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

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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?

We are headed to L2O tonight for dinner but I would be happy to tell you more about my thoughts.

Regarding the level of control, I am not convinced that forward-thinking or more experimental cuisine also requires experimental plating, utensils, etc. To me, that seems more theatrics than anything else. In other words, you dont need to give up control to eat food that pushes the envelope, but you do if that food is being served in a way that requires instruction and at times potentially dangerous metal sticks.

One of my favorite restaurants in NYC, 11 Madison Park has dishes that in some ways are as experimental as what Achatz does, but atr served with more conventional utensils.

I also became fatigued at having discussions, not about ingredients, but about how to eat foods at every single course. I dont mind instructions regarding the direction to eat something on a plate, but it just got ridiculous after a while.

Lastly, the servers were somewhat smug about their instructions as if I should feel privileged to be told. I have heard some people say that it is part of the "show," but it just made me not want to play.

I thought the Yuba, White Asparagus, Spring garlic, hot potato and truffle explosion were standouts.

One thing I forgot to mention earlier was that the seasoning was way off for some dishes. This was true for the Lobster and Wagyu especially which could have been better. That is not acceptable at this level of restaurant.

As far as misses, the Sorrel and Chocolate desserts were pretty bad, as were the short rib, ice fish and chicken skin. Other dishes ranged from just ok, to mediocre.

In reading over the menu again now, I am reminded of the unevenness of the meal.

Curious to hear if others share some of my sentiments.

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Curious to hear if others share some of my sentiments.

I cannot speak to the uneven seasoning you refer to on the specific courses you had, or the bad bread. But, based on my two meals at alinea, I agree with your sentiments as the other points you raise, almost to a tee.


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

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One of the things I've mentioned in a previous post is that I saw the servers responding differently based on the customers. My spouse and I were inquisitive and playful (read intoxicated). A table next to ours was all business. Another was a son showing off for his parents. Another was totally out of their league and had no idea of what anything was. Each of us had basically the same food, but I observed the servers being very different with each table. They must have simply mis-read you.

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One more thing. Like you, heightsgtltd, I too am an admirer of Chef Daniel Humm's cooking at Eleven Madison Park. However, I would not go so far as to compare Humm's "experimentalism" with that of Achatz. I'm not sure what you mean by "experimental," and would appreciate a clearer definition of the word in the context that you are using it.

Although I prefer the aesthetics and and compositions of Humm's food to that of Achatz, even I will acknowledge that what Achatz is doing with food is far more experimental than what any other chef, with few exceptions, is currently doing in the U.S. Both chefs are extremely creative, but I think Achatz pushes the envelope in more ways than Humm does.


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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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A friend who lives in New York :wink: and Alinea have birthdays one day apart and back at the beginning of May, he decided to come to town to celebrate both occasions. He invited me to join him and I happily obliged. It had been about 6 months since my previous visit, which was my longest interval ever and it was great to be back at "The Big A" (© yellow truffle), where we enjoyed several totally new dishes, a few old favorites, and refined versions of some dishes that we'd tasted in the past. Below is a mostly chronological pictorial recap of our meal, with some random comments and notes (please forgive any errors/omissions). Dish descriptions/ingredient listings are taken directly off the menu. We also enjoyed the 'upgraded' wine pairings, which I've listed in gray beneath the pictures of the dishes with which they were initially served. Keep in mind that some pairings are intended to match up with more than one course . . .

alinea.08.0503.steelheadroe.jpg

Steelhead Roe | coconut, lime, vanilla fragrance

Cocktail of Louis Roederer Brut with Roussanne, Spiced Mead and Curaçao

The meal kicked off with a variety of bright intense flavors, all rolled into one bite that was fragranced by the vanilla bean 'serving piece.'

