More Illinois Reviews
Tramonto's Steak and
Along Milwaukee avenue (IL Route 21) between Palatine Road and Lake-Cook Road in Wheeling, can be found
some well-known and favorite eateries. Many have been around for quite
some time. There is however, one venue that is a bit newer on the
scene... and one that is indeed worth your visit. In the Westin
Chicago North Shore Hotel there, Osteria di Tramonto -- a Rick Tramonto
Restaurant -- has closed and is undergoing a concept change.
Fortunately though, the Westin is operating Tramonto's Steak and Seafood
during the transition. And I really mean fortunate, since the quality
of food and service at this popular steak and seafood house is way beyond
what you will find at most dining destinations, save for those few that are
beyond the means of most diners.
For the uninitiated -- and it's difficult to believe that there are any out there -- Tramonto
is a well-known Chicago chef and cookbook author. He is Executive Chef and
partner in Tru, (a contemporary fine-dining selection from Lettuce Entertain
You Enterprises) and a recipient of "Best Chef: Midwest Region" by The James Beard Foundation in 2002.
Not bad for someone whose 30+ year career spans a distance from humble
beginnings at Wendy's Hamburgers in New York (gaining additional experience at the the Strathallen Hotel there) to London (transforming the kitchen and cuisine at the
award-winning country-house hotel, Stapleford Park, in Leicestershire) and
finally back to Chicago (to open Trio in Evanston, 1993; Brasserie T in
Northfield, 1995; Tru in Chicago's Gold Coast, 1999 and Osteria di Tramonto
in Wheeling, 2005)... whew, that's one busy chef!!
Tramonto's creative energies and training in Classical French cuisine is perhaps only paled by
his demand for perfection in service; Lauren and I had the divine pleasure
of sampling some of these things this past Sunday at Tramonto's Steak and
The entrance is on the
northwest corner of the hotel; there is nothing extraordinary of note from
the outside, except perhaps an aesthetic architectural appeal. Once
inside however, it is a much different story. A long-ish bar extends
to the right of the slightly elevated hostess station, and the soft hiss of
falling water emanates from behind the bar; it is the lower portion of a
two-story wall of falling water. As the hostess led us into the dining
room, my eyes were drawn first to the gargantuan 3,000-pound glass-pane chandelier that
hung gracefully from the ceiling and to a two-story glass wall, behind which
was space for what I am told to be 10,000 bottles of wine. The full
two stories of the water wall gurgled quietly behind us...
Colors in the room were blacks, deep reds and chocolates and there was a richness in the ambience that was very
comfortable. The tables were topped with starched, white cloths, silverware
and water glasses. A small, mirrored ensemble held a vase with a red
calla lily, a red candle and mini salt and pepper grinders. The look
was austere and simple. An open kitchen allowed for a glimpse of the
evening activity; our waiter was to arrive shortly, bearing a wine list and
an explanation of the menu items and specials. Settling in to the red
upholstered chairs, Lauren and I listened to Jim's explanations, then
ordered the standard Chardonnay (Talbot this time) and Grey Goose on the rocks as we
began our evening.
My initial sense was that
our waiter was as tenuous as we were -- neither quite certain of how to best
approach the evening. I decided to simply let go and let Jim take the
reins; he seemed extremely knowledgeable and I was growing more comfortable
with allowing him to captain the evening on the cuisine route that he felt
best. It turned out to be a wise decision.
We started with one of Lauren's favorites: Oysters Rockefeller. Done in a wood oven and served in a cast iron baking
dish, the oysters were lying supine on a bed of aromatic sea salt, pink
peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, star anise and coriander, and topped with the
traditional mix of spinach, chopped garlic, splash of Pernod and
Hollandaise. The aroma emanating form the dish was almost hypnotic. Jim's suggested Escargot arrived next and was every bit as good as
the best I have tasted (30-plus years ago at a restaurant in Aspen
Colorado): heavy on garlic, topped with bread crumbs and plenty of the same
herb-infused butter used on Tramonto's steaks,
this appetizer was excellent, too. And it was only the beginning...
sampled Chilean Sea Bass which, with miso glaze and nestled atop
perfectly-cooked, five-blend wild rice, was
extraordinary, and Yellowfin Tuna that was spice-rubbed and lightly seared
-- tender and heavenly. Accompanied by a creamy roasted fennel purée,
topped with a spiced foam and served with slices of fresh orange sections,
the tuna was exquisite. My original choice -- a six-ounce Black Angus
fillet -- was perfectly cooked and rested on a pool of red wine reduction
sauce. The kicker however (another of Jim's suggestions) was the
topping of bone marrow slices. Perhaps a tad more texture than flavor,
it was an interesting and unusual addition to a great steak. We also
indulged in two side orders; the first was Wood Oven-Roasted Brussels
Sprouts in a smooth and tasty Hollandaise. The second was something
else that Jim just thought we should have: a tower of waffle batter-coated
onion rings. Looking more like a winning round of doughnut ring-toss,
the rings were crispy and good; a cup of spicy tomato aioli sauce put the
exclamation point on the tower.
As if the dinner wasn't
indulgent enough, Jim -- with a now-growing twinkle in his eye and
ever-larger grin -- informed us that he had ordered a Molten Chocolate
Soufflé with Hazelnut Fudge Ice Cream for dessert. I had never tasted
one, so this was yet another treat. And instead of "treat"... let's
just say that this particular decadence could easily lead one to chocoholics
anonymous: soooooooooo good!
A final small plate with two mini sugar cookies and a tiny triangle of sour cherry -- almost
anti-climactic -- arrived, along with an even larger smile from our waiter.
I'm certain he knew that he had been very successful in his
attempts to please this pair of diners.
The pluses on this evening were many. The plating was simple and elegant; the food quality was
about as perfect as I have had; the creative imagination within the menu is
something that comes only with years of careful experiment and evolution of
ideas. Congrats are definitely in order for Chef Rick Tramonto.
On that night in particular though, it was CC Chef Brian Greene at the helm
who gets top honors. I am always impressed when a chef has the
courtesy to stop in the dining room and check on how things are going.
A special award for excellence goes to a certain Tramonto's waiter named Jim (I apologize for
not catching his last name), who is perhaps one of the best waiters I have
ever seen; he certainly falls into the top two or three. After a very
short period of seeming a tad indifferent, his true colors began to show and
he started to have fun. At the end of the evening, the twinkle
and smile -- almost a smirk -- I noticed, were things I rarely observe.
Yep, Jim is knowledgeable, well-trained and has the confidence and
competence of a professional. More importantly, he likes what he does.
Thanks to Jim for flawless service and some great suggestions for dinner.
I'll be the first to admit that Tramonto's Steak and Seafood may be a tad on the pricy
side for some -- probably not the place to go on a weekly basis. I'll also tell
you that generally, one gets what one pays for; it is especially true at
this venue. Through hard work, dedication and attention to detail,
Chef Rick Tramonto has rightfully earned his awards and recognition.
Tramonto's Steak and Seafood has rightfully earned its Five Zins.
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