Tuesday, May 18, 2010

six hours of Moto (part 1)

Because obviously we hadn't gorged ourselves enough at Topolobampo, two days later we were headed to Moto.

(Okay fine, in reality I had booked both reservations weeks in advance.)

That morning, we prepped for what we knew would be a marathon eating session by running over six miles in sub-50 degree weather. Then, we starved ourselves all day, with the exception of a hot dog apiece from Jim's Original Hot Dog.

We arrived at Moto promptly at 8pm, and were seated in sparse, modern room. The table was quite large for four, and I thought at first that maybe there would be a lot of dishes at the same time, but that turned out not to be the case.

Soon after sitting down, we were served the menu. The actual words were printed with edible ink on rice paper, and that paper was attached to both sides of a piece of crunchy pita. (One side was the "gtm" aka grand tasting menu, while the other was the abbreviated "ten".) It was served with pickled ramps and a slice of artichoke. The pita itself was pretty good and certainly did not taste like a menu, but it was a rather large piece and I didn't try to finish it. The ramps and artichoke were well-prepared, but hard to eat with the small fork that we'd been given. For me, the menu was more of a novelty than anything else. Oh, and the side with the "ten" tasting menu encouraged customers to live-tweet their dining experiences. Hrm.

We of course went for the whole shebang, so we were soon served the first course. Each dish had a clever but not very-descriptive title; this one was "Cotton Candy", and it consisted of gin-soaked grapefruit, tobiko, and escolar (a fish). It was hard for me to judge this one as I didn't eat the fish, but I think we all agreed it was kind of hard to see why the different components were paired together, and how the name related to the actual food.

I liked the next course much, much better. It was entitled "Onion & Gruyere", and it was well-plated, creative, and delicious. Rich onion broth (with almost no water added) was served with caramelized onions, dehydrated onion, and bruleed gruyere cheese. The cheese was especially addictive; I was practically licking the bowl.

The next dish was one of the least impressive of the evening. Before it arrived, we speculated quite a bit on what "Red Bull Paella" would look like. The server brought out plates of skate wing with puffed rice, and then popped open a small can of Red Bull, from which she poured out a creamy chorizo sauce. I hear the skate itself was good, and the puffed rice was fun to eat, but I wasn't sure how it fit with everything else. I did enjoy the saffron beads, but felt they were better eaten alone as the sauce tended to drown out their flavor.

Next up, the "Phunnel Cake" turned out to be pheasant cooked two ways: a small piece of breast, served with emulsified pheasant stock, and then a bit of pheasant cooked into a "phunnel cake" shape. I found the "cake" preparation crunchy and yummy, although slightly salty, but was not as fond of the breast.

This was one dish that I wish had been larger. Moto's "Loaded Fries" were a puree of potato and sharp cheddar, accompanied by thin strips of crispy potato skin, as well as jalapeno and bacon bits. The cheddar taste was quite strong but the texture was not cheesy, and the crispy bits added some crunch. I thought it was a pretty good take on comfort food.

I expected to either love or hate "Yellow Snow", and as it turns out, I loved it. The "snow" was made of shaved meringue, and the yellow color was achieved with curry and lemon curd. The flavors were well-balanced and it was fun piling the meringue bits into the indentation in the middle of the plate where the curd was.

The "Cigar & Ashtray" may have been my favorite course of the evening. The presentation was superb: the cigar was composed of smoked pulled pork and red pepper coulis, wrapped in braised collard greens, with crushed sesame seed "ash". To complete the illusion, the "cigar" was wrapped into authentic cigar paper.

Next up was the "Forrest Roll", which was a sushi roll that was "all forest and no sea". The "fish" was actually rabbit tenderloin colored with beet juice, and the "seaweed" was mushroom paper. Arborio rice and brussel sprouts completed the roll, which was served with crushed sweet pea "wasabi", sliced radish "ginger", and allspice aioli. It was a little disturbing at first to be eating what looked like sushi but tasted completely different, but the sensation grew on me, and I quite enjoyed it. My only complaint was that the aioli was perhaps a bit too heavy.

I liked the mushroom part of the "Maitake and Pork Belly" dish much more than the pork belly. The pork was very tender, but was prepared with a surprisingly rich garlic, ginger, and lemongrass reduction, which I found a bit syrupy. In contrast, the mushrooms and vegetables (gailan greens and Chinese broccoli) were more subtle; they were simply sauteed with mushroom puree.

We were curious about the standing "mushroom", so our server explained that it was constructed by aerating mushroom consomme, which was then dehydrated into a mushroom shape, no mold necessary.

This "Deli-Style Pasta" dish was supposed to come next, but somehow it got skipped, so we notified the waitstaff and they brought it out a few courses later. It was a Reuben "sandwich" with bread made of caraway seed pasta. The filling contained corned beef brisket, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. The sandwich was served with thousand island dressing, fresh dill, and a dill potato chip. I liked the caraway taste but thought the pasta texture was too mushy. The chip was a bit sour (which I liked) but the sauerkraut seemed not sour enough.

At this point we were only halfway done with the meal! I'm going to save the other ten dishes for a future post, but wanted to make a few general observations.

The courses were only described on the menu with cutesy names such as "Cigar & Ashtray", but the servers would give lengthy descriptions while serving them. Consequently, one of my dining companions ended up whipping out her trusty Blackberry early in the meal. Whenever a dish was served, the four of us would all listen diligently to the description, and then after the server left, we'd try our best to regurgitate all the details. It would probably have been better to have brought a voice recorder, but we did manage to retain a surprising amount of information.

I was responsible for the photography side. As a result, I was probably less useful for remembering descriptions, as I would often be shooting continuously trying to get action shots of broths being poured or flames being lighted (still to come). Luckily, the others yielded to me the seat with the best lighting, so I did manage to get most of the shots I wanted.

Since we had run so much that morning, I was extremely thirsty, so I kept drinking water, and kept excusing myself to use the bathroom. After awhile I started to wonder if the waiters thought I was bulimic. Anyway, it was lucky the bathroom was close by and hardly ever occupied.

(To be continued...)

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