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


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Hi all! Been lurking for a while but was finally inspired to register because I couldn't find a complete answer to my question in this thread (at least with recent information).

In about a week and a half, my best friend and I will be making the drive from Michigan to Chicago for a dinner at Alinea. We've been looking forward to this for months, and specifically booked our reservation for the end of august so we could see Chef Achatz's take on our favorite late-summer produce.

Our issue is that we are both 25 years old, and quite frankly a meal of this caliber/price is quite an expense for both of us. We really are interested in wine pairings for their effect with the food, but financially, purchasing two pairings is simply out of the question. Has anybody successfully ordered a split pairing recently? And would you have any information on the current price? I'm considering trying to contact the sommelier or wine director during the week before our reservation to inquire as to a more suitable beverage option for our price level, to both spare us the embarrassment of trying to explain in the restaurant (and having service staff thinking they're going to get shorted on a tip by some amateurs - which we would never do), and sparing wine staff the trouble of putting something together last minute. Perhaps more experienced diners could advise me to the propriety of such a phone call?

Thanks so much in advance, I've been gleaning from this community for years and I'm excited to finally start participating!

They'll work with you on the wines. You can order by the glass. When I went, I told my waiter to just bring me the next wine that was in the pairing whenever my glass was empty. Sometimes a glass would last 2 or 3 courses and since the courses are a progression, the wines from one course tend to work with the next course. They had no issue with it.

Also, the service staff at Alinea is surprisingly humble and I wouldn't be concerned about being embarrassed about making such a request.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My review of Alinea ... again, it's long, so apologies for that. Hope you enjoy ...

I arrived with a little unease. I always get this way before dining at high end places I’ve never been, it seems to be a reaction to the excitement and anticipation, and after going through the Alinea cookbook, and reading ‘Life, On The Line’, it only compounded the slight nervousness I was feeling. I needn’t have worried, the wait staff are able to put you at ease quickly through their semi-cheeky remarks, and pretty soon, the only thoughts related to the wonders that were to emerge from the kitchen.

To start, the table decoration of a miniature herb garden is placed on the table, along with a tongue in cheek comment of “no grazing, you’ll need that later on”, which was a good indication of what was to follow, and showed the deftness of the waiters in putting you at ease, allowing you to relax and ‘just go with it’.

The choices of sparkling waters were presented, and I ended up going with the recommendation of one that was really briny, yet refreshing. An unorthodox choice, to be sure, but it worked well with food, and cleaned the palate nicely with the mildly salty and earthy mineral flavour. Okay, so describing bubbly water in that much detail may seem a little pretentious, but it was so different that I figured it was worth a mention.

Steelhead roe with watermelon and cucumber was a perfect balance of flavours, the sweetness and saltiness playing off each other brilliantly. The ethereal texture of watermelon mousse and the purity of the watermelon distillation added greatly to the clarity and depth of the dish, with the refreshing crunch of the cucumber and the gentle popping of the roe adding great textural elements. The dish was matched to a sake with subtle flavours that worked well with the dish.

The next course, served nestled in the clutches of the slightly sinister looking tentacles of the ‘squid’, and impaled on a warm vanilla bean skewer, was Hamachi tempura with pineapple salt and banana. The greaseless tempura and rich oily fish was accented nicely with the sweetness of the fruits and the vanilla aroma added another sensory dimension, heightening the sweetness.

Four ‘courses’ arrived at once, sitting upon a log of driftwood, nestled in seaweed, and comprised of oyster leaf, scallop with white ale foam, little neck clam with Australian black truffle and champagne, and a razor clam with carrot, soy and daikon. Of the four, the scallop and razor clam were memorable, the little neck clam and oyster leaf were merely okay. Tasty enough, but they didn’t really stand up to the razor clam or the scallop. I thought it was kind of odd that this was four separate courses, though I guess that it is probably only done this way for clarity on the menu.

