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Anyone visit Charlie Trotter's recently?

f
fandango2 Aug 6, 2010 10:28 AM

My husband and I are headed to Chicgo in Sept and have reservations at Alinea and Trotters. Both of these are a splurge for our aniversary and I am concerned about Trotter's being a let down. My husband has has his heart set on going, but there doesn't seem to be much buzz in the last couple of years. is it just that it has been overshadowed in the press by Alinea and other newer spots or is it no longer a good choice in comparison to other Chicago options?

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. chicgail RE: fandango2 Aug 6, 2010 02:16 PM

    Trotters is no longer the newest and hottest, so naturally there would be less buzz. That being said I don't think you'll find Trotters to be a let down. The food has evolved quite a bit over the years -- as it should. Some folks like it and some don't. I'm in the "yes" category.

    Not clear if you are choosing between the two, but if you are, the food, the creativity and the experience of eating at the best restaurant in the United States, Alinea wins hands down.

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    Alinea
    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

    4 Replies
    1. re: chicgail
      nsxtasy RE: chicgail Aug 6, 2010 02:55 PM

      As chicgail notes (and as I didn't realize on first read), it's not clear whether you are choosing between the two, or planning to go to both Alinea and Charlie Trotter's. If you can only choose one, I agree - go to Alinea.

      However, I think you (the OP) are close when you ask whether Trotter's has been overshadowed by Alinea and newer spots. In fact, it's more like, Trotter's and newer spots have ALL been overshadowed by Alinea, and in some ways that's unfair. I'm not saying Alinea doesn't deserve all the acclaim; it does! It's perhaps the ultimate restaurant experience you can have anywhere. However, there are a lot of other great restaurants in Chicagoland and elsewhere. If you're looking for a high-end experience, you are likely to have an outstanding dinner at any of those restaurants, including not only Trotter's, but also Avenues, TRU, Everest, Spiaggia, and others (despite the uncharacteristic screwup that occasionally gets reported at one place or another). For that matter, I've been incredibly impressed with dinners at a few more casual spots as well. But it's not fair to any restaurant to be compared with Alinea; you should judge each place on its own merits. If you go to Alinea one night, and go to Trotter's the next night spending the entire time thinking about how the two compare, you may very well be disappointed. But if you go to Trotter's the next night looking forward to an entirely new and enjoyable experience that is worthwhile in and of itself without making comparisons with any place else, I think you'll be very impressed. I hope that makes sense.

      1. re: nsxtasy
        f
        fandango2 RE: nsxtasy Aug 7, 2010 06:10 AM

        Both of your responses are greatly appreciated and insightful. We are planning to dine at both restaurants. - Alinea on Thursday and Trotter's on Saturday. I will be careful not to compare the two, rather enjoy both on their own merrits. Thankfully, I am now looking forward to Trotters. Price puts these restaurants in the same catagory and on that basis I was comparing the two.

        1. re: fandango2
          p
          pkolenda RE: fandango2 Aug 7, 2010 12:28 PM

          Price wise - Alinea is dangerous. Most expensive meal of my life. Ask about your bar bill before accepting more wine. My bill for two was north of a grand.

          Trotter and other places - you know what you are getting and no surprises on the price.

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: pkolenda
            nsxtasy RE: pkolenda Aug 7, 2010 12:46 PM

            At Alinea, $275-300/pp including alcohol/tax/tip is a reasonable estimate for most folks - less if you don't get much alcohol, more if you go crazy with the wine. See more info below.

    2. uhockey RE: fandango2 Aug 6, 2010 02:44 PM

      I'd say Trotter's is the third (or fourth) best meal I've had in Chicago - behind Alinea (and Alinea,) and L2o. They don't get the "buzz" but the setting, service, and food are on par with the best in the United States.

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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      Alinea
      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

      2 Replies
      1. re: uhockey
        f
        fandango2 RE: uhockey Aug 7, 2010 06:19 AM

        Thank you for the reply, especially from my husband. Scheduling, reservations, etc... has kept him from visiting Trotter's on previous trips and he is happy to have me on board with this choice. There are other options I was interested in, but I'm grateful to know this is still one of the best.

        1. re: fandango2
          h
          HoosierFoodie RE: fandango2 Aug 9, 2010 12:11 PM

          I was at Trotter's with a my wife and two other couples about three weeks ago. I have been there at least 6+ times and dined in the kitchen twice.

