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inventolux

Moto Restaurant - Chicago

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Hello fellow Heartlanders!

Just got back from dinner at Moto w/my wife. Truly outstanding! It's kind of late so I'll be somewhat brief in my recap & can expand on it later. I wanted to bring my digicam but I wasn't able to, so I'll try to describe the courses the best I can.

My wife & I are acquaintances of Chef Cantu & his wife. So we have been eagerly anticipating our Moto dining experience.

We had the 18 course tasting.

1) A study in flatware

Chef Omar has patented his own flatware for this course. the shaft of the flatware is coiled to house within a sprig of rosemary. So, when you eat the food that is on the flatware, you get the essence of rosemary without it actually being in the food. There were 2 pieces of flatware. The first had a citrus salad with citrus emulsion. The second had a pear salad with sous vide scallions. It was really neat to experience the essence of the rosemary without it actually being in the food.

2) Sashimiesque plate with blue fin toro

There were 4 parts to this dish. There was a slice of toro with a layer of tuna puree (I believe) and yuzu. The other piece of toro had a citrus emulsion as an accompaniment. There was a slice of salmon with ikura (salmon roe). Lastly, sous vide scallops that were dusted with nori powder & sliced. Everything in this course was really clean and fresh in taste. The toro was outstanding & the scallops had an incredible texture.

3) fennel salad in hot jellied, slushy & natural forms

Here we had a mixed green salad with vinaigrette & sous vide radish. I really liked the radish. It was served with 2 little ramekins. One had fennel slush & the other had cubes of jellied coconut, squash, and spinach. You eat this dish by mixing and matching the items.

4) watermelon soup, frozen mustard powder & virtual smoke

Before they bring this course to your table, they bring a metal box that emits a smoky scent at your table. The frozen mustard powder is on a spoon & eaten first. Then the watermelon soup, which is a combination of sweet, smoky & spicy. There is a mango-olive oil emulsion that rims the bowl of the soup and carrot ice in the soup as well. This was fantastic!

5) caramelized cucumber sorbet

2 little scoops of sorbet on top of marinated cucumbers. Then a cucumber olive oil soup is poured into the bowl.

6) a duck roll pull apart

everything up to this point had been somewhat 'light' & clean in flavor. This was the first 'rich' dish & it did not disappoint. A mound of duck confit & pureed duck (if i'm remembering correctly) is served with a fried wonton cylinder. You break the cylinder to release a sweet/sour soy sauce into the duck & proceed to eat. Really good stuff!

7) citrus & togarashi

this was a nice palate cleanser. Lime sorbet withtogarashi & toasted almond. Then the server sprays a togarashi mist all over the dish.

8) rice injected with our secret sauce

jasmine rice ball surrounded by nishiki rice, surrounded by a jalepeno crust. The server uses a syringe to inject the secret sauce into the rice ball. I love rice, so this dish was right up my alley.

9) more blue fin toro with yuzu & organic soy

At this point they brought out a silicone box with a piece of fish in it. More on this below. On top was a spoon with little cubes of toro coated with the sauce.

10) bass cooked inside a cavity of pacific oceanic products

This is one dish that is better seen than read about. There is a piece of bass that is cooking inside of a silicone box. In the base of the box is water with aromatics (konbu, bonito, lemon zest, etc) & the box has retained enough heat to cook the piece of fish at your table. The server brings a plate that has konbu, oyster emulsion & pureed sunchoke. The fish is taken out of the box & put on your plate. This is an amazing piece of fish. The texture is incredible.

11) wood poached pork belly with curry

Sous vide pork belly served with curry sauce & a pork rind crisp. Amazingly tender pork belly with a subtle, smoky flavor that's enhanced by the curry. I love pork belly & I loved this dish.

12) oregon kobe beef with sapporo head

slices of Kobe beef, cooked using the triple sear method, served with foam made from Sapporo beer. Delicious morsels of beef.

13) Juniper & gin

A soda with foamy head with the flavor of juniper.

14) beets, parsnips & branch water

This is a dessert. Little pieces of cake made with beet, served with roasted parsnip ice cream. It's served with a glass of rosemary branch water. This dish was so good. It's hard to picture this dish from the description, but it's really good...probably one of the best desserts I've ever had.

15) saffron & cardamom

saffron ice cream in cardamom soda. Like a root beer float but so much better.

16) chocolate rice pudding made your way

Crisped rice with homemade marshmallows in a dish that you pour liquid bittersweet chocolate into.