Labelled as yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi, the next course is a definite highlight. The crispy fried bean curd is wrapped with sweet and tender shrimp (or prawn, if you’re from my neck of the woods) and sits in a crater filled with a miso emulsion. The emulsion is hands down the best mayo I’ve ever had, and the sweetness of the shrimp was a great foil for the earthy miso. I had to restrain myself from tonguing the crater; I just didn’t want to miss out on any available skerrick of that miso emulsion.

Sweet corn, served in three parts (yes, that three layered bowl) was a little hit and miss, mostly due to me not being a huge fan of the liquorice that was served as part of the first layer with a cold corn parfait and gooseberry, though the flavours worked well together despite my indifference to the strong aniseed flavour.

This course was accompanied by a stern yet totally playful ‘no peeking’ from the waiter, who later came across to remove the first tier to reveal grilled baby corn, roasted tomatillo seed and crispy corn kernels, which was easily the best of the three, with a pleasant smokiness accentuated by the deep flavour of the roasted tomatillo and crispy texture of the kernels.

The third tier was revealed to contain a corn broth made from the husks, with chanterelle mushroom and confit pork belly. The pork belly added a nice richness, but the broth was a little too subtle and underseasoned to have the impact that I was expecting.

It was then that I was presented with the tool that would ultimately destroy my attractive centrepiece, a pair of surgical style scissors. I couldn’t help but grin as they were placed on the table, much to the confusion of the waiter, to whom I had to explain that the course that I had at Moto two nights previous where I was presented a miniature rake and shovel as cutlery. It seemed that Chicago was conspiring to try and get me to revise my unabashed hatred of participating in gardening.

The dish consisted of the best gazpacho it has ever been my pleasure to consume, with heirloom tomato and nitro frozen goats cheese. I went at the herb garden like the mad pruner and made short work of it, then used the gazpacho to dress the herbs and combine all the elements. It was a great piece of audience participation, and the flavour was simply mindblowing. One of the definite highlights of the night

The scene of ‘the table with no centrepiece’ is short lived. A moment later comes a tomato pasta sheet, draped over another unique service piece, accompanied by the explanation of ‘we like edible decorations here, so this one will come into play soon’.

I can see the next course coming from a mile away, mostly because I was the first to sit in the dining room, so I know that the single antenna that’s headed out of the kitchen must be for me. Red snapper, seared as rare as tuna, with mango, bergamot and juniper is impaled on there. It’s quite a disconcerting experience, to eat without cutlery in a restaurant of this calibre, but it’s clear to me that’s exactly the point, to push you a little out of your comfort zone, but also to break down the pretension that can exist in high end restaurants. I love the combination of fruit and fish, and this course is no different.

I guess at this point, you’re tired of reading longish paragraphs on each course, so I’ll try and condense the next few for brevity, if nothing else. Wild mushrooms with pine nut cream and a red wine mushroom jus is rich, nutty and earthy. It is a great showcase of the different flavours and textures of different wild mushrooms.

The famous ‘hot potato, cold potato’ is every bit as good as everything I’d read about it … truffle, butter, potato … who could hate that? It’s rich, smooth and luxurious, with the hot and cold contrast adding to the rich mouthfeel, and the wax bowl and pin presentation is a perfect vehicle for a course that amounts to little more than a shot.

An omage to Escoffier, consisting of lamb loin, sauce choron and pomme de terre noisette is a beautiful rendition of a classic, and comes complete with an antique style plate and wine glass to accompany it. It just goes to show that no matter how many unusual chemicals and techniques you apply to the food, you still need to know how to cook the basics flawlessly, and clearly they can.

I don’t think the ‘Black Truffle Explosion’ needs much more commentary than a creative profanity. I was so tempted to ask for another one of these, and when I mentioned this to the waiter, he laughed and said that in exchange for wages, he just took home twenty of these per shift.

At last, that pasta sheet that’s been hanging around the table is called into use, in a DIY cannelloni with braised short rib, olive, black garlic, blackberry and about 4 other items whose identity escapes me. The unconventional combination of rich fatty beef, blackberry and olive works a treat, though it’s never something that’d cross my mind. Well, okay, beef and olive makes logical sense, but blackberry wouldn’t have been something I’d have thought of.

