Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Lenski

[CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 3)

Recommended Posts

Its been over a year since my meal at Alinea and I still chuckle when I look at the wines. We asked for a list of the wines that we were served, "so we can see if we can buy any of them." The Somm just laughed and said, "I'll happily share the list but there are very few that you will be able to find." We assumed they were making up labels in the back room.

But every post in this topic since our meal, I have searched for the wines in my usual shops (KL Wines being my primary source for less accessible wines), and it is very, very rare that I can find them. I am proud to say that I could actually buy that Reisling!

Alinea was, and continues to be the only restaurant that has ever used wine pairings to elevate, not just match, a meal for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This was a large meal, so I will take another hiatus before continuing at a later time...

John. Thanx for sharing. Can't wait for more. Interested in the centerpiece item. Was there one? Interesting that you mentioned signature dish. I don't think that ever changed since it was first introduced. Solid.

There was no centerpiece at the beginning of the meal. That came a while later.

The interesting thing about the signature pieces is that the concept of Alinea is somewhat antithetical to a non-changing dish or set of dishes. From the New Yorker article referenced above comes:

Afterward, Achatz and I sat down at one of the tables in his empty restaurant. He said that, if his ambitions were different, his condition might not matter so much—many successful chefs leave their menus mostly unchanged, season after season. But this is not a route that Achatz is willing to take. He noted that he had once worked for Thomas Keller, the celebrated chef of the French Laundry, in the Napa Valley. He said, “Thomas has his Oysters and Pearls”—a signature dish. “We just don’t do that. We develop dishes that we feel are great and then eventually replace them.”

While I love the fact that Alinea is always evolving, it would be total shame if some particularly wonderful dishes or even any of them were permanently retired. One thing that is always different even when serving some of the "signatures" is their particular place or context within a meal.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Its been over a year since my meal at Alinea and I still chuckle when I look at the wines.  We asked for a list of the wines that we were served, "so we can see if we can buy any of them."  The Somm just laughed and said, "I'll happily share the list but there are very few that you will be able to find."  We assumed they were making up labels in the back room.

But every post in this topic since our meal, I have searched for the wines in my usual shops (KL Wines being my primary source for less accessible wines), and it is very, very rare that I can find them.  I am proud to say that I could actually buy that Reisling! 

Alinea was, and continues to be the only restaurant that has ever used wine pairings to elevate, not just match, a meal for me.

The only other restaurant that I have experienced that I can say has matched Alinea for pairings is Citronelle in D.C.. That being said, one thing that makes Alinea that much more special is that the food is very difficult to match with wines. The pairings are not necessarily intuitive and by definition are not classic, as there really isn't a point of comparison given the combinations on the plate that Chef Achatz comes up with. I'm not so sure that all the wines, as wonderful as they are paired with Chef Achatz' dishes, would be quite as wonderful in a different context. That is not to say that the wines are not excellent on their own, but that the elevation is really one of synergy as both the dish and the wine benefit by the pairing. Thus some of the wines may appear less stellar in a different context. This is what great wine service is supposed to do.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Its been over a year since my meal at Alinea and I still chuckle when I look at the wines.  We asked for a list of the wines that we were served, "so we can see if we can buy any of them."  The Somm just laughed and said, "I'll happily share the list but there are very few that you will be able to find."  We assumed they were making up labels in the back room.

But every post in this topic since our meal, I have searched for the wines in my usual shops (KL Wines being my primary source for less accessible wines), and it is very, very rare that I can find them.  I am proud to say that I could actually buy that Reisling! 

Alinea was, and continues to be the only restaurant that has ever used wine pairings to elevate, not just match, a meal for me.

The only other restaurant that I have experienced that I can say has matched Alinea for pairings is Citronelle in D.C.. That being said, one thing that makes Alinea that much more special is that the food is very difficult to match with wines. The pairings are not necessarily intuitive and by definition are not classic, as there really isn't a point of comparison given the combinations on the plate that Chef Achatz comes up with. I'm not so sure that all the wines, as wonderful as they are paired with Chef Achatz' dishes, would be quite as wonderful in a different context. That is not to say that the wines are not excellent on their own, but that the elevation is really one of synergy as both the dish and the wine benefit by the pairing. Thus some of the wines may appear less stellar in a different context. This is what great wine service is supposed to do.