17) white truffled ice cream spaghetti

A spoonfool of ice cream in 'spaghetti' form bursting with the flavor of white truffle.

18) moto to go

haven't tried this yet. we got a little vacuum-packed pouch. one compartment contains a chocolate powder. The other contains a clear liquid. Apparently, when you mix the liquid into the powder, it turns into a foamy drink!

Sorry folks if this recap is a little scattered. I wanted to post this while it's still fresh. I'll try to fill in any holes later.

Bottom line: an amazing dining experience. Way to go Inventolux!

(edited for really poor typing skills & additional details)


Edited by viaChgo (log)

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Please somebody post a picture - anything - Chef, toss us a bone!

OK - language difference maybe - scallions sous-vide in the flatware - what do you mean by that? You mean the scallions were cooked sous-vide and then placed in the flatware?

I just speechless - I can't believe that Chicago - where I grew up - is ready for this kind of cuisine - very cool.

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OK - language difference maybe - scallions sous-vide in the flatware - what do you mean by that? You mean the scallions were cooked sous-vide and then placed in the flatware?

The shaft or stem or whatever it's called is coiled to hold a sprig of rosemary. Then on the tines of the fork or the bowl part of the spoon is where the pear salad is. The scallions are sous vide, then mixed with the pear. Then you eat in one bite!

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The scallions are sous vide

I'm sorry, I don't understand. The scallions were cooked sous-vide? And if so, how do you know - is it stated on the menu? I ask because some cooking terms and techniques I learned in France so I don't know the American usage. Like at ADPA for example, we cooked a number of items in sous-vide sacs - but it was never evident in the final plating. Thanks - sorry - but this is the kind of restaurant that we're going to ask endless, psychotically-detailed questions about!

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You will find that the chef at Moto is very much a fan of cooking sous-vide.

Sounds like an interesting place. I'd love to check it out.


--

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The scallions are sous vide

I'm sorry, I don't understand. The scallions were cooked sous-vide? And if so, how do you know - is it stated on the menu?

The server told us in his explanation that the scallions were cooked in the sous vide method. There were quite a few items during the course of the meal that were cooked in this method.

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Please somebody post a picture - anything - Chef, toss us a bone!

OK - language difference maybe - scallions sous-vide in the flatware - what do you mean by that? You mean the scallions were cooked sous-vide and then placed in the flatware?

I just speechless - I can't believe that Chicago - where I grew up - is ready for this kind of cuisine - very cool.

We have our photographer coming in next tuesday and will be adding pics to our website. We also have a vitual tour of the restaurant that should be up and running by the end of feb. I will also be updating the menu daily on the website when I write our menus for daily service so you will get a daily account of everything happening at moto. Chat later, my fish requires attention.


Edited by inventolux (log)

Future Food - our new television show airing 3/30 @ 9pm cst:

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/tv/future-food/

Hope you enjoy the show! Homaro Cantu

Chef/Owner of Moto Restaurant

www.motorestaurant.com

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:cool:

We haven't set up the specific date yet, but Ronnie and his wife and I are looking at some time in the next two months. You in, Nero?

:biggrin:

You didn't invite me, but I want in on that. Where Nero goes, I go.

Congratulations Invento and Hobbes. I know you have been working very hard. I can't wait to see what you've done with the place.

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very disappointing meal i must say, sad that it lacked any talent or flair, waitstaff has a lot of attitude,sad, i really wanted this place to suceed. really sad


"Burgundy makes you think of silly things, Bordeaux

makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them." Brillat-Savarin

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very disappointing meal i must say, sad that it lacked any talent or flair, waitstaff has a lot of attitude,sad, i really wanted this place to suceed. really sad

The competition speaks! Please expound.............impassively please.


Edited by GordonCooks (log)

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very disappointing meal i must say, sad that it lacked any talent or flair, waitstaff has a lot of attitude,sad, i really wanted this place to suceed. really sad

Perhaps you should try it again, my experience was mindblowing. I have dined at El Bulli, Michel Bras & Pierre Gagniare and I can say with total confidence that this place is on its own level. From the "virtual smoke" box, to the bass baked tableside, everything was truly delicious and very inventive. I have reservations twice next week and I cant wait. I have already dined there twice and recieved 2 totally amazing experiences worth every cent.


Edited by niterider (log)

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:cool:

We haven't set up the specific date yet, but Ronnie and his wife and I are looking at some time in the next two months.  You in, Nero?

