Dinner at iNG
|November 8, 2012||Posted by jcogswell1 under Chicago Young Foodie Spots, Dinner|
About a month ago my friend Zoe, who works at TravelZoo, sent me one of the local deals that TravelZoo was offering in Chicago for a newish restaurant called iNG. iNG is the brainchild of Homaro Cantu, one of the most well known chefs in the molecular gastronomy space.
Cantu is best known for his restaurant Moto, also located in Chicago (actually right next door to iNG), which I visited about eight or so years ago and really enjoyed. The funny thing about the Gourmet magazine cover is that Cantu is eating the menu, which is exactly what you do when you dine at Moto. The menu comes over, you quickly read over it, and then you discover that it is actually completely edible and quite tasty!
Both Moto and iNG are on the expensive side – approximately $100 per person for just food – so the experiences have to be used for a special occasion, but they are both amazing restaurants. When Sarah, Kate, Ben and I made our reservation for Tuesday night at iNG (the TravelZoo stipulated that it could only be used Tuesday through Thursday or else I would have brought Tommy along!), I would say that my expectations were quite high given how much I enjoyed Moto. The food, drinks and service that I received at iNG blew my expectations out of the water. Moreover, we kept commenting that this was one of the most fun dinners we had ever had. The atmosphere and the playfulness in the food make you smile the entire time!
I am going to try and do my best to explain the details about the food we got, because at iNG, the details are what make everything so good. However, forgive me if I can’t remember every detail because each course was so complex. The dinner included ten courses plus seven drinks all for $100 dollars. Although that sounds a bit expensive, it is definitely the least expensive fancy/tasting menu food I have ever eaten – and the quality was just as good. The thing about iNG is that they build their menu around movie genre themes. For the months of October and part of November, the theme was Martin Scorsese films (I was told that it is changing mid month and will be Christmas movie themed through the holidays!). I wasn’t sure what to expect with a Martin Scorsese theme, but as you’ll see, every menu item and drink pairing worked so well! It also helped that iNG was projecting Scorsese movies on the walls of the restaurant to cement the theme even further. So without further ado – here we go!
As soon as we sat down at iNG, we were offered a choice of three cocktails to start with – Processco, The Kimura and a Smoky Manhattan. Obviously, you don’t need a description about the Processco (which I got and although delicious, I sort of regret not being more adventurous). The Kimura is vodka cocktail with St. Germaine liquor, grapefruit and lemon. I forgot to snap a picture of this, but it was so good. Sarah and I split the processco and the Kimura and I have to say, I would order the Kimura again in a heart beat. The grapefruit and lemon definitely made it sour, but the St. Germaine (an elderflower liquor) made it bearable and delicious.
Kate and Ben opted for Smoky Manhattan which was like a regular Manhattan but with great smoky flavor. I would order this again as well!
Course 1: Sleeps with the Fishes
For the first course, iNG offered us a rock shrimp dish served a couple different ways. The waiter brought over a large glass bowl with plastic wrap covering it. Sitting atop the plastic wrap were four rock shrimp “chips”.
These chips had a mild shrimp taste to them, but I thought were very similar to pork rinds! We all agreed, we could eat an entire bag of rock shrimp chips. After we ate the chips, the waiter lifted the plastic wrap off the bowl to uncover the shrimp “wraps” sitting atop some seaweed (get it – under the water hence the “sleeps with the fishes” name?). The lifting of the plastic wrap also let out a big cloud of hickory smoke that the shrimp had just barely “cooked” in. I thought that shrimp had a faint smoke taste which I really enjoyed.
I should also note that iNG served a Von Hovel Riesling with this dish that complemented it nicely. The wine was dry and offered a subtle fruitiness that went well with seafood.
Course 2: Dinner in Prison
Most things at iNG are quite playful and theatrical. The second course was no exception. The waiter brought out two plates: one for me and Ben to share- who was sitting across from me and one for Sarah and Kate to share. Included in the plate was a savory marshmallow that the waiter lit on fire with a gun lighter!