The last savoury course of octopus with eggplant and a wasabi onion broth is a nice course, and although the wasabi is a little understated, the rich octopus flavour and eggplant married perfectly. It’s good, but not memorable compared to some of the dishes that have preceded it.

Yuzu snow is a refreshing lead in to the dessert courses, the first of which is a plate of jellies. Labelled as ‘peach, jasmine, basil, balsamic’, it is a very complex array of flavours, all of which are described by the waiter, yet I can recall very few of the twelve or so cubes that make up the miniature city map that makes up the plate, so it’s more a case of ‘mix and match’ than a clear identification of the flavours before me. In saying that, I can’t recall a single jelly flavour that clashed with another, so while complex, the dish is very carefully planned to allow harmony of all the components.

A plastic tube containing wonderfully fragrant lemongrass syrup with thai basil and finger lime is plugged with a piece of dragonfruit. One is instructed to suck on one end to break the seal, sending the liquid and finally the piece of dragonfruit into the mouth. I managed to almost send the fruit through the back of my throat, after grossly misjudging the suction required. Still, it was very refreshing.

Nitro frozen chocolate mousse with a good ten flavours ranging from the conventional banana to the seemingly absurd red pepper concludes the meal. This course is a good three times the size of the largest course that has preceded it, so it is a little out of place in that regard, but the childish part of me never tires of breathing like a dragon after every bite. It’s a good finish to a meal that after which I felt sated, but not overly so, which is a great relief after some of the meals I’ve eaten of this length in the past (I’m looking at you Bilson’s).

The wine pairings I had opted to partake in were well thought out, and generously poured, after they realised I’m probably a borderline alcoholic, who always likes something nice to sip on. The sommelier assigned to my table was incredibly knowledgeable, which is what you’d expect in a three star, but was also able to discuss wine and it’s characteristics on whatever level appealed to you, without appearing as condescending, yet still being incredibly informative.

The other thing which struck me was how at WD-50 and Moto, sometimes the pourings were slightly out of step with the courses (at one stage at WD-50, the accompanying wine didn’t arrive until ¾ of the way through the course), yet at Alinea, the food went to the waiters station and waited for a minute if the pouring was running slightly behind schedule, so that the wine was always there, waiting for the food. It’s a small detail, but it is one of those things that count in a restaurant of that standard.

To finish up I had a latte, which unfortunately was burnt and quite bitter, and then got a brief tour of the kitchen, which was starting to heat up at this point, being that I started my meal at 5.15, and was now finishing just after 8pm, which unfortunately is right in the middle of service. Unfortunately, I could see Chef Achatz was busy, and I didn’t ask to pull him away (from all I’ve read about him, he’s intensely focused, and his demeanour did nothing to change my impression), but the waiter, sensing my interest, kindly offered to see if he would sign my menu, which he did happily.

I guess it confirmed to me that Alinea is more than a meal, which is something I had discovered in all the high end meals I had while in the US. Admittedly, I had stacked the deck, with Masa, WD-50, Moto and Alinea in my reservations, but that was precisely the point of my time in these restaurants; to experience something I could only get at Marque and perhaps Gastro Park in Sydney, and as good as they are, even those seem tame in comparison now.


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  • 3 months later...

I ate at Alinea last night. 5:45 reservation for one. This was my first foray into high end cuisine (the tip alone was more than I have ever spent on a meal). Here's my review:

Alinea’s building is unassuming. The only way to tell you are at Alinea (other than recognizing the street address) is the valet parking sign that identifies the restaurant. You open the double doors to the building and enter a long corridor. The corridor is somewhat dimly lit with blue light. Halfway down on the left are what look like elevator doors. Even though had I read the description of the entrance in Chef Achatz’s autobiography, I was still taken by surprise when the “elevator” doors wooshed open as I passed revealing the restaurant.

