Dining: Trotter with the Top Down
Charlie Trotter is obsessed with culinary aesthetics. For more than 16 years, the Chicago-based chef, his shirt buttoned close to the chin, has relentlessly executed superior dining experiences at his namesake restaurant on the city’s North Side. His mastery in the kitchen is equaled, if not surpassed, by the precision service in his dining room—the result of an exacting approach that seems at odds with the casual atmosphere of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Yet here, at the One&Only Palmilla Resort in Los Cabos, is where Trotter has launched his latest eatery, known simply as C.
An integral part of the Palmilla’s recent $80 million renovation, C represents the latest phase in One&Only’s crusade to raise resort dining above the catch-of-the-day level. (Other One&Only properties feature restaurants by Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.) C, which opened in January, was a collaboration between Trotter and designer Adam Tihany. Together, they created an ambience that reflects another side of the chef’s personality: Trotter with the top button undone. “We didn’t come here to duplicate Chicago,” explains Trotter, who plans to divide his time between Mexico and Chicago. “We have core principles in regard to cuisine, wines, and service, and we have simply transferred these eternal truths to this semitropical arena.”
Diners enter C through a walkway illuminated by flickering orange lights that recall the sun dancing across the Sea of Cortés. The airy 100-seat dining room is framed with glass-walled wine rooms and windows overlooking the beach; floor-to-ceiling cylindrical fish tanks partition the area from the kitchen, offering glimpses into the restaurant’s inner workings.
The various representations of fire and water throughout the space bestow a distinctly tropical feel—one that is far removed from the Windy City. As with the Chicago original, however, the brilliance at C is in the details. Service is fluid without being intrusive or stuffy; the international wine list is fittingly weighted with Mexican selections, which have risen to impressive quality levels over the past decade.
In the end, of course, it is the food that matters most—and no one wants Trotter to relax on this issue. While Charlie Trotter’s spotlights dynamic multicourse tasting menus, C relies more on à la carte selections that showcase local produce and seafood, especially chiles, sea snapper, and tuna. “We want to keep it a little looser here,” says chef de cuisine Guillermo Tellez, a Mexico native who has worked with Trotter in Chicago for more than 14 years. But that does not mean fish tacos. Instead, sweet water prawns and Kumamoto oysters with preserved papaya, avocado, and spicy herb sauce highlight the appetizer list, while every main course—from oven-roasted squab with honey-ancho chile glaze to grilled beef tenderloin with chipotle-roasted organic beets and cannellini beans—emphasizes exciting and unexpected combinations of flavors and textures.
As those who venture to C will find, Trotter’s philosophy of putting his precise signature on every facet of the dining experience has undoubtedly followed him south of the border. “I have always tried to find my original voice,” he says. “I think it is much more important and profound to be original and valid than to be the so-called best.”
C, at the One&Only Palmilla Resort