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Lemongrass | oyster, sesame, yuzu

Here, the lemongrass is actually used as the serving vessel for the oyster and other elements. This was a clean, robust and aromatic bite. The block on which the dish is perched is actually part of a previous Alinea centerpiece, which incorporated honeycomb.

alinea.08.0503.yuba.jpg

Yuba | shrimp, miso, togarashi

A reprise of a satisfying dish that I enojoyed at my previous Alinea meal. It's a super savory combination of flavors and textures, and the heat, provided by the togarashi, was just right.

alinea.08.0503.whiteasparag.jpg

White Asparagus | licorice vinegar, honey, meyer lemon

Alois Lageder Moscato Gallo "Vogelmaier" Alto Adige 2006

We were told that this white asparagus takes 2 years to grow. Partially visible under the white sauce are meyor lemon-flavored tapioca balls. The honey is in the form of a crisp, which lay atop the spears in Stonehenge form.

alinea.08.0503.springgarlic.jpg

Spring Garlic | parsley, lemon, chicken

Parsely, lemon and chicken comprise the flavor-concentrated bite on the fork. Beneath them, spring garlic takes the form of an intensely aromatic soup, which is sipped directly from the cup after the bite is taken.

alinea.08.0503.icefish.jpg

Ice Fish | shellfish, horseradish, parsley

Fonthill "Sea Air" Verdelho, McLaren Vale, S. Australia 2006

Again, great flavors here and an absolutely breaktakingly beautiful plate that called to mind a romantic glimpse of the bottom of the sea. You can almost imagine the components on the plate swaying gently back and forth.

alinea.08.0503.breadservice.jpg

Bread Service (clockwise from top left: herb bread, oolong tea 'bagel,' olive, savory scone)

These four breads (along with artisanal goat butter and cow butter, which is made in house) were served, in this order, at various points during the meal, beginning with the buttery herb bread. I'm sorry I can't remember more details because they were great. Breads are made in house and really enhance the dining experience. As the courses come, it's nice to have a sauce-sopping medium.

alinea.08.0503.greenalmond.jpg

Green Almond | sweet, hot, sour, salty

A nice one-biter that, like so many Alinea creations, delivered its flavors and taste sensations in slowly unfolding phases.

alinea.08.0503.shortrib.jpg

Short Rib | Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli

Paolo Bea Montefalco Riserva "Pipparello," Umbria 2003

A hearty dish that showcased bitter and countered it with the fatty richness of short rib. The texture contrasts here, ranging from firmly crunchy to soft and gelatinous, were fantastic, too.

alinea.08.0503.hotpotato.jpg

Hot potato | cold potato, black truffle, butter

This dish has been well-documented. Suffice it to say it's classic comfort food in typically novel Achatz form.

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Carrot | smoked paprika, orange

Sweet, smokey and bright.

alinea.08.0503.porkbelly.jpg

Pork Belly | smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables

Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese, Hermann Donnhoff, Nahe 2006

We ate these delectable one-biters of bbq so fast, we joked that the pedestals on which they were served were delivered to the table empty. Shortly thereafter, the crew delivered another round of them to the table, warning us that they'd be watching us closely this time. :wink:

alinea.08.0503.chickenskin.jpg

Chicken Skin | truffle, corn, thyme

Alinea joins the very small group of restaurants I know that serve chicken skin as a dedicated dish and they do it masterfully. This was just sensational.

alinea.08.0503.mango.jpg

alinea.08.0503.mango2.jpg

Mango | soy, foie gras

In this dish, the delicate, crispy tube is made from mango and the rich foie gras inside it is just perfect. The soy accent brings the main ingredients into tight focus.

alinea.08.0503.rhubarb.jpg

Rhubarb | ginger, basil

Over my meals at Alinea I've had a few incarnations of this cocoa-butter ball shooter but I (and a few others at our table) thought this one could be the best of all. The ball breaks/melts in the mouth, delivering its intensely-flavored contents in an imaginative and effective way.

alinea.08.0503.transparency.jpg

Transparency | raspberry, rose petal, yogurt

Another Alinea favorite brought back. As the progression heads back to savory, this tart and sweet course refreshes wonderfully. It's so light and, dare I say it . . . waffer-thin. 8)

alinea.08.0503.wagyu.jpg

Centerpiece | (temporary)

At this point in the meal, these centerpieces were placed on the table. At first, they looked like the back end of an arrow that was made with radicchio. Later, we'd learn what they actually were.

alinea.08.0503.fava.jpg

alinea.08.0503.fava2.jpg

Fava Beans | lavender, banana, pecorino

Eric Texler Condrieu "janrode," N. Rhône 2006

What can one say about pairing fava beans and banana? It doesn't sound like it would work at all, but it did more than work -- this combination was truly inspired.

alinea.08.0503.honeydew.jpg

Honeydew | Benton's ham, pine, mastic

Another great one-biter, which paired salty, smokey ham with sweet and aromatic honeydew.

