While it’s unfortunate that Moto has recently closed, my dining experience at the low profiled, nondescript Chicago Fulton Market Avenue restaurant was anything but. Having recently quit eating meat, I was excited to find a restaurant that actively advertised a “Gather” (as in “gather plants”) menu option. Looking back on that evening now, each course was as good as any meat dish I’ve experienced. Here are a couple things that made Moto’s veggies stand out.
The dinner brought in courses like “Waffle House,” complete with maple syrup and vegetarian bacon. It was highly reminiscent of childhood experiences like breakfast for dinner. Then dessert began with a root beer float with cranberries and coffee cream. I can’t even remember how many years it’s been since I had root beer, much less a float. The smell of it alone brought me back to outdoor summer ice cream parties.
Okra cooked four ways. Onion cake served as an entree, the sweetness balanced by pickled cauliflower’s strong tartness. An entire palate of flavors made just from root vegetables. Executive Chef Chris Anderson brought out strong contrasting flavors through his unique use of vegetables.
Growing up, I never really got the chance to have very “Southern” foods, so I’ve always been biased against them. Dinner at Moto, however, changed a lot of that. It had clear Southern undertones in the ingredients and dishes. A creamy risotto bar served as the rice in Chef Anderson’s rendition of “hoppin’ John,” a traditional southern rice and bean dish. Ravioli filled with pureed sweet potato made quite the upscale take on a candied yam.
I’m a big fan of some heat in my food. It’s not all that common to find nicely spicy vegetables at restaurants, but at Moto, nearly every dish included some form of spice. It was never overwhelming and added another facet of flavor rarely found in vegetarian meals. Spice in these dishes often took the form of crispy chili flakes as another addition of texture.
Often times, I’ve found that vegetable dishes lack savoriness, which makes sense as they’re composed mostly of starches and sugars. Yet, the star of the night, the vegetarian bacon, was anything but unsavory. Were it served alongside traditional breakfast meats, it would be impossible to tell the difference. The waiter explained that they achieved the exact consistency and flavor of bacon using only bread and vegetables.
Unfortunately, Moto closed shortly after my visit, making this article somewhat melancholy for me. While the meal was pricey, I am confident I will likely never have another eight-course vegetarian meal like that again.