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

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Frank Bruni with a piece in the May 11th edition of the New York Times (on-line):

. . . Alinea may sound like a restaurant off its rocker, like gastronomy gone round the bend. But it is much more: a multi-million-dollar wager - the most ambitious yet - that sophisticated American diners are ready to embrace a newfangled cuisine they have largely resisted. It boldly raises the stakes.

Its opening last week marks a milestone and invites an examination of how meaningfully this kind of cooking, born in Europe and pioneered in large part by the chef Ferran Adrià in Spain, has taken root in the United States. On this side of the Atlantic, its advance has been fitful. Its application has often been shallowly theatrical and its successes qualified, facts made clear during trips I took recently to some of the lonely outposts of this innovative style. . .

Sci-Fi Cooking Tries Dealing With Reality

=R=

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That review was everybit as inconsistent as his claims for this cuisine are.

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I may well be one of the few who does not detest Mr. Bruni or his writing. I found his article very expressive. After reading it I felt that I had a better understanding of the dining experience at Alinea including the taste of the dishes he described. He seemed particularly respectful of Ferran Adria and acknowleged his brillance in distilling and melding the pure tastes of ingredients. Mr. Bruni touches on the sci-fi feeling of this culinary path which is an aspect of it I find personally appealing. To me much of what is being created by chefs like Adria, Canto and Achatz owes a great deal to technology, engineering and a forward thinking mindset. I would think this is an encouraging review to all those pioneering this road.

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What is the email for Alinea?

I have a colleague who has some time in Chicago and would like to book, but the telephone is solid and the web site hopeless...

Ross writes:

Jack

I think these people at alinea are absolute bastards. Look at the way they have blatantly manipulated egullet on the one hand (corruption? or is it just sponsorship?) and then listen to the condescending shit on their answerphone (if you can get through). I even tried to email and alinearestaurant.com is even bouncing emails to postmaster@ - in open defiance of IEFT standards and decent netiquette. I bet their game is marketing by scarcity. But the sort of thing that gets me really pissed off is when the rentabitch voice on the answerphone says things like `your call is valuable to us'. The reason people bank at places like Coutts is so that they never, never, never have to hear that. A place whose answerphone says `your call is valuable to us' is not carriage trade.

In the large, maybe what's needed is an internet draft on service standards for online businesses - or maybe I will register the domain www.yourcallisvaluabletous.com which by some miracle appears to have escaped the attentions of the cybersquatters


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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What is the email for Alinea?

I have a colleague who has some time in Chicago and would like to book, but the telephone is solid and the web site hopeless...

E-mail should be info@alinearestaurant.com. At least, thats what it was before the place opened.

I have heard the answering machine message refered to in the above e-mail and don't see what your pal is getting so upset about frankly :wacko:

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Regardless, in order to fully appreciate this dish you need to experience the mouth-feel of a perfectly tender broccoli stem.  What I’d previously thought was a tough, fibrous part of the broccoli plant was anything but that in this dish.  The real reason to explore the stem is the fact that it provides a very delicate broccoli flavor in a uniformly tender texture.

Was the stem peeled? I've long used peeled, chopped and steamed broccoli stem as a complementary fill item in my chicken empanadas but haven't seen it used elsewhere (and I think I actually prefer the texture to that of florets).

Also - did you have coffee or more important... espresso or a milk based espresso drink? In the Alinea discussion earlier this year I was informed that very careful attention would be paid to the coffee related details. If in fact they have done this and are successfully serving properly made espresso drinks in the proper time frame (i.e. as soon as they're prepared) they'll be in rarified company among restaurants in that regard (actually alone in their class as I know of no other restaurant at any level that actually pulls this off).

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Was the stem peeled?  I've long used peeled, chopped and steamed broccoli stem as a complementary fill item in my chicken empanadas but haven't seen it used elsewhere (and I think I actually prefer the texture to that of florets). . .

Owen, the broccoli stem is well-peeled and quite tender.

I cannot answer your coffee questions, as we bypassed coffee service due to the late hour.