When you come in, you are greeted and your coat taken. You can see into the kitchen from the entryway which gives you something to stare at while the hostess deals with your coat. No one said anything in the kitchen until the expediter called out for a number four (I believe that was the number) and all of the cooks simultaneously said “Four!” It was loud, but not a shout. Very reminiscent of soldiers responding to a drill sergeant. I’ve watched a lot of footage of kitchen brigades, but I’ve never heard anything quite like that. Very intense, disciplined, and focused.

I was seated in an upper floor dining room. There were 2 large tables that could accommodate probably 6-8 diners and a long banquette along with the wall which could seat an additional 10 diners. One couple was seated already when I arrived for my 5:45 reservation. Over the course of the meal, I pulled ahead of them in course progression so that most of the dishes were complete surprises. The meal itself took just under 3 hours.

I went with the standard wine pairing. I am remarkably ignorant when it comes to wine and I can’t really comment about the quality of the wines. I can say that the 10 wines served paired very well with the food. The sommelier introduced each of the wines to me, but most of this went over my head. I can post the wine pairings if people are interested.

At the start of the meal I was informed “Chef” (the wait staff often referred to Chef Achatz as an almost fictional character wandering the globe developing dishes – I’m sure he does these things as described, but the way they talked about him made him larger than life a la The Most Interesting Man in the World) wanted to serve me an additional course of white truffles. They would shave the truffles tableside on either risotto or a pasta. All for the low-low price of $125.00. I declined, but almost immediately started second-guessing myself. I won’t be eating like this again any time soon, so shouldn’t I just go for it? In the end, I stayed frugal and I’m glad I did. I can’t imagine how I could have safely squeezed another course into my stomach.

The wait staff at Alinea was great. They were professional without being arrogant, welcoming without being smarmy. The dining room I was in had a central table where the wait staff congregated. This table had drawers holding service pieces, silverware, and stemware. The staff did an excellent job of monitoring where the guests were at in their meals without hovering. Everything was times perfectly. I was afraid the dining experience would be stuffy at a 3-star restaurant, but it was anything but. The atmosphere of the room and the staff was very comfortable.

The table had an ice sculpture on it with what looked like a purple fish imbedded in it. I spent some of my time waiting for the first course staring at it. I vaguely recalled reading something about the ice sculpture, but couldn’t remember what was involved. More later…

Trout roe, carrot, coconut, curry

This was the beginning of a series of seafood dishes. I wasn’t thrilled with this course. As with many of the courses, I would not describe it as delicious, but like all of the courses, it was very interesting. The early courses were characterized by shifting and evolving flavors. As I chewed or savored a dish, new and interesting flavors popped up.

Oyster Leaf mignonette

King crab, passionfruit, heart of palm, allspice

Mussel, saffron, chorizo, oregano

Razor clam, shiso, soy, daikon

Next up was a series of seafood shooters. They were settled in the shell on a bed of seaweed spread across what I think was a rock. Like the first course, these dishes all had evolving flavors that were very interesting as I worked my way across the rock. They were much tastier than the first course. My notes said “bad-ass.”

At this point a waiter placed what I can only describe as a potpourri hooka on the table, lit it, and walked away. This typified the experience at Alinea. Everything was intriguing and surprising. The hooka was obviously going to be used for something, but I had to wait and guess first.

Yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi

Yuba is apparently a by-product of making tofu. Alinea turned it into kind of a deep fried tuille, the wrapped shrimp and, IIRC, sesame seeds. The yuba stick was suspended with one end dipped into a miso dipping sauce. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away. Somehow the simple act of dipping the stick in the miso sauce made it feel interactive and fun. I’ve never had fun dipping a French fry in ketchup, so it’s hard to explain why eating this was fun. Maybe it was the wine or just the delight and excitement at eating someplace I have lusted for from a distance for years.

Scallop, acting like agedashi tofu

This was a neat dish. They served me a scallop that had been manipulated until it had the texture of soft tofu. I asked how they did it and the waiter(-ress) told me they run it through a food processor until it has broken down and then reconstruct it. The scallop was served in the broth that had been brewing in the potpourri hooka. A very good dish. I was provided with a small cup of the broth to drink after eating the scallop. The broth was good enough to enjoy on its own.

