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


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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.

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.

Not to ride on your coat-tails, but this sums it up for me as well. I thought all the effort put into the presentation and the "tools" was fascinating, but at some level it did detract from food that could stand on its own. I would relate it to a person using a cane for aesthetic effect, instead of a genuine need.

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It is precisely because the food is delicious and can "stand on its own" that the other factors work and are useful and interesting. If the food wasn't great these service pieces, etc. would just be gimmicks. However, they complement (at least to me) the food with which they have been paired and for which the food has been designed and vice versa. The food isn't paired with these pieces willy-nilly. It is thoughtfully paired to provide an aesthetic and ergonomic function. Because of this, IMO, the ultimate effect is synergistic. Yes, Grant Achatz' food can compare with anyone's, but the presentation sets it apart from anyone else's food.

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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Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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I never found any of the service pieces to be akward or disruptive in anyway on my last visit... I think the key is to not over think about the pieces itself but the food and why it was made in that way. Every course has a purpose and a reason, that's what I find to be the beauty of the whole experience. Each service piece has a reason.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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Each service piece has a reason.

I have to disagree. Some pieces did make sense - I thought the heated stone griddle for the lamb dish I described was ingenious and certainly added to it.

On the other hand, one dish was served in a small spoon using the "anti-plate" - basically the rim of a dish with no bottom. Why? Aside from being different than all the places that serve something like that in a Chinese soup spoon. The final dish (a peanut based dish, if I remember off the top of my head) was served on a piece with five wires protruding from it. Granted, I can't see how this particular dish could have been served any other way, but it seemed to me like an excuse to use the tool, rather than a way to enhance the dish.

And, while it wasn't a service piece, a puffed lobster chip which was meant to be eaten by hand was surprising and delicious - a gourmet pork rind, if you will. But it was awkward to eat, cracking and crumbling onto the table and into my lap. It was still good enough that I greedily retrieved the fallen pieces and finished the dish.

Either way, I don't want to make a big issue of it, because my comments about the serving pieces were a minor point in the scheme of things. With or without the gimmicks Alinea is still an important restaurant and what Chef Achatz is doing, especially with the food itself, is exciting.

Edited by bilrus (log)

Bill Russell

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Each service piece has a reason.

I have to disagree. Some pieces did make sense - I thought the heated stone griddle for the lamb dish I described was ingenious and certainly added to it.

On the other hand, one dish was served in a small spoon using the "anti-plate" - basically the rim of a dish with no bottom. Why? Aside from being different than all the places that serve something like that in a Chinese soup spoon. The final dish (a peanut based dish, if I remember off the top of my head) was served on a piece with five wires protruding from it. Granted, I can't see how this particular dish could have been served any other way, but it seemed to me like an excuse to use the tool, rather than a way to enhance the dish.

And, while it wasn't a service piece, a puffed lobster chip which was meant to be eaten by hand was surprising and delicious - a gourmet pork rind, if you will. But it was awkward to eat, cracking and crumbling onto the table and into my lap. It was still good enough that I greedily retrieved the fallen pieces and finished the dish.

Either way, I don't want to make a big issue of it, because my comments about the serving pieces were a minor point in the scheme of things. With or without the gimmicks Alinea is still an important restaurant and what Chef Achatz is doing, especially with the food itself, is exciting.

I understand exactly what you are saying but I disagree. I find it very akward to many kinds of food with the fork and knife on a plate. You would be lying if you have never been to a fine dining restaurant and felt that the knife and fork is just not the right tool. Even chopsticks, certain sushi applications are not the easiest to eat but atleast the food won't be pierced and bruised the wrong way with a fork. Certain people have an easier time than others. Im most certain that our visits were completely different experiences just based off of your feeling of the courses being too akward. I felt that my meal was the easiest to eat out of all meals I have ever had and most mind bending (in a good way) as well.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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Each service piece has a reason.

I have to disagree. Some pieces did make sense - I thought the heated stone griddle for the lamb dish I described was ingenious and certainly added to it.

On the other hand, one dish was served in a small spoon using the "anti-plate" - basically the rim of a dish with no bottom. Why? Aside from being different than all the places that serve something like that in a Chinese soup spoon. The final dish (a peanut based dish, if I remember off the top of my head) was served on a piece with five wires protruding from it. Granted, I can't see how this particular dish could have been served any other way, but it seemed to me like an excuse to use the tool, rather than a way to enhance the dish.

I tend to agree with your observations. The "anti-plate" elicited the same reaction from me - as well as the long single protuding wire with food stuck on the end (Click) - or the five wires for the final chocolate tasting presentation. For me, these "utensils" ended up being too distracting.