Great reviews doc.....look forward to you checking out our place some day

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Its been over a year since my meal at Alinea and I still chuckle when I look at the wines.  We asked for a list of the wines that we were served, "so we can see if we can buy any of them."  The Somm just laughed and said, "I'll happily share the list but there are very few that you will be able to find."  We assumed they were making up labels in the back room.

But every post in this topic since our meal, I have searched for the wines in my usual shops (KL Wines being my primary source for less accessible wines), and it is very, very rare that I can find them.  I am proud to say that I could actually buy that Reisling! 

Alinea was, and continues to be the only restaurant that has ever used wine pairings to elevate, not just match, a meal for me.

The only other restaurant that I have experienced that I can say has matched Alinea for pairings is Citronelle in D.C.. That being said, one thing that makes Alinea that much more special is that the food is very difficult to match with wines. The pairings are not necessarily intuitive and by definition are not classic, as there really isn't a point of comparison given the combinations on the plate that Chef Achatz comes up with. I'm not so sure that all the wines, as wonderful as they are paired with Chef Achatz' dishes, would be quite as wonderful in a different context. That is not to say that the wines are not excellent on their own, but that the elevation is really one of synergy as both the dish and the wine benefit by the pairing. Thus some of the wines may appear less stellar in a different context. This is what great wine service is supposed to do.

Great reviews doc.....look forward to you checking out our place some day

Thanks and ditto.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...now back to the task at hand...

The following dish was interesting in that i took an ingredient adored by many, but generally not considered something to be featured at a fine dining restaurant and featured it nevertheless...

gallery_8158_5964_2243.jpg

Chicken Skin, truffle, corn and thyme

As one would expect, it was crunchy, but not in a way that one gets from crisped chicken skin from a well roasted chicken. It was more like from fried chicken though this was in no way greasy. This struck me as a tongue-in-cheek play on a Chicken McNugget which is the kind of pun I see or expect more from Moto or WD-50, though those restaurants tend to really play up their culinary reference puns much more than Chef Achatz does. Though not my favorite of the evening, this was one of the most thought provoking dishes of the evening for me.

The next dish (still with the Reisling) made me marvel anew at the technical skills present in the kitchen. Deceptively minimalist in appearance,

gallery_8158_5964_38712.jpg

Mango, soy, foie gras

could not be easy to make - at least not so perfectly. It was reminiscent of a filled tuile cookie, but with mango as the "cookie" and foie gras with soy as the oh so decadent filling.

gallery_8158_5964_43924.jpg

Rhubarb, ginger, basil

This was one of my favorites as it was much more than a great palate cleanser. The ball was a liquid center sphere served with the very useful instruction "to eat in in one bite" something I should have paid a little more attention to! :raz:

The midpoint of the meal continued with another light, fun palate re-invigorator

gallery_8158_5964_5671.jpg

Transparency of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt,

The centerpieces were brought out one per person and placed towards the center of the table forming a ring of flags much like one might see in a plaza of a diplomatic area of a capitol city.

gallery_8158_5964_33505.jpg

The appearance was also reminiscent of a feathered arrow with the point embedded in the base.

Another wine was poured

gallery_8158_5964_28741.jpg

Eric Texir Condrieu "Janrode", N. Rhone 2006.

Did I mention that I think that what I think is perhaps Chef Achatz' particular brilliance is his ability to pair non-intuitive ingredients to incredible effect? The next dish was a prime example:

gallery_8158_5964_1886.jpggallery_8158_5964_12140.jpg

Fava Beans, lavender, banana, pecorino

Unbelievable. This amazing dish comes from exactly what tradition? To those who say that all worthwhile combinations in the culinary world have already been invented, this dish is proof otherwise! This dish alone made the trip worthwhile.

gallery_8158_5964_56155.jpg

The centerpiece begins to thaw.

more to come...


