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


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Awesome pics Jason.  Can't wait to hear the podcast.  Also glad to hear that your preconceived notions were pretty much shattered.  That, in my opinion, is what makes Alinea such a wonderful and fun restaurant.

I think it would beneficial for both the readership and the staff of Alinea to hear Jason articulate exactly what his preconceived notions where, and why they existed. What media outlets contributed to them?

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Awesome pics Jason.  Can't wait to hear the podcast.  Also glad to hear that your preconceived notions were pretty much shattered.  That, in my opinion, is what makes Alinea such a wonderful and fun restaurant.

I think it would beneficial for both the readership and the staff of Alinea to hear Jason articulate exactly what his preconceived notions where, and why they existed. What media outlets contributed to them?

Grant, I think primarily it was the fact that I felt that there was a level of weirdness about the special serving peices which I could not fathom being an important element of the dishes, and that if you just look at pictures of the food without actually eating them, it all just looks like strangely presented stuff rather than "food". Mind you I also had the same thoughts about Ferran Adria's cuisine, but after having your tasting, I may very well be able to accept it and even want to go dine there now -- although your cuisine is even more perciveably food-like than his. I think you said the most extreme dish you made was the "virtual" shrimp cocktail served in an atomizer, which is the sort of thing (in level of weirdness) he does all the time.

I think what is important to understand (and as I said to you afterwards) is that if you just took your food and put them on regular round plates like many fine dining establishments do, you would loose the "interactive" element of the cuisine. For example, the langoustine tempura dish needs that upright wire spider in order for the vanilla bean it's stuck on to be grabbed by the diner (so he can drop it, "V" lizard-man like, like a live mouse into his mouth) and it really shows off the dish. Another example would be the one suspended on a long wire where you have to bend over and grab the morsel in your mouth -- if you had to use a fork that dish certainly wouldn't be as fun. So many of your dishes are "interactive" in nature -- you just sort of have to throw out all your pre-conceived baggage about what constitutes the dining experience and embrace the fun and the flavors themselves, none of which are "weird". They're pure and evoke basic food and flavor memories. I still feel the plating presentations themselves are very unorthodox, but it makes you appreciate the dishes more.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Here are the larger ImageGullet photos, finally. I just woke up about an hour ago after a very, very long trip home due to plane delays and long holding patterns and inclement weather. Ugh.

Ronnie and Jason Go To Alinea (ImageGullet)

Start on Page 7 and work your way back to 1 for the actual meal and wine progression. It's going to take me a while to get that podcast ready, since its in like 30 different parts, so be patient.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Awesome pics Jason.  Can't wait to hear the podcast.  Also glad to hear that your preconceived notions were pretty much shattered.  That, in my opinion, is what makes Alinea such a wonderful and fun restaurant.

I think it would beneficial for both the readership and the staff of Alinea to hear Jason articulate exactly what his preconceived notions where, and why they existed. What media outlets contributed to them?

Grant, I think primarily it was the fact that I felt that there was a level of weirdness about the special serving peices which I could not fathom being an important element of the dishes, and that if you just look at pictures of the food without actually eating them, it all just looks like strangely presented stuff rather than "food". Mind you I also had the same thoughts about Ferran Adria's cuisine, but after having your tasting, I may very well be able to accept it and even want to go dine there now -- although your cuisine is even more perciveably food-like than his. I think you said the most extreme dish you made was the "virtual" shrimp cocktail served in an atomizer, which is the sort of thing (in level of weirdness) he does all the time.

I think what is important to understand (and as I said to you afterwards) is that if you just took your food and put them on regular round plates like many fine dining establishments do, you would loose the "interactive" element of the cuisine. For example, the langoustine tempura dish needs that upright wire spider in order for the vanilla bean it's stuck on to be grabbed by the diner (so he can drop it, "V" lizard-man like, like a live mouse into his mouth) and it really shows off the dish. Another example would be the one suspended on a long wire where you have to bend over and grab the morsel in your mouth -- if you had to use a fork that dish certainly wouldn't be as fun. So many of your dishes are "interactive" in nature -- you just sort of have to throw out all your pre-conceived baggage about what constitutes the dining experience and embrace the fun and the flavors themselves, none of which are "weird". They're pure and evoke basic food and flavor memories. I still feel the plating presentations themselves are very unorthodox, but it makes you appreciate the dishes more.