And, while it wasn't a service piece, a puffed lobster chip which was meant to be eaten by hand was surprising and delicious - a gourmet pork rind, if you will.  But it was awkward to eat, cracking and crumbling onto the table and into my lap.  It was still good enough that I greedily retrieved the fallen pieces and finished the dish.

I didn't have the lobster, but the analogous course on my last visit also shattered all over the place - the Idiazabel.

Either way, I don't want to make a big issue of it, because my comments about the serving pieces were a minor point in the scheme of things.  With or without the gimmicks Alinea is still an important restaurant and what Chef Achatz is doing, especially with the food itself, is exciting.

I will agree here as well.

[edited to make sense.]

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

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Each service piece has a reason.

I have to disagree. Some pieces did make sense - I thought the heated stone griddle for the lamb dish I described was ingenious and certainly added to it.

On the other hand, one dish was served in a small spoon using the "anti-plate" - basically the rim of a dish with no bottom. Why? Aside from being different than all the places that serve something like that in a Chinese soup spoon. The final dish (a peanut based dish, if I remember off the top of my head) was served on a piece with five wires protruding from it. Granted, I can't see how this particular dish could have been served any other way, but it seemed to me like an excuse to use the tool, rather than a way to enhance the dish.

I tend to agree with your observations. The "anti-plate" elicited the same reaction from me - as well as the long single protuding wire with food stuck on the end (Click) - or the five wires for the final chocolate tasting presentation. For me, these "utensils" ended up being too distracting.

And, while it wasn't a service piece, a puffed lobster chip which was meant to be eaten by hand was surprising and delicious - a gourmet pork rind, if you will.  But it was awkward to eat, cracking and crumbling onto the table and into my lap.  It was still good enough that I greedily retrieved the fallen pieces and finished the dish.

I didn't have the lobster, but the analogous course on my last visit also shattered all over the place - the Idiazabel.

Either way, I don't want to make a big issue of it, because my comments about the serving pieces were a minor point in the scheme of things.  With or without the gimmicks Alinea is still an important restaurant and what Chef Achatz is doing, especially with the food itself, is exciting.

I will agree here as well.

[edited to make sense.]

Chef G and Crew,

As someone in the business, I am really blown away by the amount of work you put into a dish. After seeing the recipe former pastry chef Alex Stupack put in a recent pastry magazine, I began to wonder what a prep or mise en place list must look like in your kitchen. Can you articulate on what kind of system you use? Or give us an example? Can't wait to get up there this fall. Keep blazing the trail.

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Earlier this week I learned that one of the men whose work and dedication made Alinea great, Chef John Peters, left Alinea to become the Sous Chef at NaHa.

Chef Peters, who was with Chef Grant at Trio -- and through the entire transition into Alinea -- will most definitely be missed. When yellow truffle and I first started following these guys around, Chef Peters was part of the very small group which was directly responsible for turning Alinea into a reality. When we 'trailed' the team in their food lab, I was impressed by not only his myriad abilities but also by the way he comported himself. A leader could not hope for a better teammate. Seeing his contribution, it was clear to me that opening Alinea would have been a much more difficult endeavor without him. I don't mean to speak for Chef Grant or the rest of the Alinea team, but this was obvious even to an outsider like myself.

Of course, the Alinea team is still going strong and chef Curtis Duffy, who was also part of that small, Alinea advance team, has been promoted to Chef de Cuisine. Obviously, these guys are way too good at what they do to miss a beat and Chef Duffy is incredibly capable. But I'm guessing that it won't be quite the same in the Alinea kitchen without the steady professionalism that Chef Peters provided. The man has an unmistakable presence.

Good luck to both Chef Peters and Chef Duffy in their new gigs! :smile:

=R=

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

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Earlier this week I learned that one of the men whose work and dedication made Alinea great, Chef John Peters, left Alinea to become the Sous Chef at NaHa.

Chef Peters, who was with Chef Grant at Trio -- and through the entire transition into Alinea -- will most definitely be missed.  When yellow truffle and I first started following these guys around, Chef Peters was part of the very small group which was directly responsible for turning Alinea into a reality.  When we 'trailed' the team in their food lab, I was impressed by not only his myriad abilities but also by the way he comported himself.  A leader could not hope for a better teammate.  Seeing his contribution, it was clear to me that opening Alinea would have been a much more difficult endeavor without him.  I don't mean to speak for Chef Grant or the rest of the Alinea team, but this was obvious even to an outsider like myself.

Of course, the Alinea team is still going strong and chef Curtis Duffy, who was also part of that small, Alinea advance team, has been promoted to Chef de Cuisine.  Obviously, these guys are way too good at what they do to miss a beat and Chef Duffy is incredibly capable.  But I'm guessing that it won't be quite the same in the Alinea kitchen without the steady professionalism that Chef Peters provided.  The man has an unmistakable presence.

