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Lenski

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

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As far as his reasoning for putting the dish on the menu, he commented on that in his Atlantic piece last week.

http://food.theatlantic.com/back-of-the-ho...-old-modern.php

Sad to hear that the dish missed the mark.

Yeah - I read Grant's post, but I totally don't get the point of sticking a flat out "sample" from Escoffier, complete with antique serviceware into the middle of the meal. It's one thing to blend some James Brown into a hip-hop track, it's another to stick an un-modified chunk of Brahms in the middle of an Aphex Twin cut.

As an architect, it reminds me of some of the less successful "Neoclassical Post-Modern" work of folks like Bob Venturi were doing in the 80's. He was big into sticking traditional "geegaws" onto what were obviously "modern" buildings. It risks being more pastiche than re-interpreting the "foundations" of our thinking on a subject. I can see how Grant would include elements of Escoffier preparations as an element of a complex dish, but making a whole course directly - I don't get it.

It seems that part of what is created in an extremely contemporary restaurant is an experience of being taken out of the familiar and quotidien. This is particularly true when you're eating food made with ingredients you've never heard of off of serviceware that was invented for that specific dish. Sure, it's still a restaurant, with wine in glasses and waiters bringing plates that often have meat, vegetables and sauce on them. But totally shattering the "avant garde" with a hyper-old fashioned dish just sounds jarring. Especially if the food itself isn't spectacular.

I think that we get that what Grant is doing really is rooted in "classic" cooking, not some groundless mumbojumbo or pure science. It doesn't seem necessary to include a dish in this literal of a way.

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As far as his reasoning for putting the dish on the menu, he commented on that in his Atlantic piece last week.

http://food.theatlantic.com/back-of-the-ho...-old-modern.php

Sad to hear that the dish missed the mark.

As an architect, it reminds me of some of the less successful "Neoclassical Post-Modern" work of folks like Bob Venturi were doing in the 80's.

Absolutely. And I agree with you. It does not make sense from any point of view. As you mentioned in your last paragraph, we already know that he can cook, let alone copy a recipe. Both as a postmodern experiment and as an homage, it falls flat....and cannot be compared to Achatz's own creations.

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I believe that its a brilliant addition to the menu. The dish asks the guest to consider what their expectations were and moves the experience to the next dish.

The whole experience is "seamless".

If the dish is delicious, the meal is delicious, and everyone is satiated...The restaurant delivered its goal, right?

Cheers.

-tw-


eGullet Ethics Signatory

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Has the lack of music at Alinea been discussed in this forum?

Before I went, I remember wondering what kind of music would be played in the dining room. It was something I wanted to notice. Not until the day after I dined, did I realize that the entire experience was devoid of music. It was an astonishing realization and retrospectively refreshing. I didn't miss it at all.

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OK I realise I am arriving slightly late to the party, but with regards to Achatz' nod towards Escoffier in his tasting menu, I find it curious that at virtually the same time Heston Blumenthal has incorporated several recipes from British culinary 'antiquity' into his new menu at the Fat Duck.

Indeed, there had been talk a while back that he would run two tasting menus concurrently, one of his original creations and one of centuries old dishes brought up to date.

I wonder if these additions by two of the most forward-thinking chefs in the world are any indication of the direction cutting-edge cooking will be taking in the near future? Or perhaps I'm reading too much into it and these are just examples of chefs re-imagining classic flavour combinations (Dufresnes Eggs Benedict and Jason Athertons BLT etc etc) taken to further extremes with more 'dusty' reference points and a few more bells and whistles?

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I was lucky enough to eat at Alinea for the first time last night (finally!) and although I forgot my camera and therefore have no pictures, I thought I’d set out a just few thoughts.

I was worried that my anticipation might be too high and that I would be let down, but the whole evening was absolutely perfect, except that I spilled a tiny bit of my Hot Potato Cold Potato because I am clumsy.

I don’t believe anyone has discussed the silicone table sheets discussed by Chef Achatz here:

Silicone plating

but I thought it was pretty neat, especially because Grant did the presentation at my table, and I am nothing if not a silly fangirl. But see also Grant’s entry on diner envy:

envy

and on being a celebrity chef:

celebrity chef

And although I recognize that envy is a petty useless emotion, I have occasionally felt it as a diner, if another table seems to receive special attention or off-menu courses. Also, I have been at restaurants and felt somewhat slighted if a chef comes out and stops only to check in at certain tables, and I have thought that chefs who stop at each table, however briefly, to say hello are much more gracious. (I understand that chefs may have limited time, but particularly if the chef is making the rounds at or near the end of a service, I personally find it poor business sense, and a bit rude, if the chef does not at least acknowledge each table).

