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[CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 2)


BryanZ
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I have a question for Nick Kokonas.  I don't mean to disrespect or get personal.   If I correctly understand you are the financier for Alinea?  I am curious when you knew that you wanted to finance a chef and his concept.  This question may have been asked and answered in the past; excuse me if the case.  With the success of Alinea, are you looking for any other chef/restaurant business oppurtunities?  The reason why I ask is that I think Alinea in the short time of its operation, you have put together an amazing business. From the people, the product, the service, the location, the timing, and the planning.  It is truley one of the most amazing restaurant I think anywhere! Especially a restaurant of this level, and all of its demands. So have you noticed this success present in any other up & coming chef/s?

I don't want to speak for Mr. Kokonas and he may want to elaborate but there is a tremendous amount of information about Alinea and how it came to be here.

=R=

To add to more history regarding Nick's initial involvement with Alinea, check out Ruhlman's new book, The Reach of a Chef. The chapter entitled' "Edge Cuisine" is all about Chef Achatz. A nice and easy read that will give you a concise history of Grant's career in the food industry.

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I have a question for Nick Kokonas.  I don't mean to disrespect or get personal.   If I correctly understand you are the financier for Alinea?  I am curious when you knew that you wanted to finance a chef and his concept.  This question may have been asked and answered in the past; excuse me if the case.  With the success of Alinea, are you looking for any other chef/restaurant business oppurtunities?  The reason why I ask is that I think Alinea in the short time of its operation, you have put together an amazing business. From the people, the product, the service, the location, the timing, and the planning.  It is truley one of the most amazing restaurant I think anywhere! Especially a restaurant of this level, and all of its demands. So have you noticed this success present in any other up & coming chef/s?

I don't want to speak for Mr. Kokonas and he may want to elaborate but there is a tremendous amount of information about Alinea and how it came to be here.

=R=

To add to more history regarding Nick's initial involvement with Alinea, check out Ruhlman's new book, The Reach of a Chef. The chapter entitled' "Edge Cuisine" is all about Chef Achatz. A nice and easy read that will give you a concise history of Grant's career in the food industry.

Yes, there is tons of great stuff about Alinea, Grant and Nick in Reach. I just posted a 'review' here. It's a fantastic read all the way around.

=R=

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

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I have a question for Nick Kokonas.  I don't mean to disrespect or get personal.   If I correctly understand you are the financier for Alinea?  I am curious when you knew that you wanted to finance a chef and his concept.  This question may have been asked and answered in the past; excuse me if the case.  With the success of Alinea, are you looking for any other chef/restaurant business oppurtunities?  The reason why I ask is that I think Alinea in the short time of its operation, you have put together an amazing business. From the people, the product, the service, the location, the timing, and the planning.  It is truley one of the most amazing restaurant I think anywhere! Especially a restaurant of this level, and all of its demands. So have you noticed this success present in any other up & coming chef/s?

I don't want to speak for Mr. Kokonas and he may want to elaborate but there is a tremendous amount of information about Alinea and how it came to be here.

=R=

To add to more history regarding Nick's initial involvement with Alinea, check out Ruhlman's new book, The Reach of a Chef. The chapter entitled' "Edge Cuisine" is all about Chef Achatz. A nice and easy read that will give you a concise history of Grant's career in the food industry.

Yes, there is tons of great stuff about Alinea, Grant and Nick in Reach. I just posted a 'review' here. It's a fantastic read all the way around.

=R=

Ron, it was your review that made me make this posting.

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Yes the chapter on Grant is a great read.

On a side note, Discovery Channel in Canada aired a show about a trip to Alinea and the kitchen. Lots of technique info.

http://www.exn.ca/news/video/exn2006/04/18...cookscience.asx

Also the Food Channel Canada recently aired "The Art of Alinea" but like the Bourdain visit to El Bulli episode, we probably wont see it in the US.

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More important no more Foie Gras!!!!

As I understand it, the ban is strictly on the sale of foie in Chicago.

So, if the chef was agreeable, would providing ones own foie for the chef's use circumvent the ban?

I'm so awesome I don't even need a sig...Oh wait...SON OF A...

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More important no more Foie Gras!!!!

As I understand it, the ban is strictly on the sale of foie in Chicago.