alinea.08.0503.lobster.jpg

Lobster | peas, ramps, mint vapor

This one may have been my favorite dish of the entire meal. The 'sauce' under which the lobster was served was so delicious, so buttery, that I almost could not contain myself.

alinea.08.0503.lobsteralt.jpg

Lobster | peas, ramps, mint vapor

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

This dish incorporated the same ingredients as the lobster dish served right before it but in completely different form. Delicious and very cool.

alinea.08.0503.wagyuseries.jpg

Wagyu Beef | black truffle, potato, Blis Elixir

Alain Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin "Mes Favorites" 2001

This dish started out with a cube of yukon gold potato wrapped in black truffle. From there, our centerpieces, which turned out to be ultra thin slices of Japanese Wagyu beef that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen, had thawed. They were then unfurled and placed atop the potato/truffle cubes. From there, the combination was drizzled with Blis Cherry Elixir and then, finally, topped with a fresh leaf of thyme. Wonderful in every way.

alinea.08.0503.bte.jpg

Black Truffle | explosion, romaine, parmesan

An old favorite, which dates back to chef Achatz's Trio days, makes an anniversary appearance and, for me, this one is great every time. Explosive black truffle magnficence!

alinea.08.0503.lambseries.jpg

Lamb | mushroom, red wine, diverse embellishments

Alban Vineyards "Alban Estate" Grenache, Edna Valley 2005

Here, tender lamb is accompanied by nearly uncountable 'diverse embellishments,' like enoki mushrooms, lentil salad and a pierogi made from beet. I think it would take a normal person a few days to assemble such a dish, if they could ever even conceive of it (doubtful).

alinea.08.0503.squab.jpg

alinea.08.0503.squab2.jpg

Squab | chocolate, blueberry, hazelnut

Francis Darroze "Reserve Speciale" Bas Armagnac

As we moved closer to our dessert courses, chef Achatz sent out a dish that really challenged my preconceived notions. Here squab breast was encased in an unsweet 'bar' of soft chocolate. Looking at it, it just didn't seem right but the flavors absolutely worked together, especially accented by tart blueberry in 2 forms. As someone at our table noted, this would have been an interesting one to have been blindfolded for. In any event, the dish was very successful in that it was delicious and thought-provoking.

alinea.08.0503.bacon.jpg

Bacon | butterscotch, apple, thyme

Another Alinea favorite brought back for the anniversary meal. This is such a great combination of flavors, aromas and textures. Thank you sir, may I have another? :wink:

alinea.08.0503.strawberry.jpg

Strawberry | violet, niçoise olive

Fantastic combination of flavors, again, released in phases via varying temperatures. This was no bigger than the tip section of my pinky yet conveyed 3 distinct, intense flavors in succession, which was truly impressive.

alinea.08.0503.persimmon.jpg

Persimmon | carrot, red curry, spice strip

Hans Nittnaus Beerenausiese "Cuvée Premium," Neusiedlersee, Austria 2003

I loved this dish because I love fruit and pastry desserts and that's ultimately what this was a deconstructed version of. In the back, right corner, you can see a piece of film, which we were instructed to place in our mouths first. As it dissolved on the tongue, the sweet spices it conveyed were released and the walls began to breath (ok, just kidding about that second part). That burst of flavor carried through and 'condimented' the rest of the dish in a very balanced way.

alinea.08.0503.dryshot.jpg

Dry Shot | pineapple, rum, cilantro

Simple but novel and very tasty. We were instructed to tear off one end of the envelope and pour its contents directly into our mouths. It was like a thoughtful trail mix and since I'd finished off many a bag of chips in nearly the same manner, I really appreciated it. :lol:

alinea.08.0503.chocolate.jpg

Chocolate | egg, pomelo, smoke

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

I'm sure that chef Achatz hates being compared to Willy Wonka but when you put out dessert plates like this, it's going to happen. There was so much going on here, it's hard to describe. A fantastic adventure in sweet, which delivered on so many levels.

alinea.08.0503.sweetpotato.jpg

Sweet Potato | bourbon, tempura, cinnamon incense

We finished off with one of my favorite Alinea bites. Tempura'd sweet potato and bourbon on a smoldering stick of cinnamon, which was delectable, as always.