          This was the first time we had been in about 5 years. The food was just outstanding. The service wasn't what it once was; at least on this occasion. It wasn't terrible, in fact by a lot of standards, the service was good. But they just made a couple of minor mistakes that you don't expect from Trotters. Forgetting to fill water glasses, forgetting to replace napkins then we had to ask for one, no offer of desert wine with dessert; they just brought the dessert. Again, nothing major but it wasn't what it once was. I doubt that Trotter is actually there as much as he used to be.

          It was great food and from that standpoint it is absolutely near the top of the Chicago scene. Though I do think a lot of Tru and L2O. Alinea is in a class by itself. Which I'd put it up there with Le Bernadine, Daniel, The French Laundry among others.

          Though I can still recommend Trotter just with very minor caveats.

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          L2O
          2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

      2. p
        pkolenda RE: fandango2 Aug 7, 2010 12:26 PM

        Personally I like Alinea a great deal but I do find that it can be overwhelming. The wine pairing with the the food was too much - too much confusing flavors, volume and price$$$ Dinner was over a grand. I would get a good water - they have many to try and stick to one or two wines. The other thing with the dozen or so wines we tried - I loved about 3 found 3 to be fine and half of them terrible or not to my taste. That is my advice. You will love the experience. The experience is the most amazing part.

        Trotter is great. I have been there several times and always enjoy it. I have even been a guest chef. One of my favorite places in the world.

        L2O is getting amazing buzz. Many like it better than Alinea. If you are a Tony Bourdain fan - he loved the place as did Eric Ripert.

        Since you are a foodie - try Hot Doug's for lunch. Yes hot dogs. The fries are fried in duck fat on Friday's. Expect to wait in line 1 to 2 hours. The place is important also because they fought the fois gras ban and helped get it overturned. Another place Bourdain visited.

        Bonsoiree is another great very small gems. BYOB. More cutting edge than Trotter- blends classic, modern and molecular. Very laid back. Same price range as Trotter. Very underground vibe.

        I am going to Girl and the Goat tonight. Great reviews. Stephanie Izard's new place - only lady to wine Top Chef so far.

        La Scarola is the best Italian I have had outside of Rome.

        If you like Pork - silly question - of course you do - The Publican is fantastic. It was still a concept when Bordain was here. Same crew as Aven and Blackbird.

        Urban Belly is you want noodles.

        Either Friday or Saturday night after dinner - to the Green Mill for jazz. They are open until 3 or 4.

        Let us know what you do and how it was.

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        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        Hot Doug's
        3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

        Bonsoiree
        2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

        The Green Mill
        4802 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

        L2O
        2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

        Urbanbelly
        3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

        1 Reply
        1. re: pkolenda
          nsxtasy RE: pkolenda Aug 8, 2010 08:35 AM

          >> Dinner was over a grand.

          You're only going to drop a grand at Alinea if you get the bigger menu AND go hog wild on wine. I had dinner for two there earlier this year and spent just a tad over $400 including tax/tip, but we only had one glass of wine and did the smaller menu (and it was an equally amazing experience). Since then they have consolidated the two menus and the price is close to that of the smaller one. I'm not saying it's inexpensive, but unless you go crazy on wines, $275-300/pp including alcohol/tax/tip is a reasonable estimate.

          The rest of the comments here don't seem to relate to the OP's question about their upcoming dinners at Alinea and Charlie Trotter's. fandango2, after your dinners, let us know how you liked Alinea and Trotter's.

        2. m
          mountsac RE: fandango2 Aug 7, 2010 10:58 PM

          Alinea and Trotters are arguably the most iconic gastronomy restaurants in Chicago. Subjectivity aside, they are institutions that foodies should visit at least once if they come to Chicago. So great picks!.

          While almost all people on here love Alinea, many have different takes on Trotter's. I personally felt that my experience at Trotter's (summer of 2009) was a let-down. There is no doubt that the service was great, and the food was interesting and creative in its presentation. You could tell that Trotter's was trying to integrate many Japanese ingredients into his dishes. I could see the creative efforts, but the flavors just didn't work for me at all. With the exception of the amuse, bread service, and one dessert (which were quite good), I found every other dish ranked from "mediocre" to "not good." To me that was unacceptable at that price. I'd also like to point out that my tasting menu, with the $165 price tag, did not have any luxury ingredient (no caviar, no foie gras, no truffles or truffle sauce, no lobster, no king crab, no wagyu...). While I don't need expensive ingredients in my food and everything I had that night tasted fresh, I did wonder where was all my money spent on, and I did have the feeling of "being ripped off" after the meal, even though the food overall was not by any means bad.

