Stars and Showstoppers of a 14 Course Meal: Part 1

“Excellence is not an act but a habit,” said Aristotle.

While I am not one to fall for habits, my addiction to tasting menus and luscious cuisines continues to be an exhibit of my soul stirring pleasures. Catapulted further with my addiction to rooftops in every city, which now has me (almost) figured out. And yes, eating makes me excellent.

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So while making travel and luxury a habit, I gifted myself a special trip to a luscious foodie city, Chicago. Acquiring another habit of checking out every Michelin Star on the planet, I opted to spend an evening at Sixteen, located on the sixteenth floor of the Trump Tower Hotel and Tower. With a floor as the namesake for the venue, it boasted of uninterrupted views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Bestowed with a double Michelin star, something I have become used to in Chicago, it shared the culinary glory with an apt ambiance, making its very city the showstopper of the evening. Naturally, spent several precious moments inhaling Chicago’s architectural Lego Land transposed against an abundance of blue sky, soon to transform into a starlit blanket.

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Time stood still as I watched the sun paint golden brushstrokes on the city’s topography. The city transformed into a golden terrain where I was a King, and where the staff was trained to the blink of their eyelids to treat me regally. The terrace challenged many of Manhattan’s views and definitively succeeded, with panoramic views that stretched from building to building. The Wrigley Building‘s clock straight in my point of view, beckoning of a treasured time to come. For I opted for a tasting menu, a seasonal whimsical story that change four times a year courtesy of chef Thomas Lent.

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The dining room itself was one of the most striking I had seen, with wine bottles standing like still soldiers saluting my entry. The runway style entry was bordered with an abundant use of glass made the ambiance airy, classy and prone to reflections on pristine surfaces, creating showstoppers out of every entrant. King or not.

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With granite and steel interior design, it was a contemporary structural feat, with a tall ceiling and a Swarowski chandelier that cast bright, crystal light over all my courses. For vibrant entertainment, the starlit sunset behind the panorama of the city was a soothing, sensational backdrop to a succulent meal. All four hours of it.

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1. Snacks – A Picnic Basket

Things started off with a picnic basket, complete with a basket and red plaid table setting. With delightfully miniature portions of everything, sharply in contrast with the sharpness of the Swarowski crystal and granite and glass walls, this was juxtaposition at its best. With mini metal plates and circus style to-go paper bags and science lab style pipettes, the visual spectacle took moments to inhale.

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I enjoyed the sip of the whiskey peach tea: an adult picnic drink that sneaked up on me with its stronger undertones after a first sip that jolted me into childhood.

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On a wood carving printed paper bag was a single petite skewer of cheese with paprika. Which when licked, unleashed a string of toasted corn kernels. Like a chunky party snack sliced into a sliver, it was a small bite of bursting flavor.

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The petite buratta cheese filled sandwich was easy to gobble in one bite, with a small kick of pepper. While not a favorite, it qualified as one of the better sandwiches owing to its disappearing size and short-lived jolt of flavor.

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The spring onion potato chip gave grandma’s sewing some tough competition. With a grilled spring onion braided into a potato chip, it elevated the chip singlet into a crackling, salty bite. Probably the first type of chip I would have gobbled bagfuls of.

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In contrast, a spicy mitaki mushroom took things in an Asian direction, served in a petite paper cup with a plastic vial of spicy mayo. While the mayo was spot on with a dash of heat, the mushroom rendered my palette and the paper cup greasy. Forgetting that I was in a starry setting, I squirted the mayo pipette on my tongue and silently squealed like a kid at a circus.

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Other constituents included a dark beet pickled quail egg, where the color of burnt beet clashed with the redness of the tablecloth, and the egg didn’t seem as petite compared to its neighboring miniature portions. The dessert in the first course itself was a push pop strawberry champagne. While I liked the science apparatus, as one Chopped judge rightfully said, its tough to tread the path of strawberry champagne and evoke both flavors.

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I swallowed it down, and licked the petite glass of whiskey iced tea to culminate the spectacle with the perfect showstopper.

