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chefseanbrock

[CHI] Alinea – Grant Achatz – Reviews & Discussion (Part 1)

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I'm looking forward to hearing more about how the food tastes.

Interesting that no one has commented on that yet....I hope someone does soon!

I see that I'm not the only one waiting for a tasting report - love the photos but not a substitute for what the dishes actually tasted like - we're starving here!

edited for grammar :rolleyes:


Edited by glossyp (log)

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Come on now. Three pages on this thread and no one has talked about how the food tastes. Is this a food thread or a photography thread!

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If this is really a 7 and a half hour meal every time, I'm not sure I see the appeal in that.

I'm not sure I do either. With 28 courses - that's only 15 minutes a course. If you try to get it down to 4-5 hours - that's only 10 minutes a course (which includes serving the food - pouring the wine - eating and drinking - clearing the table - etc.). Reminds me of a speed eating contest as opposed to fine dining (although I am probably just being old-fashioned <sigh>). Also - I tend to think of chatting with one's dining companions as being an essential part of a meal. I like to think of fine dining as a sensual experience - and getting your business done in 10 minutes isn't very sensual in my opinion. Robyn

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Jeffj,

PLEEEEASE tell us you took pictures! :shock: 

I did take some pictures but the lighting at my table seemed much more dim than what Yellow Truffle had so his outstanding pictures will probably be the definitive set for now. When I get back home, I'll see what I can salvage and include them with a more thorough description of the meal.

In the meantime, I can tell you that all of you with reservations are in for a real treat. Alinea is a very special restaurant.

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Come on now.  Three pages on this thread and no one has talked about how the food tastes.  Is this a food thread or a photography thread!

I noticed the same thing. And that this question has been asked five times now.

How did it taste? What was delightful? What was aromatic--was anything on its own aromatic, or did you have to pierce something for the smells to waft up to you?

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Come on now.  Three pages on this thread and no one has talked about how the food tastes.  Is this a food thread or a photography thread!

I noticed the same thing. And that this question has been asked five times now.

How did it taste? What was delightful? What was aromatic--was anything on its own aromatic, or did you have to pierce something for the smells to waft up to you?

Let's give them a break, please. I'm eager too to hear about how every course tasted and smelled, but thats a whole lot of complex courses, which will require some time and thought to write about. Plus, of course, these lucky diners might have real lives that must be tended to.

(But when you're ready, I'll be all eyes and ears.)

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the tastes were extraordinary and if they weren't they were always interesting. cashews and crab and raw parnsip? who'd have thought that? bison and beets, alternating in a crate and barrel votive holder with bison and blueberries? some of the best beef i've had, with anchovy, worchestershire, chive puree if i recall right, potato puree, orange zest, and several other flavors and textures, a bizarre tasting of vanilla pudding followed by fava puree followed by bulgar wheat and sharply fried garlic followed by a dried plum puree (i believe) with olive and coffee, followed by pumpernickle--each successive one in a hollowed out heart of palm--one course--and i didn't even mention the ganrish on top (the vanilla pudding had thai chili and avacado, of all things), the wonderful hazelnut dessert--some tube over something creamy, you crack it open and stuff spills out and you taste it, and it tastes nutty and good and comforting but strange also, apricots, puffed wild rice maybe, yogurt--and suddenly you realize you're eating breakfast, a yogurt and granola breakfast. you could say such things about every each dish. the frog legs with morels and a saffron vinaigrette, fantastic. did some courses miss--one or two did for me. but shit, he's swinging for the fences on every one. he, and every bit as important, the fifteen other cooks in the kitchen, are working at a really high and impressive level. It's been four days since I ate there and I only find my respect for what grant and his partners and his staff have done increasing.

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If this is really a 7 and a half hour meal every time, I'm not sure I see the appeal in that.

I'm not sure I do either. With 28 courses - that's only 15 minutes a course. If you try to get it down to 4-5 hours - that's only 10 minutes a course (which includes serving the food - pouring the wine - eating and drinking - clearing the table - etc.). Reminds me of a speed eating contest as opposed to fine dining (although I am probably just being old-fashioned <sigh>). Also - I tend to think of chatting with one's dining companions as being an essential part of a meal. I like to think of fine dining as a sensual experience - and getting your business done in 10 minutes isn't very sensual in my opinion. Robyn

At Minibar in DC there are a comparable number of courses, but they come every five minutes or so, if that. If I remember correctly that meal took about two and a half hours.

But then again, in that setting the cooking and plating is going on right in front of you and there are only six patrons.

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Plus, of course, these lucky diners might have real lives that must be tended to.

Impossible. I refuse to believe it.

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It's late so this installment will be brief (and I will be back to elaborate when time allows), but I thought the food tasted great. There were so many dishes (and so much wine) that it's really hard to sort it all out right now.

The thing about chefg is that his flavor combinations and concepts are incredibly innovative and so original that, for me, they barely have reference points. It's all basically new territory and therefore, analysis is more difficult to come by (for me, anyway). For example, who knew that rose water and horseradish would create such a fantastic flavor combination? Sounds impossible, yet it worked. Completely.

