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[CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 3)


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#151 BryanZ

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Posted 16 July 2007 - 08:20 PM

Celebrated my 21st at Alinea last night. Did the Tour with my family and enjoyed the wine pairings for myself. It's almost needless to say but my meal was awesome, probably my favorite of the three. Pictures and a full report are in production and will be posted in a couple days.

#152 Shalmanese

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Posted 16 July 2007 - 11:22 PM

Happy Birthday Bryan :)
PS: I am a guy.

#153 docsconz

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 01:09 PM

Celebrated my 21st at Alinea last night.  Did the Tour with my family and enjoyed the wine pairings for myself.  It's almost needless to say but my meal was awesome, probably my favorite of the three.  Pictures and a full report are in production and will be posted in a couple days.

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Did they card you? :wink:
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#154 JWest

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Posted 17 July 2007 - 06:06 PM

Celebrated my 21st at Alinea last night.  Did the Tour with my family and enjoyed the wine pairings for myself.  It's almost needless to say but my meal was awesome, probably my favorite of the three.  Pictures and a full report are in production and will be posted in a couple days.

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they do some sort of disappearing birthday cake don't they?
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#155 BryanZ

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Posted 18 July 2007 - 12:26 AM

Celebrated my 21st at Alinea last night.  Did the Tour with my family and enjoyed the wine pairings for myself.  It's almost needless to say but my meal was awesome, probably my favorite of the three.  Pictures and a full report are in production and will be posted in a couple days.

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Did they card you? :wink:

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My first meal when I get back home to NJ will undoubtedly be at Eleven Madison Park. I can only hope that they'll try to card me.


they do some sort of disappearing birthday cake don't they?

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Something like that. I have a flight and some free time tomorrow in which I'll try to upload and post my photos.

#156 yellow truffle

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 07:56 AM

Celebrated my 21st at Alinea last night.  Did the Tour with my family and enjoyed the wine pairings for myself.  It's almost needless to say but my meal was awesome, probably my favorite of the three.  Pictures and a full report are in production and will be posted in a couple days.

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Happy birthday (albeit belated). How are the report and pics coming along. :wink:

#157 logicalmind

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 01:59 PM

Happy birthday Bryan. My wife and I are going to Alinea in about a month for my birthday and our anniversary. This will be our first time there. Though we've been to Moto before. I am so looking forward to the experience.

#158 Zeb A

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 08:21 PM

Just found out that I will be in Chicago on the nights of the 7/29 and 8/1. Solo. Anyone aware of any tricks to help get a table?

#159 BryanZ

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Posted 19 July 2007 - 11:37 PM

Ask nicely. That's the main thing. For my meal there back in early March--I believe I called the morning of--I was begging and name dropping like whoa. I had the hostess laughing at me and my desperation, but it all worked out in the end.

Moral of the story, if they have space and you're nice and flexible and don't have to do the Tour, I'm sure they can fit you in.

ETA: 8/1 is a Monday, I think, and the restaurant is closed.

Edited by BryanZ, 19 July 2007 - 11:38 PM.


#160 babern38

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 07:33 AM

8/1 is wednesday and 7/29 is saturday. There are 31 days in july.

#161 BryanZ

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 08:29 AM

I think we both need some help reading the calendar. 7/29 is in fact a Sunday, but, you are correct, 8/1 is a Wednesday. July DOES NOT in fact have only 29 days. Clearly news to me.

#162 Zeb A

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 10:39 AM

Thanks. I tried being nice on the phone, but was nicely informed, No room. They suggested I try 48 hours in advance because that's when cancellations kick in.

Bummer. I wish I could plan things more in advance.

I don't want to clutter this thread with anything off-topic, but if you have any strong feelings about other places in Chicago I should try, please shoot me a PM. I've dined at Trotters and Topolobompo and want to try something new this time. Maybe Tru? Moto? Anyway, thanks. (Oh, and I should say that I am there Sunday night to Wednesday night, so two of the nights (Sunday and Monday)probably have few options. Thx)

Edited by Zeb A, 20 July 2007 - 10:41 AM.