Good luck to both Chef Peters and Chef Duffy in their new gigs! :smile:

=R=

This just puts another restaurant in Chicago on my must try list. :smile:

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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We have our tour coming up in a few weeks, and I have heard/read mixed reviews on wine pairings...most on this thread have complimented the pairings, but I have also heard about mis-matches and the inability to pair with all courses. Any pros/cons -- recommendations on the wine portion of the meal?

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We have our tour coming up in a few weeks, and I have heard/read mixed reviews on wine pairings...most on this thread have complimented the pairings, but I have also heard about mis-matches and the inability to pair with all courses.  Any pros/cons -- recommendations on the wine portion of the meal?

I would go with the pairings -- there are some that hit so beautifully with the course, it would be a shame to miss out. Mismatchings, eh, so subjective. I'm not big on certain types of wines but found each one to work beautifully with their course.

Our tour did have a few dishes that had the same pairing (or maybe it was no pairing?). It was nice to give the palate a rest every so often.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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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 "anti-plate" elicited the same reaction from me - as well as the long single protuding wire with food stuck on the end

Amen. Because as a woman there with her bosses on a business dinner, I really, really didn't want to give either of them a flash of a little more than I intended as I had to leeeeean over and pluck food off of a wire with my mouth. Not only awkward and hard to eat, but socially uncomfortable as well.

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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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 "anti-plate" elicited the same reaction from me - as well as the long single protuding wire with food stuck on the end

Amen. Because as a woman there with her bosses on a business dinner, I really, really didn't want to give either of them a flash of a little more than I intended as I had to leeeeean over and pluck food off of a wire with my mouth. Not only awkward and hard to eat, but socially uncomfortable as well.

On the note about "leaning over" ... that's a problem, that might be a mistake on the server's part because I can't imagine a Chef wanting you to lean and make the extra effort to eat. Fine dining is all about taking a way all of the work from the customer.

On the note about it being awkward.. I have to disagree. I really don't see what the awkardness about eating something by only using your mouth. What I find awkward is trying to pick something extremely small and slippery with a knife and fork. What's more comforting than food on a stick? In my opinion, Alinea just put fine dining on a the easiest thing to eat off of. If the wire is too far away from you forcing you to lean forward so much that you are uncomfortable than I reccommend moving the base of the wire closer to you and eat the one biter.

Call me crazy but when I think of a business dinner, I don't think of Alinea as being the most appropriate in the first place but more along the lines of Tru. If Im eating at Alinea, all the focus should be on the food and service. But that's just me.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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Call me crazy but when I think of a business dinner, I don't think of Alinea as being the most appropriate in the first place but more along the lines of Tru. If Im eating at  Alinea, all the focus should be on the food and service. But that's just me.

I suppose that it ultimately depends on what kind of business you're in but I agree that Alinea might not be the best choice for a business dinner. I'd certainly go there with co-workers (and I have) but I generally wouldn't take customers out for such a high-end experience. The last thing I want for dessert is a request to lower our prices :wink::biggrin:

=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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On the note about "leaning over" ... that's a problem, that might be a mistake on the server's part because I can't imagine a Chef wanting you to lean and make the extra effort to eat. Fine dining is all about taking a way all of the work from the customer.

On the note about it being awkward.. I have to disagree. I really don't see what the awkardness about eating something by only using your mouth. What I find awkward is trying to pick something extremely small and slippery with a knife and fork.  What's more comforting than food on a stick?  In my opinion, Alinea just put fine dining on a the easiest thing to eat off of. If the wire is too far away from you forcing you to lean forward so much that you are uncomfortable than I reccommend moving the base of the wire closer to you and eat the one biter.

Call me crazy but when I think of a business dinner, I don't think of Alinea as being the most appropriate in the first place but more along the lines of Tru. If Im eating at  Alinea, all the focus should be on the food and service. But that's just me.

Simple solution here. Just cut the wire to about half of it's current length and let the customer pick up the wire out of it's base and eat it like it's on a stick. The whole bobbing for apples thing is just not appealing.

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On the note about "leaning over" ... that's a problem, that might be a mistake on the server's part because I can't imagine a Chef wanting you to lean and make the extra effort to eat. Fine dining is all about taking a way all of the work from the customer.

On the note about it being awkward.. I have to disagree. I really don't see what the awkardness about eating something by only using your mouth. What I find awkward is trying to pick something extremely small and slippery with a knife and fork.  What's more comforting than food on a stick?  In my opinion, Alinea just put fine dining on a the easiest thing to eat off of. If the wire is too far away from you forcing you to lean forward so much that you are uncomfortable than I reccommend moving the base of the wire closer to you and eat the one biter.