I am glad you recognized the purpose of the pieces and I can see where someone who has not experienced Alinea may perceive the compositions as new or never seen before…which can sometimes lead to them thinking they won’t find the food tasty….which is too bad. Martin and I spend a great deal of time in all stages of development making sure the pieces are not only aesthetically appealing but also more importantly functional. All of the aspects that you noted are very intentional and important to us. The interaction between food and guest is a critical part of the uniqueness of the Alinea dining experience. And furthermore Martin has no interest in making solely beautiful service pieces. It must have a purpose before we even begin the process.

A large part of the service pieces success rests on the front of house staff. They are the human component that either softens, explains, or elaborates on their purpose and how they work…depending on what that particular guest needs.

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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Awesome pics Jason.  Can't wait to hear the podcast.  Also glad to hear that your preconceived notions were pretty much shattered.  That, in my opinion, is what makes Alinea such a wonderful and fun restaurant.

I think it would beneficial for both the readership and the staff of Alinea to hear Jason articulate exactly what his preconceived notions where, and why they existed. What media outlets contributed to them?

Grant, I think primarily it was the fact that I felt that there was a level of weirdness about the special serving peices which I could not fathom being an important element of the dishes, and that if you just look at pictures of the food without actually eating them, it all just looks like strangely presented stuff rather than "food". Mind you I also had the same thoughts about Ferran Adria's cuisine, but after having your tasting, I may very well be able to accept it and even want to go dine there now -- although your cuisine is even more perciveably food-like than his. I think you said the most extreme dish you made was the "virtual" shrimp cocktail served in an atomizer, which is the sort of thing (in level of weirdness) he does all the time.

I think what is important to understand (and as I said to you afterwards) is that if you just took your food and put them on regular round plates like many fine dining establishments do, you would loose the "interactive" element of the cuisine. For example, the langoustine tempura dish needs that upright wire spider in order for the vanilla bean it's stuck on to be grabbed by the diner (so he can drop it, "V" lizard-man like, like a live mouse into his mouth) and it really shows off the dish. Another example would be the one suspended on a long wire where you have to bend over and grab the morsel in your mouth -- if you had to use a fork that dish certainly wouldn't be as fun. So many of your dishes are "interactive" in nature -- you just sort of have to throw out all your pre-conceived baggage about what constitutes the dining experience and embrace the fun and the flavors themselves, none of which are "weird". They're pure and evoke basic food and flavor memories. I still feel the plating presentations themselves are very unorthodox, but it makes you appreciate the dishes more.

Jason, I think you nailed what makes this restaurant great. While ChefG's flavors and dishes are not "weird" or "uncomfortable" they are original with deliciously unique combinations. There is nothing done here solely for shock value even if the combination of food and serving pieces are original and quite unlike other restaurants. Perhaps that is what Richman meant when he called Chef G's food "safe"?

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.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It took me a few days, but its all here:

Podcast #25: Alinea Tour Wrapup and Commentary (Off The Broiler)

The Podcast itself is a wrap-up discussion with Grant Achatz after the meal. I've also included links to "Bonus Tracks" which is the actual blow-by blow commentary on the meal itself as it happened. There's a lot of background noise in many parts, but if you're hardcore enough to listen to four 30-minute blocks of audio, its all there and its completely audible. I've pulled out lots of silence and unnecessary stuff in them (banter with other diners, etc) but for the most part its unedited commentary.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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  • 3 weeks later...

I ate at Alinea last wednesday and the entire experience was even more than I had expected (which is hard since I've been following the Alinea thread since it's days as a "the making of" thread)

I won't get into play by play details (and the pictures I took are on my friend's camera) but I will say the service was exceptional, and the whole atmosphere as a whole not only was comfortable, but also worked extremely well with the food.