Anyway, in my particular case, I have no such complaints about Alinea, but reading Grant's thoughts, I could see how it would be a restaurant that could easily fall prey to such diner feelings.

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...

I was worried that my anticipation might be too high and that I would be let down

...

That was precisely my worry - that it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. I needn't have worried.

except that I spilled a tiny bit of my Hot Potato Cold Potato because I am clumsy

We had a mishap at our table (surprisingly, it wasn't me :raz: ), and a gentleman at another table had a Black Truffle Encounter with his necktie. Despite the warnings from the waitstaff to not bite it in half with your mouth open.

Speaking of warnings, did they mention that the bowl for HP/CP is wax and isn't intended to be eaten? I guess in the early days of serving that dish there were some misunderstandings...

Thanks for the report, Holly. Glad you enjoyed your meal.

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I believe in serendipity. Surely, the realist in me concedes that daily life is ripe with troubles more likely overcome by deliberate action than by nothing but fortunate happenstance. This truth aside, those rare, unlikely events that lead one to feel that he leads a charmed life, for perhaps just a few hours, resonate deeply with me. Where a restaurant can embody and promote this feeling of felicity is the very essence of exemplary hospitality.

A strange opening to the recap of my meal last night at Alinea, I admit. But, as with so many meals where great food is pretty much a given, context is, well, nearly everything. In this case, the context for this meal could be described as nothing but serendipitous. People less obsessed with Alinea than I am--99.999% of the dining population--might be unaware that a couple months ago the blogosphere and Twitterverse--yes, I used those two terms, in succession--picked up a story about an individual who had just signed a lease for an apartment with a view of Alinea's kitchen. Clearly this person was a kindred spirit; I even considered reaching out to said individual, as I too would be moving to Chicago in the coming weeks. I quickly decided that this would be weird, even given my proclivity for reaching to like-minded food lovers over the internet.

Fast-forward a month to the reception area of a downtown skyscraper. First day of work at a new job, in a new city, essentially having just started a new life. Anxious to meet my new colleagues, who should sit down right next to me but a young lady who happens to have just moved into an apartment with a view of the kitchen at Alinea. The same young lady who had originally posted about said view. Mind. Is. Blown.

Having now watched Alinea's kitchen from afar for the past few weeks myself--not creepy, I promise--I was slated to visit the restaurant earlier this week with a friend visiting from NYC. When his travel plans fell through, it was most fortuitous that my new friend was able to get a same-week reservation for Saturday night. So, with positive vibes abound, Alinea needed only to do what it does best, put out amazingly creative and tasty food in a seamlessly polished yet warm fashion. As usual they succeeded.

It's been fun, enriching even, to visit this restaurant over the years. Since my last visit two years ago, it's clear that this is an establishment with a fully developed and consistent identity. It has soul, a personality that's at once creative, modernist, disarming yet eccentric. If Alinea was a girl, I'd date her. The service we received was seamless. Unobtrusive, engaged, perfectly timed and choreographed. This was my dining companion's first visit to the restaurant, and I think it's safe to say that she came away quite favorably impressed. That and extremely full.

The menu

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Some new dishes, some updated dishes, some classics. Taken as a whole, the meal was fantastic. As a general note, there were quite a few dishes that adopted Southeast Asian, and especially Thai, flavors. This was new to me. There were a couple dishes that were deemed less successful, but I find this process of critical appraisal to be inextricable from modern cuisine as a whole. So much of this food pushes the envelope of flavor and texture that not every dish can be a home run nor should it be. Now for the pretty pictures.

Osetra

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A wonderful opening couple of bites. The recast traditional garnishes felt natural and entirely appropriate. I will say, however, that this caviar course, while fun, wasn't as luxurious as those I've recently had at Manresa and Eleven Madison Park.

Yuba

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I've had this dish, in earlier iterations, a few times now, and this is definitely my favorite preparation. It feels more integrated, and the sweet miso sauce was perfect. The ideal canape.

The Distillation/Pork belly courses were meant to feed into one another. The distillation was exactly that, a perfectly clear liquid imbued with classic Thai flavors like fish sauce, lime and chile. Taken as a small shot, this was a nice way to open the palate for the range of textures and flavors in the next wave of the course. There were many, many components.

The version of the course that we received--I believe we were the first guests to experience this particular presentation--first started off with a supplementary centerpiece in the form of two rather pretty rice paper sheets, suspended like flags from two wooden holsters.

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We were then presented with a striking two-level plate that we were instructed to disassemble. The glass layer, with the ingredients was removed and set aside.