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2. Tomato / Watermelon – Basil / Seaweed

Like a couplet of painting on vividly arched plates, the next course highlighted my favorite color red. Compressed tomato and watermelon on seaweed squares, a combination tried before in Miami, was a succulent delight. The inability to decipher what I ate between the two made it a tangy or sweet playground on the palette, with small spurts of flavor and aroma via the grapefruit and lavender florets. For a desirable crunch from the juicy inhalation, a salted quinoa cracker with tomato and basil powder elevated the bruschetta phenomenon to a gastronomic and palatable level. I hoped to sneak out some of this tomato basil and seaweed salted powder, albeit it was licked up clean by my own tongue.

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3. Truffle / Salsify – Oyster leaf / Brioche

The next plate with an inverted depression felt like I was receiving a salad bouquet pouting out in all its finery. A gorgeous deep green, with red and white whole flowers constituted this truffle bean and shaved truffle salad. Atop the oyster leaves was salsify, a dandelion root vegetable with a plain taste but an enchanting visual. With an aroma of truffle, I learned that it was the sole inhabitant of this floral gem, with the third format being densely flavored truffle oil droplets. Like art on a plate or a dream sequence in culinary motion, I spent the longest of minutes spotting gold foil, brioche crackers, luscious red petals and other romantic nuances in this layered dish.

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4. Corn Soup – Tapioca / Avocado

With a love for food arriving in unlikely pairs, I was thrilled that the Southern style corn soup had a companion, too. The soup itself was brilliantly yellow like sunshine, topped with avocado and cucumber shavings, giving the richness a fresh crunch and break. The best part was the addition of tart frozen blackberries, which offset the buttery soup brilliantly!

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The accompaniment reminded me of architecture in Vienna: a white tapioca fritter with avocado tomato confit, placed in sequence and measurably distanced patches. In red green and white, the ode to the holidays was justified, and the small crunch was delectable, brimming with a surprise of flavors.

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5. Chanterelle / Charred Leek – Samphire / Potato

As an ode to my travels, the next plate was a boat carved into a charred leak. Charred flavors evoke a bitterness which I salivate for, since the dryness enables an unmatched depth of flavor to come through. This boat had potato, chantarelle mushrooms and a curious salty coastal vegetable called samphire as its inhabitants, all swimming within a boat in a buttery sauce. Given that it was a heavy dish, I appreciated the burnt edges which balanced the butter. Accompanied with olive oil bread and olive butter, the key flavor mission seemed to be to keep things salty and merman like. King Triton anyone?

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6. Chiatarra / Green Chickpea – Courgette / Almond

Chitarra is a type of noodle pasta I heard, not as grainy as whole wheat or barley, but firmer than regular, flaccid noodles. This one came in a petite ball, rolled up with chick pea puree, with a side of almond foam and fresh zucchini, olive and almond bits for sparks of texture and flavor. The spark-of-flavor nature seemed to be a signature of the chef, and it worked in bringing light and dazzle to a dreamy meal. A starch-y bite, the noodles were tender, and the chick peas were thankfully light owing to their small portions, for I am used to them served in heaps in Indian and Middle Eastern meals. The almond foam was less impressive, and I found myself nibbling on almonds to satiate the craving.

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7. Rice / Garlic – Tomatoes / Zucchini

Next was a trip to Asia, or maybe Latin America. Both known for a love of rice, the plate presented a mix of Spanish rice and Japanese rice. Looking rather biryani like under a layer of garlic chips, roasted tomatoes and zucchini, I was thankful for the holiday spirited reds and greens, and visible twigs of flora akin to an alluring experiment of Beverly Hills. The taste was spicy and garlic-y, like eating Indian street food on a satisfying day.

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With a showstopper in each dish, a surprising burst of flavor in each petite plate, and a new manual of culinary vocabulary, I was inevitably satisfied. I momentarily paused in disbelief that it was already dark, with stars glinting in the sky and lights twinkling in windows; while I was still halfway through a ceremonious meal.

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