[CHI] Alinea - Grant Achatz - Reviews & DiscussionModernist
Posted 03 November 2009 - 02:54 PM
So, it sounds like the answer is YES. Yes?
Food Lovers' Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: OMG I wrote a book. Woo!
Posted 03 November 2009 - 07:59 PM
I was just going to post in this forum to ask if Alinea is still "worth it" if I'm looking for a fantastic holiday meal
DeVoto, The Hour
Posted 15 November 2009 - 12:15 PM
"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."
- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.
Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life
Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder
Twitter - @docsconz
Posted 26 February 2010 - 11:36 PM
When I first ate at Alinea on August the 1st 2009 I stated it was the best dining experience of my life trumping an extended tasting at The French Laundry that cost twice the price...I knew at some point Id go back, but there were many other places to try on my ever growing list. After Alinea I visited Savoy and Robuchon, L2O, Daniel, Picholine, Ko, and did an extended tasting at Per Se before Benno left - all save Ko were excellent and worth their price - but none trumped Alinea. When the opportunity arose on an Ash Wednesday cancellation when Id conveniently have a layover at OHare I called my friend Dave and asked if hed be interested he said Oh Hell Yes, an appropriate response.
Arriving moments before my 6:00pm reservation I checked in with the hostess and as my friend was stuck in traffic I was escorted to the table, upstairs this visit. A larger room than the downstairs but with tables equally spaced I chatted with one of my multiple servers about the artwork provided in this case by a local artist and changing with the season, my previous visit, and dining in general. Watching a few neighbors receive their dishes from the shorter menu I saw some familiar items but also some new ones Id soon be experiencing. When my friend arrived the Sommelier stopped by and discussed the wine pairings, however Dave opted for a bottle of California Red and I had a few small pours along with my water.
In order to not belabor the discussion I will note that the service during this visit to Alinea was every bit on par with my previous experience ever present but never obvious, descriptive without talking down, water and wine filled as if by an invisible hand. While the waiter-to-diner interaction I loved on my first visit was obviously less important (and less focused upon) since I was not dining alone, I still felt as though our servers wanted to know us as diners and went out of their way to ask and answer questions. Finally, while Alinea has done away with bread service in order to focus on the food (unfortunate as their butter was sublime) the courses flowed seamlessly without the need of bread to refresh the palate and while I myself left comfortably full my friend noted even before the main dessert that he was getting stuffed.
Beginning the meal approximately 10 minutes after Daves arrival our first dish was excellent it wowed me and gave Dave an idea of what was to come. Entitled Char Roe - Plantain, Ginger, Papaya the dish acted to pair the salty roe with tropical nuance per our waiter Char comes from cold water and they wanted to give it an island vacation. Served inside a nutmeg glass we shattered the elegant presentation like a crème brulee to release the amalgam of roe and spices that I believe included cilantro and basil into a foam and gel with strong hints of papaya, plantain, ginger, and lime. A great degree of texture, a great balance of sweet and salty, creamy yet spicy and acidic an intense and beautiful opening dish.
Dish two was an Alinea signature and was seen by myself on the previous, Yuba - Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi. Like an old friend the pen-in-ink dish greeted my palate with a wonderful mélange of savory and sweet, spicy and aromatic, crisp yet texturally varied.
Dish three was a dish Id heard about but didnt understand until I experienced it. Entitled Chao Tom - Sugar Cane, Shrimp, Mint the dish was Alineas take on the traditional Vietnamese dish usually served as a skewer of shrimp. In this case the dish was indeed served on a skewer, but aside from that the presentation was entirely unique. Featuring a compressed piece of fresh sugar cane that had apparently been boiled in shrimp and ginger stock before being topped with garlic, mint, peanut, and shallot the diner was instructed to place the bite in his/her mouth and chew it up to extract all the flavor prior to spitting out the fibrous cane. Following the instructions I have to say I wasnt entirely impressed by this dish in terms of texture but its taste was excellent and the concept certainly not something Id seen prior.
Distillation - of Thai Flavors was the next dish and this time unlike prior it was served solo in a wine glass prior to the pork dish as a palate cleanser. Featuring prominent heat on smell the distillation had none on sipping a total mind bender and instead tasted like a salty fish sauce with hints of lime.
At this point in the meal our centerpiece of 2 flags came into play. Described on the menu as Pork Belly - Curry, Cucumber, Lime we were delivered a multi-tiered plate that we were instructed to subsequently disassemble and reconstruct into a hammock. Onto the hammock our flags, actually flowered rice paper, were then draped and topped with a heaping spoon of slow roasted pork belly. From here on out the dish is left to the decision of the diner as multiple accoutrements are provided with which to create a haute-spring roll. Including spicy, sweet, savory, and pungent ingredients I opted to simply use all and was greatly rewarded with a delectable admixture while my friend deferred on some of the spices and was equally impressed.