So, if the chef was agreeable, would providing ones own foie for the chef's use circumvent the ban?

So, how would this be done? The diner would call ahead to "order" foie from the chef who would purchase the foie on order from a non-Chicago-city source? I'm presuming that there are liability issues for a restaurant cooking things that clients bring in (ie. meats, produce, etc....)

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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More important no more Foie Gras!!!!

As I understand it, the ban is strictly on the sale of foie in Chicago.

So, if the chef was agreeable, would providing ones own foie for the chef's use circumvent the ban?

So, how would this be done? The diner would call ahead to "order" foie from the chef who would purchase the foie on order from a non-Chicago-city source? I'm presuming that there are liability issues for a restaurant cooking things that clients bring in (ie. meats, produce, etc....)

u.e.

Why would there be any additional liability if the chef only served it back to those who brought it?

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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It is my understanding that the ordinance is currently being rewritten due to the many loopholes associated with its effectiveness.

Graham Elliot

@grahamelliot

www.grahamelliot.com

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ChefGeb, I just wanted to tell you how completely awesome it is that you are doing a menu that has foie additions for every course. Joe Moore is, unfortunately, my aldermen and it is completely ridiculous for him, and the rest of the city council, to be focuisng on this issue; especially when our ward has far greater problems. The only reason he did this is because there would be no fallout in our ward and, of course, he's utterly brainless and beholden to Daley and his ilk.

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Forum Host Note: We're veering off-course just a bit here. I think the Foie Gras discussion is an important one but let's try to save this thread for discussion which is more directly related to Alinea.

We have at least 2 other discussions going in our forums regarding foie gras:

Chicago's foie gras list., Countdown to zero.

and

Chicago is the first city to ban foie gras

Thanks :smile:

=R=

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

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I was lucky enough to score last-minute reservations at Alinea for this Saturday! They only had availability for the tasting, but beggars can't be choosers. The gentleman who took my reservation, Terry, asked if there were any dietary restrictions. I told him that there weren't, but then I looked at the tasting menu on the website -- My wife is revolted by cucumbers. Not a restriction so much as a complete phobia. She's game for absolutely anything else, but no cukes for some reason. Anyway, the reason I'm blabbing about all of this is that I called the restaurant back to explain my wife's aversion to cukes, and Terry (happily) explained that there was no problem, and they'd be glad to accomodate her. That strikes me as incredible, given the caliber of this restaurant. It's refreshing to see that arguably the top restaurant in town is willing to make a change like this. So many top-shelf places won't, or worse, just cop an attitude about it.

Looking forward to Saturday like crazy!

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I'd be surprised to hear of a restaurant with even minor ambitions refusing to accomodate such a simple request.

I don't know how other places talk about it, but we have a thing called "la bas" (usually said "ha ha! la bas!") which is a whole slew of food in the walk-ins, anything from pacojet canisters filled with earl gray ice cream base to soups and condiments and sauces, cheeses, meats - raw and cured...

Part of the game is to be ready for anything that gets thrown at you and to be able to improvise when (not if) things go wrong.

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I am going to the windy city in about a month. I just had dinner last month at French Laundry, Is it going to impress? Is it possible to get a rezo at Alinea in that time? How is it holding up? Is there anywhere else I should go? thanks

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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I wonder why Alinea didn't win the Beard Award for Best New Restaurant? With all the mega-hype and so many here saying it's already one of the best restaurants in the country despite being in its' infancy, one would think it would have been a lock. I'd like to know what people here think about this.

Because Alinea is ultimately not about the customers, but about the creator. When I made the reservation to eat there two weeks ago, I specified that the whole party wanted the long tasting menu. When we sat down, we were told that we couldn't order it because the "Tour" menu takes too long and they needed to turn the table. When we complained, we were told that "if we were unhappy, they could always help us find a reservation elsewhere". I feel like I was not a client of the restaurant, but a mere mortal being given the priviledge of worshipping at the great temple of Alinea.

I can accept that these days, chefs have become such "artists" that the restaurant has become an expression of their creativity, and to hell with people who don't understand that. But, it should still be about the customers, at least some of the time. While most of the food I ate there was very good, and some very gimmicky, I would rather go to some place where they actually give some shred of respect to the people they serve, or at least give a good pretense of it.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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I wonder why Alinea didn't win the Beard Award for Best New Restaurant? With all the mega-hype and so many here saying it's already one of the best restaurants in the country despite being in its' infancy, one would think it would have been a lock. I'd like to know what people here think about this.