Edited by docsconz (log)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...more...

Though Alinea was designed and generally is everchanging, Grant Achatz has developed and maintains a few signature dishes. This is one:

gallery_8158_5964_73027.jpg

Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter

What can I say? This has always been and probably always will be awesome.

Doc-thank you for presenting us with another one of your fine reports. Your photos are always delicious. Tell me a bit more about how the "hot" and "cold" potatoes were prepared. Secondly, can you tell me more about the butter in this dish--what temperature was the butter and was it salted butter?

Do you know the source for the butters that they use at Alinea? It would be interesting to note whether they import their butters or use butters from one of the local dairies in the Midwest. Thanks, dr.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...more...

Though Alinea was designed and generally is everchanging, Grant Achatz has developed and maintains a few signature dishes. This is one:

gallery_8158_5964_73027.jpg

Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter

What can I say? This has always been and probably always will be awesome.

Doc-thank you for presenting us with another one of your fine reports. Your photos are always delicious. Tell me a bit more about how the "hot" and "cold" potatoes were prepared. Secondly, can you tell me more about the butter in this dish--what temperature was the butter and was it salted butter?

Do you know the source for the butters that they use at Alinea? It would be interesting to note whether they import their butters or use butters from one of the local dairies in the Midwest. Thanks, dr.

Thank you, David. The recipe for this dish is available on the Mosaic website. I do not know the provenance of their butter, but according to the recipe the butter is unsalted and very cold. A piece of it is on a pin with the hot potato, truffle, chive, parmesan chunk and sea salt. The hot potato along with the other pin contents are released into the cold potato soup as the pin is removed from the paraffin bowl. The "hot" potato are potato balls tht were cooked in hot clarified butter. The potato soup is made with black truffle juice, white truffle oil, potatoes, heavy cream and salt. This is very much an ingredient driven dish, where the technique actually appears relatively simple. It certainly is heavenly.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the great photos and descriptions, Doc. I have a birthday coming up and my husband wants to take me to Chicago for some good eating. I may have to take him up on this offer. The potato truffle dish looks amazing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...and given that that was Kentucky Derby day, I have come to the home stretch...

Another killer bite...

gallery_8158_5964_44701.jpg

Honeydew, Benton's ham, pine, mastic

Pine and mastic have become vogue ingredients in recent years. I think much of that has to do with Chef Achatz, who has been at the forefront of using those ingredients. Nobody in my experience has done it better than he.

Our next wine:

gallery_8158_5964_49235.jpg

Di Giovanna "Gerbino" Rosato di Nerello Mascalese, Sicily 2006

It didn't occur to me until I started writing this since I didn't really note the winery's name at the time, but my Sicilian grandmother's last name was Di Giovanna. Perhaps I am related? :cool:

This wine was a one-off as it was served only with the next course...

gallery_8158_5964_39234.jpggallery_8158_5964_80136.jpg

Lobster, peas, ramps, mint vapor

Although my plate was a bit salty, the flavors in this dish shone with Achatz once again showing that he is a master with the role of scent in taste. The dish was served with a textural contrast lobster "cracker" with a pea shoot.

The centerpieces were ready for service:

gallery_8158_5964_55314.jpggallery_8158_5964_905.jpggallery_8158_5964_47053.jpg

Wagyu Beef, black truffle, potato, Blis Elixir

More magic.

more coming soon...


Edited by docsconz (log)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somehow I missed a photo of the wine poured for the Wagyu, Alain Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin "Mes Favorites" 2001. It must have been the cocktails, wine and food catching up to me. :raz:

Another Achatz Signature...

gallery_8158_5964_45724.jpg

Black Truffle Explosion, romaine, parmesan

...and deservedly so.

gallery_8158_5964_20600.jpg

Alban Vineyards, "Alban Estate" Grenache, Edna Valley 2005

This was another one-course wine for...

gallery_8158_5964_75625.jpggallery_8158_5964_58159.jpg

gallery_8158_5964_52831.jpggallery_8158_5964_37364.jpg

Lamb, mushroom, red wine, diverse embellishments

This was clearly the most complex dish of the evening, diverse embellishments indeed! Though it

was the headliner, the lamb was only a small element of the entire dish with the beet raviolo every bit as significant. While the dish could easily have been cacophonous and generally would be in lesser hands, here it all worked together very well as each element played off the next. I could not begin to list or describe all the various ingredients in this dish!