          Perhaps I went too early in the summer, and he was still tweaking many new dishes on the menu, or perhaps it was an off-night. But I would recommend that if you are going, do not go with great expectations - my experience was that it is essentially a lovely and competent restaurant overall but is overpriced and has problems with execution when it comes to fusion dishes.

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1 Reply
          1. re: mountsac
            uhockey RE: mountsac Aug 8, 2010 05:28 AM

            I went to Trotter's in Winter of '08 - day before New Years, actually - and Charlie himself was in the Kitchen with the team that night. There was Lobster, Truffle, Wagyu (which I opted against for the bison) and two of the dishes that night rank amongst the top 20 things I have ever eaten - Poached Pennsylvania Duck Egg with Perigord Black Truffle, Torpedo Onion, Parsley and Black Mission Figs with Shaved Fruit Cake, Marcona Almonds, Pedro Ximenez, Proscuitto, and Bacon Fat.

            What I like about Trotter's style (aside from the service, room, and setting) is his focus on the unexpected and avoidance of "heavy" sauces that muddle the plate.

            Admittedly I followed up that meal with a dessert tasting at TRU - potentially the most food I've ever eaten in single evening (it did span 7 hours, from the start of Trotter's to the end of TRU) but it remains one of my fondest food memories.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          2. i
            Illuminatus RE: fandango2 Aug 8, 2010 12:58 AM

            Uhockey, on CH you are one person that has obviously been around many different cities and eaten at all the best places. I am curious if Alinea is the best place you have eaten at in America? Was there another restaurant you found more enjoyable such as French Laundry or Per Se?

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            Alinea
            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

            8 Replies
            1. re: Illuminatus
              uhockey RE: Illuminatus Aug 8, 2010 05:34 AM

              I think there are many people who've been to many places more than myself here on the board - they just don't post as often (Kevin, ulteriorepicure, kathryn, epicuryan, etc) or remain in a single locale for much of their dining.

              If you look at the places I've been, I've done extended tastings at TFL and Per Se that cost 2x what dinner at Alinea costs - and while both were great, I still believe my first meal at Alinea was the best meal I've ever enjoyed - the second wasn't as dynamic or exciting (maybe because I'd been there before) but still in my top 10. Obviously we're talking slim margins here, but for $225 there are only two meals I can say were a better "bang for the buck" than Alinea - Vidalia 24 prior to RJ Cooper's departure, and Providence in Los Angeles.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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              Alinea
              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              1. re: Illuminatus
                nsxtasy RE: Illuminatus Aug 8, 2010 08:01 AM

                I've eaten at half the U.S. restaurants on the "top 100 in the world" list and half the U.S. restaurants given five stars by one of the nationwide rating services. Although all of these places have been very good indeed, I would have to say that Alinea has been the best, by far. For one thing, all the dishes at Alinea are interesting in concept, and virtually all are exceedingly delicious, and for that alone it would stand out. But far beyond that, the playfulness of the flavors and how the items are served - whether it's food strung on piano wire, or smoke and vapors, or served in a test tube - make the entire experience a lot of fun, and this is something that no other restaurant does. This doesn't take anything away from the delicious meals I've had at French Laundry or Le Bernardin or Manresa or Charlie Trotter's. But Alinea really stands by itself, far beyond the others, for both its delicious food and for the unique experience it offers.

                However, the term "bang for the buck" may or may not be applicable, because it involves comparing amazingly creative meals for a lot of money against less creative meals for less money. I've had excellent meals and experiences for well under $100 a person, and I've been to Alinea and spent $200-300 a person (and you can spend a lot more than that, depending primarily on your alcoholic intake). It's harder to make a case that Alinea offers more "bang for the buck"; it certainly offers "more bang" but also costs "more bucks".

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  i
                  Illuminatus RE: nsxtasy Aug 8, 2010 09:14 PM

                  So basically both of you would agree that Alinea is the best place you've eaten at in America then? Have either of you tried Joel Robuchon at MGM in Las Vegas? If so, how did it compare?