Although the theatrics of this dish we great, the taste of it was even better. It was basically a play on a charcuterie and cheese plate. I opted for the fish version of the dish which included: raw salmon, pickled spicy vegetables, garlic chips (SO GOOD), robiola cheese (think stinky and pungent), olive tapenade, tomato jam, the previously mentioned savory marshmallow and some focaccia bread. Everything was good, but I probably loved the garlic chips the most!
Ben opted for the meat version of the dish which included many of the same ingredients as mine. The main difference was that my salmon was replaced with some cured meat – bacon, salami, etc. Also, Ben’s focaccia included a meat stuffing of sorts that he thought was wonderful.
Course 3: 9 mm
This meal was so good that it made it very difficult to pick a favorite course. After every course, we would declare it our favorite of the night! Perhaps by design, Chef Cantu progresses the flavors in a meal – from lightest to strongest – as he does the courses of the meal themselves – best to very best!
To continue on with Scorsese theme, this course included a partially melted block of taleggio cheese that was shaped like a gun.
The taleggio was served on top of a crepe type bread and was a bit of a riff on a grilled cheese sandwich. If someone would argue that this was a seemingly straight forward dish in terms of flavor – hello just cheese and bread – I would point them to the wonderful sauces that were served alongside them. They say that the best chefs are also the best saucierers and I see why!
iNG also served this with a “Six Shoot” cocktail that included rum, pineapple and campari. The drink was delicious, but what really caught our attention was the way it was served.
A gun shaped mug filled with a wonderful cocktail to go alongside a flavorful taleggio dish? iNG knows what its doing!
Course 4: The Color of Money
The description on iNG’s menu of this course was “arancini mozzarella.” Arancini are risotto filled balls that are fried and typically stuffed with mozzarella. Italians often make these with leftover risotto. I have always thought arancini were pretty straight forward – I mean what can you do with them? But that is the brilliance of this restaurant. Chef Cantu turned the arancini inside out.
What you see on the left side of the photo is the arancini itself and on the right, iNG served a rosemary flavored shortbread. I wish I had gotten a picture of the arancini cut into because if I did, you would be able to see that the risotto is in the inside of the ball and the white outside is actually the mozzarella. It was also served with one of the most flavorful basil “broths” I have ever tasted!
One of the reasons that I failed to snap a picture of the cut-into arancini was because Chef Cantu actually stopped by the table during this course. I was so obsessed with trying to understand how he did this that my camera slipped my mind. Don’t worry though – I plan to share the technique that Chef Cantu told me in Restaurant Recreation Recipe soon!
Course 5: Catherine’s Pasta
When you eat at a restaurant like Moto or iNG, you expect to be getting the totally out there foods that molecular gastronomy is known for. What you don’t expect is to get one of the most delicious and traditionally pasta dishes you have ever eaten, but that is exactly what we got for our fifth course.
This dish included house made fresh fettuccine, chanterelle mushrooms and fennel. It was also topped with . . . CANDLE WAX! We had been enjoyed our dinner with candle light, when all of a sudden, our waiter picked up the candle off the table and poured some of the edible wax onto each of our dishes!
We loved everything about this dish from the meaty mushrooms, to the subtle sweetness in the fennel, to the chewy fresh pasta. One of the most interesting parts of the dish was that the pasta was so perfectly coated. I find this difficult to do with fresh pasta, yet iNG pulled it off perfectly. It was as if there was corn starch in it to give it a “thick” consistency, but I know that’s not the case.
iNG also served this course with a Hirter Morchl Drunkel Lager from Austria, but I didn’t snap a picture. It was a wonderfully hoppy beer that was well suited with the pasta dish.
Course 6: Cannoli
Despite how wonderful the pasta course was, we all thought that the sixth course was equally as good, if not better than it. Obviously, the word cannoli makes people think of dessert, but this was actually our final savory dish of the evening.
Ben and Kate got a slightly different version of the dish than Sarah and I did because we opted for the veggie option. Inside our cannoli was a perfect roasted carrot that took on the consistency and flavor of meat! It was a such a bizarre, but amazing flavor. Kate and Ben’s cannoli’s were stuffed with veal, which they both loved. I had a taste of theirs and thought that mine was slightly better, but they disagreed.
