Graham Elliot… which may be the best meal of my life, but I haven’t eaten at Alinea yet.
In closing, ladies and gentlemen, I got needlessly defensive about the recent reviews of Charlie Trotter’s before actually going there and now I support them. It is a meal we will never be able to repeat, but I am not sure that I need to.