Following the international trend set by previous dishes our next experience was sever in the hand bowl and featured Octopus - Green Garbanzo, Mint, Dill. First taking the intensely flavorful and smoky octopus with hints of coriander and dill and subsequently chasing it with a soup of what I can only describe as hummus spiked with sour yogurt this dish provided a unique flavor profile that started briny and savory but finished creamy and tart.
With each dish previous impressive it was dish seven that provided the first showstopper of the evening…or should I perhaps say three showstoppers? Entitled Lobster - parfait, salad, soup this dish was surprise after surprise after surprise. Featuring the air of chai the first presentation was a parfait of chilled lobster consomme, grapefruit, mint flavored cream, candied ginger, and pistachio ice cream along with a crumbly mixture of what our server stated was pistachio and lobster cracker. Hot/cold, sharp/smooth, tart/refined and it only got better.
With my friend assuming this course was done he stood up to use the restroom and our plates were oddly not cleared. Assuming this meant there was more to the dish I waited and sure enough on Daves return the top of the plate was removed to reveal the salad component poached lobster and eggplant confit, parsnip, mint, cilantro most notably and topped with a savory vinaigrette.
Finishing our salad (and guessing where this dish was going) the plate was again taken apart yielding the hefty aroma of chai in a lower bowl. Taking this lower bowl and straining it into a cup our server finally presented us with the soup of the dish an admixture of lobster broth, cream, clove, cinnamon, and undoubtedly other spices that tasted like a thick and creamy chai at first but left a gossamer finish resonating of lobster and cinnamon (uniquely similar to the lobster at Picholine, actually.)
Dish eight (or perhaps eleven if you counted all the lobster dishes as separate) was Duck - Chestnut, Mace, Brussels Sprouts and given the amount of duck Id consumed in the previous week I was looking for something great…and per usual Alinea delivered. Featuring honey accented duck breast and foie gras served in a sweetened duck stock with hints of mace the duck alone was beautifully prepared and only improved by its accompaniments of fennel, crisp Brussels sprout leaves, and what our server described as chestnut pillows that tasted much precisely like chestnut but with the texture of whipped cream.
Dish nine was perhaps Chef Achatzs most famous creating and it once again wowed me. While Dave merely stated that was interesting upon mastication of Black Truffle - Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan I still contend that the only problem with this dish is that I cant easily make it at home…or order a whole plate of them.
Dish ten through twelve constituted the the dessert portion of the first half of our menu and began with Peanut Butter - Dried and Spicy. A delicate bite of dehydrated peanut butter and what I assume was either cayenne or curry (or both) the most interesting aspect of this dish was the fact that the mouth-feel and taste was that of peanut butter while the palate and nostril essence was that of the spice.
Following the peanut butter was Thai Banana - Beer, Mustard, Pecans. Apparently a unique style of chewy banana called Hua Moa this dish was a small slice topped with candied pecan, mustard icing, and a somewhat hops accented finish.
Having already had peanut butter and banana it was only natural to end this trio with bacon in this case Grants now-famous bow presentation of Bacon - Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme. More savory than I remember it the delectable pork texture poked through the caramel apple flavor this time with great effect.
Bridging from sweet to savory to begin the second half of our tour was something that wouldve likely seemed more novel had I not been to David Changs Momofuku Ko in January but regardless the effect at Alinea was not only on par, but superior. Foie Gras - Pear, White Wine, Allspice was described as pushed and pressed and featured a confetti of creamy foie gras terrine with hints of allspice served over a sauternes gel and topped with crispy wafer thin slices of spiced pear. More textural than the famous version at Ko due to the pears and more nuanced with the allspice I was impressed, Dave was oh, wow that is amazing.
For dish fourteen, Sturgeon - Potato, Leek, Smoke, it is hard to believe that something with so much going on could have such great flow it worked much like a Dali painting or fine jazz. Utilizing a beautiful sous vide preparation of sturgeon studded across the plate and complimented with purees of leek, chive, and potato plus slices of radish and celery the dish was served linearly and bridged by a long sheet of crispy potato above and a fruit roll-up like gel that tasted of both apple and liquid smoke. Eaten piecemeal or putting it all together this dish was a work of art and a study in food.
Moving along towards heavier textures was the tempura preparation of the evening, in this case Goose - Stuffing, Prune, Juniper Aroma. Presented as what appeared to be a bowl of pine needles with the wonderful aroma of juniper we were instructed to grasp one branch and upon lifting we discovered a single bite tempura attached to the end of the skewer. Featuring prunes soaked in alcohol, stuffing with accents of fennel and onion, and a central portion of fatty goose breast all perfectly prepared this was yet another dish Ill not soon forget as much as I loved the sweet potato with cinnamon, this one was even better.
Dish sixteen, another classic - Hot Potato - Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter, albeit without the use of the magnetic wand to collect the pin on this occasion. Warmer than I remember last time the potage was still sublime and if possible the essence of truffle even more pronounced on this visit.