Even the entrance to the restaurant which I won't completely describe to you (because I think it'd ruin the experience for people who haven't been there) really put you in the mood and mindset of what you would be getting at Alinea. We had the tour and was later told that the menu was only a few days old.

I will, however, tell you my favorite dishes:

YUBA, prawn, miso, orange - I can't completely describe to you the flavor of the yuba which had been twirled and fried, but it was very savory, and was by far the biggest flavor of the dish. The prawn that was wrapped around the yuba acted as sort of a sweet, briny component to the dish, and the sauce underneathe which I'm guessing is the miso really bound the whole dish together.

KOBE BEEF, watermelon, cocoa, wine - it's hard not to like kobe beef anyway, but this dish really stood out because of the redwine soaked watermelon cubes that were covered on either side with cocoa powder. The entire dish seemed to come together over that component with the savory kobe, then a bite of the watermelon which also had a slightly bitter cocoa/wine taste. For me it was almost as if I were taking a bite of meat then taking a sip of wine.

SQUAB, strawberry, sorrel, long peppercorn - This may have been one of my favorite dishes of the night, not because I love the sorrel/strawberry combination (which helped), but the squab rillette that was served with this was by far one of the tastiest things that I have ever tasted.

PORCINI, cherry, ham, toasted garlic - I'm not sure if this is the dish we had exactly (I for some reason remember matsutake... might be from looking over previous menus) but it looks just about right. There was almost a... rectangular mousse of the porcini, but it was great seeing and tasting all the different flavors that went with porcini. The crisp piece of thinly sliced ham, the garlic (which I don't remember), but most of all the mascerated bing cherries. You would think the super sweet and super umami/savory flavors wouldn't mesh... but it really did in an odd sort of way.

LANGOSTINE, Vacherin, litchi, ginger - This was a langostine and vacherin cheese that had been tempura-ed and fried served what I think on my menu was a plantain puree instead of litchi and ginger then sauced with a sauce made of the shells of the langostine. The langostine and cheese were a very suttle, yet sweet sea/sweet flavored bit that was crunchy, and I thought the main flavor was the sauce, which had been frothed and carried a lot of the flavor which sort've reminded me of shrimp bisque. The puree seemed to put together the two strong and suttle flavors. Great, great dish. I had to get a piece of bread to sop the sauce.

HOT POTATO, cold potato, black truffle, parmesan - Not only is this a great interactive dish, but these are tried and true flavors with a new twist on it in the form of temperature control. Others have written on this dish, so I'll just say that I echo any good thing that has ever been said about this dish. Just great.

CREAM CHEESE, guava, black sesame, tamarind - I will say all of the desserts were great, but this was my favorite. It was like a cream cheese panna cotta with molten guava in the middle. I normally don't like sesame, but somehow this really came together. It's hard to explain the dish, so I'll just say it was really, really good.

I will say though there were a couple dishes that I didn't like so much including the hamachi which had crushed peanuts which had been melted over the top. It wasn't its accompaniments of the cassis, buttermilk, and young peanuts, but my friend and I personally though the hamachi was just lost to the peanuts that had been put on top of the fish. You tasted mostly what tasted like peanut butter and hardly any of the fish. The lamb I wasn't crazy over not because it didn't taste great, but because I don't think the dish made the impact I think it was supposed to make. We saw the lamb being served to other tables, as it came in three cubes with three different accompaniments on a hot rock which cooked the lamb at your table. The captain then placed the piece of rosemary which was previously your table centerpiece into the rock and I'm guessing it was supposed to stimulate your olfactory senses in to thinking there was rosemary in your lamb as you were eating too. The lamb was pretty good, but the rosemary flavor never got there because it never smoked or smelled like rosemary. I think maybe they should light it at the table or something because the captain explained to us the accompaniments on the lamb were there to compliment rosemary... and the flavor never got there. Not that it was a bad dish, but I don't think it worked the way ChefG wanted it to.

