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


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Great job on the website! I think it is one of the best restaurant websites I've visited. It shows just enough, but not too much. I didn't think it was possible, but I am even more excited for my upcoming December 29th visit.

I was also wondering if anything has become of the audio spotlight that had been discussed previously? I knew there were some difficulties due to the composition of hard surfaces in the room, so has the idea been scrapped? I was interested to see how it would be used.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A short but interesting take on Alinea, by Robert Sietsema, appears in the on-line version of today's Village Voice:

Hey Jonathan: A zillion thanks for your recommendation! We New Yorkers like to think of ourselves as one jump ahead of everybody, restaurant-wise, but Chicago's Grant Achatz makes our Wylie Dufresne seem dull by comparison. . .

Letter From Chicago - Strange and scientific culinary doings invade the Windy City

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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from the previously mentioned article" "kobe beef lozenges encrusted with toasted pumpkin seeds mired in sweet taffy, arranged along a ribbon of dehydrated orange squash".

I don't recall this being mentioned on the site before. Could this be a forthcoming item on the new menu? It sounds awesome! I can't wait till my first visit at the end of December. :cool:

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from the previously mentioned article"  "kobe beef lozenges encrusted with toasted pumpkin seeds mired in sweet taffy, arranged along a ribbon of dehydrated orange squash".

I don't recall this being mentioned on the site before.  Could this be a forthcoming item on the new menu?  It sounds awesome!  I can't wait till my first visit at the end of December. :cool:

We were at Alinea back in early November and this was not on the menu (I still intend to post about that experience more fully as soon as I can). For now, I'll just say that on that particular night, the Tour was the best of the 3 times we've "taken" it.

We're back at Alinea in couple weeks and I hope we get to try the kobe lozenges.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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from the previously mentioned article"  "kobe beef lozenges encrusted with toasted pumpkin seeds mired in sweet taffy, arranged along a ribbon of dehydrated orange squash".

I don't recall this being mentioned on the site before.  Could this be a forthcoming item on the new menu?  It sounds awesome!  I can't wait till my first visit at the end of December. :cool:

We were at Alinea back in early November and this was not on the menu (I still intend to post about that experience more fully as soon as I can). For now, I'll just say that on that particular night, the Tour was the best of the 3 times we've "taken" it.

We're back at Alinea in couple weeks and I hope we get to try the kobe lozenges.

=R=

And the white truffle <cough> explosion <cough>? :unsure:

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And the white truffle <cough> explosion <cough>?  :unsure:

We LOVED it. And, thanks to Chef G and assistant sommelier Joe Ziomek we actually enjoyed it twice.

I'd previously mentioned to Joe that my wife and I had agreed that Black Truffle Explosion was the single most delicious thing that either of us had ever eaten. So, after we were served the astonishing White Truffle Explosion, Joe came by the table and asked me how I'd compare it the Black truffle rendition. Jokingly, I said that I'd probably need a few more before I could decide for sure.

A few moments later, when our next course arrived, it was actually White Truffle Explosion . . . again. For the second time in just minutes we snarfed down the "explosive-filled" packets, the shaved Alba truffles and the richly-flavored broth in which the packet was served. That was certainly one highlight from our tremendous 3rd tour; but one of many. I need to carve out some time and recap that tremendous experience. Even the non-foodie friends we shared that meal with were utterly blown away by it.

I've been completely spoiled by Alinea and Chef G's vision. Since I first went there back in May, my entire understanding of food and cuisine has completely changed. I've been to several fairly well-regarded spots since then (in Chicago and beyond) and quite frankly, with very few exceptions, they are just blurs in Alinea's rear-view mirror (although, there are those who would say that I need to get out more :wink:).

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I can only hope that the white truffle explosion is still on the menu at the end of december, as I have read so much about the original version at Trio, but have never had the dish.

I believe my family is only going to do the 12 course menu however and I am wondering if we could add the truffle explosion on as an extra course? I think I've read about people adding an extra course or two. Does anyone know what type of charge this incurs? Thanks.

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Someone had mentioned that Alinea has recieved a 4 star award from Mobil. Does anyone know if this is true?

"cuisine is the greatest form of art to touch a human's instinct" - chairman kaga

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Someone had mentioned that Alinea has recieved a 4 star award from Mobil. Does anyone know if this is true?

According to their web site, this is not the case.

Mobil 4-Star Chicago Restaurants (Search for Chicago, select "Restaurant" and "at least 4 Star").