At dish seventeen our menus temporarily diverged because of my distaste for the texture of beef flesh (or so I thought.) Delivered to Dave was the classic Filet du Boeuf Goddard while I myself was delivered Poussin - Winter Root Vegetables. Classic recipes served with classic flatware and a French Bordeaux I was quite pleased with my dish of buttery chicken with crispy skin, potato croquettes and spheres, and caramelized onions alongside three different styles of black truffle. For Daves dish he was treated to a thick slice of sous vide Wagyu loin, sweetbreads, tongue, and mushrooms topped with a savory reduction. Insisting that I try the loin because it was amazing and tastes nothing like steak at all I obliged and must admit it was divine almost ham like in texture with a clean and grassy taste.
Dishes eighteen through twenty were a course of edible cocktails, a new concept Chef Achatz and team have been toying with and will apparently soon be implementing into a new restaurant. Served as a trio we started with Passion Fruit - Rum, Cranberry, Orange. Intended to represent a Hurricane cocktail I found this the most delicious of the three with a passionfruit shell containing an admixture of passionfruit seeds, rum, and cranberry orange juice that had a texture of tapioca.
Following the hurricane was Elixir Vegetal - Sugar Cube, Fennel, Lemon. Served on the silver tray and featuring a single sugar cube accented with Grande Elixer Vegetal plus sweet fenel bulb, and lemon I personally though this tasted of a Mojito without the mint in general I didnt taste any alcohol, however.
Having returned from New Orleans that day I found a degree of irony to the next dish - Kumquat - Rye, Peychaud's, Demerara in that it was intended to taste of a Sazerac (a drink Ive never tasted but was omnipresent in NOLA. With heavy hints of anise and rye plus a sourness that tasted like lemon I have to say this was my least favorite of our 29 courses that evening and even Dave noted wow, that is strong.
In a meal that contained many wowing moments it was our final savory that provided the most oohs and aahs both for its presentation and its taste. Dubbed Venison - Fireplace Log, Pumpernickel, Licorice this seasonally inspired dish was described as the chefs attempt to recreate the smell of a fireplace and actually served the dish on a charred log. Explaining to us that the organic feel of the dish was created with the concept that all black foods can logically be paired together we were left to explore. Featuring the hearty flavors of black trumpet mushrooms paired with sweet raisins in the sauce, bitter pumpernickel bread and black garlic in the dirt, butter braised vegetables to offset the crispy dried trumpets, and finally a sensual nearly raw sous-vide preparation of venison and a cranberry gelee this dish was truly an experience and the smell of the log led Dave to exclaim that hed no longer accept foods not served in such a manner...though Im pretty sure his wife will have something to say about that.
Transitioning to desserts was a quick palate cleanser - Lemon Soda - One Bite. Quite literally a dissolving packet this dish was the very essence of a lemonhead with a carbonated tingle not unlike a pop-rock without the pop.
Dish twenty three, four, five, and six were served together and featured three classics and one new taste. Beginning first with the Transparency of Raspberry, Yogurt Dave was very pleased by the intense raspberry rock candy/fruit roll up hybrid while I noted a tad less of the flower essence from previous yet a more intent raspberry flavor.
Moving next to Bubble Gum - Long Pepper, Hibiscus, Creme Fraiche Im not sure Dave liked this dish but I again was impressed by the manner in which the individual tastes peaked through as I inhaled the tube while the overarching flavor of bubble gum was indeed the essence that lingered on the palate afterwards.
Moving next to the novel item of the group (and my first experience with the antenna service piece) we experienced Quince - Hazelnut, Bacon, Thyme. With a texture like granola and a flavor not substantially different from the previous bow presentation earlier I have to say this dish did not move me, but I did like its inclusion it will be interesting to see if this develops over time, perhaps into a course exploring manners of pairing bacon with fruit in unique presentations.
The final pre-dessert was Pound Cake - Strawberry, Lemon, Vanilla Bean and again it truly did bring forth memories of Juniors strawberry cheesecake, though I actually quite liked it as the mignardise course during my first visit moreso than its current pre-dessert placement in the menu. Dave particularly liked this dish, as I recall.
Heading towards the larger desserts we were next served something Ive never eaten Hay. While some may state Hay is for horses, Id be quite alright with Hay - Burnt Sugar, Coffee, Huckleberry any day of the week. Intended to bring forth memories of fall and winter this dish features a custard made by steeping hay in heavy cream and the overall flavor of the reduced pudding is quite grassy and nutty, not unlike a chestnut or hazelnut. Paired with a bitter coffee accented cookie and sweet huckleberries with additional visual appeal and texture added by a burnt sugar crystal perched on top the dish is finally served atop a pillow of mellow air that to me resembled the smell of dry leaves and flowers sweet yet earthy much like the dish.