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The two metal pieces that first appeared to be purely aesthetic design elements were removed from the wooden, lower level of the plate, then assembled into a kind of nest. Our captain then placed the rice paper into this nest.A spoonful of pork belly was then heaped into the rice paper.

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We were then instructed to add the various garnishes to the nest as we desired. This whole packaged was then wrapped up and eaten as a summer roll.

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The whole process sounds gimmicky, but the the end product was absolutely delicious. It was fun to experience such an interactive course, but it was also among the tastiest of the evening.

Brook trout

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After a course so unapologetically interactive and contemporary, this made for quite the stark contrast. The cut crystal stemware, vintage flatware, patterned plates, and rich saucing really beg one to consider how many forms deliciousness can take, both aesthetically and to the taste buds. I was a big fan of this course for its richness. The trout roe, poached quail egg, and pastry shell also evoked breakfast, an association I found whimsical in such a serious, old-school dish.

Black truffle

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I've said it before but this is a classic in its own time. Just unreal delicious.

Duck

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This may have been my favorite dish of the night. It was elegant yet so powerful, fully encompassing sweet, savory, and the essence of fall. The hard sear on the foie and breast and the sprout leaves added bitterness and umami. The broth was light yet so dense with flavor. Also loved how various offal cuts were included in the dish.

Kumquat

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Like a sweet, citrusy sazerac, this was a nice palate cleanser for me. My dining companion, not the biggest fan of brown spirits, wasn't quite so into this. An intense bite.

Bacon, Thai banana, peanut butter

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The next three dishes were presented at once. The bacon-on-a-swing is a classic in its own right, and the flavor combination here is just spot on. The Thai banana dish was the the least successful of the three for me. The dish felt a bit unintegrated. I think I got what they were going for here, but it just didn't come together for me. The peanut butter was just a big, ballsy bite. Most likely a maltodextrin application, this was creamy, sticky, and actually a bit spicy. Simple but cool and effective.

Octopus

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I believe I've had a version of this dish three times now. On my previous visit the dish featured surf clam, and I distinctly remember enjoying the flavor and texture more. The octopus here was a bit chewy and dry, not meaty. We remarked about this to one of our servers and he said it was a conscious effort by the kitchen to give the dish some texture or chew, that it was inherent in the preparation. I loved the green peanut broth at the bottom of the bowl, it almost evoked a lighter, cleaner tasting potato-leek soup.

Matsutake

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For me, probably the coolest savory dish of the evening. The o-toro was a beautiful piece of fish, but this plate was all about uncommon elements totally coming together in a surprisingly organic fashion. The matsutake, in both unadulterated and pureed form, took center stage, with hits of sweetness from the mango, salinity from a few leaves of seaweed, and acidity from the yuzu sorbet coming in to make things interesting.

Pheasant

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Although just a single bite of food, this was, for me, the richest dish of the evening. Between the heady burning leaves; the salty, crispy shell; and a sweet, juicy, meaty interior this was an autumn state fair in the most compact of packages. If haute cuisine can trigger powerful food memories, real or imagined, this dish surely did that.

Hot potato

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I've made these for private events. Mine are never as good. Another classic, totally delicious.

Lamb

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My second exposure to this dish, this time much more autumnal. I particularly enjoyed the smoked eggplant topping. The lamb nuggets were actually a bit firmer than I would've expected but still very tasty. And quite unapologetically lamby as well, perhaps to the chagrin of my tablemate who hadn't eaten red meat or pork in the 14 or so years immediately leading up to this meal. It's Alinea, you go big or go home. We choose the former.

Lemon soda

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Like a fizzy, powdery party in my mouth.

Blackberry, bubble gum, transparency, concord grape

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Another series of small bites delivered at once. The antennae is always fun--and by fun, I mean watching how people react to it--this time topped with a rather bold combination that evoked a sweet-savory cheesecake. The bubble gum dish required additional vaguely inappropriate eating technique. In this dish a tube is layered with various ingredients, all designed to be consumed in one, umm, suck. I thought this bordered on being too sweet, but it was a fun, nostalgic flavor profile, slightly updated. Of course the concord grape dish and its brethren are famous. So much fun, a total eyeopener to newbie and Alinea veteran alike. Is it too much to say the dish makes me happy to be alive? If I'm being honest I prefer the flavor of the old apple-horseradish version, but this is just such a cool dish.

Hay

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I'd been wanting to try this dish since hearing about it a couple months back. I've heard of burning hay for aroma or cooking in it, but to base a dessert around the flavor of dry grass seemed quite interesting. This was quite successful, the hay contributing a wheaty, savory quality to the dish. The coffee cake provided bitterness, the berry acidity.

