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[CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 1)

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#331 ronnie_suburban

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Posted 04 October 2005 - 02:21 PM

More praise for chef Grant and Alinea; this time from Forbes, which included him in their list of the year's Tastemaker chefs:

This fall, Forbes.com undertook the difficult task of identifying ten of the most influential chefs this year in the United States. They are the extraordinarily inventive individuals who have not only tasted success in the $476 billion U.S. restaurant industry (according to the National Restaurant Association), but whose insights, accomplishments and boundless creativity shape what we eat, how we eat it, and how much we're willing to fork over for the experience.

Tastemakers: Chefs

=R=
"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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#332 noambenami

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Posted 09 October 2005 - 12:40 PM

I had the great pleasure of eating at Alinea on Friday night. About one minute after walking through the sliding doors the four of us were invited to stand by the kitchen's canape station and were wonderfully treated by everyone, down to recieving explanations of how the amazing new first-course amuse was made.

We ordered the twelve course meal with wine matches. The matches were superb, with predominance of german and spanish wines, but also an excellent slovenian white. All were exceptionally well matched.

The food itself. Well, what can I say that hasn't been said before? If Alinea was in Europe, there is no doubt that it would be a solid 3 michelin star restaurant. The levels of creativity, presentation, and taste were a solid notch above every other restaurant I've been to this side of the atlantic.

I'll also note that we had a number of food restrictions that were played to quite well - my 15 year old sister is a vegetarian and enjoyed her meal a lot. For contrast, I'll note that she was absolutely miserable at Charlie Trotters.

To my tastes, this is the best, and most fun, restaurant in the US...especially after our game of air hockey using some of the chef's utensils.

#333 enhF94

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Posted 09 October 2005 - 02:17 PM

Yes, I should have mentioned our similar experience before! The kitchen was incredibly flexible with our dietary wishes. We were a table of 2, and we didn't ask for any specialness up front, but Alinea asked us. For our tour, they kept track of our dietary restrictions individually! That's pretty special in my book.
(I was "no shellfish except oysters;" she was "no meat except bacon and beef tenderloin" - so you can tell they're more flexible and just allergies and religious reasons. Thank goodness I didn't mention I'm not a corn fan, or I would have missed the incredible corn pudding - I can still remember the taste a month later!)

#334 yellow truffle

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Posted 13 October 2005 - 11:51 PM

A NEW BEGINNING

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With the weather getting down to the normal averages and autumn finally arriving in Chicago, Alinea is beginning to introduce their new fall creations. Last Saturday we were fortunate enough to experience some of their tasty dishes. Of course there are changes, some of which can be noticed prior to the first course arriving at the table.

The major change is in the number of items on the Tour menu. Previous Tour dinners at Alinea, brought in upwards of 26 courses. Now they have the Tour set at 24. Fret not. Although there is a reduction of courses, we did not walk away less sated, in fact we were feeling quite full at around the third quarter of the meal. Towards the end, one of our guest were unable to finish some of the dishes. No worries here, as the others at the table took turns at the leftovers. Such a faux pas, I know, but I don't think they have doggy bags.

There is also a change in the rhythm of the meal. The old Alinea meal cycle took on a traditional format (ie. appetizer, first and second courses and dessert) in 28 courses. The new format is taking the once long meal and breaking it into two short meals, similar to that at Trio when Chef G was at the helm. Upon talking to the chef, he felt that the 5-8 desserts at the end was a long stretch. Two meals for the price of one, that sounds like a great deal.

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A new centerpiece is also introduced. As with the previous centerpiece, ginger sliced longitudinally, the fresh honeycomb, is used for one of the dishes to be had later in the evening. The honeycomb was placed onto a pedestal of an exotic, heavily grained, piece of wood. It sat for most of the evening and it slowly released thick gooey honey onto the table (a detail that should be soon worked out, I hope). The pedestal and the uber-chic honey extractor/mechanism was used for the 15th course, OPAH (please refrain from putting fire to saganaki). Buy not these tools from Willams Sonoma. This item is another creation of Alinea's product design guru, Martin Kestner.