=R=

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I’d like to discuss the broccoli stem dish.  Many people might wonder why Achatz would go to the trouble of serving what has been referred to as the offal of the vegetable world.  I’m really curious why people would have a difficult time embracing this concept.  Regardless, in order to fully appreciate this dish you need to experience the mouth-feel of a perfectly tender broccoli stem.  What I’d previously thought was a tough, fibrous part of the broccoli plant was anything but that in this dish. 

For the record people like Jacques Pepin and Julia have been preaching the qualities of the brocolli stem for ages. He even did a recipe on a recent Fast food my way with one.

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Ross writes:

Jack

I think these people at alinea are absolute bastards. Look at the way they have blatantly manipulated egullet on the one hand (corruption? or is it just sponsorship?) and then listen to the condescending shit on their answerphone (if you can get through).

If your friend has already made up his mind about how "manipulat[ive]" these "absolute bastards" are, why does he want to give them his business? Vote with your feet.


Edited by jm chen (log)

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What is the email for Alinea?

I have a colleague who has some time in Chicago and would like to book, but the telephone is solid and the web site hopeless...

Ross writes:

Jack

I think these people at alinea are absolute bastards. Look at the way they have blatantly manipulated egullet on the one hand (corruption? or is it just sponsorship?) and then listen to the condescending shit on their answerphone (if you can get through). I even tried to email and alinearestaurant.com is even bouncing emails to postmaster@ - in open defiance of IEFT standards and decent netiquette. I bet their game is marketing by scarcity. But the sort of thing that gets me really pissed off is when the rentabitch voice on the answerphone says things like `your call is valuable to us'. The reason people bank at places like Coutts is so that they never, never, never have to hear that. A place whose answerphone says `your call is valuable to us' is not carriage trade.

In the large, maybe what's needed is an internet draft on service standards for online businesses - or maybe I will register the domain www.yourcallisvaluabletous.com which by some miracle appears to have escaped the attentions of the cybersquatters

Like Per Se last year.

I have a cartoon that shows a person on the phone - the voice on the other end says: "Please continue to hold - your call is important to us." Time passes - and more time passes - and even more time passes - and then the voice says "Not so important that we'd hire anyone to actually answer the phone, but really important".

I don't know why a fair number of restaurants are technology impaired. How hard is it to set up a system that at least takes a message?

But they are. So it makes sense to wait until all the fuss dies down - however long it takes. Robyn

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Oh, man. Having read this thread, now I just gotta make it up there. Maybe for my birthday.

Huge thanks to the many posters on this thread.

The last few posts, though, have seemed to take a bitter turn.

If I try to get a reservation for on or around my birthday (I had a TDF at Trio for my birthday a couple years back), am I gonna be screwed?

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Oh, man.  Having read this thread, now I just gotta make it up there. Maybe for my birthday.

Huge thanks to the many posters on this thread.

The last few posts, though, have seemed to take a bitter turn.

If I try to get a reservation for on or around my birthday (I had a TDF at Trio for my birthday a couple years back), am I gonna be screwed?

I'd give it a go. Is you birthday on the weekend? Thats going to be the tough time to get a table there, but I'd still give it a go.

Considering that this place has only been open for exactly a week, I'd imagine that issues such as the phone and website are being worked on as we speak. Even though it was understood that this place was going to be a big deal. it's still very possible that they were'nt expecting THIS much of a response.


Edited by VeryApe77 (log)

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. . . Considering that this place has been open for exactly a week, I'd imagine that issues such as the phone and website are being worked on as we speak. Even though it was understood that this place was going to be a big deal. it's still very possible that they were'nt expecting THIS much of a response.

I agree and would bet that the bottlenecking described upthread will be resolved promptly.

=R=

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I'd give it a go. Is you birthday on the weekend? Thats going to be the tough time to get a table there, but I'd still give it a go.

Considering that this place has only been open for exactly a week, I'd imagine that issues such as the phone and website are being worked on as we speak. Even though it was understood that this place was going to be a big deal. it's still very possible that they were'nt expecting THIS much of a response.

Cool. This year, my birthday is on a Wednesday (November 2), so it might not be so bad. I might try to make it up before then, though... Alinea looks exciting! We'll see.

And your point about the restaurant being open for only a week is well-taken. Trio was very gracious and accomodating, I'm sure Alinea will be no different, once they get the kinks worked out.