Call me crazy but when I think of a business dinner, I don't think of Alinea as being the most appropriate in the first place but more along the lines of Tru. If Im eating at  Alinea, all the focus should be on the food and service. But that's just me.

Simple solution here. Just cut the wire to about half of it's current length and let the customer pick up the wire out of it's base and eat it like it's on a stick. The whole bobbing for apples thing is just not appealing.

Why, when you can just eat it how it is... It's as simple as taking a bite, it doesn't take super eye to mouth skills to do so... all you have to do is eat. It's so simple to eat off of that dogs can do it.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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Simple solution here.  Just cut the wire to about half of it's current length and let the customer pick up the wire out of it's base and eat it like it's on a stick.  The whole bobbing for apples thing is just not appealing.

Why, when you can just eat it how it is... It's as simple as taking a bite, it doesn't take super eye to mouth skills to do so... all you have to do is eat. It's so simple to eat off of that dogs can do it.

I never said it was difficult, just unappealing.

Gastronomic Fight Club - Mischief. Mayhem. Soup.

Foodies of Omaha - Discover the Best of Omaha

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On the note about it being awkward.. I have to disagree. I really don't see what the awkardness about eating something by only using your mouth. What I find awkward is trying to pick something extremely small and slippery with a knife and fork. What's more comforting than food on a stick? In my opinion, Alinea just put fine dining on a the easiest thing to eat off of. If the wire is too far away from you forcing you to lean forward so much that you are uncomfortable than I reccommend moving the base of the wire closer to you and eat the one biter.

Yes, unless one's height relative to the table is such one is then performing a bizarro mix of a Laurie Anderson piece and the mating dance of the Blue Footed Boobie as one bobs one's head about and tries to judge height and distance and angle to get it right. I believe we'll simply have to agree to disagree; you may not find it awkward, I find having to angle myself at such a cant that my boss can tell what style of bra I'm wearing to be awkward in the old-fashioned sense of the word. For that matter, had it been my father in law, uncles, or heaven forfend grandfather, it would have been equally awkward.

Call me crazy but when I think of a business dinner, I don't think of Alinea as being the most appropriate in the first place but more along the lines of Tru. If Im eating at Alinea, all the focus should be on the food and service. But that's just me.

I'm in a weird line of work. It was, in essence, a field trip for us. So yes, we were focusing on the food and service, not executing contracts inbetween courses. Still, I was there with my bosses.

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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We have our tour coming up in a few weeks, and I have heard/read mixed reviews on wine pairings...most on this thread have complimented the pairings, but I have also heard about mis-matches and the inability to pair with all courses.  Any pros/cons -- recommendations on the wine portion of the meal?

I too think the wine pairings are a must. I have dined there three times (all documented on this thread) and each time I have had wine pairings. They have been uniformly superb and never have I had mis-match. I can't imagine doing the tour choosing one or two bottles to go with everything. The only way I would consider not doing the pairings would be if I was there with about seven other wine drinkers and we wanted to order a bottle for every two or three courses. With that you can get sufficient vinous variety to match the variety of food on your plate (or antiplate)(or wire, etc.) :wink:

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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menthol.jpg

I just don't see what's so unappealing about it... it's simple, beautiful, tasty, elegant, and fun all in one bite.

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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On the note about it being awkward.. I have to disagree. I really don't see what the awkardness about eating something by only using your mouth. What I find awkward is trying to pick something extremely small and slippery with a knife and fork. What's more comforting than food on a stick? In my opinion, Alinea just put fine dining on a the easiest thing to eat off of. If the wire is too far away from you forcing you to lean forward so much that you are uncomfortable than I reccommend moving the base of the wire closer to you and eat the one biter.

Yes, unless one's height relative to the table is such one is then performing a bizarro mix of a Laurie Anderson piece and the mating dance of the Blue Footed Boobie as one bobs one's head about and tries to judge height and distance and angle to get it right. I believe we'll simply have to agree to disagree; you may not find it awkward, I find having to angle myself at such a cant that my boss can tell what style of bra I'm wearing to be awkward in the old-fashioned sense of the word. For that matter, had it been my father in law, uncles, or heaven forfend grandfather, it would have been equally awkward.

I very much enjoy the various serving pieces at Alinea. While I haven't found the wire to be awkward, I will take your word that you did. The easy solution for not wanting to bend towards it for whatever reason, I think would be to pick it up and bring the piece to your mouth.

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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menthol.jpg

I just don't see what's so unappealing about it... it's simple, beautiful, tasty, elegant, and  fun all in one bite.

As well as photogenic. :wink::smile:

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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