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On Charlie Trotter's 20th anniversary

Tomorrow, Ferran Adria, Thomas Keller, and other top chefs will serve up food at the 20th anniversary celebration (the actual anniversary was August 17) of my favorite restaurant, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. Despite the impressive crop of new and red-hot restaurants in this city, Charlie Trotter is still Chicago's flagship chef. And yet, some are asking whether he still has his edge. That anyone would even ask this question after twenty years suggests the answer is yes. A visit to his restaurant confirms it.

I've had the good fortune to eat at Trotter's twice, most recently in the summer of 2005. I've also eaten at Alinea, Moto, Avenues, Avec, and Tru. I've loved every one of these restaurants, but of all the places I've eaten -- including the French Laundry -- Trotter's has been the best across the board. Moto may have been more fun, Alinea more expensive, and the French Laundry more famous. Trotter's, though, had no weak spots. The service was the best I've ever seen. Attentive but not stuffy. Formal but with just enough of a sense of humor to keep it unobtrusive, so that I could concentrate on the food. The food, of course, was beautiful, in what we'd now have to call a "classic" style after the El Bulli-via-Moto-and-Alinea "molecular gastronomy" craze. But those restaurants are always flirting with gimmickry, whereas Trotter's presentations are just unobtrusive enough to highlight the flavor of whatever's on the plate. The only place that may have surpassed Trotter's food was Graham Elliot Bowles' Avenues -- and Bowles, like Achatz and Homaro Cantu, are Trotter's alums.

So, happy 20th anniversary to Charlie Trotter's restaurant. If you ever have the chance to eat there, don't miss it.

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