#163 erha2

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 12:16 PM

Thanks. I tried being nice on the phone, but was nicely informed, No room.  They suggested I try 48 hours in advance because that's when cancellations kick in.

Bummer.  I wish I could plan things more in advance.

I don't want to clutter this thread with anything off-topic, but if you have any strong feelings about other places in Chicago I should try, please shoot me a PM.  I've dined at Trotters and Topolobompo and want to try something new this time.  Maybe Tru?  Moto?  Anyway, thanks. (Oh, and I should say that I am there Sunday night to Wednesday night, so two of the nights (Sunday and Monday)probably have few options.  Thx)

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wow that is surprising...i went 2 fridays ago and made the reservation less than 2 weeks before that. maybe b/c it was a 4-top rather than 2.

#164 Zeb A

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 12:39 PM

evidently, there is some food conference or something. i am number 10 on the wait list.

#165 ducphat30

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 04:53 PM

You may have a tough time that week......

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#166 babern38

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 09:58 PM

I hear the bar at Avenues is a hot ticket and there is probably availabilty. I think the bar would be great for the single diner. I'm looking forward to going in the near future as I'll be doing a one month away rotation at Northwestern throughout August.

Moto would also be entertaining to fly solo.

Tru is very nice, but may not be as enjoyable as a single diner, though I highly recommend it for the future.

#167 BryanZ

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Posted 22 July 2007 - 06:02 PM

Armed with my newly legal ID, my sister's new digital SLR camera, and my father's credit card and generally curmudgeonly attitude about dining out, we made our way to Alinea. Walking into the unmarked door and down the shrinking hallway, the excitement was apparent. This would be my father's and sister's first visit, my mother's third but first Tour and first meal with me, and my third visit and second Tour. With our varying experience with this type of cooking and diverse expectations, my family's overwhelmingly positive response to the meal is yet another testament to how accessible Alinea actually is. As I've stated before, Alinea is certainly cutting edge both technically and philosophically but retains a fundamental elegance that is difficult to criticize.

With that said, now we get to the good stuff. As with my other meals, we opted not to look at a menu and just had the servers start things off immediately. I'll add comments where applicable, highlighting my favorite and least favorite dishes of the night. On the whole, however, this was unquestionably a most excellent meal.

I should also note that the vast majority of these photos were taken with a new camera, one that my sister hadn't quite learned to use. The room in which we were seated--up the stairs, all the way to the left--had relatively low light and with our inexperience with the camera some of the pictures aren't quite as sharp as they could be.

The menu
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Artichoke
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Surf Clam
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I enjoyed the surf clam version of this dish more than the earlier octopus version. A common theme throughout this meal was the evolution of dishes I had sampled previously. Often times these changes were distinctively for the better.

Monkfish
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This dish was similar, if not identical, to the monkfish dish I was served in March. This one appeared to be plated in a new abstract bowl that I enjoyed very much. Oh Luna! consistently has some of the coolest service pieces out there.

Sardine
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This dish was almost nostalgic for my sister and I. We grew up eating the semi-dried sardines that made up the outer shell of this one-bite course. The sardines are a staple topping for rice in homestyle Japanese cuisine.

Porcini
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Before and after shots. This was one of, if not the, favorite course of the night. As good as the chanterelle version was from earlier this year, the porcini puree is much richer and the dish on the whole even more successful. The wide variety of textures and temperatures really floored me.

Apple
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Another group favorite and, in my opinion, the biggest "game-changer" in the Aliena arsenal. This dish remains completely unique; it's the one I talk about and show pictures of to people unfamiliar with what Alinea is all about.

Duck
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The most striking thing about this dish was the pillow. It appears that the kitchen is filling the bags with more assertive smoke/vapor. This is one of the most classically tasting dishes and presents a wide variety of tastes and textures in small, harmonious package.

Black Truffle
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Recent discussion about the saltiness of this dish prompted me to pay close attention on this second experience with the Black Truffle Explosion. I can see how it may be interpreted as salty, but, to me, this was more savory. Although the two flavor profiles are similar, this dish doesn't have a "high' note of salinity but rather a deeper savoriness that I find very appealing.