It's always great to go back to Alinea and see how things have progressed. On this night, there was a bow to the past, an intense focus on the present and an eye on the future. As usual, we were blown away by the experience because every aspect of it was conceived and accomplished at such a high level. But at its core, Alinea remains a fun, extraordinarily approachable and delicious experience. If you are interested in experiencing greatness and you haven't been to Alinea, you're depriving yourself.

=R=


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

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gee, Ronnie, we had so many of the same dishes, we must have been there on the same night! Interesting coincidence with your friend's and Alinea's birthdays as mine happens to be the same as Alinea's too! :laugh:

Seriously, your photos and report are humbling. Very nicely done.

BTW, I understand that they are no longer doing that lamb dish. It is extremely labor intensive.


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

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One more thing.  Like you, heightsgtltd, I too am an admirer of Chef Daniel Humm's cooking at Eleven Madison Park.  However, I would not go so far as to compare Humm's "experimentalism" with that of Achatz.  I'm not sure what you mean by "experimental," and would appreciate a clearer definition of the word in the context that you are using it.

Although I prefer the aesthetics and and compositions of Humm's food to that of Achatz, even I will acknowledge that what Achatz is doing with food is far more experimental than what any other chef, with few exceptions, is currently doing in the U.S.  Both chefs are extremely creative, but I think Achatz pushes the envelope in more ways than Humm does.

I concur that the degree that Achatz goes to regarding experimentation greatly exceeds what Humm is doing. However on multiple meals at EMP I have enjoyed food that used techniques that did push the boundaries and qualifies for experimentation.

My point is that others including Humm, do experiment and do not need to further complicate matters with apparatuses. They let the food speak for itself.

At times my meal at Alinea felt like installation art without purpose.

Incidentally, our tour was quite similar to Ronnie's judging by the photos. Great photos Ronnie!

I'll write more about this in the proper thread, but my meal at L2O last night qualified as one of the best I have ever eaten. Chef Gras used interesting innovative techniques, some that reminded me of things that Achatz is doing but in contrast everything tasted really good. It is a different type of restaurant to be sure, but I enjoyed flavors and textures that I had never eaten before which I'd say were pushing the envelope.

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

I can't comment on your reaction to your meal, as one's preferences in this regard are quite subjective especially to reactions about instructions, etc., however, this statement perpelexed me, especially given that you appear to have had a very similar meal to the one that Ronnie and I shared. What serving pieces did you feel were "somewhat hostile" or "potentially dangerous?" Perhaps I am being obtuse, but I really don't see it.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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"All wines from Australia and New Zealand come from grapes that originated elsewhere."

Doc, the above is taken from one of your posts on the previous page re your latest visit to Alinea. Lovely report BTW and I drool at those photo's! Damn living at the bottom of the World. :wink:

What disturbs me though is the comment above. God forbid that a prestigious establishment such as Alinea, would consider stocking a wine that we here in New Zealand consider ' chateau cardboard' wine......the kind that comes in precisely that. Cardboard! I know of three producers here that buy in grapes from outside NZ ( mainly Argentina and South Africa) to add to a mix that is sold mostly to brown baggers! Ghastly stuff and I cannot imagine it being exported anywhere!

It is dirt cheap and tastes it.

Please tell me you were mistaken. :sad:

I hope Alinea has their Wine selection listed at their site as that is where Im heading about now.

Cheers, Lyn

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"All wines from Australia and New Zealand come from grapes that originated elsewhere."

Doc, the above is taken from one of your posts on the previous page re your latest visit to Alinea. Lovely report BTW and I drool at those photo's! Damn living at the bottom of the World.  :wink:

What disturbs me though is the comment above. God forbid that a prestigious establishment such as Alinea, would consider stocking a wine that we here in New Zealand consider ' chateau cardboard' wine......the kind that comes in precisely that. Cardboard! I know of three producers here that buy in grapes from outside NZ  ( mainly Argentina and South Africa) to add to a mix that is sold mostly to brown baggers!  Ghastly stuff and I cannot imagine it being exported anywhere!

It is dirt cheap and tastes it.

Please tell me you were mistaken.  :sad:

I hope Alinea has their Wine selection listed at their site as that is where Im heading about now.