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Last week I was able to ge tthrough on my first call and get a reservation for my first choice for a specific weekday in June.

I think you'll find that getting a reservation early in a restaurant's life is easier because they are filling up spots in advance for several months. Once they get into the mode of booking one month out to the day, it becomes much more difficult.


Edited by bilrus (log)

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With respect to reservations and the phone system:

We had planned for several lines and a voicemail system. This system was intended to handle a normal call load. Early on, pre-opening, it worked just fine. Several days before we opened, we began to experience a very, very high volume of calls -- literally hundreds per day. Partly, I may have planned poorly for the sheer number of calls and did not order enough phone roll lines. Unfortunately, remedying this situation puts us at the hands of Telco. Inc. which states that we cannot add lines quickly or easily. One would think this would work as smoothly as the internet by now, but, alas, it does not.

I certainly understand and appreciate the frustrations of trying to simply book a dinner.

We have added an additional voice mail line and check it hourly. Those calls are returned, to the best of our ability, the same day they are received. If an individual does not receive a call-back it is very often the case that they either did not leave a number or were not clear in their instructions -- you would be amazed at how often this is the case.

I want to assure you that we are doing our very best to operate with the system we currently have in place, and that we are working hard to upgrade.

In the meantime, we appreciate the interest and your call, and we are trying very, very hard to accomodate you at Alinea.

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I wouldn't worry about it too much. If you're running a terrific restaurant (and it looks like you are) - there are people like me who won't get around to visiting you for maybe a year. And I suspect you'll be every bit as good a year from now as you are now - if not better. I'm sure that you - as a restaurant - are in it for the long run. I - as a diner - am in it for the long run too.

Have to laugh though. I live in Jacksonville Florida. And I had lunch today at PF Chang's here for the first time. It opened in a new mall about 3 months ago. And - at the beginning - believe it or not - people were waiting 2 hours for lunch - 4 hours for dinner. People with their names on the list were selling their beepers to newcomers for $50! Ditto with the Cheesecake Factory across the street. The guy who does the local newspaper reviews said in his column - forget it - I'm not waiting in line 4 hours to review this place! That is even crazier than what you're facing. Today it was more normal. Waiting list didn't form until noon.

Anyway - if people won't wait six months until things get a little more orderly and civilized (which it will when the frigid air returns to Chicago and most tourists like me stay home) - then the heck with them! Robyn

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i feel like the last thing alinea should worry about right now is callers not getting through. par for the course, and it has only been a week.

on another note, several friends who have been to alinea this week have told me that the "tour" provides a much larger amount of food than their similar experiences at trio. i've been told they were full with 4 or 5 courses left. a situation they did not experience at trio. i'm wondering if this experience has been common to other people this week, and if this info has gotten back to the kitchen?

we have reservations for saturday.

m

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Martin, can you tell us more about the donut porcelain dish used for the ARTICHOKE. Was this a custom job? I noticed the chef did not have a folded napkins in any of the presentations.

yellow truffle,

The piece is called Antiplate. Grant Achatz asked me to design a service piece for foods prearranged on a spoon (traditionally presented propped up on a napkin). The goal was to keep the focus on the food as well as make the removal of the spoon very easy and natural. The pieces currently used at the restaurant are essentially a prototype run.

martin_kastner,

Thanx for the info on the antiplate. chefg talked about this briefly in the serviceware, but at that time had not come to fruition. Glad to see the prototypes make it on the tables at Alinea. I believe that you achieved your functional goals and aesthetically it fits the overall picture.

Another question, if I may, regarding the dinnerware for the 12th course, PROSCIUTTO. Was this another custom job?

gallery_15603_1194_14322.jpg

Being able to see a side profile of the dish was a wonderful visual approach to this course. And the curvaceousness of the dinnerware, in its convexity, furnished a very elegant platform. BTW, the contrasting textures and the subtle flavors of the creamy filling, dehydrated prosciutto and the micro mint greens worked out well in my book.

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Another question, if I may, regarding the dinnerware for the 12th course, PROSCIUTTO. Was this another custom job?

