Few people would argue that the business climate is different after a hard-hitting recession. Case in point: restaurants can't charge wallet-busting prices anymore. While the places sporting a "molecular gastronomy" or "experimental" menu, such as Alinea in Chicago and WD-50 in New York City continue to find success, other chefs have expanded their businesses to make their craft more approachable. That includes Homaro Cantu of Chicago-based Moto, who rose to fame in the mid-2000s with innovative, sometimes outrageous creations like his "road kill" dish of braised meat streaked with red beet-stained sauce and a frozen dessert resembling a ballpark hotdog and fries that tasted like strawberry shortbread. Cantu has just launched his "Future Food" show on the Planet Green channel, and he's also expanded into the space next door to Moto to open iNG. This more casual, affordable eatery with communal tables features toned-down Asian-influenced dishes that still show Cantu's edge as well as his background. Headed up by Executive Chef Thomas Elliott Bowman, the menu breaks down into sections ending in "iNG": heating, cooling, boiling, melting and sweetening, in a testament to all aspects of cooking. Think Wagyu beef "melting" on a hot firebrick tableside and waffle batter freezing and "sweetening" in a liquid-nitrogen-soaked waffle iron. This experimentation can be seen from the dining room thanks to two open kitchen stations: a noodle station at the front window and a cold station closer to the back — a departure from the more closed-off Moto kitchen. Downstairs, in lieu of a typical expediting system with staff barking orders there is a command center in a glass-enclosed computer room that controls the kitchen and timing of the coursed out "hour" or "two-hour" eating experiences. Staff members manning the computers talk through earpieces, some that resemble those worn by the Secret Service. Also downstairs, in the red-tiled kitchen, Cantu's outrageous style is indulged with a "flavor tripping" menu. Patrons sit in big red chairs at a table alongside chefs at work for a multicourse menu devoted to the Miracle Berry, known for making other foods taste sweeter when eaten together.
- Written by Amelia Levin, Contributing Editor