I ate at Trio while Chef Achatz was there and to me, it seems as if the food at Alinea as grown exponentially. There were a couple of dishes at Trio which I thought weren't great, and though here there was a few that I didn't like as much as the rest of them, I never thought that any one of them was there that I didn't like at least a little. Whereas many chefs that strive to be "molecular" or "avant-garde" or whatever title anyone wants to put on it do a lot of things to try to be different like putting together flavors that don't go together or playing with new toys and sous-vide everything, it can be seen here at Alinea that flavor is at the forefront all the time. Everything else is built around it. The flavors and textures here work, even though some may not work as well as others. It's true when other people say that this place is an experience. It is. And with a price tag that I'd happily pay. With the service, the atmosphere, the food, and the fun that came with this meal, it's not hard to see why people love this place. I'm glad I came and I'm looking forward to coming back.

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Thanks for your review.

I am undertaking the Tour on Friday and have been looking forward to it for months.

One question (for anyone who's been) re: the dress code:

I will of course be wearing a jacket...but considering the weather forecast for this weekend (hot, hot) and the bar-hopping I'll be doing after -- would my standard NY weekend uniform (which I would wear to any 4 star in NY besides Per Se) of jacket, t-shirt or v-neck and nice jeans be acceptable...or do I really need a button-down and slacks as well...?

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Thanks for your review.

I am undertaking the Tour on Friday and have been looking forward to it for months.

One question (for anyone who's been) re: the dress code:

I will of course be wearing a jacket...but considering the weather forecast for this weekend (hot, hot) and the bar-hopping I'll be doing after -- would my standard NY weekend uniform (which I would wear to any 4 star in NY besides Per Se) of jacket, t-shirt or v-neck and nice jeans be acceptable...or do I really need a button-down and slacks as well...?

I didn't see anyone dressed in anything less than slacks/button-down with a jacket. I figured that we would have to considering they made it a point to request us to wear jackets... so probably no jeans/tshirt. However, you could probably ask them when they call you to confirm. Or call them directly. It's a nice dining room, I would probably just go with the formal stuff.

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Thanks for your review.

I am undertaking the Tour on Friday and have been looking forward to it for months.

One question (for anyone who's been) re: the dress code:

I will of course be wearing a jacket...but considering the weather forecast for this weekend (hot, hot) and the bar-hopping I'll be doing after -- would my standard NY weekend uniform (which I would wear to any 4 star in NY besides Per Se) of jacket, t-shirt or v-neck and nice jeans be acceptable...or do I really need a button-down and slacks as well...?

I didn't see anyone dressed in anything less than slacks/button-down with a jacket. I figured that we would have to considering they made it a point to request us to wear jackets... so probably no jeans/tshirt. However, you could probably ask them when they call you to confirm. Or call them directly. It's a nice dining room, I would probably just go with the formal stuff.

ok. in NY a restaurant like this would often attract a large crowd in my age range (31) and the jacket, t-shirt and jeans thing would be pretty standard. I don't want to stand out in the room though so I'll go with the button down and slacks.

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Okay. I went to Alinea on Saturday night with my friends, feeling a little like a foodie. I'm not sold on this type of food, I wondered from the many reviews of it was going to be like visiting a museum or art show.

What a terrific evening. Since the food has been talked about so much, and I'm still recovering from the weekend ( :hmmm: ), here are a few thoughts.

-It was such a lot of fun! The atmosphere was not heavy or formal. Very happy and soothing place to be.

-Best. Waiters. EVER. Cute as speckled pups, they are! And funny, and smart, and attentive; professional with great senses of humor. We were a little, well, rowdy during our 5 1/2 hour dinner*, and did achieve our goal of making a few of them blush. (One day, I'll tell you the napkin trick one did for us ... and the "drumstick" course. :laugh::laugh: )

-Cap'n Brad (our captain, Bradley) was terrific as well, and the adorable young lady who greets guests as they step through the sliding doors. And that sommelier ...

-The food was gorgeous. When the bacon and apple was presented, suspended on on its tiny steel contraption, I immediately said, "Garters!" I wish I'd have taken a photo. They do look like tiny garter belts on a clothesline.