The next pairing was perhaps the most unique of the evening as it led into the last of the "savory" courses, which was really a transition course...

gallery_8158_5964_34552.jpg

Franis Darroze "Reserve Speciale" Bas Armagnac

gallery_8158_5964_25121.jpggallery_8158_5964_3555.jpg

Squab, chocolate, blueberry, hazelnut

Truly a transitional course, this dish was equally at home as a savory or a dessert, albeit one that was not overly sweet. The pairing with the Armagnac was superb. This was a daring dish that to my palate succeeded. I suspect that it may be controversial to sweet or savory purists or traditionalists, however.

Another Achatz classic...

gallery_8158_5964_18108.jpg

Bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme

...that also blurs the sweet/savory divide.

The meal began dissolving more overtly into the sweet realm, though not quite completely with...

gallery_8158_5964_26465.jpg

Strawberry, violet, nicoise olive

This bite was layered with the various elements one transitioning to the next.

gallery_8158_5964_43067.jpg

Hans Nittnaus Beerenauslese "Cuvée Premium", Neusiedlersee Austria 2003

Clearly sweet...

gallery_8158_5964_18483.jpg

Persimmon, carrot, red curry, spice strip

...too sweet for me, this was one of my least favorite plates of the evening, but then I am not a huge persimmon fan.

gallery_8158_5964_54348.jpg

Dry Shot, pineapple, rum, cilantro

An adult version of the old powdered sugar in a straw, this dish was fun while also testing my dexterity and sobriety.

The last of the pours...

gallery_8158_5964_31693.jpg

Rare Wine Co./Vinhos Barbeito "New York Malmsey" Special Reserve Madeira

gallery_8158_5964_54728.jpg

Chocolate, egg, pomelo, smoke

This was my favorite of the pure desserts. I call it pure, despite it still incorporating a few savory elements. It again incorporated a variety of flavors and textures.

As the birthday boy, I received an extra course which ws not listed on my menu and therefore does not here have an official title.

gallery_8158_5964_9060.jpggallery_8158_5964_42430.jpg

Birthday Cake

Within the chocolate orb, exposed by the warm cream lay a small piece of cake!

We finished with the classic Sweet Potato, bourbon, tempura, cinnamon incense served on the smoldering cinnamon stick, which went unphotographed by me.

It ws nearly two AM by the time we left. We had arrived at 8PM. We were the last guests to leave. On our way out, we saw Chef Achatz sitting at a table in the downstairs dining room going over some notes as he was preparing for the unveiling of Mosaic scheduled for later that day. He looked well although understandably a bit tired given his consistently long hours made longer by deadlines for the website and the book. Nevertheless he looked light years better than the last time I had seen him at the Starchefs ICC in New York in September. He really is a marvel. Along with his energy and all he has been through, to continue to function creatively the way he has and does is simply superhuman. Despite the much noted taste deficits he has endured, the creative spark continues to fire off amazing dishes, begging the analogy to Beethoven composing the masterpieces he did despite his loss of hearing. Fortunately, Chef Achatz has been slowly regaining his taste sense with hopes for a full recovery. For his sake, that can't come soon enugh so that he can truly enjoy the fruits of his own labor.

Thanks for reading and for your patience!


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Brilliant, Doc. I truly can't wait to get back to Chicago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beautiful pics, as usual. And, as one who has tried to take pics, it takes a lot of work and I usually give up by the third course.

What is amazing about Alinea and Chef Achatz is the constant inventiveness. The menu looks very different from the one I had in December and February. It is amazing. I am back there in July and I am sure it will be a completely different menu.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Beautiful pics, as usual. And, as one who has tried to take pics, it takes a lot of work and I usually give up by the third course.