Finishing the pre-dessert we were next brought the now-famous silicone sheet and my mind flashed back to my previous meal a meal I stated would be once in a lifetime unless Chef Achatz presents to my table to prepare a course again in the future. Thankfully, both for myself and for Dave, while the dish I had on my previous experience was perhaps once in a lifetime the chance to watch the Chef work was not. Entitled Chocolate - Coconut, Menthol, Hyssop the video can be seen here and is most certainly worth 1,000 words or more http://www.youtube.c.../0/DrYgagwhjAY. Like a peppermint patty only infinitely more nuanced the most impressive aspect of the dish was the strong contrast between the warm 68% Valrhona chocolate and the medicinal cool of the menthol while the coconut in its various forms balanced the two by enhancing the chocolate tones and mellowing the menthol. Additionally playing with hot and cold concepts the hot liquid pudding and the liquid nitrogen mousse, chewy and crunchy the coconut rocks and the menthol/chocolate crumbs, and finally adding a spicy component with the anise hyssop I was glad Dave was getting full so I could sneak a few extra spoonfuls of the mousse.
The final taste of our evening was a fitting end to a winter menu - Eggnog - Pedro Ximenez, Benedictine, Buffalo Trace. Similar to the Watermelon-Lime, Nasturtium dish from the summer menu in presentation the dish consisted of an eggnog shelled sphere filled with a spicy and vegetal cocktail with notes of cinnamon floating in a shot of sweet Pedro Ximenez. Taken as a single bite the sphere ruptured on mastication filling the mouth with a balance of sweet and cinnamon while the end effect was punchy with a hot bourbon finish.
Settling the tab and thanking our servers we finished coffee and espresso before making our way to the street, finding the car, and headed for the burbs. Throughout the drive we discussed the food and experience, each of us loving both similar and different parts, but both thoroughly impressed and trying to decide when to make a return visit yes, me, the guy who rarely dines at the same place twice even in his home town planning for a third trip…yes, it really is that good.
Edited by uhockey, 26 February 2010 - 11:37 PM.
Posted 02 March 2010 - 06:45 PM
Posted 03 March 2010 - 06:37 AM
Posted 19 March 2010 - 06:40 PM
Complex mixture of delectable Thai flavour - aromatic coconut, savoury pork belly, sweet banana, spicy curry and exotic basil all wrapped in a crispy lettuce.
This course was all about duck: foie, breast, leg, heart, and consommé, along with "chestnut pillow" and honey orange jelly. A sophisticated course with beautiful flavour and wide range of textural contrast.
A seductive slice of smoked and seared o-toro accompanied by various types of seaweed. The soft melt-in-mouth fatty tuna with a hint of charcoal finish... OH MY GOD!!!
And finally, a crazy but tasty finish to our meal:
Click Here For More Pics.
Posted 19 April 2010 - 12:09 AM
Posted 11 May 2010 - 03:52 PM
I'd agree with most of the highlights pointed out in uhockey's post: the chao tom, the distillation of Thai flavors, the very entertaining multi-tiered seafood reveal (for us, Jonah crab), the duck (with morels, asparagus camomile foam), and the foie gras (pressed through a sieve into liquid nitrogen, and texturally superior to Ko's shaved frozen foie).
Despite my degree of satiation at that stage, my personal favorite was the final savory course. Nestled among the charred frisée on the hot birch log were several pieces of stupendously delicious squab, which, for what it's worth, was the finest meat cooked sous vide that I've eaten.
We noticed more missteps on Sunday than on our previous, near-perfect visit: the horrendously overpowering sazerac, too thick and dry pasta surrounding the black truffle explosion, the overwrought and underwhelming sturgeon dish, too much (and overly dressed) pork belly filling in the DIY roll. The service, too, felt more frazzled than before. Nonetheless, it was a very, very impressive and memorable dinner.
One thing that I'd say is that it appeared most of the other diners had ordered the tasting menu. Having observed the differences between the tasting and tour menus on both visits, I would highly recommend the latter because the former misses out on almost all of the tastiest (and certainly most dramatic) dishes. With the tour, the meal is by far more of an experience.
Speaking of experience, I'm extremely glad that I'd somehow avoided this thread and other reports of the "Chocolate" dessert. We were all the more awestruck and delighted because we had no idea what to expect when they brought out the silicone mat. (Given Achatz's predilection for aromas and aromatics, we inconpicuously put our noses down and started sniffing our table, thinking that we detected a very faint whiff of lemon.)
As the Chef de Cuisine started plating the dish (or, rather, table), we managed to regain enough composure to remark to him how much more theatrical our meal that evening was compared to two years ago. Beran responded that he felt the restaurant had matured a lot over that period.
Alinea's greatest strength lies in its ability to achieve a kind of transcendence where every additional ingredient or technique applied to a dish serves to pare it down to its essence. Even when dishes (like the single bite of green almond/cucumber gelee) don't wow you with their deliciousness, they achieve a purity that is art.
And yet, on occasions in this meal, we could glimpse certain dishes (like that sturgeon dish, which had far too many textures and tastes competing for my palate's attention to little end) struggling to achieve effect. If an increased sense of theatre marks the maturation of Alinea, dare I voice a concern that as it continues to grow, it runs the danger of lapsing into self-parody (cf. the fall, so to speak, of vertical cuisine)? Certainly, it seems churlish to say something like that given how much we enjoyed the entertainment...