PB&J was, of course, delicious. It's hard to harsh on a peeled grape dipped in peanut butter and wrapped in a razor-thin blanket of toasted brioche. Other "bites" like Sour Cream were not only thought-provoking but seriously tasty. That one in particular was fun because of its initial frozen state, which translated into several phases of flavor. It was cool and creamy at the start, purely herbal at the finish with several other notes played in between. One bite, yet complex, multi-faceted and delectable.

Some of our favorites were the succulent Lamb Neck with the fat atop it nicely crispy. I was delighted that my SIL was full by that point. I ate mine, we swapped plates, I ate hers. The Frog Legs blew us away. The sauce was rich and savory, the frog meat was unbelievably tender and the morels were a perfect element because they sopped up and carried so much of that fantastic sauce directly into my mouth. I loved the tender Beef with flavors of A-1 and the stuffed and lightly-fried Artichoke bite will likely join the now retired Black Truffle Explosion in the "legendary" category. The Turbot was out of this world and was surrounded by an outer bowl of hyacinth blossoms onto which hot water was poured to create an emotionally evocative aroma -- it was reminiscent of spring time. There were no dishes that didn't taste good, most were excellent and even with 28 courses, the portions were quite large.

I also have to say, with no disrepect intended to anyone at Trio (pre-Atelier), that the desserts at Alinea were transcendant and I felt matched the meal way better than most of the desserts I remember from the closing menu at Trio. They were boldly flavored but, for the most part, light in body. Ethereal would probably be a good description. The Pineapple was like a dream, the Sassafrass Cream was a tasty and sweet adventure on a plate and the Sponge Cake . . . well, it was so good that even though it was the last course, we were all sucking dry the glasses in which it was served.

Wine service was exceptional with pairings designed to match the menu almost step by step. Sparkling, white, red and fortified all contributed to a fantastic journey which I never could have even begun to imagine on my own. What a treat! It should go without saying that the overall level of service was about as good as it gets -- but I'll say it anyway. Without already knowing it, it would have been nearly impossible from our vantage point in the dining room, to discern that Alinea was only on its 4th day.

So much more to say but not only is it late, the words are hard to find. I don't think I've felt this lucky to live in Chicago since the Bears won Super Bowl 20. :wink:

=R=

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There seems to a concern with the duration of the Alinea experience. Please remember that this was my party's adventure. You, on the other hand, may not wish to smell the roses.

When chefg was in the kitchen at Trio, the Tour de Force of 24+/- courses took us an average of six hours for my many visits there with different people. The last night at Trio in the kitchen we had 31 course and that took us over 8 hours. Of course there was a trip around the block and a stop at the now defunct Marly's Chocolates to purchase gifts for the staff.

Alinea is similar. If you had the Tour de Force at Trio and you were one of the ones that can do it in under 3.5 hours, then you can do the Tour at Alinea in under 4. The staff are well trained, experienced and can read how you are progressing in your meal. They do their best to make sure their is no void in the action at the table.

At our table, there was an architect/professor, facilities manager, and a graphic designer. We were deconstructing each dish before we even took a bite. And in my case taking snap shots and notes, before, during and after each item. And then savoring the item and some cross table commenting. Now repeat that for each dish and wine. But before they reclaim their dinnerware, they have to make sure that everyone is finished with their dish, and not just taking a break. Oh, and of course the restroom breaks. This all adds up.

I am confident that the staff can do the Tour in an accelerated mode, but why would you. This is the Tour. And it is not for everyone. It will take some time to go through. How long is up to you. Remember that there is an option for a shorter menu. Perhaps someone can write about that experience.

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Lets do an empirical study here, shall we. With the age of digital cameras and their time/date stamps on each shot taken, one can see exactly when each dish arrived at our table. Take a look at this slide show for the times when a photograph was taken (also see the uncropped, but reduced and compressed version of the images).

gallery_15603_1194_12357.jpg

In the chart above, column A is the course number, column B is the time (24 hour clock) when the photo was taken, column C is the time difference (in minutes) between each dish from the time the photos were taken, and column D is the approximate bites it took to consume the dish. Row 29 is the total/average for each of the columns. Column B's total time of eating was six hours, fifteen minutes. Column C's average time between courses ended up to be 14 minutes. And in case you were interested, there was an average of 4.14 bites per course for a total of 116 bites for the whole Tour.

As you can see the eating experience was around 6.25 hours. Take a look at the first and last photos from the slide show taken at Alinea, and notice the time in and out (1825 & 0147). Seven and a half hours was the total time we were in the restaurant. The other times were spent talking to Chef Grant Achatz and Mr. Nick Kokonas who took the time to give us a tour of the restaurant after everyone had left. So it is possible to shorten your stay at the restaurant if you want to bypass the smelling of the roses.

gallery_15603_1194_2808.jpg

This graph represents the pacing of our meal. In the early part of the Tour, we were unaware of the current time. We were just enjoying ourselves. Not until midway that we found out the time and noticed that we were no where near the end. And if we kept up this pace, we would not leave until sunrise - opening day was Wednesday, and Thursday is a workday here in the Heartland. So of course we had to speed things up. This meant less photos, no more note taking, and accelerated food/beverage consumption. I believe the graph shows this to be the case, as you notice the decline of time in between courses at the second half.

