From Too Many Chefs -

April 1, 2006
Micro Restaurants - The New Concept in Dining

I'm very excited to be able to tell you about a new concept in fine dining that I experienced this last week - the Micro Restaurant.

If you work in an office, you're probably sick of the limited choices you have in and around your building for lunch. If you work in a suburban office building, you may not even HAVE any choices for lunch. That's where this new Micro-Restaurant concept, developed jointly by Charlie Trotter, Homaru Cantu, Grant Achatz, and Rick Bayless comes in.

The Micro Restaurant is so small and requires so few staffers that many businesses can have one in their own space. Fine dining, convenience, what more could you ask.

I visited the first of the new breed of Micro Eatery, Cafe Automatic in an undisclosed location in Chicago's near-Loop district. I must say that I am impressed, and I plan to eat there frequently.

The first photo we have is of the outside of the restuarant. As you can see, the kitchen is exposed, allowing all to see the food preparation. It's rare that one gets an experience quite like this. But I'm hungry, so let's move on to the meal in question.

The transparent theme extends throughout the concept of the restaurant. Instead of menus, the dishes are diplayed right in front of you. You get to select which items you'd prefer. Our next photo shows the main course selection:

Have you noticed? Yep, this must be Charlie Trotter's influence - all the selections on this menu are vegetarian (though not Vegan, sadly). Homaru Cantu has brought some of his chemistry magic to bear, employing playful hydrogenated sodium glutamate in almost all the dishes. Delicious. Grant Achatz influence can be seen in the unique way the food is served, with large screws actually dispensing packets - PACKETS! - of cuisine. This was first attempted at El Bulli, but Achatz has perfected the technique here. And there's some Fritos there from Rick Bayless...

Dessert was also fabulous. Look at the selection from the dessert cart after the flip! How do you choose?

You can't choose. It's impossible. We ordered several desserts and enjoyed them throughly. All arrived as fresh as they ever were and as sugary as you could ever want. Yum.

Finally, there's the matter of the wine list. To keep prices down, the Micro Restaurant has opted to have a limited American-only wine list. Some selections change frequently, others are staples.

I snuck a picture of the wine list from our dinner:
As you can see all the wines come from the same bottling plant winery. There's a very small selection of whites (Chateau Fresca, which I found to be tart and bubbly with a hint of grapefruit and maybe oak), and a larger selection of reds brown wines, a new style becoming increasingly popular.

The daily choice the day we went, as you can see, was a brown wine with a hint of lime. Quite unique. We tried that (and got the last bottle can, and found it paired well not only with the main course (pomme fritte du Ruffles), but with the desserts as well, particularly a chilled caramel, peanut, and nougat treat coated with the finest milk chocolate. The chef's whimsical name for the treat? Snickers.

I highly recommend the Micro Restaurant concept. This test restaurant is proving quite popular, and I expect the idea will spread throughout the country, and quite possible throughout the world.

Be on the lookout for one near you, soon. It's a transformative experience enhanced only by the kitschy decor of computers and copiers and frazzled actors portraying "workers" all around. They must pay these actors in coffee, because they sure go through a lot!

If you can find one, you should certainly rush out right now and enjoy the cuisine from one of these restaurants. Most are having April 1st specials for all Too Many Chefs readers. Tell them we sent you.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at April 1, 2006 11:06 AM

Ha! You need to go to Japan, where on every street corner actual food and drink are available (yes, even Sushi, Miso Soup, Saki, and Saporo beer are available for your dining pleasure. Both hot and cold in the same dispenser, no less.

Posted by Meg's MOM on April 1, 2006 at 8:01 PM

I believe you've spotted a trend! Reminds me of the challenge on Top Chef where they made the contestants shop and create a meal out of $50 worth of ingredients at a gas station convenience store. Yummmmmm

Posted by Amy on April 1, 2006 at 8:42 PM

You silly, silly boy. Working through lunch lately??

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 2, 2006 at 4:51 AM

Do poptarts fall under desert or entree?

Posted by Jeff on April 4, 2006 at 2:36 PM

And if you have any left-overs, you can take them home in the recyclable bags that the vegetables come in! Brilliant.


P.S. I'm so glad to see that I'm not the only one who celebrated the beginning of April! :-D

P.P.S. Also very glad to see your server back online!

Posted by ejm on April 4, 2006 at 5:37 PM