Short Rib
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Honeydew
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This was probably my favorite of the savory-sweet one-biters. The cylinder of gelee was filled with a thin piece of rolled-up melon which was then filled with a few drops of vinegar.

Rhubarb
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One of my party remarked, "I didn't know rhubarb could taste so different." I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment, as this dish showed great creativity and highlighted the diversity of a relatively humble ingredient.

Strawberry
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While this was an improvement over the frozen and chewy yuzu, we all found this to be probably the least favorite dish of the night. Neither the strawberry nor the garnishes were enough to take center stage from the frozen block's unique texture. I concede that this is a textural dish but one of two--the other is upcoming pineapple--that tasted vaguely chemically.

Tuna
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Our server described this as sturgeon and I've seen both on the online menus, so I'm not entirely sure what we ate. Regardless, this was an interesting approach to a fish course that was distinctively not "fine-dining."

Pineapple
The only dish we didn't get a picture of. This was effectively a lozenge of pineapple-flavored hard candy encasing a bacon powder. An interesting approach to sweet and savory but we weren't fully buying it. The dish is very interesting texturally but the powder does taste like tap maltodextrin.

Lamb
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Critics of modern cooking complain that many dishes lack terroir or seasonality This dish countered that claim by speaking explicitly to the summer and for allowing classic flavor pairings to blend seamlessly with modern technique. My favorite part of the dish was the lamb-pea gelee, and on the whole this was probably my favorite meat course of the night.

Hot Potato
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A classic.

Kuroge Wagyu
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While this undoubtedly was an excellent piece of meat, I've yet to have Wagyu in this country that lives up to what I've had in Japan. Perhaps there is something to be said for eating certain foods in certain contexts that makes the overall experience hard to duplicate. I enjoyed the smoke component to this dish and did not find it overpowering. It was perhaps the yuzu that overwhelmed the subtle unctuousness of the beef. I very much enjoyed this dish but still find the lamb and possibly even duck courses more creative and compelling.

Junsai
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This dish tasted so intimately like Japan that it was transporting. I've had many a broth of this nature in top ryokan, so I was very impressed with Chef Achatz's ability to get the flavor right on. This also served as a nice palate cleanser from the rich, assertive flavors of the previous dish. A special shout out should be made to junsai, a plant I've rarely seen in the States but is common in Japanese cuisine. The texture of this stuff is still weird to me, so I can only imagine what it must be like to the uninitiated.

Bison
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The main flavor combination in this dish was daring to say the least. Here you had a piece of tender, ever so slightly gamey bison encased in a sweet granola shell. Again, there was a clear dichotomy in texture and between sweet and savory. While I wasn't as into this meat course as the others, it was unlike anything I've ever had before.

Foie Gras
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A "gift" from the kitchen, this was a nice one-biter that challenged the notion that foie gras is supposed to be served early in a meal. Between the light meringue-like shells and fruit filling, this was a perfect segue into dessert.

Guava
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My favorite dessert I've had at Alinea. This dish took a wide assortment of ingredients ranging from the sweet to the creamy to the acidic--the key lime centerpieces were used here--and made them into one highly focused dessert. The carbonated guava soda that was poured tableside made the dessert especially refreshing.

Coconut
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This dish offered a few different, and diverse, pairings with coconut. The most interesting was a mochi cake that sat atop the coconut puree ribbon.

Licorice Cake
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Chocolate
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This was yet another example of how dishes at Alinea continue to evolve, often for the better. I had enjoyed a previous version of this dish but had heard complaints both here and from others that claimed the soy component was simply too strong. This time, the soy is significantly toned down and also enjoyed in the form of marshmallows. A citrus ice served as a well-conceived palate cleanser.

Birthday Cake
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A chocolate shell holds liquified birthday cake. A hot cream is poured tableside, melting the shell and causing everything to mix together. For all the interactive presentation, the dish still tasted like birthday cake, making it a solid success.

Caramel
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A rich, satisfying end to an excellent meal.