What is amazing about Alinea and Chef Achatz is the constant inventiveness. The menu looks very different from the one I had in December and February.  It is amazing.  I am back there in July and I am sure it will be a completely different menu.

I love the continual creativity as well. That is what makes Alinea special and one of only a handful of restaurants in the world that do so while managing to maintain the utmost in quality. With that as the basis for the restaurant, I also enjoy coming back to a few standards like the Hot Potato, Cold Potato and Black Truffle Explosion during the course of a meal there. They provide context and backbone for the invention.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

WOW.

What was that orange sphere in the lamb dish?


At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. ‐ Salvador Dali

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WOW.

What was that orange sphere in the lamb dish?

Mustard braised rutebega scooped with a mellon baller.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Not sure about the goat butter but the cow butter is made in-house at Alinea.

=R=

When I was there a few months ago, I was told that the butters (or at least their raw ingredients) came from Wisconsin.


josh

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WOW.

What was that orange sphere in the lamb dish?

Mustard braised rutebega scooped with a mellon baller.

Nice. That's what I think is cool about this place, all of the tiny elements that go into each dish. I need to visit someday.


At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since. ‐ Salvador Dali

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like a phenomenal meal. I get to Chicago every other September for a trade fair, and can't wait to do the tour this year. We did the slightly shorter menu in Sept. 2006, and it was the best meal I've had in the USA. I rarely do wine pairings, as I may want to drink more with some dishes and less with others, but I did the pairings at Alinea (requesting the reds to be elevated but not the whites) and I could not have been happier.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I went to Alinea last night, having just moved to Chicago from NYC. I was blown away. Phenomenal meal; I was skeptical when I went, fearing "tricks" and theatrics that would overshadow the food. Quite the opposite. This was a world class dining experience in both food and service. Later I will post on the courses (all 18 of them) but I was blown away.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I went to Alinea last night, having just moved to Chicago from NYC.  I was blown away. Phenomenal meal; I was skeptical when I went, fearing "tricks" and theatrics that would overshadow the food.  Quite the opposite.  This was a world class dining experience in both food and service.  Later I will post on the courses (all 18 of them) but I was blown away.

The novelty aspect of Alinea is certainly very strong as it really is a unique restaurant, however, that is fully backed up by outstanding food. The fact that it is ever evolving, though with consistent quality makes it a must for me whenever I return to Chicago.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As unpopular as this may be, I need to voice a dissenting opinion.

I am from NYC here in Chicago on vacation and had dinner the other night at Alinea.

My wife and I have eaten at restaurants all over the world, both traditional and experimental so we are not strangers to stretching ourselves when it comes to food. I am a fan of less traditional techniques so this was a meal that I was really looking forward to.

While we found the experience at Alinea to be interesting and at times fun, we both came away ultimately unimpressed and disappointed.

We had the tour 24 course tasting menu, which may be one of the reasons that we came away unimpressed. There were a few dishes that were memorable, but nothing was really fabulous in the way that great food can taste. Perhaps with fewer courses, there is less of an opportunity for misteps.

I understand that the intention is to challenge diners, but in my opinion you need some anchors within that framework that do the opposite to be successful.

There were no moments in the meal that were not challenges. Even the desserts had way too many competing flavors that were inharmonious at best.

We also didnt appreciate the level of control that is exerted over the diners (e.g., constant instructions on how to eat things, vessels that cant be put down, warnings about orbs that can explode all over your clothing if you are not careful).

The novelty of the apparatuses that ranged from benign, to somewhat hostile and potentially dangerous wore off after the first couple of courses.

Lastly, the bread was really terrible. This was a surprise as I had not heard negative reviews before, but it was laughably bad..

I am glad that we had an opportunity to eat there, but we were really expecting a more positive experience.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the input, heightsgtltd.

I and my guests had discussions about some of the issues you raise here, most particularly the "level of control that is exerted over the diners." The meal definitely pushes the "customer is always right" maxim off the table and requires a trusting acquiescence on the part of the diner. I gave in and enjoyed that, as have many others; can you say a bit about why you disliked it?

I'd also be very interested to know some specifics. Which dishes were indeed memorable? Which bombed?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...