:biggrin:

You didn't invite me, but I want in on that. Where Nero goes, I go.

:biggrin:

Oh hell's bells, YES, ma'am -- if I didn't make it clear, anybody who's interested is welcome! Only one proper and honest warning: I'm setting up to review the place and whoever's in is gonna have to put up with my usual scribbling and cooing and purring and snarling and muttering.

:raz:


Me, I vote for the joyride every time.

-- 2/19/2004

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15) saffron & cardamom

saffron ice cream in cardamom soda. Like a root beer float but so much better.

This sounds incredibly good.


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I have dined at El Bulli, Michel Bras & Pierre Gagniare and I can say with total confidence that this place is on its own level...I have reservations twice next week and I cant wait.

:shock:

There isn't any need in your life for a food taster/PA/butler is there? :wink:

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Interesting that there are such differing reviews here.

Lady T, I'm waiting for yours. It will be good to see what you think and live vicariously through your experience. Take lots of pictures!

To the chefs: best of luck with your new venture. The menu appears to be highly creative and I applaud you for that.


What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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I just speechless - I can't believe that Chicago - where I grew up - is ready for this kind of cuisine - very cool.

Chiacgo has been privy to this cuisine for over two years.

It is called Trio and it is in Evanston.

Seems like alot of influence on Motos menu came from Chef Achatz. :hmmm:

Just a thought.

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:cool:

We haven't set up the specific date yet, but Ronnie and his wife and I are looking at some time in the next two months.  You in, Nero?

:biggrin:

You didn't invite me, but I want in on that. Where Nero goes, I go.

:biggrin:

Oh hell's bells, YES, ma'am -- if I didn't make it clear, anybody who's interested is welcome! Only one proper and honest warning: I'm setting up to review the place and whoever's in is gonna have to put up with my usual scribbling and cooing and purring and snarling and muttering.

:raz:

Scribble away, grand Lady. It wouldn't be a true meal with you if you weren't scribbling. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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I just speechless - I can't believe that Chicago - where I grew up - is ready for this kind of cuisine - very cool.

Chiacgo has been privy to this cuisine for over two years.

It is called Trio and it is in Evanston.

Seems like alot of influence on Motos menu came from Chef Achatz. :hmmm:

Just a thought.

Klinger:

How are you?

OK, I feel the need to comment on this now while it is still in it's early stages. I have said this before, when people commit to work outside of the box they unintentionally enter a smaller box. I assure you Moto's cuisine is as original as Trio, as the Fat Duck, as Veyrat, as Gagnaire and so on. So chef Cantu has attached rosemary to silverware, does the intentional olfactory sensation become a link to Trio's lobster with rosemary vapor. NO. When something is new it is scrutinized, analyzed, and deconstructed. People will find the common demoninators where they want. They will try to imobilize the movement. They will corrupt the style to the point where they disable themselves from enjoying a wonderful meal because they overthink it. Please, go to Moto, come to Trio, these are restaurants that are taking risks, introducing a style of cuisine new to this country. We should all be happy that Chicago is now leading the country in culinary innovation.


Edited by chefg (log)

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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OK, I feel the need to comment on this now while it is still in it's early stages. I have said this before, when people commit to work outside of the box they unintentionally enter a smaller box. I assure you Moto's cuisine is as original as Trio, as the Fat Duck, as Veyrat, as Gagnaire and so on. So chef Cantu has attached rosemary to silverware, does the intentional olfactory sensation become a link to Trio's lobster with rosemary vapor. NO. When something is new it is scrutinized, analyzed, and deconstructed. People will find the common demoninators where they want. They will try to imobilize the movement. They will corrupt the style to the point where they disable themselves from enjoying a wonderful meal because they overthink it. Please, go to Moto, come to Trio, these are restaurants that are taking risks, introducing a style of cuisine new to this country. We should all be happy that Chicago is now leading the country in culinary innovation.

Chefg, nice post. It's nice to see a little comradery in this competitive business.

You've got class my friend :biggrin:

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Klinger:

How are you?