-The food was really good. Really. I can't pick a favorite course; hot potato/cold potato might be a top five. Peanut butter and jelly fish (our name for it!) is up there, too. It was course after course of "who'd have ever thought this would taste so right together, and look so glorious?"

-And the wine pairings ... sigh. One red was so deep and peppery that it seemed designed to go with the strawberries.

In all, I think this was the most fun I've had at a restaurant in recent memory.

(*) The time flew by, and we were so sad when the night was over.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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I had the pleasure of eating at Alinea on Friday night.

I can say without reservation that Alinea (and by extension Achatz and Stupak) deserves a place in the upper reaches of the American culinary pantheon. I came to Alinea ready to compare it to WD-50, albeit as a more upscale and refined version. That comparison/description is not entirely inappropos on one level; however, a valid (perhaps more so) comparison could be made to Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Daniel and the general NY modernized-French 4-star model.

Although Alinea certainly makes its bows (and assured ones at that) to "molecular" cuisine, and its debt to Thomas Keller is obvious (the conception of a long procession (24+) of courses, each no more than a few bites, designed to constantly intrigue and invigorate the palate), I found myself comparing Achatz' aesthetic (albeit not his method) to Jean Georges again and again. The same sense of flavors, light saucing, calculated use of aromas, if anything, it is the fullfillment of what nouvelle cuisine intended to be (and wasn't).

In decor, Alinea is demure and satisfying. The rooms (there are three small dining rooms) a cross between Jean Georges (that name again) and The Modern. In other words, Alinea has a mainstream modernist sensibility combined with the tonal warmth of the main room at Jean Georges. The vaunted gimmicks (mood lighting, individual music) were (thankfully) absent.

Although Alinea has the feel of a "four-star", the jackets required, the necessary server to customer ratio, the tone of formality is broken simply by the sheer youth of the staff (in direct contrast to NY four-stars). However, the staff were appropriate, affable, extremely competent; indeed, perfect.

The wine list, although relatively small, seems of interest. However, the menu as such seems to require individual pairings. I did have a discussion over what type of bottle could be paired with the entire menu if that was insisted on...I suggested a sparkling wine, while the sommelier articulated a pino grigio or gris as a more appropriate foil. I went with the recommended pairings and these proved to be immensely suitable.

In the interest of space, I won't describe every course, but ones of interest included:

The amuse made from corn (and a number of other flavors) would have been quite interesting if it had been served a couple years ago. The use of olive oil as a (almost dominant) flavor component was good and technically proficient...its also prevalent on quite a few NY menus (as is the use of corn's sweeter side).

However, this was followed by an immediate hit: a yuba stick encircled by a prawn which also served as a utensil. One then dips the yuba stick into a sauce (with miso as its most dominant flavor component). This was one of my favorite dishes of the night for its understatedness and conceptual factor. It was successful on both the texture and flavor levels. This dish was also similar to something that Wylie Dufresne might concoct thus leading me at this point in the night to see Alinea as a 4-star version of WD-50.

The cooked green tomato that had been "unbound" and laid out like bruschetta -- covered with various toppings -- was both whimsical and interesting.

The mackerel served on a spoon in bowl was delicious in its own right One then followed by drinking the poppyseed broth resting in the bowl, this served as a palate cleanser and was quite nifty.

The hamachi (poached in buttermilk?) covered with crushed peanuts was almost a perfect dish. Hamachi is somewhat boring and tasteless in my view, but this quality also makes it a perfect canvas for the peanut coating used at Alinea. The problem with this dish? The Hamachi was slightly overcooked (although I recognize that many/most might view it as perfect cooking).

The wagyu beef course was fantastical and sublime, simultaneously. As much for the artist as the gourmand, it was composed of cubes of wagyu beef, cooked perfectly adjacent to identically proportioned cubes of charred watermelon. The watermelon had been turned into such a perfect simulacrum of the beef that I was completely surprised with my first bite of watermelon, mistaking it for the beef. In this dish, play met taste in a perfect union. The one jarring note? My first bite of beef was grossly oversalted, making me apprehensive over the rest of the dish. However, every other bite was perfectly seasoned, so that was apparently simply a stray fleck of salt.

