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Sunday, September 22

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"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
-- Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats.

A friend of mine, S., flew in from New Jersey Thursday and insisted that, Friday evening, we dine at TRU. I'd never heard of it, but then I'm not exactly a connoisseur of the Chicago restaurant scene. That doesn't prevent me, of course, from enjoying a magnificent meal.

Friday arrived and I entered TRU (located at 676 N. St Clair) around 6pm. It had been a (long) while since I'd last experienced fine dining of this magnitude, so I looked something like an anxious, out-of-place tourist when I stuttered and told the maitre d' that I was with S.'s party. I was the first to arrive and was directed through black drapes into the small yet serviceable bar and lounge. The bar is quiet, simple and elegant — which can be said for much of TRU's interior décor, though the bar and lounge design, with white walls hugged by two regal blue-cushioned seating booths centered around the beautiful hardwood bar, differs greatly from the vast, soft white geometric expanse of the dining room.

My guests arrived a few minutes later. Champagne was poured from the bar and we were led to our corner table. The service was immediately flawless (and would continue to be throughout the evening) as we were comfortably settled into our plush dining chairs, our water was poured, and we were promptly served our first course of the evening: canapés of white bean puree and pickled haricots vert on sterling silver spoon. Mild but nutty, it was an understated choice to whet our appetites for the coming meal.

The TRU menu offers two types of dining options: a prix fixe menu, occupying the right half of the menu, and the collections on the left. The prix fixe dining options consist of three courses and run somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 a plate. A collection offers a much more ambitious six-to-nine course meal and is a more robust sampling of the TRU experience. Prices for the collections run from $90 to $135 per plate.

Chef Rick Tramanto asks that the entire table of diners select from one side of the menu. My table agreed on the collections side of the menu and, after a careful perusal of our options (as dining options are changed nightly), selected our meals. My friend selected the six course Vegetables Collection; her mother and her guest selected the seven course Grand Collection; and I, feeling daring, selected Chef Tramanto's nine course collection. My compatriots had a taste of what was in store for them as the menus stated the contents of their collections. The Tramanto collection is at the chef's discretion — carefully avoiding any foods a diner might have allergies to, of course.

After finishing our cocktails, our wine was poured (the wine menu was, as you'd expect, quite extensive) and our four plate amuse-bouches were served. Those of the Grand and Chef Tramanto's were the same: plate number one consisted of a mouthful of soba with carrots and a shred of green bean; plate two offered a pruscuitto, green apple and breakfast radish morsel that was quite tasty (S. had the same sans pruscuitto, which she declared was also quite good); the next plate offered a tiny square of richly flavored beat cake; and on the final plate stood a shooter of crystalline apple ginger juice — a crisp finish to the course.

The crystal staircase of delectable caviars and traditional garnishes (crushed egg whites and yolks, capers and minced onion) was brought to the non-vegetarians next. The Tramanto staircase differed from the Grand only in the quality of the osetra roe: my Tramanto featured the Golden Osetra. The wasabi infused roe was a subtle favorite, resting lightly on the tongue and whispering sweetness and bite onto the palette, though the osetra was declared rich, salty and exceptional as well. Instead of caviar, S. was treated three bento-style boxes offering a wild mushroom tourine, a carrot with frisee tourine, and an asparagus tourine.

The seafood course followed, offering Grand collectioners a single massive, succulent roasted Maine Diver Sea Scallop over pomme puree and drizzled with beef au jous. While my chilled Peeky Toe crab salad, served over a plaintain puree and garnished with cilantro-lime vinaigrette, was quite tasty, I was taunted by the buttery aroma of my compatriots' scallops. My friend was served a salad of raw and cooked spring vegetables over baby lettuce and roasted lemon vinaigrette.