OK,  I feel the need to comment on this now while it is still in it's early stages. I have said this before, when people commit to work outside of the box they unintentionally enter a smaller box. I assure you Moto's cuisine is as original as Trio, as the Fat Duck, as Veyrat, as Gagnaire and so on. So chef Cantu has attached rosemary to silverware, does the intentional olfactory sensation become a link to Trio's lobster with rosemary vapor. NO. When something is new it is scrutinized, analyzed, and deconstructed. People will find the common demoninators where they want. They will try to imobilize the movement. They will corrupt the style to the point where they disable themselves from enjoying a wonderful meal because they overthink it. Please,  go to Moto, come to Trio, these are restaurants that are taking risks, introducing a style of cuisine new to this country. We should all be happy that Chicago is now leading the country in culinary innovation.

chefg - I cannot agree more with your comments. Coming from the wine side of things this is the same problem cutting edge winemakers experience. Everyone wants you to belong in a box. As a writer I succumb to this all to often in trying to construct articles - you tend to put what people do into a box in an attempt to communicate easily. Those of us who are writers should be inspired by chefs and winemakers that expand horizons and incorporate that same passion in our writing.

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I want to be clear that I was not taking a stab at Chef Homario or Moto, nor did i intend to, but was just stating my observations

Grant Thanks for the post,

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:cool:

We haven't set up the specific date yet, but Ronnie and his wife and I are looking at some time in the next two months.  You in, Nero?

:biggrin:

You didn't invite me, but I want in on that. Where Nero goes, I go.

Congratulations Invento and Hobbes. I know you have been working very hard. I can't wait to see what you've done with the place.

And where Ronnie and Julie and Susan and Nero and Dawn go -- I feel honored to trail along --if the date's out a couple of months.

And, my Lady, if you were not planning to take your notebook, I'd make you write notes on, say, the back of my phone bill. You remain, seriously, my favorite restaurant reviewer.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Congratulations, Inventolux and Hobbes!

I happen to walk by Moto most every day now, since you're located in Chicago's Fulton Market district. This neighborhood is akin, I believe, to NYC's meatpacking district--lots of wholesale butchers and trucks milling around at 4 A.M. Some of the buildings are being converted into residential lofts, but the neighborhood retains a gritty, interesting feel.

I can't wait to join the rest of the Heartlanders when we dine there.

Anyone remember the scene at Chez Paul in The Blues Brothers? :laugh:


There are two sides to every story and one side to a Möbius band.

borschtbelt.blogspot.com

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    • By ronnie_suburban
      It’s the first day of cooking in Alinea's Food Lab and the mood is relaxed. We’re in a residential kitchen but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Chef Grant, along with sous chefs John Peters and Curtis Duffy are setting up. The sight of the 3 steady pros, each in their chef’s whites, working away, does not match this domestic space. Nor does the intimidating display of industrial tools lined up on the counters. While the traditional elements are here in this suburban kitchen: oven, cooktop, sink, so too are the tools of modern restaurant cookery: pacojet, cryovac machine, paint stripping heat gun…wait, a paint stripping heat gun?
      In the physical realm, the Food Lab is a tangible space where the conventional and the unconventional are melded together in the quest for new culinary territory. With Alinea’s construction under way, the team must be resourceful. This meant that renting a space large enough to house both the office and the kitchen aspects of the food lab was out of the question.
      The decision was made to take over a large office space for the research and administrative aspects of Alinea and transform a residential kitchen into the Lab. Achatz and the team would work three days per week at the office researching all aspects of gastronomy and brainstorming new dishes, while managing the project as a whole. The remaining time would be spent in the kitchen executing the ideas formulated at the office. “At first I thought separating the two would be problematic,” says Grant “but in the end we are finding it very productive. It allows us to really focus on the tasks at hand, and also immerse ourselves in the environment conducive to each discipline.” The menus for opening night—containing as many as 50 never-before-served dishes--must be conceived, designed, tested and perfected. The Alinea team does not want to fly without a net on opening night.
      On a more abstract level, the Food Lab is simply the series of processes that continually loop in the minds of Chef Grant and his team. While there is no single conduit by which prospective menus--and the dishes which comprise them--arrive at Alinea, virtually all of them start in Chef Grant's imagination and eventually take form after brainstorming sessions between the Chef and his team. Menus are charted, based on the seasonality of their respective components, and the details of each dish are then laid out on paper, computer or both and brought to the kitchen for development. In this regard, the Food Lab provides something very special to the Chef and his team. “We consider the food lab a luxury,” says Grant. Once Alinea is open and the restaurant’s daily operations are consuming up to 16 hours of each day, time for such creative planning (aka play) will be scarce. Building a library of concepts, ideas and plans for future menus now will be extraordinarily valuable in the future. Otherwise, such planning sessions will have to take place in the 17th and 18th hours of future workdays, as they did when the Chef and his team were at Trio.
      Today, several projects are planned and the Chefs dig into their preparations as soon as their equipment setup is complete…
      Poached Broccoli Stem with wild Coho roe, crispy bread, grapefruit
      Stem cooked sous vide (butter, salt, granulated cane juice)
      Machine-sliced thin bread
      Dairyless grapefruit “pudding”
      Dried Crème Brulee
      Caramel orb shell made with bubble maker and heat gun
      Powdered interior made with dried butterfat, egg yolks, powdered sugar & vanilla
      PB&J
      Peeled grapes on the stem
      Peanut butter coating
      Wrap in brioche
      Broil
      Micro-grated, roasted peanuts
      Instant Tropical Pudding
      Freeze Dried Powders of coconut, pineapple, banana
      Young coconut water spiked with rum
      Muscovado Sugar
      Cilantro
      Candied Chili
      Jamaican Peppercorn
      Vanilla Bean
      The steps required to comprise each dish are, as one might imagine, intricate and numerous. For the Poached Broccoli Stem, Chef Grant begins by separating the broccoli stems from the florets. The stems are stripped of their fibrous exteriors and pared down until they are uniform in size. Grant comments on the use of the second hand part of the vegetable: “This dish started with the roe. Every year we receive the most amazing Brook Trout Roe from Steve Stallard, my friend and owner of Blis. Typically, we serve the eggs with an element of sweetness. I find it goes very well with the ultra fresh salinity of the week-old roe. This time around we wanted to take a savory approach so I began looking into complimenting flavors in the vegetal category. About the same time, our group had a discussion about secondary parts of vegetables and the stem of broccoli came up. I had a past experience with the stem and found it to be very reminiscent of cabbage. Knowing that cabbage and caviar are essentially a classic pairing, I felt confident that we could work the dish out. Now I'm struggling to decide if this is a broccoli dish or in fact a roe dish, I think they really battle for the top position and that helps makes the dish very complex."