Edited by kayu, 11 May 2010 - 04:06 PM.
-- James Willis
Posted 18 May 2010 - 12:42 PM
right down to the rather unfortunate kumquat sazerac (which you'd think they'd have corrected, if not perfected, after a few months).
I'm surprised by the negativity that this bite inspires. I found it excellent and would gladly eat the Peychaud pudding by the spoonful (truth be told, on one occasion I did). It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but to say that since a few folks don't care for the punch of anise and rye whiskey that the dish requires 'correction' is bold.
While, at Alinea, it seems the goal of every dish is to evolve and (where possible) improve, they definitely think this one is fine. In fact, I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that the kumquat sazerac was the launching pad for what will become Aviary.
Edited by KD1191, 18 May 2010 - 12:54 PM.
DeVoto, The Hour
Posted 22 May 2010 - 05:53 PM
If u c a mushroom cloud over Chicago don't worry. Just roof blowin off Alinea.100ppl. 50-26crs menus, 50-12crs.96 vip crs.1996 total plates
Deciphering the Tweet-speak, that sounds like an insane number of dishes coming out of that kitchen tonight. NRA weekend, perhaps?
Posted 16 June 2010 - 03:50 PM
Posted 17 November 2010 - 11:48 AM
And of course I'm thoroughly unqualified to discuss Alinea, never having been within 1000 miles of it. I'm sure it's delicious.
Posted 17 November 2010 - 04:34 PM
Posted 01 December 2010 - 10:29 PM
Posted 01 February 2011 - 09:06 AM
About a month ago, five of us were dining at the rear, long rectangular table (number 41), when about half way through, we had a pheasant dropped off at our table.
It had been de-feathered, but still had its head and tail feathers attached to the body. It laid on snow and evergreen branches, all of which sat on top of a silver serving tray. Note that some of the branches burning and gave off a wonderful aroma.
Nothing was said by the front of the house (FOH) staff, instead, we sat there for a while pondering what would come next. Were we to pick at it, sans utensils, like Ron's meal up-thread?
Until this young man came along. Jeremy, a runner, who opens up by welcoming us and telling us that this pheasant had come from Indiana, and was just killed no more than 48 hours ago. Jeremy also tells us that this was made possible by he and his dog, who were hunting just the other day. The following day, Jeremy brings the pheasant to the restaurant, as a present to the Chef. Grant, thanks him, and tells him he knows just what to do with it.
As Jeremy is talking, the other FOH staff clear the pheasant from the table. They bring in a copper-claded (I'm guessing a 5 quart) sauté pan. It was a cassoulet of the pheasant. As Jeremy starts to walk off, we were so amazed with this story, that we hoped that he would be able to try some of the cassoulet (if he hasn't already).
The FOH staff starts to bring in the support items; bread, herbs, spices, garnishes, utensils, plates, etc. In addition, they have us make extra room on the table for another surprise. The surprise was a chair, and Jeremy. Chef Achatz also thought that it would be a great idea for Jeremy to join us. Now our table is seating six.
We are then informed, that since this has been set up as family style, that we should serve ourselves. We decided to give that honor to the eldest at the table, me.
While I was dishing out the cassoulet, everyone was enjoying a very nice bottle of Château Prieuré-Lichine Margaux. The cassoulet was dense. Not only did it have the pheasant (in all forms), but it also had sausage, pork belly (and maybe other meat products further in). It was very rich and tasty. This dish allowed us multiple servings, and we thankfully took advantage of it. I could come to Alinea just for this dish.
The Alinea Forest
On a different visit to Alinea, we had the opportunity to try another off-menu item. This one also came midway through our meal, and was code named either "cheese and crackers" or "angelica branch."
It starts with us finishing a dish at one of the round tables in front room of the restaurant (the 20s). The FOH staff asks us to move to another table, with no explanation. We then walk to one of the tables in the middle room (the 30s), where on the table are branches, leaves, burning candles, and dinner ware.
The FOH gives us a very brief description on the dish (if we can still call it that), and no real instruction on how to approach eating it. So we treat like a cheese and cracker buffet table. We see something that looks like a cracker, and something that looks like cheese, and you can guess what happens next.
We sat at the table for almost 30 minutes as we nibbled on what was in front of us. During that time, Chef Achatz was observing (from afar) us interact with the Angelica Branch. It was quite an experience to forage around for food in a restaurant. In the end there were still more cheese and crackers left on branches.
For me, the Alinea experience (I can't call it dinner/meal anymore, because it is more than just the food), just keeps on getting more interesting. Grant is true to the definition of the name of the restaurant. He does not need to re-tool, re-conceptualize the restaurant. By definition and nature it just keeps progressing. I am glad that they got their well deserved Michelin 3-star rating. I am glad they continue to push boundaries. But most of all, I am glad to be able to experience it.