Right about here I started to feel the effects of the wine and realized there was no way I was getting out of this meal sober.

Wooly pig, fennel, orange, squid

This is one of Chef Achatz’s patented bite on the end of a wire dishes. It featured a small squid with some pork behind it mounted at the end of a bobbing wire extending from a weighted base. You basically attack it hands-free. The waiter explained that the wooly pig was a special variety of pig, I think from Spain (I’m not sure about that part). I wasn’t thrilled with the flavor, but getting into my mouth was fun.

Ice, beet, hibiscus, licorice

The waitress came to my table and rotated the ice sculpture 90 degrees and set a straw-like tube on the table. I could now see that there is a tunnel burrowing downward into the side of the sculpture. At the bottom of the tube is a chilled liquid. I stuck the tube into the hole and sucked up the liquid. I don’t have good notes from this dish, but I recall it tasting like a sweet, berry-infused tea.

The weight staff replaced with the ice sculpture centerpiece with a cabbage leaf “flag.” The flagpole was a polished stick with the cabbage leaf attached to it so that it unfurled like a flag.

Swordfish, caponata, mint, panella

This was the first big course. It featured a piece of grilled swordfish with a pesto drizzle around it and a second dish with something the waiter described as Sicily’s answer to ratatouille. The swordfish was excellent and I really enjoyed the other ratatouille-ish dish. The latter had a sweet, pickled flavor that I remember from my childhood eating at my grandmother’s house for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I still can’t place it, but it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to encounter that flavor again. This dish was vastly more sophisticated than what I had as a kid. Finally, there was a side plate with some fried crackers/bread with some sea salt. I really enjoyed everything in this course.

Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter

I had been very curious about how to eat this dish after seeing pictures of it. It consists of a small paraffin boat filled with a chilled potato soup. A small pin is stuck through it skewering a hot ball of potato, a slice of truffle, and butter above the chilled soup. To eat it, you pull the pin out so that the suspended components drop into the soup then quickly scarf it down like a shooter. I thought it was good, but not great.

Wild mushrooms, pine, sumac, shallot

This was one of my favorite dishes. A small plate with a variety of mushroom preparations was placed on a pillow filled with pine-scented air. The weight of the plate caused the pillow to slowly deflate, releasing the pine scent. I could take or leave the pine-scent, but the mushrooms were great. My note while eating the dish: “Holy shit!”

Venison, red cabbage, mustard, paprika

Time to put the cabbage flag to work. The wait staff placed a polished wooden plank in front of me. A metal design was imbedded in the plank. The waiter had me remove the metal pieces forming the design and then assemble them into a stand. The waiter then disassembled the flagpole, revealing it to be made of chopsticks. The waiter then used the chopsticks to place the cabbage flag onto the stand. The waiter placed venison chunks on the cabbage leaf, the drew my attention to a plate with exquisite micro-components to add to the cabbage roll. The micro-components were amazing. You see this sort of thing in food porn, but it’s still stunning to see them in person. The chef must have used a scalpel, tweezers, and a magnifying glass to assemble them. I opted to dump all of the micro-components into the wrap and dig in. The smell was amazing. The flavor did not live up to the aroma, but I didn’t really care.

At this point, I was making the segue into ever-so-slightly drunk territory.

Black truffle, explosion, romaine, parmesan

This was the dish I was most looking forward to (I’d checked out the menu in advance and had read about this one). It’s a one-bite dish, basically a ravioli filled with a truffle juice (see the Alinea cookbook for a much more detailed explanation). The waiter advised me to eat it in one bite and be sure to keep my lips sealed; otherwise, the dish would explode all over the table in front of me. It exploded in my mouth as advertised. It had a deep, mushroomy flavor. I was a little underwhelmed, probably because I had built the dish up in my mind so much. I don’t think I like truffles all that much.