Mobil 5-Star Chicago Restaurants (Charlie Trotters)

From what I can tell, Alinea isn't rated at all.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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My wife and I had dinner at Alinea last night. It was the second time we had been there and the first since last May shortly after it opened. That dinner will always be special to us as we had our two eldest sons with. It was particularly fun to share the dinner with them and my son’s friend. As wonderful as that dinner was, the food last night was even better. While I have been blessed with a number of spectacular meals in my life and particularly this year, last night’s dinner is second only to my dinner at El Bulli in my experience. This is the kind of restaurant and food that clearly floats my boat. While I realize that this food may not be for everyone, it sings clearly and beautifully to me. The combination of artistic, but playful creativity, sensational service, imaginative and spectacular wine pairings and tremendous flavor combinations that really work all set in an elegant, but comfortable environment is to me the restaurant ideal.

We opted for the tour with wine pairings including several available upgrades. Our first glass was the Pommeau de Normandie “Couer de Lion” from Christian Drouin. I had never had this before. It was dry with fine fruit, a revelation and a perfect accompaniment to out first bite, Pear with Celery leaf and branch and curry.

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This dish was stylistically reminiscent of Adria’s Olivo Sferico, which is the essence of olive in a liquid encased in a soft shell that explodes in one’s mouth bathing it with the incorporated flavors. The flavors in this orb were simply delectable with just enough curry to add intrigue and balance.

Next up was Salsify braised and fried, parsley, smoked salmon served with Wieninger Nussberg, “Alte Reben” from Vienna 2001. The salsify root was cooked sous vide, split down the middle to form branches and the branches were then fried to crispness. Embedded within the branches was a cooked oyster. The wine actually comes from the city of Vienna and is a cuvee of grapes grown in that city. The overall effect of the combination was delicious.

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Mango with sesame oil, soy nd bonito was an example of cleverness that really worked.

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This dish was fun. It came out frozen. One picks it up by the pin and places it on the tongue. The first taste is of bonito followed by soy then sesame and last the mango to freshen the palate.

King crab, tropical fruits, meyer lemon, vanilla served with a white Grenache from the Priorato, the 2004 Conreria d’Scala Dei “Nona” followed.

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The tropical fruits consisted of passion fruit puree, papaya, kiwi, banana chips and vanilla toasted rice. Unfortunately, I cannot definitively remember the red fruit in the middle of the photo. This delightful dish was one of my wife’s favorites.

A special surprise awaited us next. After reading all about the Truffle Explosion here I inquired about it at the beginning of the meal. Apparently the restaurant has had some trouble securing a reliable truffle supply of late due to recent climatic conditions around Alba. Fortunately the kitchen still ha some and Chef Achatz sent us up this course, Truffle, broccoli exploding ravioli.

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The addition of parmiggiano helped make this the most intensely delicious truffle experience of my life so far. This was a veritable “Wow! “ and one of my two favorite dishes of the evening.

Keeping to the exotic and unusual nature of a number of the wines presented, the next wine wa Movia “Veliko Bianco”, Goriska Brda from Slovenia near the Italian border. Like all the wine of the evening, this wine had a tremendous nose. This matched the Halibut, brown butter, parsley and capers superbly.

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All the elements of this dish other than the halibut and the “lemonade” on top were in powdered form. Other than the halibut, the key element of this dish to me was the lemon. Delicious.

The time came to move into the red wine sector. The pedestrian Napa Valley was represented by the 2002 Cabernet sauvignon from Honig. This was a sensational wine that I could have gone on drinking for a long time and I might have if it weren’t that I knew so many other fascinatingly delicious wines were still to come. It didn’t hurt that this wine from the Rutherford bench went with what was my other favorite dish of the evening, Bison with persimmon, cranberry and juniper aroma.

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This dish was absolutely extraordinary. This dish is an argument for an ala carte menu as I could have continued eating this for quite some time.

As it is late and I am exhausted I will continue this tomorrow.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

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As it is late and I am exhausted I will continue this tomorrow.

Doc,

What a meal so far, I hope you did the Tour. Your love of the meal has really shined through the commentary.

Molto E

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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Thank you, Molto. We did indeed have the tour. It consisted of 27 courses and 18 wines.

The best cheese puff I can imagine was next up. It was Spanish Idiazabal with some maple syrup and smoke. There was some freshly grated Idiazabal coating the puff. The cheesiness was truly sublime.