Service throughout the night was consistently very good, with all parties fulfilling their roles quite admirably. As I learn more about wine I hope to engage the sommelier slightly more, but I was very pleased with what I drank and was able to pick up on clear differences across the grapes. There was little, if any, redundancy between pours. I've read that some people have found the amount of wine overwhelming, but I didn't have an issue with that at all. While I'd be lying if I said I hadn't enjoyed the occasional drink before my birthday, I hardly felt the wine at the end of meal and easily finished all my selections. Perhaps a little more direction as to how long each wine was supposed to last would've been useful--I naturally assumed two courses per wine and this generally served me well--but found both the pours and overall amount to be right on overall.

I feel like there are hardly any skeptics left, but if there are, just go and check your baggage at the door. My father (at least before seeing the bill) repeatedly remarked as to how intricately the food was prepared and how creative the chef must have been. From him, this is like witnessing pigs soar across the sky in a hell that has in fact frozen over. Alinea again made for a memorable evening, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

#168 prashant

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Posted 22 July 2007 - 09:11 PM

Very nice review Brian and congratulations on your 21st. Were those the normal parings or the 'premiums'?

If anyone's interested in a report of a vegetarian Tour at Alinea, I'd be happy to provide one after my wife and I dine there on the 25th of August.

#169 xdrixn

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:01 AM

Bryan, Do you remember the details rhubarb dish?
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#170 logicalmind

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:18 AM

If anyone's interested in a report of a vegetarian Tour at Alinea, I'd be happy to provide one after my wife and I dine there on the 25th of August.

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What a coincidence, my wife and I will be dining there on the 25th of August as well.

#171 cpl55

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:25 AM

Hi, everyone -

I am headed to Chicago at the beginning of August, and have secured a table at Alinea on August 4 - taking my parents there to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

I couldn't be more excited, and am thrilled to have booked such a monumental experience to celebrate with my folks. We live in the SF Bay Area, and none of us have been to Alinea yet!

For those of you who have been there, I have a couple of questions - is there an optimal place, upstairs or downstairs, to request seating? (not that I have any kind of "pull", but the host staff has been very gracious when we've spoken on the phone, so I figure it doesn't hurt to ask...)

For a special occasion such as this, is there anything in particular I should request/order? (We're planning to do the Tour.)

As far as the wine pairing goes - is it worthwhile? Let me explain our bias - my husband and I (and to some extent my parents), though we are pretty "into" wine, have a general lack of appreciation for even the best Reislings, as well as other sweet whites (with the exception of dessert wines). Just don't enjoy them very much. Usually, when we've been to high-end restaurants (most recently, Charlie Trotter's "C" in Los Cabos) we end up with at least one course paired with a Reisling or Gewurtztraminer. (And though I think almost any ingredient or wine can be right if masterfully paired, I just haven't experienced that synergy with Reislings.)

We also tend to prefer reds for most things, though we do enjoy certain whites with lighter courses. At Manresa (our local up-and-comer in our hometown, which recently scored a Michelin star. I highly recommend it!) we ordered bottles of a couple whites and reds and instead of the wine pairing and were pleased. Given all of these idiosyncracies, do you think we'll be making a huge mistake if we forego the wine pairing?

I really appreciate any thoughts, thank you!!!

Christina
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#172 gfron1

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:28 AM

Bryan, Do you remember the details rhubarb dish?

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Here's my account of the same item from early May

The other six items were variations on the rhubarb theme. Eaten from left to right, they were: Crispy rhubarb "leather," possibly freeze-dried. A piece of candied rhubarb, served on a pin (they liked using these pins for small items to be eaten by hand). A rhubarb mousse served on a curry leaf -- I don't remember what the little crystallized pieces were in that bite, but we scraped it off the leaf with our teeth, which was fun. Coconut and rhubarb with a sprig of mint (I think). Rhubarb ice cream, skewered on a longer pin. And, finally, a more-complex bite, with a foam and a sprig of dill (?) on top.



