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

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#421 M.X.Hassett

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 05:00 PM

Great report doc. Made my night.
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#422 docsconz

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 08:52 PM

Doc,

Knowing you're from that that great big Apple state up North, I was wondering how you would compare your finest moments at Alinea with your finest moments at Wylie Dufresne's WD-50. (I've seen your picture with him.) I do realize that the approach that Chef Achatz and Chef Dufresne take are two opposite routes when it comes to presentation, flavor, and build of a dish, but the "avant-garde" binding is hard to ignore, especially with two chefs of this magnitude.

I've been to Trio when it was under Chefg and WD-50 about a year ago, and I will say that I enjoyed my time at Trio more just because there were less hit-miss dishes for me. The flavors at Trio both had a comforting feel to it, like I knew ahead of time that it should work, yet it was still "out there" enough to keep me guessing and oohing and ahhing. It seems the same has carried over to Alinea. Whereas my time at WD I found the flavors to be less so and more adventurous in what they put together.

I personally enjoyed both of my experiences, but with you having eaten at so many fine establishments, I was wondering your take on it.

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I was planning onmaking some comments about Alinea and where I see it in the grand scheme of North American dining per my experience. To my taste, Alinea is the overall best restaurant I have been to in North America. That is take nothing away from any other restaurant I have been to including WD-50, Per Se, Citronelle, Jean-George, Daniel, le Bernardin, Charlie Trotter, Moto, Gary Danko, Susur, Toque etc. I have not been to the French Laundry or many other places so my experience certainly is not exhaustive. What sets Alinea apart to me is the combination of intense creativity, great tasting food, whimsy, superlative service as good as I've ever had that is both efficient, informative and unintimidating, a stellar wine program and a comfortable, luxurious environment. The only down side for me is that it is so far away in Chicago. On the other hand, that might be a good thing as I could see myself going broke if it was too accessible for me :laugh: None of the other restaurants that I have been to have that exact combination that is so important to me. The closest that I have come to this in the past was at Union Pacific in its heyday with Rocco DiSpirito when he was making some amazing food, but that lacked in consistency and Citronelle last spring. WD-50 is my favorite restaurant in NYC and I will be returning there soon to celebrate my eldest son's 16th birthday. I love that restaurant, but it has a completely different vibe. They are really apples and oranges. WD-50 does not have the same level of luxury that Alinea has. That is not necessarily a bad thing and I prefer WD-50 to Per Se even though Per Se is more luxurious than WD-50 with great food and service too. It is just that for me Alinea has succeeded in blending every aspect of fine dining (to me) together so perfectly. The only restaurant in my experience that I feel has succeeded even moreso for me is El Bulli.

Having been to both Alinea and El Bulli within the past year, I believe I am in a position to make some comparisons. While I have not yet been to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC, given that restaurant's size I think I can safely say that Alinea is the closest thing to El Bulli in the US at the moment. While some people may scoff at that or take it the wrong way, I make the statement as a compliment to Alinea. To say that it is most like El Bulli is not to say that it is a clone of El Bulli or an El Bulli wannabe. Stylistically Achatz resembles Ferran Adria very much. The kind of creativity, level of service, techniques and even the plating clearly owe a lot to Adria. But that is where the similarities stop. Adria's cuisine in my limited direct experience, but also through my understanding of having kept a close eye on the restaurant's doings for some time, is largely deriviative of his Catalan and Mediterranean roots. Even though he incorporates other influences, in particular Japanese, Adria's cooking as adventurous as it is, is based on his local tradition. His ingredients and flavors generally reflect that. In addition, it is my sense that above all else, Adria strives for the essence of flavor. The epitome of this for me was his olivo sferico, the gel encased olive essence and his mozzarella sferica, the same concept with the essence of mozzarella di bufala.

To me Achatz is striving for something different. While his techniques may be similar, Achatz's restaurant is clearly American. By that I mean, his culinary palate is not based on a particular tradition in the same way that Adria's is, nor is he after the essence of particular flavors. His art is taking from many traditions and blending them into unique and delicious combinations. Visually similarities of style abound. On the palate I find them vastly different. Both offer an incredible sense of fun and whimsy as well as ideal service. That to me is extreme attentiveness, efficiency, anticipation and also playfulness and excitement that is clearly but subtly conveyed to the diner. Both restaurants know where to draw the line and manage to not overdo it.

I will leave this post with a thought that WD-50 is to Arzak as Alinea is to El Bulli.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#423 molto e

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Posted 05 December 2005 - 11:56 PM

The only restaurant in my experience that I feel has succeeded even moreso for me is El Bulli.