Cheers, Lyn

Hi Lyn, I'm not sure what you hope I was mistaken about. We were not served anything from cardboard boxes. What I meant by my comment is that all varietals grown in Australia and New Zealand originated elsewhere, not that the grapes were actually grown elsewhere. As for the specific wine, I don't really know where those grapes were grown, though I doubt they were sourced from outside Australia.


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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A big congrats to Chef Achatz -- and the entire Alinea family -- on his winning the 2008 Beard award for Outstanding Chef, a well-deserved honor. The news broke just a short time ago . . .

Alinea's Grant Achatz took top chef honors at the James Beard Awards in New York Sunday evening, winning the Outstanding Chef Award. The award salutes "a working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals."

Grant Achatz wins top Beard honor, Outstanding Chef; Nahabedian grabs Best Chef: Great Lakes

=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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Thanks to Grant Achatz for the greatest restaurant meal of my life at Alinea last fall. And congratulations on the honor tonight.

Of course, for all us foodie athiests who've been sending prayers your way, your recovery might make us believers.

Bravo.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

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Thanks to Grant Achatz for the greatest restaurant  meal of my life at Alinea last fall. And congratulations on the honor tonight.

Of course, for all us foodie athiests who've been sending prayers your way, your recovery might make us believers.

Bravo.

I have reservations at Alinea at the end of August. Much as I'd love to do The Tour, I doubt my stomache capacity could handle it so will probably order the smaller meal. However, I've seen the Truffle Explosion mentioned as Chef G's masterpiece from his previous restaurant (is it the same dish on the Tour?) and wonder if it would be possible to get it in place of something on the smaller meal? Does anyone know if they do things like that at Alinea?

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You can always ask.


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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Thanks to Grant Achatz for the greatest restaurant  meal of my life at Alinea last fall. And congratulations on the honor tonight.

Of course, for all us foodie athiests who've been sending prayers your way, your recovery might make us believers.

Bravo.

I have reservations at Alinea at the end of August. Much as I'd love to do The Tour, I doubt my stomache capacity could handle it so will probably order the smaller meal. However, I've seen the Truffle Explosion mentioned as Chef G's masterpiece from his previous restaurant (is it the same dish on the Tour?) and wonder if it would be possible to get it in place of something on the smaller meal? Does anyone know if they do things like that at Alinea?

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I'd suggest making the request in advance when you confirm your reservation, rather than in the heat of service. Neither strategy is guaranteed to work but I think you increase your chances with an advance request.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Thanks to Grant Achatz for the greatest restaurant  meal of my life at Alinea last fall. And congratulations on the honor tonight.

Of course, for all us foodie athiests who've been sending prayers your way, your recovery might make us believers.

Bravo.

I have reservations at Alinea at the end of August. Much as I'd love to do The Tour, I doubt my stomache capacity could handle it so will probably order the smaller meal. However, I've seen the Truffle Explosion mentioned as Chef G's masterpiece from his previous restaurant (is it the same dish on the Tour?) and wonder if it would be possible to get it in place of something on the smaller meal? Does anyone know if they do things like that at Alinea?

You know your capacity best, but I arose from the table appetite satisfied, but not uncomfortable or stuffed. Each jewel-like course is small.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I'd suggest making the request in advance when you confirm your reservation, rather than in the heat of service. Neither strategy is guaranteed to work but I think you increase your chances with an advance request.

Do I have to phone to confirm my reservation at Alinea? It wasn't mentioned on their website, unlike Charlie Trotter's where I have a reservation for the previous night.

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I'd suggest making the request in advance when you confirm your reservation, rather than in the heat of service. Neither strategy is guaranteed to work but I think you increase your chances with an advance request.

Do I have to phone to confirm my reservation at Alinea? It wasn't mentioned on their website, unlike Charlie Trotter's where I have a reservation for the previous night.

They will most likely call you, but if you haven't heard from them by the day before or so, I would call them.


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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They called us a few days before our reservation to confirm, and also to re-emphasize the dress code.


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

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"dress code"? (While Iam always dressed appropriately, I always find it a bit silly if restaurants that praise their "playful" and "innovative" food on any occasion, on the other hand are anything but playful and expect their guests to be dressed as if attending a wall-street-business meeting... :laugh: )


Edited by kai-m (log)

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Their dress code is a jacket, but I saw quite a range of formality among all of us jacketed men. You should give them a taste of their own medicine - make a jacket out of fruit leather or something - I think it would be appreciated :)

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