Chocolate

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This was just so freaking cool. Of course I'd read about this radically new take on tableside presentation at length. I'd seen the pictures, watched the videos. But actually being right there as this dish is built in front of you is just flat out awesome. You can't help but smile and let your jaw drop just a bit. Add to that that this dish was actually very tasty and so fun to eat. A total winner. A game-changer. Something to remember.

Pound cake

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We finished with this relatively traditional bite. A cute end to a truly fantastic meal. Overfed, overimbibed, it's hard to ask for more out of any dining experience. I realize all of this sounds incredibly sycophantic. Pretty much all of my reports after a meal here are. Maybe that says something about me, but more likely it's a testament to the hospitality, generosity, and excellence of this restaurant.

Full Flickr set here, http://bit.ly/2Tb78z


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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"Chocolate" is just f***ing cool for some reason. I'm not exactly sure why... it just is.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I was just going to post in this forum to ask if Alinea is still "worth it" if I'm looking for a fantastic holiday meal and I've never been to either Alinea, L2O, Trotter's, or any of them...

So, it sounds like the answer is YES. Yes? :biggrin:


"You can't taste the beauty and energy of the Earth in a Twinkie." - Astrid Alauda

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Food Lovers' Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque & Taos: OMG I wrote a book. Woo!

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I was just going to post in this forum to ask if Alinea is still "worth it" if I'm looking for a fantastic holiday meal

Undoubtedly, yes.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Given the current plight of the bluefin on an apparent path to extinction, I am, for the very first time, disappointed in Alinea.


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 recent longwinded report from Alinea below - 2/17/10 - Full review with pictures in my blog.

When I first ate at Alinea on August the 1st 2009 I stated it was the best dining experience of my life trumping an extended tasting at The French Laundry that cost twice the price...I knew at some point Id go back, but there were many other places to try on my ever growing list. After Alinea I visited Savoy and Robuchon, L2O, Daniel, Picholine, Ko, and did an extended tasting at Per Se before Benno left - all save Ko were excellent and worth their price - but none trumped Alinea. When the opportunity arose on an Ash Wednesday cancellation when Id conveniently have a layover at OHare I called my friend Dave and asked if hed be interested he said Oh Hell Yes, an appropriate response.

Arriving moments before my 6:00pm reservation I checked in with the hostess and as my friend was stuck in traffic I was escorted to the table, upstairs this visit. A larger room than the downstairs but with tables equally spaced I chatted with one of my multiple servers about the artwork provided in this case by a local artist and changing with the season, my previous visit, and dining in general. Watching a few neighbors receive their dishes from the shorter menu I saw some familiar items but also some new ones Id soon be experiencing. When my friend arrived the Sommelier stopped by and discussed the wine pairings, however Dave opted for a bottle of California Red and I had a few small pours along with my water.

In order to not belabor the discussion I will note that the service during this visit to Alinea was every bit on par with my previous experience ever present but never obvious, descriptive without talking down, water and wine filled as if by an invisible hand. While the waiter-to-diner interaction I loved on my first visit was obviously less important (and less focused upon) since I was not dining alone, I still felt as though our servers wanted to know us as diners and went out of their way to ask and answer questions. Finally, while Alinea has done away with bread service in order to focus on the food (unfortunate as their butter was sublime) the courses flowed seamlessly without the need of bread to refresh the palate and while I myself left comfortably full my friend noted even before the main dessert that he was getting stuffed.

Beginning the meal approximately 10 minutes after Daves arrival our first dish was excellent it wowed me and gave Dave an idea of what was to come. Entitled Char Roe - Plantain, Ginger, Papaya the dish acted to pair the salty roe with tropical nuance per our waiter Char comes from cold water and they wanted to give it an island vacation. Served inside a nutmeg glass we shattered the elegant presentation like a crème brulee to release the amalgam of roe and spices that I believe included cilantro and basil into a foam and gel with strong hints of papaya, plantain, ginger, and lime. A great degree of texture, a great balance of sweet and salty, creamy yet spicy and acidic an intense and beautiful opening dish.

Dish two was an Alinea signature and was seen by myself on the previous, Yuba - Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi. Like an old friend the pen-in-ink dish greeted my palate with a wonderful mélange of savory and sweet, spicy and aromatic, crisp yet texturally varied.

