Farewell to Moto
Long before my career aspirations were fully formed (and tolerance of food television went out the window), one of my earliest registered moments of food fascination came courtesy of Moto and its dexterous executive chef, Homaro Cantu. It was earlier in Moto's heyday, not long after it opened in 2004, when the restaurant caught the attention of national media and eventually, the Food Network. I don't recall the show, but I remember feeling bewitched by the "Cuban cigar" dessert masterminded by executive chef/culinary scientist Cantu. It's a moment engrained in my memory, and one I'll always cite as a formative experience in pushing me towards food.
And so the news of Moto's imminent closure on February 14 is an especially hard pill to choke down. Especially so fresh off the news of Cantu's death last year.
The news broke last week via Cantu's wife, Katie McGowan, who recounted her bittersweet decision to sell the 12-year old restaurant to the Alinea Group. Over the course of its run, Cantu's ingenuity and vigor for progressive cooking shined through in more ways than one. As with the aforementioned "cigars," Cantu had a penchant for pushing envelopes and serving food in bold, exciting, quizzical new ways. During one of my last times dining at Moto, I found myself proclaiming "this tastes like drowning!", in reference to a dish strewn with seaweed and other aromatic nautical elements beneath a pane of glass. Because Cantu was really the only chef who could conjure transportive, visceral sensations on a single plate of food. He's also the only chef I've ever known to actually make the idea of drowning feel delicious.
As Moto prepares to close its doors, beckoning an end of an era for the country's dining scene at large, I look back fondly at a restaurant that helped inspire me in more ways than one.