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                  Alinea
                  1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                  1. re: Illuminatus
                    uhockey RE: Illuminatus Aug 9, 2010 03:34 AM

                    I have left detailed reviews of everywhere I've visited here on Chowhound and in my blog. Robuchon is excellent - and since we're talking Vegas so are Savoy, Alex, and others. They are not Alinea and I'd rate Robuchon (Aside from that insane bread and mignardises carte) only slightly above Trotter's for overall experience.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                    Alinea
                    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                    1. re: Illuminatus
                      nsxtasy RE: Illuminatus Aug 9, 2010 07:08 AM

                      >> So basically both of you would agree that Alinea is the best place you've eaten at in America then?

                      Alinea is the best place I've eaten at in America in the past ten years. The best restaurant I've ever eaten at in America would have to go to Le Francais, when Jean Banchet was running it in the 1970s and 1980s. Like Achatz at Alinea today, that was at the time acclaimed as the best restaurant in America, and was head and shoulders above all others, not just for the spectacularly delicious food, but also for the "show". (At Le Francais, the "show" consisted of 45 minutes at the start of the meal, rolling out cart after cart to show you all the items on the menu before taking your order.) Also like Achatz at Alinea, many of those who worked under him have gone on to open their own excellent restaurants in the Chicago area.

                      >> Have either of you tried Joel Robuchon at MGM in Las Vegas? If so, how did it compare?

                      I have not eaten at Robuchon. One of the top ten meals I've had in the past ten years was in Vegas, at Picasso in 2001.

                      1. re: Illuminatus
                        w
                        willyum RE: Illuminatus Aug 9, 2010 08:34 AM

                        "Have either of you tried Joel Robuchon at MGM in Las Vegas? If so, how did it compare (to Alinea)?"

                        I know I wasn't asked but as a newbie to the board who has enjoyed uhockey's and nsxtasy's reviews I'll just chip in if you don't mind since we recently dined at both Alinea (July) and Robuchon (June). We don't live in Chicago or Vegas so don't have a home-town dog in the fight.

                        The Alinea "experience" was special, from the aroma pillows to the 'flags' of rice paper that became part of the meal to having Chef Achatz create the chocolate dessert on the tabletop to end the meal. I can see why people pick this as the top restaurant in the US and wouldn't be surprised if it makes it to the top of the world-wide list in a few years.

                        However I felt the food, overall, was better at Robuchon, at least the meal I had. Several of the Alinea dishes were as good as Robuchon dishes (a chunk of lobster covered in lychee & gruyere and served on a vanilla bean skewer, or the tournedo a la persane of Wagyu beef spring to mind), but some fell flat or seemed forced, as you might expect with 26 courses.

                        Anyway, Alinea is now my wife's favorite restaurant, with Robuchon a close second, and Robuchon is my fav with Alinea a close 2nd. I would certainly agree that the Alinea over-all experience should not be missed and can't disagree with anyone who picked Alinea tops in the USA.

                        For one more opinion check out this lady's blog ... she is trying to visit all 21 of the Mobil/Forbes Five Star rated restaurants and has been to 12 thus far. She had a great time at Alinea as you can see from this entry, ranking it ahead of Trotter's, Per Se, Alex, Jean Georges and others: http://www.fivestarfoodie.com/2009/06...

                        But she calls her Robuchon meal "the most perfect culinary experience we have ever had!". You can see her overall rankings of the visited restaurants at http://5starfoodie.com/5stars.asp ... click on 'view' under 'Profile' to read the specific reviews.

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                        Alinea
                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                        Las Vegas Restaurant
                        914 Main St, Antioch, IL 60002

                        Five Star Bar
                        1424 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

                        1. re: willyum
                          uhockey RE: willyum Aug 9, 2010 11:30 AM

                          I have been to eleven of those 21 - I'd personally rank Per Se, The French Laundry, Lautrec, and Alinea above Robuchon. Admittedly these are indeed slim slim margins.

                          Regardless - Trotter's and Alinea are absolute musts in Chicago.

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                          Alinea
                          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                          1. re: willyum
                            nsxtasy RE: willyum Aug 9, 2010 12:07 PM

                            I've been to eight of the 21, and I'd rank Alinea tops. But I agree with uhockey; of the ones I've dined at, all were excellent and the margins were slim. I would never rate any of them 5/10 or 6/10 as that reviewer has done.

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                            Alinea
                            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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