Dish three was a dish Id heard about but didnt understand until I experienced it. Entitled Chao Tom - Sugar Cane, Shrimp, Mint the dish was Alineas take on the traditional Vietnamese dish usually served as a skewer of shrimp. In this case the dish was indeed served on a skewer, but aside from that the presentation was entirely unique. Featuring a compressed piece of fresh sugar cane that had apparently been boiled in shrimp and ginger stock before being topped with garlic, mint, peanut, and shallot the diner was instructed to place the bite in his/her mouth and chew it up to extract all the flavor prior to spitting out the fibrous cane. Following the instructions I have to say I wasnt entirely impressed by this dish in terms of texture but its taste was excellent and the concept certainly not something Id seen prior.

Distillation - of Thai Flavors was the next dish and this time unlike prior it was served solo in a wine glass prior to the pork dish as a palate cleanser. Featuring prominent heat on smell the distillation had none on sipping a total mind bender and instead tasted like a salty fish sauce with hints of lime.

At this point in the meal our centerpiece of 2 flags came into play. Described on the menu as Pork Belly - Curry, Cucumber, Lime we were delivered a multi-tiered plate that we were instructed to subsequently disassemble and reconstruct into a hammock. Onto the hammock our flags, actually flowered rice paper, were then draped and topped with a heaping spoon of slow roasted pork belly. From here on out the dish is left to the decision of the diner as multiple accoutrements are provided with which to create a haute-spring roll. Including spicy, sweet, savory, and pungent ingredients I opted to simply use all and was greatly rewarded with a delectable admixture while my friend deferred on some of the spices and was equally impressed.

Following the international trend set by previous dishes our next experience was sever in the hand bowl and featured Octopus - Green Garbanzo, Mint, Dill. First taking the intensely flavorful and smoky octopus with hints of coriander and dill and subsequently chasing it with a soup of what I can only describe as hummus spiked with sour yogurt this dish provided a unique flavor profile that started briny and savory but finished creamy and tart.

With each dish previous impressive it was dish seven that provided the first showstopper of the evening…or should I perhaps say three showstoppers? Entitled Lobster - parfait, salad, soup this dish was surprise after surprise after surprise. Featuring the air of chai the first presentation was a parfait of chilled lobster consomme, grapefruit, mint flavored cream, candied ginger, and pistachio ice cream along with a crumbly mixture of what our server stated was pistachio and lobster cracker. Hot/cold, sharp/smooth, tart/refined and it only got better.

With my friend assuming this course was done he stood up to use the restroom and our plates were oddly not cleared. Assuming this meant there was more to the dish I waited and sure enough on Daves return the top of the plate was removed to reveal the salad component poached lobster and eggplant confit, parsnip, mint, cilantro most notably and topped with a savory vinaigrette.

Finishing our salad (and guessing where this dish was going) the plate was again taken apart yielding the hefty aroma of chai in a lower bowl. Taking this lower bowl and straining it into a cup our server finally presented us with the soup of the dish an admixture of lobster broth, cream, clove, cinnamon, and undoubtedly other spices that tasted like a thick and creamy chai at first but left a gossamer finish resonating of lobster and cinnamon (uniquely similar to the lobster at Picholine, actually.)

Dish eight (or perhaps eleven if you counted all the lobster dishes as separate) was Duck - Chestnut, Mace, Brussels Sprouts and given the amount of duck Id consumed in the previous week I was looking for something great…and per usual Alinea delivered. Featuring honey accented duck breast and foie gras served in a sweetened duck stock with hints of mace the duck alone was beautifully prepared and only improved by its accompaniments of fennel, crisp Brussels sprout leaves, and what our server described as chestnut pillows that tasted much precisely like chestnut but with the texture of whipped cream.

Dish nine was perhaps Chef Achatzs most famous creating and it once again wowed me. While Dave merely stated that was interesting upon mastication of Black Truffle - Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan I still contend that the only problem with this dish is that I cant easily make it at home…or order a whole plate of them.

Dish ten through twelve constituted the the dessert portion of the first half of our menu and began with Peanut Butter - Dried and Spicy. A delicate bite of dehydrated peanut butter and what I assume was either cayenne or curry (or both) the most interesting aspect of this dish was the fact that the mouth-feel and taste was that of peanut butter while the palate and nostril essence was that of the spice.

Following the peanut butter was Thai Banana - Beer, Mustard, Pecans. Apparently a unique style of chewy banana called Hua Moa this dish was a small slice topped with candied pecan, mustard icing, and a somewhat hops accented finish.

Having already had peanut butter and banana it was only natural to end this trio with bacon in this case Grants now-famous bow presentation of Bacon - Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme. More savory than I remember it the delectable pork texture poked through the caramel apple flavor this time with great effect.