Having been to both Alinea and El Bulli within the past year, I believe I am in a position to make some comparisons. While I have not yet been to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC, given that restaurant's size I think I can safely say that Alinea is the closest thing to El Bulli in the US at the moment. While some people may scoff at that or take it the wrong way, I make the statement as a compliment to Alinea. To say that it is most like El Bulli is not to say that it is a clone of El Bulli or an El Bulli wannabe. Stylistically Achatz resembles Ferran Adria very much. The kind of creativity, level of service, techniques and even the plating clearly owe a lot to Adria. But that is where the similarities stop. Adria's cuisine in my limited direct experience, but also through my understanding of having kept a close eye on the restaurant's doings for some time, is largely deriviative of his Catalan and Mediterranean roots. Even though he incorporates other influences, in particular Japanese, Adria's cooking as adventurous as it is, is based on his local tradition. His ingredients and flavors generally reflect that. In addition, it is my sense that above all else, Adria strives for the essence of flavor. The epitome of this for me was his olivo sferico, the gel encased olive essence and his mozzarella sferica, the same concept with the essence of mozzarella di bufala.

To me Achatz is striving for something different. While his techniques may be similar, Achatz's restaurant is clearly American. By that I mean, his culinary palate is not based on a particular tradition in the same way that Adria's is, nor is he after the essence of particular flavors. His art is taking from many traditions and blending them into unique and delicious combinations. Visually similarities of style abound. On the palate I find them vastly different. Both offer an incredible sense of fun and whimsy as well as ideal service. That to me is extreme attentiveness, efficiency, anticipation and also playfulness and excitement that is clearly but subtly conveyed to the diner. Both restaurants know where to draw the line and manage to not overdo it.

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Doc,

I agree with some of your comparisons between Alinea and El Bulli, but I would like to add a couple of things. We did not eat the exact same menu at El Bulli so we did not have the exact experience. The first part of the meal at El Bulli is referred to as the "Tapas" portion and that is where the whimsical part of the meal was. We really enjoyed that part and it was surprising and unique, but following that part for us the meal fell flat. I would agree with Rogelio's take in post#144 and #146 in the El Bulli Dining thread. He wrote,"If I remeber well I think that last year after my second visit I wrote here something like that I was not as shocked as I was on my first visit and that the surprise factor is very important". "Last year the progression was in crescendo from low to the top and this year was the other way round so at the end of the meal the sensation was we were flat down." I have felt that Alinea has gotten better each time the menu has changed and Chef G keeps bringing Alinea higher. I do not think that Chef G is using a surprise factor to wow us. I feel that a great part of the meal is based on "real food" and not the essence of something. I really felt that our meal at El Bulli was a progression of courses of things that kept us off balance and like I previously stated following the "Tapas" section, not in a good way. I think your point of Alinea being an American restaurant is a great one. When Chef G riffs with the food our "flavor compass" is similar so we can appreciate the riff. He is a true talent and hopefully come James Beard time, he will reap the rewards of the year of Alinea with many more to come.

Molto E

Edited by molto e, 05 December 2005 - 11:58 PM.

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#424 enhF94

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 05:19 AM

I agree. At WD-50, I found the flavor combinations more experimental and unusual - I was tasting combinations I'd never experienced before. Some of these worked; some didn't (but I enjoyed attempting anyway). At Alinea, I found myself focusing more on the additions of technique to less-rebellious flavor combinations - thinking "in 30 years, everybody could be using mastic and braising nuts." Flavor combinations were milder and better balanced - I'm thinking of the matsutake cake with cream in particular here. It included several flavors I'd never had before, but immediately felt "at home" to me in a way that WD-50's pineapple-chili-licorice didn't.

I guess for me it's that at WD-50, I feel like I'm participating in the experiment; at Alinea, I felt like I was being shown the best results from the experimenter's notebook.

This comment focused only on food. These comments wouldn't apply to the atmosphere of either.

#425 docsconz

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 05:36 AM

I'm thinking of the matsutake cake with cream in particular here.  It included several flavors I'd never had before, but immediately felt "at home" to me in a way that WD-50's pineapple-chili-licorice didn't. 

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There definitely was something familiar in this very unusual dish. For my wife and I it reminded us of a specific place of a different era for whatever reason. Fascinating.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#426 BryanZ

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 05:21 PM

I've always appreciated Docsconz's perspective on food and dining from his posts in the NY forum. That he continues to gush about Alinea in comparison Per Se and wd~50 (probably my 2 favorites in the city) is a testament to how revolutionary Alinea really is. Thanks to his spectacular post, I'm even more excited about my visit to Alinea later this month.

One general about the restaurant itself, is it better to sit upstairs or downstairs? Is one markedly better than the other that I should try to request a table on either floor?