      Chef Grant processing the broccoli

      The stems are placed in a polyethylene bag, along with butter, salt and granulated cane juice. The bag is sealed with a cryovac machine

      The sealed stems are placed in a 170 degree F water to cook, sous vide, until extremely tender; about three hours

      Broccoli stems after cooking
      The crisp bread element is fabricated via the use of an industrial deli slicer. Chef Grant then brushes the sectioned pieces of poached broccoli stem with eggwash, affixes them to the thin planks of brioche and places them in a fry pan with butter.

      Grant's mise...not your ordinary cutting board

      Poached Broccoli Stem and Crisp Bread cooking

      Ready for plating

      A bright green broccoli puree is made with a vita-prep blender. Here, Chef Grant "mohawks" it onto china given to him by Thomas Keller

      Smoked Coho roe has arrived via Fed-Ex, courtesy of Steve Stallard

      Chef Grant devises a plating scheme for the Poached Broccoli Stem while Curtis looks on

      Chef Grant ponders one potential plating of the dish. He called this incarnation 'predictable' and started over.

      Another plating idea. This version is garnished with broccoli petals and ultra-thin slices of connected grapefruit pulp cells. The yellow petals are stand-ins for what will ultimately be broccoli blossoms
      Grant is still displeased at the dish's appearance. "The dish tastes as I envisioned it....texturally complex, with the crispness of the bread, the soft elements of the floret puree and stem, and the pop of the eggs. The buttery richness from the bread gives the stem the flavor of the melted cabbage I loved at the [French] Laundry. And the hot and cold contrasts from the roe and broccoli …I like it…..I just don’t like the way it looks.” Another attempt and the group agrees, it is better but not “the one.” The use of the thinly sliced cross sections of peeled grapefruit energizes the group. In the next rendition, they make small packets with the ultra thinly-sliced grapefruit containing the roe...