The squab course, served three ways, including as a rillette, was fantastic. The piece of squab skin could be best described as KFC original recipe chicken on steroids (this is a positive comparison!). The menthol palate cleanser served after the squab also bares mentioning.

The porcini course was one of my favorites of the night. It revealed the utter bare essence of the mushroom, ever so slightly and appropriately accented with fruit...this was a Jean Georges style touch, although he doesn't pull this off course after course the way Achatz does.

In contrast, the very next course, the "puffed lobster" was a complete disappointment. This dish was similar in appearance (and unhappily, in taste), to the "prawn crisps" seen at Chinese buffets in Vancouver and San Francisco. I don't know what they were trying to do with this course, but it didn't work.

Of course, this misfire was immediately followed by a fabulous success, the langoustine with vacherin, litchi and ginger. Here, a Jean Georges or Keller style dish was combined with a Wylie-esque sauce made from langoustine shells. This dish worked so marvelously that I can't imagine any chef who wouldn't be envious of what Achatz achieved here.

The black truffle "explosion" (a classic dish from Trio) was exactly what it sounded like. It also need not be described further. It lived up to its name. I also know what dish I will ask for as my last should I ever be condemned to the gallows for shooting an incompetent chef. I know of no greater plaudit for a dish.

The lamb with summer vegetable jam was one of the most simple dishes of the night. It was also one of its most ineffable. Served on a hot stone into which a rosemary twig was plugged at the table, this was perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, perfectly proportioned (although I would love to see this as the main entree at a traditionally formatted meal) and, well, perfect. The rosemary twig, placed in a hole in the hot stone, provided an instant release of aroma which mingled with that of the lamb, creating an almost heady feeling (and adding to that provided by the southern Rhone served with it).

The hot potato, cold potato has been described many times, so I'll only say that I second those opinions.

I'm not much of a dessert person, so I'll only say that the dessert courses were (thankfully) not sweet, well-chosen and well-constructed. Though creative, they're of a nature oft-seen in the NY culinary scene, but perfectly appropriate to the meal. However, I did dislike the peanut butter with jelly and other condiments served as the very last course. It tasted, well, like peanut butter and jelly. Which is fine as far as it goes...but pointless.

The plating and use of specially-designed dishes for each course (never repeating) was beautiful. I also have some reservations concerning it. Although I'm of the Gautier school when it comes to art, I see Achatz as somewhat analogous to Calatrava. Although he always seeks to soar (and thus oft produces miraculous and beautiful work), sometimes the result looks, well, like Disney. Crowd-pleasing but ultimately more gimmick then substance. The bacon on the wire was the latter for me, while the hot stone with the rosemary was the former.

However, when it comes to the food itself, Achatz has no master that I've tasted. He combines the cerebral nature of Dufresne's cuisine with the refinement and balance of Jean Georges. And makes it work. This is no mean accomplishment.

Overall, without question, this was the best meal I've ever had. I can only hope to have one like it again.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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I very much enjoyed reading both of these last descriptive posts about one of my very favorite restaurants in the world. I think Nathan and FFB captures the genius of Achatz and his crew in that it combines great-tasting cutting edge cerebral food in an elegant but relaxed and comfortable setting. I believe that it is significant that like myself, both of these posts have come from largely NYC-centric points of view.

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.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I very much enjoyed reading both of these last descriptive posts about one of my very favorite restaurants in the world. I think Nathan and FFB captures the genius of Achatz and his crew in that it combines great-tasting cutting edge cerebral food in an elegant  but relaxed and comfortable setting. I believe that it is significant that like myself, both of these posts have come from largely NYC-centric points of view.

What I loved best about this meal was how much fun it was. What I loved second best was to experience firsthand that food prepared this way did, in fact, taste "like food!" The three of us decided that we didn't like one course very much, and it was completely because none of us really like curry. Everything else was one "favorite" after another.