#427 docsconz

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 07:55 PM

I've always appreciated Docsconz's perspective on food and dining from his posts in the NY forum.  That he continues to gush about Alinea in comparison Per Se and wd~50  (probably my 2 favorites in the city) is a testament to how revolutionary Alinea really is.  Thanks to his spectacular post, I'm even more excited about my visit to Alinea later this month.

One general about the restaurant itself, is it better to sit upstairs or downstairs?  Is one markedly better than the other that I should try to request a table on either floor?

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Thanks Bryan for the comliments and the confidence.

Both times that I have been at Alinea I have sat upstairs in two different rooms. While that clearly has worked for us, I have no reason to believe that therre is any significant difference as the downstairs room is equally attractive. I have no doubt that you will be treated very well and enjoy the restaurant immensely.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#428 JWest

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Posted 08 December 2005 - 09:01 AM

Can anyone describe the Idiazabal and Mastic? What exactly is it or are there any similarities to something else?
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#429 noambenami

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Posted 09 December 2005 - 01:12 PM

Can anyone describe the Idiazabal and Mastic? What exactly is it or are there any similarities to something else?

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Idiazabal is a spanish cheese. At alinea it is somehow fried and made very crispy and puffy. It is served with a light maple syrup glaze and is also slightly smoked. I wasn't crazy about it, but it was cool.

Raw mastic is a resin from a mediterranean evergreen. Alinea infuses a rich sauce with this piney stuff in a wonderful dessert of matsutake mushroom cake, rosemary and pine nut gelee.

The mastic is the white creamy sauce being poured tableside.

There are photos of both the idiazabal and mastic dishes on alinea's website.

For the record, I agree - Alinea, for my tastes, is the best restaurant in North America.

#430 babern38

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Posted 26 December 2005 - 10:50 AM

I was wondering if anyone had any info on the menu or special New Year's Eve plans at Alinea?






P.S. I can't wait for my reservations on Thursday. :laugh: :biggrin: :smile:

Edited by babern38, 26 December 2005 - 10:56 AM.


#431 Sneakeater

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Posted 29 December 2005 - 04:11 PM

Dec. 15, 2005 entry:

http://www.beansbeans.blogspot.com/

(New Yorkers will want to know that this is the author of the Bruni Digest.)

#432 ulterior epicure

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Posted 29 December 2005 - 05:56 PM

docsconz.

as always, i have enjoyed "meeting up with you for dinner" on egullet. we have similar tastes, preferences and experiences. thanks for the update! i look forward to trying achatz's new menu the next time i'm in chicago! my last (and only) visit was in july of this year.

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#433 docsconz

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Posted 29 December 2005 - 08:58 PM

docsconz.

as always, i have enjoyed "meeting up with you for dinner" on egullet.  we have similar tastes, preferences and experiences.  thanks for the update!  i look forward to trying achatz's new menu the next time i'm in chicago!  my last (and only) visit was in july of this year.

u.e.

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U.E. the feeling is mutual. I will look forward to your take on this restaurant next time you go.

Reading the beansbeans blogspot take on Alinea linked to by sneakeater just goes to show how different people can have different takes on a similar experience. Her read was obviously totally different than mine as I sense her culinary interests are. I don't believe one is any less or more valid than the other, but the difference is interesting, nevertheless. I do think it helps to dine at Alinea with the proper spirit and frame of mind.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#434 noambenami

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 05:28 PM

I just read the beansbeans review. I came away with two things:

1. Either this "Scott" is a jerk or beansbeans has a strong tendency to overdramatize. The service at both Trio and Alinea has been charming. There is definitely a bit of humor in it but I found the pacing and the delivery excellent and not overwrought.

2. Both her and her friends were sick when they went to the restaurant. That would, frankly, invalidate any review for me off the bat. Reviewing a restaurant when one is ill is like having sex when one is miserable.

#435 robyn

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 05:46 PM

There are people who more than agree with Beans. In naming Butter (in Chicago) one of the year's best new restaurants in the November issue of Esquire - John Mariana wrote in part: "Chicago is presently in the grip of a few hocus-pocus chefs trying to make headlines based on things like burning incense next to a dish of venison...." I subscribe to Mr. Mariana's on line newsletter - and think he's far from an idiot when it comes to food (although we certainly don't agree about everything). Robyn

#436 docsconz

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 06:11 PM

There are people who more than agree with Beans.  In naming Butter (in Chicago) one of the year's best new restaurants in the November issue of Esquire - John Mariana wrote in part:  "Chicago is presently in the grip of a few hocus-pocus chefs trying to make headlines based on things like burning incense next to a dish of venison...."  I subscribe to Mr. Mariana's on line newsletter - and think he's far from an idiot when it comes to food (although we certainly don't agree about everything).  Robyn

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Have you been? Alinea is far more than hocus-pocus. It is great food presented extremely well in a very fine atmosphere. It also has a lot of humor, which is something I think a lot of people do not understand. You are correct, though Robyn, a lot of people share that opinion - mostly those who haven't been. The same is true for El Bulli. Of course there are those who have been who fel that it isn't worth the hype. If people are not into having an open mind with the food that is served they will not like either place. if people are into creativity and willing to explore with an open mind, it is my strong opinion that they will love either restaurant.