Posted 03 February 2011 - 05:57 PM
Posted 15 March 2011 - 12:20 PM
First, this was my first time being seated downstairs. While the room is pleasant and doesn't affect the experience there's just something about it that seemed less....."impressive or nice". Perhaps it just feels a little more constrained or that you know you are sharing the floor with entryway and kitchen. Upstairs has a much more separate feel and will be sure to humbly request a seat there for future visits.
second, this is the first time I have been since they've done away with the option of a tour or tasting menu. I don't mind that there is no longer a choice of menu, as I'd prefer to do the tour regardles, especially being with a first timer, but it seems the menu is being streamlined and shortened to be a merger of both tour and tasting. I can understand how this makes sense business-wise in that it improves flow of customers through the night and speeds up service, but I couldn't help but feel like this time was shorter than my previous visits. Not necessarily "rushed", but not as indulgent and excessive. For example, my last two tours were 25-27 courses with some courses having multiple parts over 4+ hours while this menu was only 21 courses (3-3.5 hours) and the first 3 courses were single bites brought out all at once. These three bites were announced as being a sample from chef Achatz' new bar/restaurant venture featuring alcoholic bites. While they were interesting and nice, I did not find them as impressive as some of the other opening courses in the past and would have preferred these "solid cocktails" to have been paired alongside another dish like a cocktail pairing. Maybe it just speaks of my love for alinea that I want my meals there to never end :)
third, I would like to comment on a new dish I had not had before or seen mentioned here but was one of our favorites of the night. It was a dish consisting of Halibut along with around 8-9 other flavor components including gelee, noodle, crunchy puffs, and poweders and foam. However, everything on the plate was beige to white with the idea being to throw off your senses. My gf and I were instructed to try and guess the many flavors now that achatz had chopped and screwed with their colors and textures. this was a fun game and am proud to say we did quite well getting close to 80% correct. However, I was said when I heard neighboring tables receiving this dish and were not invited to the guessing game but heard waiters mentioning the dishes components. Just as feedback I think all customers should benefit from this intriguing guessing game of a dish. Great fun.
All in all it was still the best dining/restaurant experience I can imagine. I continue to envy all you close enough to Chicago who are able to visit more than once a year or so.
Posted 20 March 2011 - 08:39 AM
Cool to see him giving a shout out to Great Lake. Best pizza I ever tasted.
Great interview with Grant and the places he goes for pizza and cocktails:
Posted 15 May 2011 - 07:10 AM
WOW! Incredible meal!
Yes, some theater. And some novelty. But mostly, just incredibly refined, precisely-prepared tastes and textures.
I worried that with all the refinement/new techniques/funky molecules there would be some loss of "soul" to the meal. But absolutely not, to me and my wife. The soul was evident through the precision and innovation -- it was abundantly clear that the only way this food could have been imagined, refined, and executed was with a ton of love.
A few particularly smart aspects:
1. Aroma was part of the meal but did not ever bleed over from other tables. I liked that. (other menus, e.g. fall with burning oak leaves, might not work so well in this way).
2. The inclusion of an Escoffier retro course, complete with old-school tableware, was a wonderful way to remind the diner that great food is great food and is timeless and that Achatz fits right in with greats like Escoffier.
3. Many courses, but just the right amount of food.
4. Loved Chef Achatz himself plating the last course on the table. Literally.
About a month ago my wife and I ate at Per Se and Le Bernadin. Fantastic meals (the latter better than the former).
But for both us, Alinea bests them both.
Lack of wit can be a virtue
Posted 18 May 2011 - 02:53 AM
Food (and wine) - 94/100
Nearly everybody that I knew recommending to have a “Tour” at Alinea and that’s what I had for my dinner back in late spring 2009. There were about 24 courses in total, ranging from small dishes to only bites/refreshers. It’s normal that you would have some high and a few misses.
My favorite dishes are actually more on the traditional style surprisingly: Achatz’ “re-produced” Escoffier’s recipe of pigeon a la Saint-Clair with a perfectly cooked squab and good side dishes such as mash of caramelized onions. Another outstanding dish was the tender and buttery wagyu beef, interestingly served with A-1 in powder form. For the “advance dishes” that I like were: the classic black truffle explosion of pasta shell and a well-integrated yuba (dried tofu skin). The dessert was also good – for me the chocolate served with blueberry and maple is the best. There were also dishes showing in contrast of texture and temperature by using similar ingredients (a pair of crab items served hot and cold). Some dishes that I was not too keen were – pork belly (too soft) and white asparagus with arugula.
The wine pairing here was supposedly good too – many said nearly as good as L’Astrance’s wine pairing. I only had 5 glasses of tasting size. The Bruno Paillard brut rose was rather disappointing (paired with yuba and hot/cold potato); whereas the ’03 Andrew Will Syrah (matched well with the beef) and ’08 Elio Perrone Piedmont (dessert wine) were nice. The food here, in general, is good though not really hitting a high mark – just very consistent (94/100 – 2 ½*).