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New serviceware is also bought into play, from plates to cordial glasses and another MK (the designer, not the chef) piece. The modern looking fancy sheet music holder, is used for the 8th course to hold the Spanish cheese puff. The masculine looking item is weighty and heavily machined. A much better alternative than the previous holder.

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FYI, when making reservations, have your credit card handy. Just another one of those changes.

#335 yellow truffle

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Posted 13 October 2005 - 11:52 PM

THE MENU - 20051008

1. PEAR celery leaf & branch, curry
2. MAITAKE lola nut, braised sunflower seeds
3. MANGO sesame oil, soy, bonito
4. DOVER SOLE mosaic of mostly traditional flavors
5. ONAGA shellfish, waterchestnuts, floral vapor
6. PHEASANT cider, shallot, burning leaves
7. SQUAB watermelon, foie gras, licorice
8. IDIAZABAL maple syrup, smoke
9. MATSUTAKE pine nut, mastic, rosemary
10. BURDOCK dark beer, bitters, sassafras
11. QUINCE cumin, shiso, sour cream
12. PUSHED FOIE GRAS tart apple marshmallow
13. TROUT ROE pineapple, cucumber, coriander
14. CRAB chanterelles, ravioli of coconut powder
15. OPAH endive, ohio honeycomb
16. LAMB fig, pernod, pillow of anise star
17. DUCK SKIN cranberry, grapefruit, clove
18. BISON truffle, pistachio, sweet spices
19. BACON butterscotch, apple, thyme
20. RASPBERRIES orange blossom, cream
21. ROSEWATER PUFFS passion fruit, saffron
22. PEANUT frozen pedro ximénez
23. CHOCOLATE avocado, lime, mint
24. DRY CARAMEL salt

Looking at the menu one notes that there are a few absent dishes. Gone is the PB+J, the highly recognized starter course from the early days. Also missing in action are the SOUR CREAM, the HEART OF PALM and the VICHI CATALAN (on the beverage side). As you may have noticed, making its return, is the familiar tenant on the Alinea menu, BACON. Tasty as always, not a thing has changed since it was first introduced. Shall I dare say, "signature dish." It is fast becoming so, as the dish can be had on all the three menus (or at least you can ask for it). Is this the new Black Truffle Explosion?

And now, the gastro-porn.

#336 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:07 AM

1. PEAR celery leaf & branch, curry

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#337 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:08 AM

2. MAITAKE lola nut, braised sunflower seeds

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#338 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:08 AM

3. MANGO sesame oil, soy, bonito

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#339 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:08 AM

4. DOVER SOLE mosaic of mostly traditional flavors

Posted Image

#340 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:09 AM

5. ONAGA shellfish, waterchestnuts, floral vapor

Posted Image

#341 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:09 AM

6. PHEASANT cider, shallot, burning leaves

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#342 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:10 AM

7. SQUAB watermelon, foie gras, licorice

Posted Image

#343 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:10 AM

8. IDIAZABAL maple syrup, smoke

Posted Image

#344 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:11 AM

9. MATSUTAKE pine nut, mastic, rosemary

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#345 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:11 AM

10. BURDOCK dark beer, bitters, sassafras

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#346 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:11 AM

11. QUINCE cumin, shiso, sour cream

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#347 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:11 AM

12. PUSHED FOIE GRAS tart apple marshmallow

Posted Image

#348 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:12 AM

13. TROUT ROE pineapple, cucumber, coriander

Posted Image

#349 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:12 AM

14. CRAB chanterelles, ravioli of coconut powder

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#350 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:12 AM

15. OPAH endive, ohio honeycomb

Posted Image

#351 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:13 AM

16. LAMB fig, pernod, pillow of anise star

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#352 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:13 AM