Because Alinea is ultimately not about the customers, but about the creator. When I made the reservation to eat there two weeks ago, I specified that the whole party wanted the long tasting menu. When we sat down, we were told that we couldn't order it because the "Tour" menu takes too long and they needed to turn the table. When we complained, we were told that "if we were unhappy, they could always help us find a reservation elsewhere". I feel like I was not a client of the restaurant, but a mere mortal being given the priviledge of worshipping at the great temple of Alinea.

I can accept that these days, chefs have become such "artists" that the restaurant has become an expression of their creativity, and to hell with people who don't understand that. But, it should still be about the customers, at least some of the time. While most of the food I ate there was very good, and some very gimmicky, I would rather go to some place where they actually give some shred of respect to the people they serve, or at least give a good pretense of it.

Valid complaints, to be sure. Of course, I'd love to hear the other side of the story too. But in either case, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that this is why Alinea didn't win the Beard Award.

=R=

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

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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There are always mishaps in management and services...and I'm no stranger to them (having eaten at more restaurants than I care to remember). A very popular 4 star place in NYC once told me that "Yes, they can squeeze me in at the last minute, but they would need the table back an hour and a half later..." and I'm okay with that. Another dining establishment in Napa Valley once told my friends that they have mistakenly over booked, and would need us to be done by a certain time, while apologizing profusely, and that was okay too. I even once volunteered to move to the bar so the table could be given to a couple that was waiting a long time.

What I found most troubling about this most recent experience was the "If you don't like it, you can leave" attitude.

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Because Alinea is ultimately not about the customers, but about the creator.  When I made the reservation to eat there two weeks ago, I specified that the whole party wanted the long tasting menu.  When we sat down, we were told that we couldn't order it because the "Tour" menu takes too long and they needed to turn the table.  When we complained, we were told that "if we were unhappy, they could always help us find a reservation elsewhere".  I feel like I was not a client of the restaurant, but a mere mortal being given the priviledge of worshipping at the great temple of Alinea. 

needless to say, that's appalling, so much so it's hard to believe. not that i don't believe you, it's just astonishing. I look forward to a response, as I'm sure Nick is eager to answer.

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When booking a reservation at Alinea, we always ask whether the guest is familiar with the menu formats, and whether they are interested in the Tour. If they are, we make a note of it on the reservation with a tag "requests Tour if available".

On the night in question, Alinea served 87 people. With 66 seats that night (due to table configurations), the "turn" of 21 people means that at about 9:30 or 10:00, plenty of tables would be available. What becomes a problem is staging long degustation menus when reservation times become pushed together. Diners often make reservations at 5:00 PM to get a spot, but then show up at 5:37 (as happened this time). Others who have a 9:00 PM on a Sunday, decide to try their luck at 8:00 (we account for this as well, ahead of time). While the seats are available, properly pacing the meals for the entire restaurant then becomes impossible and standards are lost.

When this occurs, we let people know that the Tour is not available. Many times we also then include, for free, several items off of the Tour menu (in this case, the 12 course menu became 15). We try to do all of this without going into all this detail. We make every effort to accomodate -- but when we simply cannot do so and do so well, then we limit the number of Tours that are available.

Of course, we try to do this all politely and I realize that it can come off as overly stern or unaccomodating. For that I apologize. If diners insist that they simply must have the Tour and we cannot accomodate that request without ruining the experience of others, then we are at an impasse that becomes uncomfortable for everyone. It does not happen often.

It should be noted that the average "Tour Time" for that evening was just over 3.5 hours.

It is precisely for this reason that ultimately, Alinea will likely have only one menu of 16-20 courses. During our anniversary week we had one menu, one seating, and the feedback from clients was excellent.

In the meantime, we have been serving as many as 30+ Tour menus per evening. Problems such as this are, thankfully, rare. We never want our guests to feel in any way rushed and we book the room appropriately. If you were made to feel unwelcome in any way, that is a terrible error which I very much regret.

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Diners often make reservations at 5:00 PM to get a spot, but then show up at 5:37 (as happened this time). 