It was such a different experience than some of the other great meals I've had: nothing compares to stepping out of the French Laundry into a starry Napa night. The service at Per Se was as flawless as the food. But at Alinea, the staff made the food fun -- even though we had to threaten to spank one of them :wink: .

Maybe someone can tell me if my fuzzy recollection is true: that most, if not all, of the waitstaff are waiting for an open slot in the kitchen, so they can be cooks?

How cool is that?

Edited by FabulousFoodBabe (log)
"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Maybe someone can tell me if my fuzzy recollection is true: that most, if not all, of the waitstaff are waiting for an open slot in the kitchen, so they can be cooks?

How cool is that?

I'm not sure that it is Alinea that you are thinking of. I believe all the waitstaff at Moto are trained chefs. Personally, I love the service at Alinea. It strikes the right balance of professionalism, knowledge, enthusiasm and fun for me. Still cool, though :cool:

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.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I very much enjoyed reading both of these last descriptive posts about one of my very favorite restaurants in the world. I think Nathan and FFB captures the genius of Achatz and his crew in that it combines great-tasting cutting edge cerebral food in an elegant  but relaxed and comfortable setting. I believe that it is significant that like myself, both of these posts have come from largely NYC-centric points of view.

What I loved best about this meal was how much fun it was. What I loved second best was to experience firsthand that food prepared this way did, in fact, taste "like food!" The three of us decided that we didn't like one course very much, and it was completely because none of us really like curry. Everything else was one "favorite" after another.

It was such a different experience than some of the other great meals I've had: nothing compares to stepping out of the French Laundry into a starry Napa night. The service at Per Se was as flawless as the food. But at Alinea, the staff made the food fun -- even though we had to threaten to spank one of them :wink: .

Maybe someone can tell me if my fuzzy recollection is true: that most, if not all, of the waitstaff are waiting for an open slot in the kitchen, so they can be cooks?

How cool is that?

Many of the food runners at Alinea are in fact waiting their turn to cook, but the servers on the floor (back waiters, front waiters, captains, sommeliers) are happily entrenched in the front of the house. Having chefs on the floor is advantageous for the restaurant because of the extensive culinary knowledge they bring to service, and it also helps these chefs develop an understanding of how the restaurant functions as a whole before they move into the kitchen.

Joe Ziomek

Assistant Sommelier, Alinea

Edited by Jojomek (log)
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Many of the food runners at Alinea are in fact waiting their turn to cook, but the servers on the floor (back waiters, front waiters, captains, sommeliers) are happily entrenched in the front of the house. Having chefs on the floor is advantageous for the restaurant because of the extensive culinary knowledge they bring to service, and it also helps these chefs develop an understanding of how the restaurant functions as a whole before they move into the kitchen.

Joe Ziomek

Assistant Sommelier, Alinea

Thanks for the clarification, Joe. Is this a requirement for all the cooks at Alinea?

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Because my man loves me, we went to Alinea for our first time for my 35th birthday. :biggrin:

The decor was amazing and we had a fun time cheerfully verbally sparring with our server. We had the tasting menu.

Having lived in the Bay Area for several years, we were looking forward to the wine pairing. While there were some that were good, as a whole I would say that the pairings were uneven. This was somewhat disappointing for us. The table was too high for me, as I'm 5'4, and the server said I should sit on a pillow and that that's why they were there. While part of me thought that was cute, another part wondered why the tables were so high or the chairs so low.

All in all, it was a very nice night and I would go again, but there will probably be more time in between visits there than there has been between my visits to TRU.

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Many of the food runners at Alinea are in fact waiting their turn to cook, but the servers on the floor (back waiters, front waiters, captains, sommeliers) are happily entrenched in the front of the house. Having chefs on the floor is advantageous for the restaurant because of the extensive culinary knowledge they bring to service, and it also helps these chefs develop an understanding of how the restaurant functions as a whole before they move into the kitchen.

Joe Ziomek

Assistant Sommelier, Alinea

Thanks for the clarification, Joe. Is this a requirement for all the cooks at Alinea?

Yes it is.