As for the criticism that people leave Alinea hungry - tell that to my wife (this is not directed at you, Robyn). She would beg to differ and has almost kept me from the tour because there is so much food. Besides these restaurants are not about quantity. they are all about quality and creativity and leaving feeling comfortable and not super-saturated.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#437 Pugman

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 07:17 PM

There are people who more than agree with Beans.  In naming Butter (in Chicago) one of the year's best new restaurants in the November issue of Esquire - John Mariana wrote in part:  "Chicago is presently in the grip of a few hocus-pocus chefs trying to make headlines based on things like burning incense next to a dish of venison...."  I subscribe to Mr. Mariana's on line newsletter - and think he's far from an idiot when it comes to food (although we certainly don't agree about everything).  Robyn

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Have you been? Alinea is far more than hocus-pocus. It is great food presented extremely well in a very fine atmosphere. It also has a lot of humor, which is something I think a lot of people do not understand. You are correct, though Robyn, a lot of people share that opinion - mostly those who haven't been. The same is true for El Bulli. Of course there are those who have been who fel that it isn't worth the hype. If people are not into having an open mind with the food that is served they will not like either place. if people are into creativity and willing to explore with an open mind, it is my strong opinion that they will love either restaurant.

As for the criticism that people leave Alinea hungry - tell that to my wife (this is not directed at you, Robyn). She would beg to differ and has almost kept me from the tour because there is so much food. Besides these restaurants are not about quantity. they are all about quality and creativity and leaving feeling comfortable and not super-saturated.

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Well said, Doc. The humor in the Alinea experience seems totally lost on some people and yet it is one of the reasons that I'm hopelessly addicted. (And the mind-boggling tastes and sights, perfect service, best-ever wine pairings and supreme comfort a'int too shabby, either!) And since GM Joe Catterson has figured out who "Pugman" is, if I ever do have any criticism, I'll have to make up a new alias!

BTW: I'm 6'2" and 200 lbs and I've never left Alinea feeling hungry. Last visit a few weeks ago (12-course), I left VERY full because my size 0 companion couldn't finish some of the final courses and I greedily mopped up every last molecule!

The only place where I've felt that the portions were too small was at Avenues (tiny courses and an incongruously large dessert). That was some time ago and may not represent the current experience.

#438 ronnie_suburban

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 07:47 PM

There are people who more than agree with Beans.  In naming Butter (in Chicago) one of the year's best new restaurants in the November issue of Esquire - John Mariana wrote in part:  "Chicago is presently in the grip of a few hocus-pocus chefs trying to make headlines based on things like burning incense next to a dish of venison...."  I subscribe to Mr. Mariana's on line newsletter - and think he's far from an idiot when it comes to food (although we certainly don't agree about everything).  Robyn

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This has already been discussed exhaustively . . . here.

Thanks,

=R=
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#439 ulterior epicure

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 08:49 PM

Well said, Doc. The humor in the Alinea experience seems totally lost on some people and yet it is one of the reasons that I'm hopelessly addicted. (And the mind-boggling tastes and sights, perfect service, best-ever wine pairings and supreme comfort a'int too shabby, either!) And since GM Joe Catterson has figured out who "Pugman" is, if I ever do have any criticism, I'll have to make up a new alias!

BTW: I'm 6'2" and 200 lbs and I've never left Alinea feeling hungry.  Last visit a few weeks ago (12-course), I left VERY full because my size 0 companion couldn't finish some of the final courses and I greedily mopped up every last molecule!

The only place where I've felt that the portions were too small was at Avenues (tiny courses and an incongruously large dessert). That was some time ago and may not represent the current experience.

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echo doc and pugman. my one experience at alinea wasn't "perfect" - but i didn't expect that... an athlete and one with a naturally high metabolism, i left alinea satisfied.

as for avenues - i will agree that some of the portions were downright small, but i found the main fish and meat courses to be generous. the dessert was large, but i didn't think disproportionately so (based on one 7-course meal).

u.e.

 

 

 

 

[Moderator note: This topic continues in [CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 2)]


Edited by Mjx, 02 July 2013 - 03:01 AM.
Moderator note added.

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