First, the pictures. Yellow Truffle did an outstanding job of capturing the overall essence of each dish, so I will slant the content of my photos with the purpose of providing a closer look: SOUR CREAM smoked salmon, sorrel, star anise DUNGENESS CRAB raw parsnip, young coconut, cashews HEART OF PALM in five sections ASPARAGUS caramelized dairy, egg, bonito TURBOT shellfish, waterchestnuts, hyacinth vapor EGGPLANT cobia, crystalline florettes, radish pods FROG LEGS spring lettuces, paprika, morels BEEF flavors of A-1 HAZELNUT PUREE capsule of savory granola, curry PROSCIUTTO passionfruit, zuta levana FINGER LIMES olive oil, dissolving eucalyptus MELON gelled rose water, horseradish ENGLISH PEAS frozen lemon, yogurt, shiso FOIE GRAS rhubarb, sweet onion, walnut BROCCOLI STEM grapefruit, wild steelhead roe SNAPPER yuba, heavily toasted sesame, cucumber LAMB NECK sunflower seeds, kola nut, porcinis ARTICHOKE fonds d’artichauts cussy #3970 BISON beets, blueberries, smoking cinnamon PINEAPPLE angelica leaf, Iranian pistachios SASSAFRAS CREAM encapsulated in mandarin ice STRAWBERRIES argan, lemon verbena LIQUID CHOCOLATE milk, black licorice, banana SPONGE CAKE tonka bean, vanilla fragrance It would be impossible for me to describe every dish in gory detail so I will present you with some high level thoughts that I have after dining at Alinea. The physical design of the restaurant is outstanding...one of the most enjoyable spaces I’ve dined in. As you enter on the ground floor, you proceed down a long hall that harkens to a contemporary rendition on Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of confined entry spaces to help narrow your focus as you enter a large room. As you head down the hall, you are sealed off from all noise and activity…at the end of the hall, a solitary metallic sculpture bristles, creating a perplexing noise which draws you down the hallway. As you come to the end, you discover a set of doors to your left that suddenly slide open to reveal the heart of the restaurant. The receptionist greeted us, quite impressively, by name. After meeting Nick, visiting with Grant, and taking a quick tour of the kitchen, we proceeded upstairs to the dining level. The long and narrow building is broken up into a series of small dining rooms. Most impressive is the generous space between tables. While enjoying this space I couldn’t help but be thankful that we weren’t packed in like sardines as is the case of the similarly shaped Charlie Trotter’s. Almost equally as impressive were the chairs. These things were incredibly comfortable (and that’s a definite requirement when you sit down to a 7.5+ meal.) All of this is important to note because it illustrates an attention to detail that is rather impressive. The team has definitely utilized the nine months of down time to design this restaurant not just in a physical sense but also in a more robust conceptual sense. I get the feeling that not a single piece of service ware, paint color, or floral arrangement was chosen without first considering how it fits into the larger picture. A perfect example is the ginger sculpture that soon arrives to your table. Why put a flower arrangement down when you can use food as art? It provides a pleasant smell and is pleasing to look at but more interestingly, later on it becomes part of your meal (used on the Beef course.) Looking at established concepts in a new manner is really what Alinea is all about. Any discussion about Achatz’s food must first be put into proper perspective. The style of cuisine that he’s developed relies heavily on the interrelation and progression of a series of flavors. Unlike the cuisine at more traditional restaurants where one typically evaluates each dish as a separate entity, when dining at Alinea one must continually keep in mind that each dish’s juxtaposition is quite important in order to understand it’s role and objectives. The resulting meal (in its entirety) is what Alinea’s statement is all about. The meal begins with Achatz’s take on PB&J. It’s an interesting start to the meal...I get the feeling that the purpose of this dish is to ease the diner into the meal by presenting a universally understood (at least in this country) concept. The dish’s concept is so innately easy to grasp that even the most timid diner will be able to make a connection and understand what the restaurant’s vision is (examining established concepts in a new manner.) How’d it taste? Well, as one might imagine, it tastes like a well-refined, gourmet PB&J sandwich. The real interest