#173 gfron1

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:36 AM

Christina,

My thoughts on your questions. First, being your first time the rooms won't matter. I was downstairs, BryanZ said he was upstairs - we both had good experiences. The lighting changed while we were there and there was minimal noise and distraction, so don't worry about that rooms.

As far as special requests, unless there are dietary needs, just sit back and enjoy the ride. They are masters at what they do. If you like something, give them a "mmm...." If you don't like something make a frumpled face. The servers watch for this and will respond as appropriate.

And I really enjoyed the wine pairing. I'm in no way a wine efficianado - I either like it or I don't, and I don't know that before Alinea I really understood what it meant to pair wines with foods (I thought I did, but clearly I didn't). With only one exception, I was wowed by the pairings...not just okay, but wowed. BTW, we did the wine pairing upgrade.

#174 BryanZ

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 09:49 AM

I went standard on the pairings. I don't have all that much experience with pairings but was most impressed with the variety of what I was served.

#175 ulterior epicure

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:02 AM

Hi, everyone -

I am headed to Chicago at the beginning of August, and have secured a table at Alinea on August 4 - taking my parents there to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

I couldn't be more excited, and am thrilled to have booked such a monumental experience to celebrate with my folks. We live in the SF Bay Area, and none of us have been to Alinea yet!

For those of you who have been there, I have a couple of questions - is there an optimal place, upstairs or downstairs, to request seating? (not that I have any kind of "pull", but the host staff has been very gracious when we've spoken on the phone, so I figure it doesn't hurt to ask...)

If I had a choice, having been seated both upstairs and down, I would prefer, in order:

1. Downstairs.
2. Upstairs "front room."
3. Upstairs "back room."

The upstairs, generally, is a little more frenetic - there are more tables and parties, IIRC. The downstairs had a more intimate feel, for me.
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#176 BryanZ

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:11 AM

I would actually suggest, however, that the downstairs feels a little bit disconnected from the "rest" of the restaurant.

There are also kind of like three rooms upstairs. One to the right, one immediately to the left, and one further to the left. I probably like the one to the right the most. The middle is nice and bright but feels like a hallway. The far one is more private but is darker and in the same room as the entrance to the restrooms and kitchen support area (i.e. plates, glasses, chairs, etc)

Edited by BryanZ, 23 July 2007 - 10:12 AM.


#177 chefg

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:13 AM

I wanted to personally report that I have been very recently diagnosed with an advanced stage of Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the mouth. I have consulted several prominent physicians and will likely begin aggressive treatment within the next few weeks. I remain, and will remain, actively and optimistically engaged in operations at Alinea to the largest extent possible. Alinea will continue to perform at the level people have come to expect from us -- I insist on that. I have received amazing support from friends, family, and everyone who has thus far been told of the disease, and I look forward to a full, cancer-free, recovery.

[Moderator's Note: If you would like to share your wishes for Chef Achatz's quick return to health, you can do so by clicking on this link, which will take you to a Member News topic devoted to the subject. -- CA]

Edited by chrisamirault, 23 July 2007 - 05:14 PM.

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#178 ulterior epicure

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:26 AM

I would actually suggest, however, that the downstairs feels a little bit disconnected from the "rest" of the restaurant.

True, but maybe for the same reasons, it felt a little more intimate, to me.

There are also kind of like three rooms upstairs.  One to the right, one immediately to the left, and one further to the left.  I probably like the one to the right the most.  The middle is nice and bright but feels like a hallway.  The far one is more private but is darker and in the same room as the entrance to the restrooms and kitchen support area (i.e. plates, glasses, chairs, etc)

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Yes, BryanZ describes the layout more appropriately. His "right" was my "front." His "far left" was my "back." There was also a "middle" room, which I also felt was like a hallway.
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#179 prashant

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 08:43 PM

What a coincidence, my wife and I will be dining there on the 25th of August as well.

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How cool! Please do say Hi. We're booked at 6:15.

#180 avant-garde

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Posted 02 August 2007 - 01:48 PM

Apologies if this has been asked before, but I just made reservations and forgot to ask if the price of the tasting menu includes wine? Can anyone answer this please?
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