      A third plating configuration for Poached Broccoli Stems; this one featuring the packets of roe wrapped in ultra thin sheets of grapefruit pulp cells
      At this point the team decides to move on and come back to it next week. After some conversation they decide that in the final dish, broccoli will appear in at least 5 forms: poached stems, floret puree, some raw form of the stem, the tiny individual sprouts of broccoli florets, and the blooms. Grant feels that Poached Broccoli Stem could be ready for service, although he still envisions some changes for the dish that will make it even more emblematic of his personal style. “Our dishes continue to evolve after they hit the menu. It is important for us to get to know them better before we can clearly see their weaknesses.”
      The thought for the dried crème brulee originated over a year ago when a regular customer jokingly asked for a crème brulee for dessert. “He said it as joke, I took it as a challenge,” says Grant. "Of course, we never intended to give him a regular crème brulee.” The team tried various techniques to create the powder-filled caramel bubble while at Trio to no avail. An acceptable filling for the Dried Crème Brulee has been developed by the Chef and his team but several different methods, attempted today, to create the orb from caramelized sugar have been less than 100% successful.

      Caramel blob awaiting formation. Chef Curtis kept this pliable by leaving it in a low oven throughout the day

      Chef Grant’s initial idea to use a metal bubble ring and heat gun (normally used for stripping paint) to form the bubbles does not work as hoped. Attempts to fashion them by hand also come up short.
      Says Grant, “At Trio we tried a hair-dryer. When Martin told me about these heat guns which get up to 900 degrees F, I thought we had it for sure. If it was easy everyone would do it I guess.” Eventually, Alinea partner Nick Kokonas garners the task’s best result by positioning a small, warm blob of sugar onto the end of a drinking straw and blowing into the other end. The results are promising. Curtis suggests using a sugar pump to inflate the orbs. That adjustment will be attempted on another day.
      “We intentionally position whimsical bite in the amuse slot, it tends to break the ice and make people laugh. It is a deliberate attempt to craft the experience by positioning the courses in a very pre-meditated order. A great deal of thought goes into the order of the courses, a misalignment may really take away from the meal as a whole.” For PB&J, the grapes are peeled while still on the vine and then dipped into unsweetened peanut butter. They are allowed to set–up, and then they are wrapped with a thin sheet of bread and lightly toasted. When the peeled grapes warm, they become so soft they mimic jelly. The composition is strangely unfamiliar in appearance but instantly reminiscent on the palate. PB&J is, according to Grant, virtually ready for service. There are a couple of aesthetic elements, which need minor tweaks but the Chef feels very good about today’s prototype.

      Chef John peels grapes while still on their stems

      Peeled grapes on their stems with peanut butter coating

      Chef Grant studies the completed PB&J in the Crucial Detail designed piece

      PB&J
      Often, creative impulses come by way of Alinea’s special purveyors. “Terra Spice’s support over the past couple of years has been unprecedented, and it has accelerated with the start of the food lab,” says Grant. “It is great to have relationships with people that think like we do, it can make the creative process so much easier. Often Phil, our contact at Terra, would come into the kitchen at Trio and encourage us to try and stump him on obscure ingredients. We always lost, but not from lack of trying. He even brought in two live chufa plants into the kitchen one day.” The relationship has developed and Terra team has really made an effort to not only search out products that the chefs ask for but also keep an eye out for new ingredients and innovations. In August, Phil brought by some samples of products that he thought the Alinea team might be interested in trying.

      Phil of Terra Spice showing the team some samples

      Coconut powder and other samples
      Grant recalls “the most surprising item to me was the dried coconut powder. When I put a spoonful in my mouth I could not believe the intense flavor and instant creamy texture, it was awesome.” That was the inspiration for what is now Instant Tropical Pudding. The guest is presented with a glass filled with dried ingredients. A member of the service team pours a measured amount of coconut water into the glass and instructs the guest to stir the pudding until a creamy consistency is formed.

      The rum-spiked coconut water being added to the powders
      At the end of the day, the Chefs assess their overall effort as having gone “fairly well.” It’s a mixed bag of results. Clearly, the fact that things have not gone perfectly on Day 1 has not dampened anyone’s spirits. The team has purposely attempted dishes of varying degrees of difficultly in order to maximize their productivity. Says Grant, “Making a bubble of caramel filled with powder…I have devoted the better part of fifteen years to this craft, I have trained with the best chefs alive. I have a good grasp of known technique. The lab's purpose is to create technique based on our vision. Sometimes we will succeed, and sometimes we will fail, but trying is what make us who we are." The team's measured evaluations of their day’s work reflect that philosophy.
      According to Chef Grant, “The purpose of the lab is to create the un-creatable. I know the level at which we can cook. I know the level of technique we already possess. What I am interested in is what we don't know...making a daydream reality.” With little more than 100 days on the calendar between now and Alinea’s opening, the Chef and his team will have their work cut out for them.
      =R=
      A special thanks to eGullet member yellow truffle, who contributed greatly to this piece
    • By ronnie_suburban
      Sometime this week, at an undisclosed location in the city of Chicago, Chef Grant Achatz begins the next leg of his journey to open his new restaurant, Alinea. Grant will christen the 'food lab' where the menu for Alinea will be developed. eGullet will be trailing Grant and his team throughout the process -- not just in the food lab but through every facet of the launch. Over the next six months, we will follow the Alinea team as they discover, develop, design and execute their plan. We'll document behind-the-scenes communications, forwarded directly to us by the Alinea team. We will be on the scene, bringing regular updates to the eGullet community. And Grant will join us in this special Alinea forum to discuss the process of opening Alinea. eGullet members will have the opportunity to ask Grant, and several other members of the Alinea team, questions about the development of the restaurant.
       