is in the texture of the grape (which has been peeled and left on the vine.) Warm and gooey, the grape melts in your mouth, enveloping the other flavors into a unified whole. Presenting contrasting textures to create interest is another favorite device that Achatz utilizes. The asparagus dish illustrates this quite well. You’ve got various elements providing at least six different textures: crispy fried egg whites (think, the outer edges of a regular fried egg); a soft, thin film of egg yolk; the crunchy grit of caramelized dairy; a slippery noodle shaped gelee of egg white; a creamy sauce of some sort; and the firm texture of the asparagus itself. Flavor-wise, you’re essentially tasting asparagus, egg, and a smoky accent from the bonito. But all of this is coming at you from a large assortment of textures…it’s a real trip. I’d like to discuss the broccoli stem dish. Many people might wonder why Achatz would go to the trouble of serving what has been referred to as the offal of the vegetable world. I’m really curious why people would have a difficult time embracing this concept. Regardless, in order to fully appreciate this dish you need to experience the mouth-feel of a perfectly tender broccoli stem. What I’d previously thought was a tough, fibrous part of the broccoli plant was anything but that in this dish. The real reason to explore the stem is the fact that it provides a very delicate broccoli flavor in a uniformly tender texture. Broccoli’s more well regarded portion, the floret, is simply not going to provide you with the same delicate flavor, nor the same mouth-feel. Remarkably, what Achatz has done with this dish is taken the lowliest portion of the plant and cooked it in such a way that it exudes refinement and nobility. Add a paper thin wrapping of bread for some richness and textural contrast, a mound of broccoli puree for added intensity of flavor, grapefruit in 3 different forms for some contrasting bitterness, and a few precious pearls of steelehead roe for a wonderful earthy, brininess and you have a completely satisfying dish. To me, what Achatz has done with this dish is quite representative of what all chefs should strive for. Taking what is considered often considered mundane and transforming it into something that tastes luxurious is a skill few chefs can claim. So, why bother with a broccoli stem? The answer lies in the fact that any chef can throw a slice of foie gras or truffle on a plate and have a good shot at satisfying the diner. But taking on the challenge of doing the same with a broccoli stem forces us to think more about what the limits of food are and how we can approach cooking in a way that maximizes the potential of each and every ingredient. Of the 10 courses designated as “small bites”, the Escoffier inspired Artichoke dish was the most instantly rewarding. Served in what was described as the “anti-plate” (a plate with no bottom) this small sphere showcased a deliciously warm, deep fried crispy exterior surrounding a firm yet rich artichoke heart that was filled with, if I recall correctly, foie gras and truffle. (for full disclosure, I need to let you all know that I did not take detailed notes so please accept my apologies ahead of time for any mistakes in this post…and after enjoying a meal that featured 20 different wines, there will undoubtedly be a few lapses in my memory :D ) As you might imagine, popping this in your mouth and biting down released an immediate richness that was incredibly gratifying to my palette. A lot of people have been curious about the Beef Flavors of A-1 dish. Essentially the dish attempts to deconstruct A-1 sauce to some of its core flavors and present them in various forms on the plate. Not having grown up eating A-1 sauce, I can’t be a great judge as to whether this dish successfully pulled that off. But I want to touch upon another aspect. Even the most inventive concepts are rendered worthless if basic execution is not upheld. In this case, the piece of beef on this plate was one of the most incredible specimens of red meat I’ve ever indulged in. First, cooked en sous vide, this meat had an incredibly tender texture which retained plenty of juices. The second step of grilling the meat, imparted a tremendously intense charred flavor and aroma which had no hint of bitterness or over-grilling. It was truly the best of both worlds and is a great example of a perfectly treated piece of meat. So, here’s where Achatz’s outstanding level of execution plays such a tremendous role in a dish’s success…even though