Service (and ambiance) - 92/10
The service is more on the formal side but excellent (more genial waiters will be preferable). However, there are really lots of dishes needed to be delivered, so they constantly changed the silverwares as well as cleaned the table. Hence, it’s understandable if they were unable to interact more often with the guests. The restaurant design’s is chic, minimalist and a bit futuristic. Diners walked into the entrance until the end of the tunnel; there’s a black door on your left. Black, grey and some white are the most dominant color. The ambiance is comfortable with shoulder-high chairs and relatively spacious table.
I left the place not really feeling full, but well-pleased. Additionally, I was filled with curiosity on what other dishes they will make in the future. I suppose it will be some kind of “El Bulli” in which the menu constantly evolves – the only certain thing is that the menu will keep changing. I gave this place 93.5 (2 ½*) for the overall experience – among top 3 or 5 as the best restaurants in the States. I don’t really opposing Michelin for giving its highest honor here, after all Jean-Luc Naret said that they had to ‘sell’ the books too by giving at least 1 3-star restaurant in nearly each city they’re reviewing
Pictures - Alinea Spring 09
Posted 21 May 2011 - 11:46 PM
First, with respect to Topolobampo, a restaurant that we have been to a couple of times and have loved, I sincerely hope it was an offnight. The guacamole and maragaritas were excellent, as always. However, we were very dissapointed in the quality of the rest of the meal. This is uncharacteristic of Mr. Bayless' cooking that I have had before so I chalk it up to a bad night in a very crowded place.
Now, on to Alinea. As noted, my fear was we had built our expectations up to a level that could not be satisfied. I am pleased to report that our high expectations were met at every turn. We arrived five minutes early and were promptly seated. We were worried as the room had a hushed tone and both wait staff and customers seemed to be very cautious. However, as the meal began, eveyone warmed up and the staff, while attentive and discreet, were also humerous and charming. They made light of any spills (or spherification explosions in my case) and while noting that no one had ever had a Buffalo Trace burbon sphere explode over their shirt before at Alinea, handed me a Shout Stain Remover napkin artfully arranged on a white plate.
Bottom line is that this meal was fun. It was delicious and serious food, but it was fun. For several dishes, my wife and I were actually laughing. Laughing at how good the food was and laughing at what it reminded us of. The Yuba and Shrimp dish reminded me of the $2.00 fried egg rolls we get at our local Vietnamese Restaurant in Dallas. Obviously, we were dealing with a more sophisticated product, but (as I say when we go to the Vietnamese Restaurant), I could eat a dozen of these. They were delicious in both a familiar and unfamiliar way -- this was a fun theme that ran throughout our 2 hour and 30 minute dinner.
For a brief run down on the dishes and wines, here is the menu:
First Wine -- Cocktail of Pierre Gimonnet Brut wiht chrysanthemum liquer and bitters.
Steelhead Roe, dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit - A great starter with rutabaga custard type discs. There was also a black liquorice caviar in the dish.
Yuba, Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi - As noted, I loved this dish. While my comparrison does not do it justice, the yuba and shrimp were like a great, delicate egg roll. The sauce with miso was unbeliveable.
Next was three courses in one -- Oyster Leaf, Scallop, Razor Clam. The leaf (a la El Bulli) was simply served in an oyster shell with salt and a light mignonette. It tasted exactly like a great oyster. The scallop had a wheat beer foam and was very good, but not as great as the leaf. The Razor Clam was in its shell with many Asian flavors. All of these were good fun with both the leaf and razor clam truly standing out as master dishes.
Second Wine was Emmerich Knoll "Kellerberg" Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, Austria 2004
Urchin, Green Garlic, Vanilla, Mint -- This was a classic Alinea presentation with the urchin encased in a gel of vanilla. Spices, etc. were placed on this gel cube and it was served over a bowl of brothy liquid with foam. The urchin and gel was fantastic with the liquid/foam in the bowl providing a nice contrast.
Next Wine was Niepoort "Redoma Branco", Douro 2009
Rabbit, Parfait, Rillette, Consomme -- This dish was served in the Alinea three part bowl with the parfait on top. The parfait was a mouse with fried sweet potatoes and apple and cinnamon flavors. This was a dish that cause both of us to laugh out loud and it may be, together with the Foie Gras and Apple dish at Arzak, one of the single greatest bites of food I have ever had. My wife felt the same way.
This was followed by the Rillette which was great with similar flavors, and the consomme, which had a hot stone to keep it warm and a cinnamon stick which added nice spice to a perfect rabbit broth.
More to come, but I am going to break off the post here. I appologize for the quality of the photos, but we were trying to not be over the top with our photo taking.
Posted 22 May 2011 - 12:02 AM
Venison, cherry, cocoa nib, eucalyptus -- This was another Alinea classic using eucalyptus as a frangrant background for a small cube of perfectly cooked venison that was accompanied by the other spices. Interstingly, the vennison was room temperature.