This a marathon of dining. The key here is pace, find it and stick with it for the whole evening. It is best that you do not hasten your experience. This will lead to consuming just because it is there. Look at the wines that were left unconsumed. Such a faux pas.

gallery_15603_1194_22415.jpg

When I do the Tour again, it would have to be on a day where I am not going into the office the following day.

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Before hitting the sack, I'd just like to add that I doubt the descriptions of how the food tasted will be very satisfying to those who haven't been to Alinea. I think the early consensus is that it tasted great. Still, what's that worth if you haven't tried it yourself? Shed your frustrations and go to Alinea. Without doing so, no amount of reading descriptions -- no matter how eloquent they may be -- can possibly satisfy on the same level as actually eating the food.

And this isn't just true of Alinea. If you've never had an italian beef sandwich from Mr. Beef, Al's or Johnnie's, no amount of description is going to help you understand what it actually feels like to eat one. The satisfaction that comes from eating great food cannot be replaced by words.

. . . and just to touch on the "time frame" issue, our meal took approximately 5.5 hours from start to finish.

=R=

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7-1/2 hours???  Was it manageable?  How was the overall pacing?  Do you think they'll compact that time frame eventually?  Obviously, with such an arrangement, there's very little table turnover.  The kitchen must be exhausted.

The pacing was primarily set by us. Once we were done, then they quickly sprang into action and remove/replace dinnerware. There were two occasions when they tried to take the plates before I was done. They pulled away when they saw me going for my fork. I believe they are only set for only one seating an evening. chefg was still there when we left.

When was the ginger used in the meal?

Our ginger was also used on course 10, Beef. The ginger was grated on a white porcelain grater until a few drops of the juice can be drizzled onto the plate.

How did the specialized serving utensils/contraptions work out?

Nothing fell down or spilled. Of the 28 dishes, porcelain was used 17 times, glass 5, metal 4, acrylic 1 and fabric once. I hope to go into more detail later.


Edited by yellow truffle (log)

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I'm interested in the timing too though...if one had a reservation for, say, 9:30 and ordered the tour, would they (and the kitchen and serving staff) be there until 4:30? Or did you just have very leisurely meal, Yellow Truffle?

9:30 for the Tour, huh. You might want to take a disco nap before going, you could be in for a long night. I am sure the kitchen will do their best to make you comfortable, and the following day they would have disclaimer on start times for the Tour menu when making reservations.

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The serving piece for the bison? Was that glass or some kind of acrylic?

The serving piece was made of glass and it has glass balls as the feet.

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Also, the fried bread looks like it's sitting on a folded napkin suspended in mid-air.  Was someone holding it or is there something missing?

The server was holding a long flat paddle wrapped in linen.

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I know that every time you leave the table chef needs to re-plate dishes and I wonder how much of an effect that had on the first night at Alinea.

On one of the dishes, I stood up to use the restroom and as I rounded the corner, the servers had the dish in hand. I could have ignored them and walked right past, but instead, I looked them in the eye knowing it was for our table and smiled. He smiled back and asked if I would mind. To that I returned to the table to enjoy the next course.

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Having been open for only 3 days the 7.5 hour mark I am sure will come down once all the staff is comfortable not only with each other but the space itself. A lot of trio alumni went with chefg and they were able to do the tour there in 3-4 hours. I know some of the tours done at alinea have been at the 5-5 1/2 hour mark already, so look for them to be a well oiled machine soon.

I believe that the front of the house has been practicing their routine as much as the kitchen has. Even though we were the first official paying customers, I am sure that the restaurant has had many trial runs. Their are investors to satisfy and workers to thank. With a restaurant of this caliber, they would not take a chance on doing the first night as a trial run and I don't think that we were guinea pigs. Too much is on the line.

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Is this a food thread or a photography thread!

I though that this was an interior design and a human interface thread.

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Please, please, please, can someone post a detailed description of each dish to go with the pictures. for those of us a long way away?

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Let's give them a break, please.  I'm eager too to hear about how every course tasted and smelled, but thats a whole lot of complex courses, which will require some time and thought to write about. Plus, of course, these lucky diners might have real lives that must be tended to.

Thank you. You wanna know how the food tastes? It tastes great. I will give a more detailed account later.

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On one of the dishes, I stood up to use the restroom and as I rounded the corner, the servers had the dish in hand. I could have ignored them and walked right past, but instead, I looked them in the eye knowing it was for our table and smiled. He smiled back and asked if I would mind. To that I returned to the table to enjoy the next course.

I feel like a caveman trying to ask questions about the operations of the Star Trek Enterprise here, so sorry if this is a stupid questions -- but are you saying the dishes cannot be served, if the guest is away from their seat? I'm confused by this comment about "...every time you leave the table chef needs to re-plate dishes..."

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