I can’t relate to the A-1 concept, the quality of preparation made this one of my most favorite and memorable dishes of the evening. Besides, any dish that includes potato fried in rendered beef fat cannot help but be good. :D Continuing with this issue of execution, I find it incredible that I cannot classify any of the dishes as failures. Each and every one of them was soundly structured, well thought out, and executed to a high degree. Sure, my palette would have lead me to increase the onion flavor and reduce the sweetness of the Foie Gras dish as well as reduce the number of sunflower seeds in the Lamb Neck dish. But these are my personal preferences and are not indicative of a failed dish. What brought the success of Alinea’s menu more into focus was the fact that the following evening we dined at Moto. Moto’s Chef Cantu should be highly commended for also taking on the challenge of exploring food through a new set of glasses (albeit in a significantly different way than Achatz). However, I would classify nearly a third of the dishes I had at Moto as, at the very least, significantly flawed. (factors included improper proportions, basic salting issues, unclear concepts, and monotonous flavor profiles.) Since the validity of a chef’s culinary “statement” hinges primarily on whether the food was even prepared correctly in the first place, it is gratifying to see the lengths that Achatz has gone to refine and perfect each and every dish on his menu. It will be interesting to watch how other people interpret Alinea in the coming weeks. Speaking with Chef Achatz after the meal, he indicated that they are still working on finding the proper portion sizes for The Tour menu. I have to say that after 28 courses of food and 20 different wines, I was absolutely stuffed by the end of our 7.5 hours...more so than any other meal I can remember. Fortunately, I would much rather be served an abundance of food (which I can decline should I see fit) than end up leaving the restaurant still hungry (which has happened to us at other restaurants several times in the last year.) To their credit, Alinea will customize your meal on the fly, pairing it down should you become too satiated. Also, their wine pairing is quite flexible. If you find yourself at your limit of alcoholic consumption, you can let them know and they will end your wine service and charge you only for the wines you consumed. And I must highly stress that, due to Alinea’s eclectic and lengthy menu, choosing the wine pairing is pretty much the only way to go. I can’t imagine trying to choose a few bottles that could span the meal as well as the course by course pairing. And much credit goes to our sommelier/server, Joe Z., who not only knows his wines, but provides vast amounts of information in such an approachable manner. Speaking of service, it is almost unbelievable how on the ball the service was on the restaurant’s third day of operation. It speaks to how well Achatz is regarded by his staff that he was able to retain many of the former Trio employees who worked at that restaurant during his tenure there...it was great to see so many familiar faces. Doing so has obviously made the opening of Alinea a much smoother process than it might otherwise have been. There were a couple minor hiccups but, regardless, the overall service was extremely polished and equivalent to some of our finest dining experiences. Courses to watch (my top 10 dishes in no particular order) DUNGENESS CRAB raw parsnip, young coconut, cashews ASPARAGUS caramelized dairy, egg, bonito TURBOT shellfish, waterchestnuts, hyacinth vapor EGGPLANT cobia, crystalline florettes, radish pods FROG LEGS spring lettuces, paprika, morels BEEF flavors of A-1 FINGER LIMES olive oil, dissolving eucalyptus BROCCOLI STEM grapefruit, wild steelhead roe ARTICHOKE fonds d’artichauts cussy #3970 BACON butterscotch, apple, thyme For those of you clamoring to hear further descriptions of the food, let me tell you that, even in my wildest dreams, I would never be able to craft the words necessary to do justice to Chef Achatz’s cuisine. All I can say is that if the pictures pique your interest, if you’re an adventurous diner, or if you’d like a dining experience that is not found anywhere else that I know of then you need to visit the restaurant and savor Alinea for yourself. The cool thing is that due to the uniqueness of this cuisine, everyone will have their own slightly (or drastically) different interpretation of what the restaurant offers...I look forward to hearing from others.