On either end of the carrot/veal was some piped mascarpone cheese that offered slight sweetness and tang. The sauces on the dish also didn’t fail to impress and included a wonderful onion jam and roasted carrot puree.
To go along with this dish, we got a generous tasting of a Cab Franc wine called Pra Di Pradis, Stuccara from Italy.
Cab Franc is arguably my favorite grape and this wine was absolutely fabulous! It had subtle spice to it and went wonderfully with the rich cannoli dish!
Course 7: Intermission
From this point forward, the rest of the meal was sweet in nature. One thing that is truly unique about iNG is that their dessert courses are served by “flavor tripping.” What this means is that iNG serves you a big spoonful of miracle fruit powder, has you eat it, ensuring that the powder touches every part of your tongue, and then has you see what impact it has on the food you are eating.
iNG serves their powder with a slice of lemon. This is because they encourage you to eat the lemon after ingesting the powder and experience the flavor transformation. What exactly happens to the lemon flavor? Well it gets sweet! You don’t lose all of the sourness, but I would say that it tastes the freshest lemonade you have ever had!
When we got our first dessert course, we were encouraged to try it before eating the miracle fruit to see the different in flavor before and after.
This course included a lemon curd over pizzelle cookies with lemon sorbet and then topped with freeze dried raspberries. I loved the dish prior to eating the miracle fruit, but I really love sour foods. The lemon flavor was just so refreshing and I think that this really cleared my palette from the heaviness of the previous dish. After I took the miracle fruit powder, I would just say that the flavors mellowed out and got sweeter. I thought both versions were delicious!
Course 8: Diet Sandwich
The next dish was a play on a Thanksgiving sandwich and included a pound cake “crust” and cranberry sauce. I thought this dish was good, but nothing truly special. Kate found it to be a bit sweet after taking the miracle fruit.
What made this dish even more Thanksgiving in nature was that iNG served it with a Jolly Pumpkin, La Parcela, Pumpkin Ale from Michigan.
Unlike the actual dessert, the flavor tripping worked really well with the Pumpkin Ale. This particular one was on the bitter/hoppy side, but the miracle fruit made it taste much sweeter – which is how I prefer my pumpkin ales!
Course 9: Taxi Driver
The next course was served on a long board that was formally part of a bourbon barrel. Ben is a major bourbon lover and so he found this presentation to be really special.
Ben and I shared one piece of barrel and Sarah and Kate got the exact same thing but on their side! Atop the barrel were bite size pieces of different gels and cheeses. This sounds strange but basically iNG was able to give each tiny gel square a different and unique flavor that ranged from coffee to cheddar cheese to apple. All were delicious!
Course 10: The Aviator
After all this delicious food and wonderful presentation, we came to the last course of the night and it was definitely an amazing way to end the night. First, we got the last drink of the night which iNG cleverly called the “OCD” in honor of The Aviator (the character that The Aviator is based off of is Howard Hughes who had a very bad case of OCD). The drink included bourbon, earl grey tea and sweet vermouth (Tommy you would have loved it!). While we all agreed that the drink was fabulous, it was put over the top by the way it was served.
The drink was served out of a soap dispenser to continue on with the OCD theme. Every time we wanted a bit more, we would just push the dispenser and out more would come! What a clever and fun way to serve this drink. To go along side it was a big tissue box full of cotton candy which was a play on the fact that Howard Hughes always carried tissues on him.
When you lifted the tissue box up, you saw two petri dishes that were filled with chocolate pudding that received small drops of very strong kaffir lime syrup.
Kaffir lime and chocolate are not the most likely flavor combinations, but this tasted SO good. By the end of our portion, we were all essentially licking our petri dishes!
That concludes my post on iNG. Sorry for the extreme length, but nothing else would do for such an exotic, unique, amazing dinner. I cannot express how much I enjoyed my time here (plus the company was great!). If you get a chance to go in the next month or so, I know that the next theme is Christmas Movies. Tommy, being the Christmas lover that he is, already committed to being my date for that even sometime next month!
Have you ever eaten at a molecular gastronomy restaurant? Do you like food like this or are you more interested in traditional food that you don’t have to think about? I think there is a place for both, but absolutely loved my experience at iNG!