17. DUCK SKIN cranberry, grapefruit, clove

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#353 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:13 AM

18. BISON truffle, pistachio, sweet spices

Posted Image

#354 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:14 AM

19. BACON butterscotch, apple, thyme

Posted Image

#355 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:14 AM

20. RASPBERRIES orange blossom, cream

Posted Image

#356 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:14 AM

21. ROSEWATER PUFFS passion fruit, saffron

Posted Image

#357 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:14 AM

22. PEANUT frozen pedro ximénez

Posted Image

#358 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:14 AM

23. CHOCOLATE avocado, lime, mint

Posted Image

#359 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:15 AM

24. DRY CARAMEL salt

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#360 yellow truffle

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 12:19 AM

NOTES
The starter course, PEAR, is a ball of waxy plastic curry flavored shell, with a liquid pear center, floating on celery liquid. Subtle flavors and strong presentation, but not as heavy as it looks or sounds. Pommeau is served with this dish. The liquor is a complementary starter and hints at the weight of the dishes to come.

There are two mushroom dishes to be had, MAITAKE and MATSUTAKE. This first dish is light and airy, but stands strong in palate. The second mushroom dish is quite interesting. It is served in a glass mini dutch oven. Cream is poured into the bowl and you mix it up before indulging in the flavors. It's a little strange, in that, it has the consistency of bread pudding, and one can almost pass it off as such, except for the slight mushroom flavor.

The MANGO dish pushes heavily its Asian ingredients. It starts with the sesame oil, in taste and aroma (strong stuff), and finishes off with a hint of a tropical fruit flavor. Reading the name/description of dish, one would have a different expectation of the end product, at least I did.

DOVER SOLE's mosaic of mostly traditional flavors is all in powder form (lemon, banana, parsley, capers). The fish was a little over done. Perhaps, the chef intended to create the solids (banana, fish and citrus cauliflower) as a weighty items and generate a contrast in the lightness of the granules.

That evening, three dishes purposefully push aroma to its diners. The ONAGA uses a steam bath of flower petals and leaf scent. I found this a little strange, as I associate these scents and colors to spring time. But wait. In the next dish, PHEASANT, the Chef does a 180. He brings out a branch of oak leaves that is burning (sidebar: to not overwhelm the space with smoke or burning branches, only one of dishes was burning). A complete reversal in presentation and taste. This was a solid tasty one bite dish, one of the better one bite items on the menu. The last of the super-scented dishes is the LAMB. An air pillow is placed in front as a place mat to the lamb and fig plate. Once again a strong juxtaposition to your senses, a light scent and a heavy tasting dish.

Bread sponging is something that Miss Manners might not approve of, but at table 14, we needed a few more slices (cracked wheat, pumpernickel, ciabatta, and raisin something were the selection for the evening) for the SQUAB. The drippings of foie, licorice, squab and watermelon is a magnificent combination for a sauce. Prior to our indecorum, the staff made us sample a small gelatinous cube of fennel and fennel pollen. Itself, a wonderful palate cleanser, we had them bring out another round.

For a modern twist on the cheese puff try the IDIAZABAL. It has the appearance of a headdress, brought out on a custom holder, and a color combination of an iPod. What's not to like. Nice touch on the maple syrup (note to self: drizzle some Karo in bag of Pirate's Booty).

After the 'shroom pudding, a palate cleanser is brought forth. The BURDOCK, with the bitters, dark beer and sassafras was a smashing success. It was great. I found that the ingredients work well together. All the ingredient's flavors were at a level plateau, you can capture each distinct taste in every bite. A great edible aperitif.

The OPAH was capped with a charred piece of ham and drizzled with honey centerpiece. The inclusion of the grapefruit tied in the flavors. I found this dish heavy, but not as much as the next one. The BISON, with the pistachio and truffle sauce, was a meal in itself.





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