      A Perfect Pairing?
      By the time he was 12 years old, Grant Achatz knew that he would someday run his own restaurant. The story of Alinea is the story of Grant's personal development as a chef and a leader. Grant was brought up in a restaurant family. He bypassed a college education in favor of culinary school, after which he ascended rapidly to the position of sous chef for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. In 2001, Grant took the helm of Trio in Evanston, Illinois, which had previously turned out such noted chefs as Gale Gand, Rick Tramanto (Tru) and Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra). In 2003 Grant won the James Beard Foundation's "Rising Star Chef" award, and other prestigious awards followed. By 2004, Grant was recognized as one of the most influential and unique voices on the international culinary scene.
       
      In January 2004, Grant met Nick Kokonas, a successful entrepreneur who was so obsessed with haute cuisine that he had traveled the world in search of it. After globe-trekking specifically to eat at such culinary meccas as Alfonso 1890, Taillevent, Arpège, Arzak, and the French Laundry, Nick was in near disbelief when he realized that the "best food in the world was 10 minutes from my house." Nick had not previously consideredbacking a restaurant, even though he has both relatives and friends in the industry. But in Grant, he saw an opportunity to help create something great.
       
      Through Grant's cuisine, a bond formed between the two men. So inspired was Nick by Grant's culinary ideas that he returned to Trio almost monthly. Finally, he challenged two of his friends, one from New York and the other from San Francisco, to fly to Chicago and experience Trio. He wanted to prove definitively to his skeptical, coastal buddies that Trio was the best and most important restaurant in the country, assuring them that "if the meal at Trio isn't the best meal you've ever had, I'll pay for your meals and your flights." Nick won his bet: his friends were blown away.
       
      Later that night, after service, Grant joined Nick and his guests at their table. The men chatted about a variety of topics and in the '14 wines' haze of the late evening, they discussed Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure, Joseph Wechsberg's gastronomic memoir. The next day, Grant emailed Nick to ask again about the title of the book they had discussed. Not only did Nick remind him, but, within a few days, sent Grant a copy of Wechsberg's book. A friendship was born.
      Shortly thereafter, Grant sentNick his business plan for Alinea, sending an email after evening service. By the following morning Nick had read it and replied with his own enthusiastic amendments. With a burgeoning friendship already in place, trust developing between the two men and proof they could work together crystallizing before their eyes, it became clear that they would become a team. Says Grant, "I think most people, in a lot of ways, look for themselves in other people in order to match with and I think to a large degree, the reason why we get along so well is that our personalities align very well."
       
      Nick felt the same way. "It's one of those situations where everything just lined up right. I had the interest, I'd started a number of different businesses and I felt like it would be an opportunity to work with someone who I'd get along with very well. I wouldn't want to build a restaurant just to build a restaurant and I doubt I'll ever develop some other restaurant. I think this is the right situation at the right time."
       
      Grant adds, "I think we're both very driven and passionate people. So for me, it was about finding someone I could trust, someone that I knew was going to think like me, be as motivated or more motivated than me. Those things were very, very important--and something I hadn't seen--or something I didn't believe in--that I saw in Nick." Nick continues, "I think a lot people come to a chef with their pre-existing vision of the restaurant they want to build. I didn't even want to build a restaurant before I saw his vision, so it wasn't like I was saying 'I'm building this restaurant and I want you to be my chef' -- it was more like 'I think you should build a restaurant, what can I do to help you build it?'" Grant would have the additional supportive backing he'd need and Nick would have another venture -- and one he solidly believed in -- in which to direct his business acumen.
       