Bridging from sweet to savory to begin the second half of our tour was something that wouldve likely seemed more novel had I not been to David Changs Momofuku Ko in January but regardless the effect at Alinea was not only on par, but superior. Foie Gras - Pear, White Wine, Allspice was described as pushed and pressed and featured a confetti of creamy foie gras terrine with hints of allspice served over a sauternes gel and topped with crispy wafer thin slices of spiced pear. More textural than the famous version at Ko due to the pears and more nuanced with the allspice I was impressed, Dave was oh, wow that is amazing.

For dish fourteen, Sturgeon - Potato, Leek, Smoke, it is hard to believe that something with so much going on could have such great flow it worked much like a Dali painting or fine jazz. Utilizing a beautiful sous vide preparation of sturgeon studded across the plate and complimented with purees of leek, chive, and potato plus slices of radish and celery the dish was served linearly and bridged by a long sheet of crispy potato above and a fruit roll-up like gel that tasted of both apple and liquid smoke. Eaten piecemeal or putting it all together this dish was a work of art and a study in food.

Moving along towards heavier textures was the tempura preparation of the evening, in this case Goose - Stuffing, Prune, Juniper Aroma. Presented as what appeared to be a bowl of pine needles with the wonderful aroma of juniper we were instructed to grasp one branch and upon lifting we discovered a single bite tempura attached to the end of the skewer. Featuring prunes soaked in alcohol, stuffing with accents of fennel and onion, and a central portion of fatty goose breast all perfectly prepared this was yet another dish Ill not soon forget as much as I loved the sweet potato with cinnamon, this one was even better.

Dish sixteen, another classic - Hot Potato - Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter, albeit without the use of the magnetic wand to collect the pin on this occasion. Warmer than I remember last time the potage was still sublime and if possible the essence of truffle even more pronounced on this visit.

At dish seventeen our menus temporarily diverged because of my distaste for the texture of beef flesh (or so I thought.) Delivered to Dave was the classic Filet du Boeuf Goddard while I myself was delivered Poussin - Winter Root Vegetables. Classic recipes served with classic flatware and a French Bordeaux I was quite pleased with my dish of buttery chicken with crispy skin, potato croquettes and spheres, and caramelized onions alongside three different styles of black truffle. For Daves dish he was treated to a thick slice of sous vide Wagyu loin, sweetbreads, tongue, and mushrooms topped with a savory reduction. Insisting that I try the loin because it was amazing and tastes nothing like steak at all I obliged and must admit it was divine almost ham like in texture with a clean and grassy taste.

Dishes eighteen through twenty were a course of edible cocktails, a new concept Chef Achatz and team have been toying with and will apparently soon be implementing into a new restaurant. Served as a trio we started with Passion Fruit - Rum, Cranberry, Orange. Intended to represent a Hurricane cocktail I found this the most delicious of the three with a passionfruit shell containing an admixture of passionfruit seeds, rum, and cranberry orange juice that had a texture of tapioca.

Following the hurricane was Elixir Vegetal - Sugar Cube, Fennel, Lemon. Served on the silver tray and featuring a single sugar cube accented with Grande Elixer Vegetal plus sweet fenel bulb, and lemon I personally though this tasted of a Mojito without the mint in general I didnt taste any alcohol, however.

Having returned from New Orleans that day I found a degree of irony to the next dish - Kumquat - Rye, Peychaud's, Demerara in that it was intended to taste of a Sazerac (a drink Ive never tasted but was omnipresent in NOLA. With heavy hints of anise and rye plus a sourness that tasted like lemon I have to say this was my least favorite of our 29 courses that evening and even Dave noted wow, that is strong.

In a meal that contained many wowing moments it was our final savory that provided the most oohs and aahs both for its presentation and its taste. Dubbed Venison - Fireplace Log, Pumpernickel, Licorice this seasonally inspired dish was described as the chefs attempt to recreate the smell of a fireplace and actually served the dish on a charred log. Explaining to us that the organic feel of the dish was created with the concept that all black foods can logically be paired together we were left to explore. Featuring the hearty flavors of black trumpet mushrooms paired with sweet raisins in the sauce, bitter pumpernickel bread and black garlic in the dirt, butter braised vegetables to offset the crispy dried trumpets, and finally a sensual nearly raw sous-vide preparation of venison and a cranberry gelee this dish was truly an experience and the smell of the log led Dave to exclaim that hed no longer accept foods not served in such a manner...though Im pretty sure his wife will have something to say about that.

Transitioning to desserts was a quick palate cleanser - Lemon Soda - One Bite. Quite literally a dissolving packet this dish was the very essence of a lemonhead with a carbonated tingle not unlike a pop-rock without the pop.

