Three years ago Anthony Martin walked into one of the most acclaimed kitchens in Chicago. Evolution since then has been steady at Tru, but never radical; our slideshow last summer captured how Martin had moved Tru's tasting menu, adding his own playfulness, a little bit of mind-teasing showbiz, to a tasting menu still built on luxe ingredients. But it's only now, Martin says, that he's made Tru truly his. Part of that is moving away from the three-hour-plus experience that tasting menus have become; the restaurant has new, less-drawn-out menu formats and a really cool new variation on the kitchen table that we suspect is going to get a lot of attention once people discover it. But it's also changing the tone of the restaurant to make it more inviting— "It should be very welcoming, a place where you can relax and let your guard down," he says. To kick off a series dedicated to what chefs are doing for spring, we spoke with Martin about the changes, and we've got the new spring menu and a slideshow of just-taken photos by house photographer Anjali Pinto. Here's Tru to Anthony Martin's vision, spring 2013.
First off, the menu, formerly called The Chef's Collection and running into the high double digits, has been reconfigured into two tasting menus called the Tru Experience— one of about seven courses, and one of about fifteen. (There will be a few a la carte dishes and a vegetarian menu as well.) That's to keep it from being a three to four hour meal— but Martin also says "We've examined every dish so we can move service pretty quickly. Speed is a focal point. We can get you through 15 courses in well under two hours," though the menu is paced to the individual guests (and presumably usually takes longer). He says this menu "is like a vision that I had in my head. Basically, I've brought it up to date, made it more my style. This is the overall experience that I want to go for."
They also reworked both the front and the back of the house. "Tru has always been related to luxury," Martin says. "In the past it could be uptight and extremely formal. We still have the sophistication of luxury, but it's more comforting." This includes new custom suits for the front of house staff debuting soon, and he's been working with a DJ from Lettuce Entertain You's Studio Paris on new music for the dining room. Meanwhile, the kitchen has also had a makeover, which leads to Tru's most intriguing new experience: instead of a chef's table, they created a two-seat table positioned at the end of the line, so that you're sitting directly at the end of where the chefs are preparing your food for you, including off-menu items made on the fly. (They call it Chef's Encounter.) How do you get those seats? For now, it's by invitation only, so longtime customers will have first shot at them.
Beyond that, Martin just feels that the new menu represents "all the presentations being pulled together better, on a fluid level. I want people to have fun here. I know we can be an intimidating place. I want people to see that they can come here and have an excellent time. The service is still here, the elements of the front of the house are still here, but we're working with them on how things are being served— with more smiles."