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Many of the food runners at Alinea are in fact waiting their turn to cook, but the servers on the floor (back waiters, front waiters, captains, sommeliers) are happily entrenched in the front of the house. Having chefs on the floor is advantageous for the restaurant because of the extensive culinary knowledge they bring to service, and it also helps these chefs develop an understanding of how the restaurant functions as a whole before they move into the kitchen.

Joe Ziomek

Assistant Sommelier, Alinea

Thanks for the clarification, Joe. Is this a requirement for all the cooks at Alinea?

Yes it is.

I guess I was partially correct. :blink: One learns something new everyday. :cool:

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.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The table was too high for me, as I'm 5'4, and the server said I should sit on a pillow and that that's why they were there.  While part of me thought that was cute, another part wondered why the tables were so high or the chairs so low.

I on the other hand, at 6'5 and bigger than most normal sized humans was grateful for a table and seating that I felt fully comfortable in - not a regular occurrence.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Based on my visit a few weeks ago, everything you've read is true - the good and the bad.

The good is very good. A beautiful spare set of rooms with more personal space than any restaurant I've been to. Gracious, if a bit self-conscious, service. And food that works more often than it doesn't and occasionally soars beyond what you expect.

This was more serious, less scientific cooking than I expected. If Minibar here in DC is the free-wheeling, whimsical side of this family of cooking, Alinea is the serious, career minded younger sibling. The dishes that worked the best were the ones that didn't try too hard to dazzle.

A perfectly cooked piece of hamachi stood out despite being crusted in peanuts and the plate being dotted with a berry sauce and sauteed young peanuts - that's right – another take on peanut butter and jelly, this time with the fish taking the place of the bread. Someone in the kitchen showed some serious knife skills evidenced in a dish with the smallest imaginable brunoises of summer vegetables that heightened their delicacy against a similarly small but robustly flavored piece of lamb, seared on the table. A dish of luscious, barely cooked Kobe beef cubes was served with cubes of perfectly ripe watermelon dusted on two sides with cocoa powder to provide a visual complement and textural counterpart to the beef. A cold potato soup served with a hot potato ball, a sliver of truffle and a petite cube of butter challenged in terms of texture and temperature, but the flavors are classic. When the true skills in the kitchen and the excellence of the ingredients were allowed to shine it all came together.

So what was bad? The highly touted utensils and dishes especially designed for the restaurant and specific dishes for the most part don't add anything to and often detracted from the dishes, making them awkward and hard to eat. The service (very gracious, mind you – especially in taking me back to the kitchen to meet Chef Achatz who was also very gracious taking a few moments to talk with me) as I mentioned, was a bit self conscious, as it has to be when it is necessary to provide a set of instructions with more than half the courses. Some of the attempts at playing with textures were really unpleasant - I particularly remember dry (celery?) leaves in one concoction that made the dish almost hard to swallow. The sweeter courses - there really isn't a distinction between savory and sweet, more like a continuum that is reflected by the bubbles on the menu - were among the weakest dishes served.

So I left with mixed emotions - thoroughly glad I went, having eaten some fantastic food and enjoying my time there. But I have the sense that Chef Achatz and Alinea are capable of even more.

The dishes that worked for me were the ones that were the most grounded in reality. Not boring, mind you - each of the truly great dishes had an interesting flavor combination, or a play on texture or temperature, or a unique preparation technique. But only when the flavors spoke louder than the technique did the dishes truly rise above.

I was there by myself on a business trip and was reading Ruhlman's "Reach of a Chef" between courses. The book spends several chapters on both Achatz and Keller. I naturally spent time mentally comparing the meal I was eating at Alinea with meals at French Laundry and Per Se (admittedly only one each) and I thought at one point that half as many courses consisting of the best dishes I was being served could compete with or even exceed the meals I have had at Keller's restaurants.

I understand that that ChefG isn't setting out to recreate the French Laundry experience and I wouldn't want that. The experimentation is a large part of the point. I remember him writing somewhere that his goal isn't to create the perfect dish because he'd just want to change it right away. But with maybe a little more perfection that experimentation might take the food even higher. Potentially very high indeed.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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