Charlie Trotter’s

I’m normally not one for restaurant reviews. Typically, I wouldn’t even put myself into the category of fine dining connoisseur, let alone the finest-of-fine-dining connoisseur. However, today I’m making an exception. I couldn’t resist sharing my recent experience at one of the nicest restaurants I might ever set foot in: Charlie Trotter’s.

Charlie Trotter’s is one if the best restaurants in the world. You can view the website for a whole laundry list of awards and acclaims including one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” by Restaurant Magazine since 2004. Charlie Trotter’s offers two exquisite set-menu options, the Vegetable Menu and the Grand Menu, as well as optional wine or juice pairings designed to bring out the best in food and drink. (I clearly opted for the wine pairings.)

My Fiance and I have been wanting to go to Charlie Trotter’s for a while now. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do but had no push to actually make a reservation and go. When Charlie Trotter announced that he was going to be closing the restaurant to attend the University of Chicago to study Philosophy, we knew that our time was running out. With only a few weeks before the establishment would close its doors forever, Kenny and I made one of the only reservations we could get: 9:30 PM on a Tuesday.

With a high price tag and even higher standard for fine culinary creations, I went into this dinner with extremely high expectations. I was not disappointed.

When we arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. We were escorted up through three stories of small rooms, all of which looked like dining rooms pulled straight from a variety of French Tudor homes. Each room had a handfull of small tables, perfectly set with crystal stemware and white plates with Trotters signature ‘T’ in gold on the top. They took them away almost immediately after we sat down, but they did look lovely for their short stay.

It wasn’t long before our gold “T” plates were replaced by plate after plate of tiny, delicious courses. Each course was so unique and completely different than any other taste I’d ever experienced. Each course paired perfectly with a variety of top-notch wines that made each course even better, which was hard to believe was possible. The waitstaff was absolutely delightful and their passion for food and providing legendary service radiated through the entire meal. They were knowledgeable and friendly and totally on their A-Game. It was an absolutely delightful evening!

Charlie Trotter’s closed on August 31, so unfortunately, this review comes a little too late to allow you to get a reservation for yourself. However, I invite you to join me as I walk you through my dinner! I had the vegetable menu and wine pairing.

(I was too shy to take pictures of my meal, so unfortunately, I have no photos of my actual meal. However, I did find photos online of most of the courses, so I added those here instead.)

*   *   *

Globe Artichoke with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts & Mint
This was my favorite dish! I don’t know if it was because I was so hungry or just so excited to try my first course, but I absolutely loved this. The first bite I had was the salty pine nuts with the avocado sorbet and it was just to die for. 

Poached White Asparagus with Broccolini, Manchego Cheese & Fire-Roasted Red Peppers
I didn’t love this dish. The peppers were almost the consistency of Jello and the asparagus kind of tasted like pasta. Kenny loved it though, so it was probably just me. Sadly, this was my least favorite, but it was certainly not bad by any means. 

Crispy, Silken Tofu with Georgia Peaches, Red Curry & Pea Blossoms
This was the course I was least excited about when reading the menu, but it totally blew me away. I normally dont love tofu, so I was amazed by how much I loved this! It was crispy on the outside and the inside was so soft that it almost reminded me of pound caked. And with the peaches?! Loved it! 

One-Hour Poached Hen’s Egg with Morel Mushrooms, Swiss Chard & Liquorice
I have never been more impressed with an egg. I couldn’t believe the consistency of it! The yolk and the white were almost the same texture. The white was soft and smooth and the yolk was just firm enough to hold its shape. It all just melted together in the most interesting way! I was really impressed. 

Miso Tortellini with Red Cabbage, Turnip Confit & Ponzu
These little guys were very interesting! They were much firmer than I expected, which made them unlike any other tortellini I’d ever had. I liked them. Weren’t my favorite thing, but they were nice!

Apricot Sorbet with Anise Shortbread & Blackberries
I so badly wish I had a photo of this! This was my favorite of the dessert courses. It was exactly what it sounds like. This one lacked the strange complexity of a lot of the other courses, but more than made up for it with the burst of flavor in each element. It was simple, but just so delicious. The sorbet was so tart and sweet, and the shortbread was actually in crumb form so you got a little with every bite. Top notch. 

Zucchini Cake & Blossom with Whipped Basil & Saffron Reduction
This one was … complicated. I think that’s the best way to describe it. I wasn’t quite sure how to eat it and what things I was supposed to eat together. I do know that the zucchini cake was super moist and delicious and that sauce with the seed things in it was amazing with it! The whipped basil was kind of weird, but if you ate it with the olive oil sorbet, it was a great combination. 

Root Beer Leaf Ice Cream with Vanilla Cremeaux & Birch Syrup Infused Meringue
There is no way for me to describe how amazing the root beer leaf ice cream was. It was just so good! It was almost minty, but with that sweet kick of root beer. Kenny and I were head over heals about it! It was such a great way to round out the evening! And by this point, we were so full that I sadly couldn’t finish the entire thing. I think I might have offended the server by not finishing it, but I was just out of room!

NOTE: I would have loved to comment on the wine pairings as well, but I honestly know nothing about wine and I think I would just describe each of them as delicious. They were all great and perfectly matched with everything we ate.

*   *   *

It was just such a great experience! Charlie Trotter himself made his way around the restaurant while we were there and it was really nice to see him interact with the guests. After dinner, our server took us down to kitchen, which was so cool and unexpected! The whole evening was just so perfect!

Thank you so much, Mr. Trotter and best of luck in your future endeavors!

Spinach-stuffed Shells

Believe it or not, sometimes I really do eat foods with primary ingredients other than sugar, vanilla, flour and eggs. While dessert is most often my favorite meal, when I looked back at my Monday posts, I couldn’t find a single one that didn’t include brown sugar (which I promise I do not intentionally include to show off my lovely heart-shaped measuring cups). I decided to shake things up a bit and share with you one of my other guilty pleasures: stuffed shells.

Being raised sicilian, my love of cheese developed fairly early in life. Add to that my obvious love of pasta, and you can understand why cheese-filled pastas rank among my favorite dinner foods. I tried making stuffed shells once before, but failed at making my own Alfredo sauce to top them off with. That turned me off on shells for a while, but after I found this super easy recipe that called for a can of pre-made sauce, I was pretty sure I could handle it. 

Not that these are by any means healthier that most of my desserts that I love to share, but at least it’s a little something savory to off-set the usual sweetness of Mondays! Now, I have to apologize because I wasn’t planning on writing about this recipe, so I don’t have all the step-by-step photos (I suck!), but they just turned out so delicious that I had to share! I hope you understand.

Spinach-Stuffed Shells
Recipe courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens’ New Cook Book

12 dried jumbo pasta shells
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 eggs
1 8-ounce package shredded Italian cheese blend (2 cups)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 26- to 32-ounce jar pasta sauce

 Cook the pasta according to the package directions; drain. Rinse pasta with cold water; drain again. Set aside. I set my shells out on a cooling rack to keep them from sticking together. Meanwhile, drain the thawed spinach well, pressing out excess liquid. (To do this, I unwrapped the spinach and let it sit in a strainer in the sink for about an hour, occasionally pressing out the extra liquid.) 

For the filling, beat eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in spinach, 1 1/2 cups of the Italian cheese and the ricotta cheese. Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling into each jumbo shell. I found that using a cookie scoop, like the one below, is perfect for stuffing the shells! 

Pour posta sauce over the shells. (Finally — a photo!)

Bake, covered, in a 350º over for about 40 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Italian cheese before serving. Serve with garlic bread and your favorite Goose Island brew.

Bon Appetit!