Dish twenty three, four, five, and six were served together and featured three classics and one new taste. Beginning first with the Transparency of Raspberry, Yogurt Dave was very pleased by the intense raspberry rock candy/fruit roll up hybrid while I noted a tad less of the flower essence from previous yet a more intent raspberry flavor.

Moving next to Bubble Gum - Long Pepper, Hibiscus, Creme Fraiche Im not sure Dave liked this dish but I again was impressed by the manner in which the individual tastes peaked through as I inhaled the tube while the overarching flavor of bubble gum was indeed the essence that lingered on the palate afterwards.

Moving next to the novel item of the group (and my first experience with the antenna service piece) we experienced Quince - Hazelnut, Bacon, Thyme. With a texture like granola and a flavor not substantially different from the previous bow presentation earlier I have to say this dish did not move me, but I did like its inclusion it will be interesting to see if this develops over time, perhaps into a course exploring manners of pairing bacon with fruit in unique presentations.

The final pre-dessert was Pound Cake - Strawberry, Lemon, Vanilla Bean and again it truly did bring forth memories of Juniors strawberry cheesecake, though I actually quite liked it as the mignardise course during my first visit moreso than its current pre-dessert placement in the menu. Dave particularly liked this dish, as I recall.

Heading towards the larger desserts we were next served something Ive never eaten Hay. While some may state Hay is for horses, Id be quite alright with Hay - Burnt Sugar, Coffee, Huckleberry any day of the week. Intended to bring forth memories of fall and winter this dish features a custard made by steeping hay in heavy cream and the overall flavor of the reduced pudding is quite grassy and nutty, not unlike a chestnut or hazelnut. Paired with a bitter coffee accented cookie and sweet huckleberries with additional visual appeal and texture added by a burnt sugar crystal perched on top the dish is finally served atop a pillow of mellow air that to me resembled the smell of dry leaves and flowers sweet yet earthy much like the dish.

Finishing the pre-dessert we were next brought the now-famous silicone sheet and my mind flashed back to my previous meal a meal I stated would be once in a lifetime unless Chef Achatz presents to my table to prepare a course again in the future. Thankfully, both for myself and for Dave, while the dish I had on my previous experience was perhaps once in a lifetime the chance to watch the Chef work was not. Entitled Chocolate - Coconut, Menthol, Hyssop the video can be seen here and is most certainly worth 1,000 words or more http://www.youtube.com/user/uhockey1#p/a/u/0/DrYgagwhjAY. Like a peppermint patty only infinitely more nuanced the most impressive aspect of the dish was the strong contrast between the warm 68% Valrhona chocolate and the medicinal cool of the menthol while the coconut in its various forms balanced the two by enhancing the chocolate tones and mellowing the menthol. Additionally playing with hot and cold concepts the hot liquid pudding and the liquid nitrogen mousse, chewy and crunchy the coconut rocks and the menthol/chocolate crumbs, and finally adding a spicy component with the anise hyssop I was glad Dave was getting full so I could sneak a few extra spoonfuls of the mousse.

The final taste of our evening was a fitting end to a winter menu - Eggnog - Pedro Ximenez, Benedictine, Buffalo Trace. Similar to the Watermelon-Lime, Nasturtium dish from the summer menu in presentation the dish consisted of an eggnog shelled sphere filled with a spicy and vegetal cocktail with notes of cinnamon floating in a shot of sweet Pedro Ximenez. Taken as a single bite the sphere ruptured on mastication filling the mouth with a balance of sweet and cinnamon while the end effect was punchy with a hot bourbon finish.

Settling the tab and thanking our servers we finished coffee and espresso before making our way to the street, finding the car, and headed for the burbs. Throughout the drive we discussed the food and experience, each of us loving both similar and different parts, but both thoroughly impressed and trying to decide when to make a return visit yes, me, the guy who rarely dines at the same place twice even in his home town planning for a third trip…yes, it really is that good.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com/


Edited by uhockey (log)

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uhockey - after reading your post, I'm sooo disappointed Alinea couldn't accommodate our table of 8 for this Friday. We were originally only 6 and had a reservation, but when we changed it to 8, we could no longer fit. We haven't been back since July 2005 and were all looking forward it. Thanks for such a great post. I'll try to get over my disappointment at Spiagga.


I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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My experience at Spiaggia was my #2 worst fine dining experience in the past 2 years, I hope you fare better.

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I totally agreed with UHockey. I thought Oaxen, Muguritz, Michel Bras, and French Laundry were the best, but not after our dinner at Alinea. Enough have been written about the meal, but I just want to highlight the most delicious courses. Don’t get me wrong, every single dish was excellent.