Fourth Wine - Domaine des Lambrays ' Clos de Lambrays' Morey-St. Dennis 2006
Wild Mushrooms, Pine, Sumac, Ramp -- I have said it before on here, I am a strange person who is not a big mushroom fan. I cleaned my plate on this and did not cringe. My wife who likes mushrooms thought it was great. There were Morrels (huge) and a tiny beautiful white mushroom. It was a striking presentation and great flavors.
I appear to be having technical difficulties so I am going to break again.
Posted 22 May 2011 - 12:11 AM
Next was the classic Hot Potato Cold Potato which has been written about enough on here. I will note it was a great contrast of temperatures and a fun dish.
Fifth Wine - Costers del Siurana " Clos de L'OBAC", Priorat 2004
Short Rib, olive, red wine, blackberry - This dish used the past flags that had been set on the table earlier in the meal. The pasta flags were flavored with tomatoe and black garlic. The servers brought out a complex plate, to be assembled that consisted of a top plate of garnishes (olives, blackberries, smoked cream, cherries, salt, a vinnegrette, pearl onion, black garlic and others). You put the pasta on a cradle made out of braces contained in the plates and the server added braised short rib. You then added the garnishes and wrapped it up like a taco and ate the dish. Fun, and flavorful. This was a really neat presentation.
I will try to finish my post tomorrow.
Posted 22 May 2011 - 10:07 PM
Hamachi, West Indies spices, Banana, Ginger
This was a fried cube of Hamachi with the other ingredients served on a vanilla bean skewer. The dish was rich, hot and texturally perfect. It was slighlty salty to me, but not overly so. The batter was great, light and crispy.
The next wine pairing was Behrens & Hitchcock "Kenefick Ranch Cuvee' Napa 2000
Prior to this dish, antique crystal glasses had been brought out with beautiful engraving of birds. The dish was the now well known ode to classic French food.
Agneau, Sauce Choron, Pomme de Terre Noisette -- This was served on antique china and presented in an elegant "old school" fashion. The lamb was not our favorite component of the night, a little thickly cut and difficult to deal with. However, the sauce and the rest of the accompanyments were outstanding. The tiny pearls of pottato in the lamb stock were incredible. It was a dish that was very successful in reminding us of the history and context of a meal like Alinea.
Black Truffle explositon, Romaine, Parmesan -- Another classic dish that does not need a description.
As a transition to desert the next course was an ice dish served in a unique and new serving dish. Unfortunately, due to either the amount of wine or the change in light, most of the desert pictures did not come out.
Snow, Yuzu -- This was a clay cone shapped dish with a metal insert in the middle of the cone that had been frozen in liquid nitrogen. A yuzu ice was frozen around this insert. It was light, fine textured and a great palette cleanser.
Next wine pairing -- Nittanus "Premium" Beerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria NV
Sweet Potato, Cedar, Burbon, Pecan -- This dish was served on burned cedar platters that had a great charcoal smell. The sweet potato was in the form of a custard. The Burbon was spherified in spheres around the plate. Covering the top was a cayenne cotton candy. This was an incredible dish and one of my favorites from the night, even though I completey ruptured one of the spheres all over my shirt.
Lemongrass, Dragonfruit, Finger Lime, Cucumber -- This was the tube presentation with a plastic tube filled with liquid and the other ingredients. We were instructed to ingest from one end in a complete gulp. The liquid was delicious, but the various ingredients were a little tough to deal with. It was a great flavor combination, but not our favorite of the night.
Finally, a white silicon table cloth was brought out for the table plating of the final desert. The final wine was perhaps the greatest of the night -- Toro Albala "Don PX" Gran Reserva, Montilla - Moriles, Spain 1982.
Chocolate, Blueberry, Honey, Peanut -- As many know, this dish is plated on the table. I was worried that it would be more of a gimmick than a great desert. I actually could not have been more wrong. The precision of the plating and the art that went into it were fascinating. Sauces were plated with precision by the chef (not Achatz tongight) with minimal but education explanation. The design was great, but more importantly, the dish was outstanding and watching our table and the others around it, this brought it all back home. Everyone had fun while eating this dish. You could not help it.
At the end of this meal (following a wonderful coffee and great staff service getting a cab) we were both left to compare it to our only two other dining experiences that come close (Arzak and Mugaritz). First, one has to ask was the meal worth it -- cost of travel to Chicago, Hotel, and the price of the meal. The answer to this is unequivocally yes. I go back to the concept of fun. We had a blast. I think it some ways it was an adult foodie Disneyland (in the best way). While an unbelievably refined meal, the staff was loose, the food had many fantastical components and at the end of the meal we noted how many times we were laughing and having fun throughout. I would return as often as I could afford and arrange it. Still, in my mind, Arzak remains on top. Perhaps, because it was our first really outstanding dining experience, and partly because it was slighlty more casual and of course it was in Spain. However, I cannot say enough about how great the night was and hope to make it back to Alinea sometime soon.
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