I think what is happening here may be a cultural issue. In New York City, if I am late to a reservation, I call the restaurant, tell them we are going to be late and all is well.

On the night in question, we were stuck in traffic for most of our trip there. None of us have ever been to Chicago, so none of us were able to guage the state of traffic at 4:30 on a sunday afternoon. When I did call the restaurant to inform them that we are stuck in traffic, we were put on hold for so long that I ended up hanging up as the taxi turned into North Halstead.

Interestingly enough, we were told at the restaurant that had we arrived on time at 5pm, we still would not be able to get the "Tour" menu. In addition, it raises the question how did the restaurant decide which 21 people to turn?

While we were very grateful for the extra items, we don't expect the special treatment, but simply the ability to order what is on the menu.

It is an unfortunate turn of event. And, ultimately, this is not serious because it is just dinner after all. Thanks for the explanation and we will do our best to avoid mishaps as such next time.

edited by BG

Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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it raises the question how did the restaurant decide which 21 people to turn?

The whole idea is that ordinarily, we do not decide at all. By turning only 1/3 of the seats, it rarely becomes a problem -- and so diners themselves decide how long to stay.

However, at times it becomes evident that a 3.5 to 4 hour tour is not possible. The overriding concern for your dinner, on the other hand, was the large number of tours that would have begun at the same moment, probably due to the very traffic problems you mention.

Again, it was an unfortunate circumstance and one we try very hard to avoid. I hope, however, that you enjoyed your meal overall.

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. . . . .

It is precisely for this reason that ultimately, Alinea will likely have only one menu of 16-20 courses.  During our anniversary week we had one menu, one seating, and the feedback from clients was excellent. 

In the meantime, we have been serving as many as 30+ Tour menus per evening.  Problems such as this are, thankfully, rare.  We never want our guests to feel in any way rushed and we book the room appropriately.  If you were made to feel unwelcome in any way, that is a terrible error which I very much regret.

That's probably the way to go because problems like the faced by BG, no matter how rare, are simply unacceptable in a restaurant with Alinea's aims. Hell, if I go to Chicago in the near future, one of the main reasons for doing it would be to dine in places like Alinea. I would be more than angry if after taking an intercontinental flight I find myself in a situation similar to what's been described. It's not simply a dinner.

PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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When booking a reservation at Alinea, we always ask whether the guest is familiar with the menu formats, and whether they are interested in the Tour.  If they are, we make a note of it on the reservation with a tag "requests Tour if available".

On the night in question, Alinea served 87 people.  With 66 seats that night (due to table configurations), the "turn" of 21 people means that at about 9:30 or 10:00, plenty of tables would be available.  What becomes a problem is staging long degustation menus when reservation times become pushed together.  Diners often make reservations at 5:00 PM to get a spot, but then show up at 5:37 (as happened this time).  Others who have a 9:00 PM on a Sunday, decide to try their luck at 8:00 (we account for this as well, ahead of time).  While the seats are available, properly pacing the meals for the entire restaurant then becomes impossible and standards are lost.

When this occurs, we let people know that the Tour is not available.  Many times we also then include, for free, several items off of the Tour menu (in this case, the 12 course menu became 15).  We try to do all of this without going into all this detail.  We make every effort to accomodate -- but when we simply cannot do so and do so well, then we limit the number of Tours that are available.

Of course, we try to do this all politely and I realize that it can come off as overly stern or unaccomodating.  For that I apologize.  If diners insist that they simply must have the Tour and we cannot accomodate that request without ruining the experience of others, then we are at an impasse that becomes uncomfortable for everyone.  It does not happen often. 

It should be noted that the average "Tour Time" for that evening was just over 3.5 hours. 

It is precisely for this reason that ultimately, Alinea will likely have only one menu of 16-20 courses.  During our anniversary week we had one menu, one seating, and the feedback from clients was excellent. 

In the meantime, we have been serving as many as 30+ Tour menus per evening.  Problems such as this are, thankfully, rare.  We never want our guests to feel in any way rushed and we book the room appropriately.  If you were made to feel unwelcome in any way, that is a terrible error which I very much regret.

I do think one menu would be a good idea- one with fewer courses imho would be like a 'greatest hits' menu.

Out of curiousity, has the thought ever been floated of offering two different menus with different items?

Edited by Elrushbo (log)
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