Complex mixture of delectable Thai flavour - aromatic coconut, savoury pork belly, sweet banana, spicy curry and exotic basil all wrapped in a crispy lettuce.

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This course was all about duck: foie, breast, leg, heart, and consommé, along with "chestnut pillow" and honey orange jelly. A sophisticated course with beautiful flavour and wide range of textural contrast.

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A seductive slice of smoked and seared o-toro accompanied by various types of seaweed. The soft melt-in-mouth fatty tuna with a hint of charcoal finish... OH MY GOD!!!

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And finally, a crazy but tasty finish to our meal:

Click Here For More Pics.


Fine Dining Explorer

www.finediningexplorer.com

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Alinea was just ranked #1 greatest restaurant in Chicago history by Chicago Magazine. Freaking incredible and very impressive, especially since they haven't been open 5 years yet. Congrats!


-K

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After a superlative dinner in the summer of 2008, we returned to Alinea for another round of the tour this weekend. Our menu was quite similar to the one so lovingly described by uhockey -- right down to the rather unfortunate kumquat sazerac (which you'd think they'd have corrected, if not perfected, after a few months).

I'd agree with most of the highlights pointed out in uhockey's post: the chao tom, the distillation of Thai flavors, the very entertaining multi-tiered seafood reveal (for us, Jonah crab), the duck (with morels, asparagus camomile foam), and the foie gras (pressed through a sieve into liquid nitrogen, and texturally superior to Ko's shaved frozen foie).

Despite my degree of satiation at that stage, my personal favorite was the final savory course. Nestled among the charred frisée on the hot birch log were several pieces of stupendously delicious squab, which, for what it's worth, was the finest meat cooked sous vide that I've eaten.

We noticed more missteps on Sunday than on our previous, near-perfect visit: the horrendously overpowering sazerac, too thick and dry pasta surrounding the black truffle explosion, the overwrought and underwhelming sturgeon dish, too much (and overly dressed) pork belly filling in the DIY roll. The service, too, felt more frazzled than before. Nonetheless, it was a very, very impressive and memorable dinner.

One thing that I'd say is that it appeared most of the other diners had ordered the tasting menu. Having observed the differences between the tasting and tour menus on both visits, I would highly recommend the latter because the former misses out on almost all of the tastiest (and certainly most dramatic) dishes. With the tour, the meal is by far more of an experience.

Speaking of experience, I'm extremely glad that I'd somehow avoided this thread and other reports of the "Chocolate" dessert. We were all the more awestruck and delighted because we had no idea what to expect when they brought out the silicone mat. (Given Achatz's predilection for aromas and aromatics, we inconpicuously put our noses down and started sniffing our table, thinking that we detected a very faint whiff of lemon.)

As the Chef de Cuisine started plating the dish (or, rather, table), we managed to regain enough composure to remark to him how much more theatrical our meal that evening was compared to two years ago. Beran responded that he felt the restaurant had matured a lot over that period.

Alinea's greatest strength lies in its ability to achieve a kind of transcendence where every additional ingredient or technique applied to a dish serves to pare it down to its essence. Even when dishes (like the single bite of green almond/cucumber gelee) don't wow you with their deliciousness, they achieve a purity that is art.

And yet, on occasions in this meal, we could glimpse certain dishes (like that sturgeon dish, which had far too many textures and tastes competing for my palate's attention to little end) struggling to achieve effect. If an increased sense of theatre marks the maturation of Alinea, dare I voice a concern that as it continues to grow, it runs the danger of lapsing into self-parody (cf. the fall, so to speak, of vertical cuisine)? Certainly, it seems churlish to say something like that given how much we enjoyed the entertainment...


Edited by kayu (log)

"Sauce separates you from the money. Make a good sauce, you make the money."

-- James Willis

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right down to the rather unfortunate kumquat sazerac (which you'd think they'd have corrected, if not perfected, after a few months).

I'm surprised by the negativity that this bite inspires. I found it excellent and would gladly eat the Peychaud pudding by the spoonful (truth be told, on one occasion I did). It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but to say that since a few folks don't care for the punch of anise and rye whiskey that the dish requires 'correction' is bold.

While, at Alinea, it seems the goal of every dish is to evolve and (where possible) improve, they definitely think this one is fine. In fact, I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that the kumquat sazerac was the launching pad for what will become Aviary.


Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Interesting tweet from Grant Achatz this afternoon:

If u c a mushroom cloud over Chicago don't worry. Just roof blowin off Alinea.100ppl. 50-26crs menus, 50-12crs.96 vip crs.1996 total plates

Deciphering the Tweet-speak, that sounds like an insane number of dishes coming out of that kitchen tonight. NRA weekend, perhaps?

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