Being able to see a side profile of the dish was a wonderful visual approach to this course. And the curvaceousness of the dinnerware, in its convexity, furnished a very elegant platform. BTW, the contrasting textures and the subtle flavors of the creamy filling, dehydrated prosciutto and the micro mint greens worked out well in my book.

yellow truffle

Yes, the work name of this piece is 'patch'.

Essentially, we wanted to serve food nested on a bed of delicate young sprouts to introduce a new textural quality as well as to accentuate lightness of a presented dish.

My intent with the piece was to create a simple, dynamic form building up towards the food.

Martin

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WOW...it was a whirlwind, but I made it home in one piece....

I flew out Wednesday afternoon....could hardly sleep, then anxiously awaited my meal at Alinea while seeing Chicago for the first time....

I want to keep this post abbreviated, but I wanted to give a HUGE round of applause to Chef Achatz and the entire Alinea staff for providing the most stunning dining experience I have ever had the pleasure of being witness to. And also to Mr. Kastner, your pieces are beautiful, whimsical, and delicate to the eye as well as the food for which it so wonderfully provides conveyance. Everyone was so amicable, knowledgeable, and attentive...and it was an absolute pleasure to meet Chef Achatz, who (dare I say it) is the most talented, imaginative chef in America today....and for many moons to come...I look forward to my second visit......

Bicycle Lee

aka

Brendan Kawakami

table 24

8pm Thursday 12.5.05

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I have been anticipating Alinea's opening since Trio's last days. This coupled with being happy but not thrilled with a dining experience at Moto lead to some anxiety for me in the days approaching my reservation at Alinea. Entering the space is incredible - the hallway, follwed by that staircase, the kitchen to your right, and then there's Chef G. I was already calmed and excited at the same time.

We choose the twelve course, mainly because it was a week night. I wish I had the ability to describe what the food tasted like. I agree with a previous reviewer that the crab with cashews is one of the best things I've tasted. It was a totally unexpected flavor. I'm sure we all looked like this :blink: . Our server even commented on our reaction to the dish. The rest of the dishes were all as exciting and executed perfectly. Our dinner took appx. 4 hours and that was incredibly too short. I was shocked it was over. I will never be afraid to experience the Tour, no matter what night. The desert courses, for me, were far and away more enjoyable than Trio or any other restaurant I've dined. I'm not a big fan of sweets, and these creations were sublime.

The service was great. I normally prefer if the servers are a little more relaxed and talkative when answering my endless questions about how and why, and our the service at Alinea picked up on that quickly and were attentive and interactive, but not obtrusive. We had a few small problems that would of upset some patrons or a critic for sure, but I was to dizzy from the flavors to care. I'm sure these issues will be worked out quickly.

The one thing that surprised me was how easy and natural this all seemed. I had been reading on this site about the dinnerware and contraptions that would be used

and was concerned about it coming off some what pretentious. Instead it all makes perfect sense. It's harmonious and natural.

Thank you and Congratulations to Chef G. and his team. I'll be seeing you very soon.

J


Edited by rhinopias (log)

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We did the tour at alinea on saturday night. The meal was of course excellent. Compared to trio we thought that there was a stronger subtle emphasis on sweetness. This seemed hand in hand with a higher percentage of fortified wine pairings and slightly sweeter wines across the board.

We were a little saddened to not see the "crate and barrel" serviceware used for the "smoking cinnamon and also missed the plate that the prosciutto had been shown on. We were instructed to pick up the prosciutto from a presentation napkin held by our server. Also one course on our menu could not be remembered as being served to us when we went over the meal later that night.

Also some small fumbles by the waitstaff that i'm sure will be ironed out. these included naming the wrong items for more than one of the dishes. Also, when the table behind us continually used the flash on their camera we were asked if it was bothering us. When one member of our party answered yes, the server said "then you can go ahead and use yours". Strange response, we thought.

Lastly, one of our party was struck in the head by the flying wire from a neighboring table's bacon course. so....we really did love it. The turbot course, crab and cashew course, chocolate course, foie and rhubarb, were our favorites. The space is flawless, (though one of the bathrooms was out of order), and the food was precise and subtle. Overall it seems that the link between the kitchen and the staff and the staffs execution of communicating the menu to us needed some work, but when you swing for the fence, especially in the first two weeks, there are bound to be some areas that need work. we look forwad to coming back in a few months.

m

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