They gave me a sort of 7th Inning Stretch at this point. There was a longer than normal gap between courses. The gap was very welcome as it gave me time to make room in my stomach and recover a little from the wine.

Squab, inspired by Miro

The waitress said Chef Achatz was at an art gallery and saw a painting by Miro that incorporated melting spoons. He wanted to find a way to replicate that at the restaurant and came up with this dish.

This was the best course of the night. I’d heap it with superlatives, but they start to lose meaning when you overuse them. I’ll just say spectacular overall. The course is composed of a bunch of spoons and forks arranged on the table at random. Each spoon or fork had a bite of something different. I think there were 8 or 9 items. All but 2 were fantastic. I was also supplied with a cylinder to put the used utensils into. The cylinder gave off a very nice lavender aroma. I was instructed to eat the items in any order I preferred.

I started with the foie gras bite. This was my first experience with foie gras and I didn’t really know what to expect. Foie is usually described as incredibly rich and maybe creamy, but I’ve never read a description of the flavor. I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, but really wanted to. I’m pleased to report that it was amazing. It tasted like a really, really good steak. But unlike a steak, that amazing steak flavor never diminished as I chewed. I just wanted to savor it in my mouth forever. The texture was velvet and kind of perfect. So, so good. My notes said, “I was afraid I wouldn’t like foie gras, but now I say *bleep* those geese – stick more food in ‘em!”

I went for the squab bite next. I had never had squab before. I assumed it would be like chicken, so it was a surprise to see it was a red meat. Like the foie, this bite was insanely good. I would gladly eat that squab until my stomach burst. Death by squab is now my preferred manner of death.

The foie and squab were the best of the night. So, so good. They were kill-your-mom-and-step-over-her-body-to-get-more good.

The rest of the items were wonderful with two exceptions. One spoon had a sort of chocolatey/hazelnutty pudding on it which I wasn’t thrilled with. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. The last spoon had white and brown powders on it. I’m not sure what it was supposed to taste like, but I didn’t care for it.

The last two spoons aside, this course was amazing. I celebrated by taking a restroom break. I couldn’t really feel my feet at this point. Still 3 wines to go.

Chestnut, veal heart, quince, root vegetables

This course consisted of a spoon with veal heart on it balanced on the top of a special cup containing an amazing chestnut broth. The heart was fine, but the broth was just wonderful.

Apple, onion, brie, smoking cinnamon

This was the mother of all deep fried fast food apple pies. The apple, onion, and brie was skewered on a cinnamon stick, dipped in tempura batter, and then deep fried. When the waiter brought it to the table, he lit the other end of the cinnamon stick on fire (hence the smoking cinnamon). You slurp the “pie” off the end of the stick in one bite. Very, very good. Cheesy, appley, delicious. It had a great density to it that allowed me to savor it for quite a while before swallowing.

Winter in New Hampshire

This was the most dangerous dish of the night. It is served on a platter piled with dark ice cubes. White powder was dumped on the ice like snow. There were a few additional components like a marshmallow shaped like a Hershey’s kiss and a cherry. A small mug of clear (i.e., transparent) hot chocolate was served on the side. You’re supposed to scoop up the powder with a spoon and eat it. I’m sure the wait staff explained that, but between the effects of the wine and being dazzled by the presentation, I did not properly absorb the instruction. So I tried to eat the ice cubes along with the powder. I didn’t realize it was an ice cube just looking at it – the ice was mysteriously dark. The ice was also insanely cold, reminiscent of dry ice. When it hit my lip, it stuck, so I avoided a painful bite into something rock solid. I peeled the ice off my lip and went on to enjoy the dessert. When I got back to my hotel later, I saw that a small blister had formed on the inside of my lip and another section looked like I had been chewing on it. So, word to the wise, don’t eat the ice, no matter how avant garde the food appears to be.

The powder was peppermint flavored and did something when it hit my tongue. It’s hard to describe. It kind of congealed together into a solid with a dense texture. I don’t like using the word “congealed” because that makes it sound gross (which it wasn’t it), but I can’t think of a more accurate description. Maybe condensed would be the right way to put it.

