Sunday, September 30, 2007


I didn't have overly high hopes for Tru. Sure, it's one of the so-called "great" Chicago restaurants but I'd heard from several people I know that it was overpriced, pretentious, and not worth the time and money. After our pretty perfect meal to celebrate our second anniversary last night I couldn't disagree more.

Despite calling a month prior, the earliest reservation put us at 9:45 pm. We took long, late afternoon naps to prepare to make sure we could fully appreciate the experience. We walked in through the lounge that's filled with lots of cool art of various sorts. The dining room is a large room with exquisitely high ceilings and the windows covered with soft white curtains. Given the late hour I expected the place to be clearing out but every table was filled and several parties were seated AFTER we were.

This place is all about the little details and they get major points from me in this area. A tiny stool just to store my purse for the evening (available for purchase online, of course). Customized menus printed to wish us a happy anniversary. The choice between white or black cloth napkins depending on what suits your outfit. Service timed such that everything happens in a synchronized fashion, from the unveiling of each course to the simple pouring of water.

We opted to try two of the tasting "collections." Peter chose the Chef's Market Collection and I went with the more seasonal Autumn Collection. Each featured nine courses, not including small extras like a delightful amuse bouche of tomato gelee and unlimited bread in three varieties. We both enjoyed nearly every course, and noted that the portion sizes were considerably larger than those we received at Charlie Trotter's. Highlights from my meal were the red and yellow beets, the almond-poached poussin (wow, this was stellar) and the homemade tagliatelli. Peter enjoyed the sashimi (it came with an unbelievable white soy sauce that had hints of pineapple) and the whipped salt cod, which I tried to eat as much of as he'd let me.

Both menus ended with a cheese course and dessert. The cheese cart featured three glorious rows of cheese separated into groupings based on the type of milk they were made of: cow, goat and sheep. We each chose three different selections and enjoyed the accompaniments of fruit and nut bread, fresh figs, apple chutney and champagne grapes. Our desserts were good but not great. I've had better sticky toffee pudding (one of my faves) but Peter's cherry coupe was a nice and light option. Each came accompanied by a homemade root beer float and were served with the painted plate pictured above wishing us a happy 2nd anniversary. Just when we thought we couldn't hold another bite, another cart of mignardises arrived at our table and we enjoyed a selection of tiny sweets including blackberry gelee, peanut butter fudge, pistachio toffee and homemade lollipops.

We didn't see a formal wine pairing option on the menu but did have the knowledgeable sommelier guide us to an extremely nice bottle of 2003 Savennieres, what I'd call an 'interesting' Loire valley chenin blanc. Its gorgeous honey color and taste to match made it the perfect complement to our courses across the board. As I'd never heard of the wine I asked our server to please write the name down for me. To my surprise and delight he went a step beyond and carefully removed the label off the bottle, taped it to a Tru notecard, and presented it to me at the end of our meal. Our other parting gifts included copies of our customized menus and an adorable mini loaf of pumpkin bread.

I found the service to be perfectly friendly and not overbearing. All in all, a truly lovely evening and way to spend an evening. Two years into our marriage I couldn't feel luckier to be married to a wonderful man and living in a city with such phenomenal food.

The damage: at $545 including gratuity it was just shy of what we spent at Trotter's, but we felt like the overall experience was worth much more.

Food: 4 3/4 out of 5 forks - excellent, and you won't leave hungry.

Romance: 4 3/4 out of 5 kisses - maybe we were just in exceedingly good moods, but it was pretty darned romantical!

Watch out for: the length of your meal. Ours took 4 hours so it was after 1 am when we finally left! Just be sure to get up and walk around a few times to keep the blood flowing in your legs, and you'll have fun checking out the super cool sinks in the bathroom.

676 N. St. Clair
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 202-0001

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Perfect Fall Weekend

What a weekend! We were blessed with phenomenal weather in Chicago this weekend and I managed to talk my parents and sister into driving up here Friday for a rather spontaneous visit filled with food and fun.

After a delicious dinner on Friday at Piazza Bella on Roscoe, we decided to head north to Lake Geneva, WI Saturday morning. The Brat Stop is right there off route 50, so of course I had to take them to this classic where we all enjoyed fried cheese curds, brats, hot dogs and German potato salad. Next we stopped at the Apple Holler (thank you Libby for the recommendation!) where we picked our own 1/2-bushel of apples from the acres and acres of orchards they had. We carefully followed our apple picking map and wandered until we found Cortland, Macoun, Fuji and Golden Delicious apples to pick. The next question is, what on earth am I going to do with all these apples?

We spent the night at a resort called The Abbey and ate seafood at local favorite Popeye's. It was on the drive back this morning that we found the real highlight of the trip: an enormous pumpkin patch that had just opened for picking! It wasn't all that crowded and all you do is you drive your car up the hill through the patch, stop on the side of the path, then go in the field and gather all the pumpkins and gourds your car can hold. It's only $60 for a whole car full! Had we known this we surely would have brought a bigger car.

This was seriously fun. Check us out!

Caution: do not attempt to pick pumpkins in a skirt and flip flops. The patches are full of prickles and bugs.

We had such a great time. This place even offered raspberry picking across the street, but our car was a little full for that by the time we had shifted around every piece of luggage to accommodate the pumpkins.

I loved having my family here and I'm sad they've now headed back to Cincy. But luckily I have a little creature to keep me company...if Peter were in town he would kill me. Doesn't little Hammy look adorable?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pumpkin Bar Goodness

The plethora of fun Halloween stuff that's appeared at Target really got me in a fall mood this past weekend and inspired me to make a pumpkin dessert. Oh, and the fact that we had accumulated so many heavy cans in our cabinet's lazy susan that it actually cracked in half and we're now trying to eat all the soup, salsa, chili and other miscellaneous canned goods we can.

Anyway, this dessert isn't fancy, but it was scrumptious. The frosting, with a combination of butter and cream cheese, was the perfect balance with the moist cake. I added far more spice than the recipe called for to kick it up a notch. My version of the recipe is below.

Cake Ingredients:
4 large eggs
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
15-oz can pumpkin
2 cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Icing Ingredients:
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (8 Tb) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar, sifted (one of the few times it's critical to sift)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Add all dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread batter into a greased 13" x 10" baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled bars. Cut into individual servings.

Yield: about 20 squares

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Adventures in Smoking

We have literally used our smoker one time. It was back in Cincinnati and the voltage required to keep the thing on blew a fuse in my 125-year old house. It's sat idle for several years, but for some reason Peter was inspired to do Texas barbecue brisket this weekend. Here's the start of the adventure.