The foie gras followed next, though the real show stealer was S.'s amazing coronary-on-a-plate olive oil panna cotta — which I believe is a preparation of whipped olive oil and heavy cream — that was a silky, light, decadent pudding. It was garnished with baby fennel, asparagus, blood orange and tomato marmalade (though honestly I think it could have stood on its own). The Grand collectioners' foie gras was offered torchon-style served over spring vegetables "a la Grecque" with country toast — which my compatriots left unfinished. My foie gras was pan-seared and served over ripe spring berries(!), braised red cabbage and 24-karat gold leaf. The berries were an inspired choice, adding tart bite and sweetness to the subtle richness of the foie gras.

Our soup course was varied. The Grand diners enjoyed a chilled asparagus soup with fromage blanc. S. had chilled gazpacho water served with fennel yogurt sorbet; the gazpacho was crystal clear and exquisite, containing so much rich tomato and onion essence it was unbelievable. The true treat of the soups, however, was delivered to my plate in a delicate, crimson and gold-leafed demitasse: porcini mushroom reduction served cappuccino style. In a word: sumptuous. I am decidedly not a fan of mushrooms, however the unbidden nuttiness and round rich flavor of the reduction, blended with the silky frothed milk of the cappuccino, was, well, sumptuous.

The fish course was enjoyable: Roasted Nova Scotia halibut for the Granders and roasted Colombia river sturgeon for myself. The sturgeon was served over braised oxtail and a spiced carrot puree. The fish was firm and flaked gently with a fork; the flavor was full and herbal. S. — not a fan of cauliflower — was served a gratin-style cauliflower with pine nuts, golden raisins, and (another inspired choice) capers.

Our main course was a selection of meats: for the Granders, an Elysian Fields lamb chop served with a marmalade of peas, pearl onions, lettuce & merguez. The Australian beef tenderloin medallions I was served — while seared to perfection and left perfectly pink on the insides — were my only disappointment of the evening, not because they were bad but rather because they were somewhat predictable and uninspired. The granders both experienced difficultly carving their chops: the meat appeared to be a tad grainy and was difficult to cut with a knife. One diner abandoned her fork altogether and settled in on the chop hand-to-mouth. Neither looked extraordinarily satisfied with this course. S. enjoyed a ricciole pasta served with morels, fava beans, truffle pesto and parmesan, though she, too, admitted that she was not overwhelmed by this course.

The cheese course followed, which was included in my collection only; however, my peers elected to add cheese to their collections as well. A selection of 21 or so cheeses were presented to us in three rows-cow, goat, and sheep's milk cheeses — and arranged from softest and mildest to firmest and most pungent. (My apologies: I neglected to record the names of the three cheeses I selected.) It was an excellent offering.

We were next presented with shooters of delicious chilled lychee passion fruit soup that cleansed our palettes and prepared them for our desserts.

Here we departed from Chef Tramanto's guidance and fell under the helm of his partner, Pastry Chef Gale Gand. My friend and I were brought mini German chocolate cakes and a custard-style concoction — which I failed again to record the name of — that S. and I agreed could only be described as "diabetic crack;" potently sweet and powerfully compelling, the yellow custardy goodness was crowned by a thick, amber syrup. Our other dining companions had something involving three mini-beignets, however I was too overwhelmed by my dessert (and the mounting alcohol level) to give adequate attention to. (Both were also too full to finish their desserts).

The meal completed shortly after a tour of confections — mignardises and lollipops — was brought to the table. I sampled a chocolate madelline and several chocolates, though at this point I must admit that my palette and senses were a little too overwhelmed to fully enjoy the offerings (S.'s mother and her companion hardly touched their selections).

I felt like I was missing something, then, by not having full enjoyment of the final two courses. As such, I'd like to offer — in my most humble opinion — that the collections' other courses be recalibrated so as to allow us to better enjoy the creations of Chef Gand, though, in all honestly, I could not possibly suggest which course to eliminate.

TRU, 676 N. Saint Clair St., is closed Sundays, serving weeknights from 5:30pm to 10pm, Fridays 5:30pm to 11pm. Attire is elegant dining — jackets for men and equivalent evening wear for women. Reservations are all but required. 312-202-0001.

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About the Author(s)

Fork It Over is the result of weekly dinners with members of the Gapers Block staff. This week's review was written by Brandon Heckman.

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