      It's All About The Container
      Anyone who's eaten Grant's cuisine at Trio knows that he is intensely concerned with food and the optimal ways to prepare and serve it. His dishes innovate in flavor; they challenge, tease and delight the senses. But Grant is also driven to innovate in service and technique, constantly seeking new vehicles to deliver sensations to the diner. He works closely with a trusted collaborator, Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail in San Diego, CA to create original service pieces for many of his dishes. And as Grant has searched for additional ways to expand the continuity of the dining experience, it has become clear to him that it starts before the diner even gets to the restaurant's front door.
       
      According to Grant, "You can pull it back as far as you want. The experience is going to start before someone even picks up the phone to make a reservation to this restaurant. It's going to be about their perceptions; why are they picking up the phone to make a reservation? What did they see? What did they read? What's leading them up to that point? They call to make a reservation, that's another experience. The drive to get to this neighborhood is another experience. The minute they open their door and take one step out of their car, now they're surrounded by another experience."
       
      Advancing the functional elements of how food is served is an innate part of the cooking process for Grant, who seeks to render the traditional boundaries of dining obsolete. When asked what he will be able to accomplish at Alinea that he couldn't accomplish at Trio, Grant says, "the obvious is to create the container in which we create the experience. I think that's the very exciting thing for me that I've never been able to have a part in." For Grant, a restaurant's physical space represents the ultimate container and the ultimate personal challenge. The result should break new ground in the world of fine dining.   Grant and Nick are intense and competitive. In both their minds, "crafting a complete experience" is the primary focus of Alinea. According to Nick, "the whole idea is to produce an experience where the food lines up with the décor, which lines up with the flow through the restaurant and from the moment you get, literally, to the front door of the place and you walk in, your experience should mirror in some respects--and complement in others--the whole process you're going to go through when you start eating." Grant takes it a step further. "It's about having a central beacon from which everything else emanates and therefore, it's seamless. The whole experience is crafted on one finite point and if everything emanates from that point, then there's no chance that the experience can be interrupted."
       
      The search for Alinea's space further reflects not only their shared philosophy but also their separate intensities. Says Nick, "One of the things we felt really strongly about, and we both came to it, was that we wanted it to be a 'stand alone' building because if you're in something else you can't help but take on some of that identity. And it's really difficult to find the right size building in the right kind of location, with the right kind of construction that was suitable for the identity of Alinea."
      Nick and Grant drove down every street within a chosen geographical band, armed with a giant map and a set of green, yellow and red markers. Once they had found a set of acceptable streets, they asked a realtor to show them every space available on them.
       
      "Once we did find the building," says Grant, "whichever space we would have chosen, we would have analyzed and considered each different aspect to provoke a certain emotion, a very controlled emotion depending on how we wanted it arranged. But I also think that we wanted the neighborhood to feel a certain way, the street to feel a certain way. Is it like Michigan Avenue where I have people 4-deep, walking straight down the sidewalk, non-stop, all day and all night or is it more of a tranquil environment outside? All those things were spinning around and once you identify the golden egg, then you have to go find it."
      While they would probably never admit it, each innovation, each step they take together in building their venture serves as yet another a opportunity for the Alinea team to challenge the restaurant's competitors. Their attention to all the details provides countless opportunities to distinguish Alinea from other restaurants.
       
      Here the two men can share in the creation, combining their diverse skills and experiences into a unified and shared vision. Alinea will be their baby. They want it to be the best --not just the best food -- but the best everything. They even want the experience of calling for a reservation to be a memorable one.
       
      The Path From Here
      In that spirit, the Alinea food lab opens this week. Grant refuses to promote even one of his legendary creations to 'signature dish' status. Instead of populating Alinea's menu with previous favorites from Trio or 'trial' dishes that have been only roughly tested, Grant and his team will take six months to devise, develop and perfect the dishes and delivery modes that will appear on Alinea's opening menu. When the idea of maintaining a kitchen staff for six months before the restaurant's opening was presented to its investors, in spite of the additional expense, "it seemed like a no-brainer" according to Nick. Grant is an equity partner--a true chef/owner--in the venture and there is a solid consensus among all the backers about the priority of his vision.
      * * * * *
      In addition to being one of today's foremost chefs and culinary innovators, Grant Achatz is a long-time member of eGullet, and a lively, provocative contributor to our discussion forums. Read his March, 2003 eGullet Q&A here.
      Photos courtesy Alinea
       
      eGullet member, yellow_truffle, also contributed to this report
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