Lemongrass, mango, thai basil, finger lime

This dish was a shooter served in a clear tube. I couldn’t see how it was sealed (it was apparently stopped with a piece of mango), but the waiter told me to just stick the end in my mouth. I sucked on the end and everything flooded into my mouth. This was a difficult dish to evaluate. All of the wine had had an effect and it was hard to focus on the flavors.

Dark chocolate, butternut squash, lingonberry, stout

This was the most stunning dish of the night. The flavors were good, but the presentation was [insert preferred over-the-top superlative]. They started out by putting a purple-ish (kind of grey) table cloth on the table (the table has been bare up to now). There was a longer than normal time gap at this point and I think it was intentional to give you time to brace for what is to come. I just sat there and enjoyed the feeling of being full and content. Then a waiter came out with 4 ramekin-like dishes with what appeared to be sauces in them and then walked away. Shortly after that, a chef came out with a chocolate sphere. The sphere had a hole in the top, so I could see that it was hollow. The sphere was about 6 inches in diameter. The chef placed the sphere in the center of the table and then used a spoon to drizzle the sauces in the ramekins in circles around the chocolate sphere. He told me what the sauces were, but I don’t remember them all. There was lingonberry and stout (as noted in the recipe title). I’m not sure if the butternut squash was one of the sauces.

Next, the chef lifted the chocolate sphere, said, “Enjoy” and dropped the sphere. When the sphere hit the table, it shattered and spilled out all sorts of contents onto the table. The chef must have walked off while the sphere was dropping, because I have no idea where he went. No one was there when I looked up. The sphere was filled with a bunch of stuff that is very hard to describe. There were lots of powders and crumbles. There were also candy-like things and some petals and something citrusy (maybe that’s the lingonberry talking). While I was eating the stuff off the table, I was served peppermint herbal tea.

This dessert could easily serve 4 people. I got through maybe a quarter of it and collapsed. The wait staff let me linger over it and the tea. They somehow sensed exactly when I was done and cleared the table. I then sipped the tea some more and waited for the check. At this point I was incredibly mellow and relaxed, kind of like after an hour-long massage. I was also very full. I think any more food would have killed me. They do a great job with portioning the food. I had exactly enough food to not quite feel too full.

I asked for a tour before I left and I was taken into the kitchen to watch. Everyone was moving very quickly, but not in a panicky way. It was also a really, really clean work space. It looked like Chef Achatz was not in the kitchen last night. Once I was done gawking, they took me to the door, thanked me, and informed me they had a cab waiting. They were so pleasant and efficient that I never even thought about a tip to the coat check or host staff. I’m not sure if I was supposed to tip anything. I was out the door in a glow.

It’s really hard to review or rate the meal at Alinea. Several of the dishes would not qualify as delicious. If your sole criterion is the taste of the food, some of the dishes at Alinea might be a disappointment. But that’s so not the whole story. I spent much (possibly all) of the meal smiling. It made me happy. All of the food was at least good (except for that weird white and brown powder spoon). The high points taste-wise were very high. The food that wasn’t delicious was always interesting and/or exciting and everything was executed flawlessly. There were interactive components, innovative serving platforms, and complicated flavors. Everything was interesting and engaging. It felt like I was experiencing art. It was an event, not just a meal.

Alinea both exceeded and side-stepped my expectations. I expected every dish to be the best thing I ever ate. Some dishes did that (I can’t get over the spoon and forks course). But even the dishes that weren’t home runs flavor-wise were the most interesting dishes I’ve ever eaten instead. My overall impression was “Wow.” It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had eating. It’s been about 21 hours since I finished the meal and I’m still kind of stunned by it.

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Derek J: It's been three years since I ate an Alinea and I'm still smiling. I laughed with delight through every course.

[Moderator note: This topic continues in [CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 4)]

Edited by Mjx
Moderator note added. (log)

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites


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