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Although it is not absolutely apparent in the photo the puff was on the tip of the arcing spearpoint that has been used with other dishes in the past. This was served with Clos Mogador 2002 from Priorat in Spain. This was one of the premium upgrade wines.

I love pistachios, but I have never had them like I had them in the next dish, Lamb, potato, pistachio, sweet spices.

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Iranian pistachios were stewed like beans to achieve a soft, creamy consistency. These are seen in the foreground of the photo. In addition there were ground fresh pistachios. The textural contrasts were wonderful as were the great flavours. This was served with 1999 Chateau Troplong-Mondot from St. Emilion.

Served in the traplike pedestal, one picke up th cinammon stick handle to eat Sweet potato, bourbon, cinnamon fragrance like a lollipop.

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This morsel also had great balance and depth of flavor. This did not have an accompanying wine.

The next course was one of the most interesting of the evening, but also the only one that I felt was slightly out of balance culinarily as I felt it had just a bit too much sweetness for my palate. This was Matsutake, pine nuts, mastic, rosemary.

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Prepared like a bread pudding with pine nut and rosemary gelees, this dish had mastic cream poured over it tableside. There was something vaguely reminiscent about this dish. It transported both my wife and I to a different location and a different era, albeit one we never lived through. My wife said that it reminded her of the apartment open for touring in Gaudi’s Casa Batllo’ (La Pedrera) in Barcelona. As strange as it was, I had to concur. Somehow this dish gave us the sensation of Belle Epoque Barcelona. That one sense can evoke others is nothing new. There is even a term for this – synesthesia. People describe sound in terms of color for example all the time, but I have personally never experienced this specific kind of phenomenon that we did with this dish. Perhaps there was something in the aroma of the dish that evoked similar subconsciously experienced aromas that we experienced in the apartment. It was strange, but real to us. I doubt that was the specific intention of the dish, but it was fascinating. Perhaps adding to the sense of another time and place was the delicious 1978 Sercial Madeira from Vinhos Barbeito.

Marcona almond, white ale, tonka bean malt was served on a spoon. Excellent.

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The next course was a mid-dinner palate cleanser – Yuzu, pine, black sesame.

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This fun dish required mixing the frozen and non-frozen components to form a sort of slurry. It was a great palate revitalizer. Neither this course nor the preceding one had associated wine pairings.

To be continued….

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc,

As much as liked the "El Bulli" experience, there were dishes that I did not find pleasing to the palate. I would definitely say Chef G deserves the accolades that Adria and the "like" receive. Alinea keeps getting better and Chicago is lucky to have it. That lamb dish looked amazing, but I am awaiting your description of the "Kobe Lozenges"

Molto E

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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I’m back.

Tuna, yuba, miso and grapefruit was up next without a wine pairing.

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This was good but not one of my favorite courses of the evening. The fried yuba had an interesting texture.

The next course was simply great, Chestnut with too many garnishes to list.

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The chestnut cream was in the back of the photo. A dollop of this with each “garnish” was amazing as each bit was different and each exceptional.Chestnut purée with (in clockwise order): bay leaf foam on top of the purée and burnt onion stuck into the purée; lightly fried celery root topped with a piece of sugar in the raw dipped in bittersweet chocolate; crumbled bacon topped with clove cream; a brussel sprout leaf shaped into a cup and filled with Burgundy truffle purée; Marsala wine gêlée (the cube shape); poached egg infused with Thai long peppercorn. The sauce in the bottom is parsnip juice. Continuing the interesting and excellent wine selections, this dish was served with 2004 Vercesi del Castellazzo “Gugiarolo” Pinot Nero Bianco from Oltrepo Pavese, Lombardia.

The honeycomb centrepiece has certainly been shown and discussed before.

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It was used with the next dish, Opah, endive, kumquat, ohio honeycomb.

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The honeycomb was pressed through a special device and the resulting honey drizzled over the dish. The bacon-like opah was superb with the kumquat, endive and honey. This dish was a great example of the balance Chef Achatz achieves in his dishes. It was neither too sweet, too bitter nor too anything, but too damn good. This was paired with Domaine de Beaurenard “Boisrenard” Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc 2002.

Another of my favorites followed,The Hot Potato, cold potato, white truffle, parmesan.

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The pin was slid out of the cup with the ingredients sliding into the potato leek soup. The contents were eaten like an oyster from the shell – magnificent. The wine was Henri Billiot Grand Cru Brut Rose, Ambonnay.

We were starting to get to the end of the savory portion of the meal. The next course was one of the largest, Duck, quince, onion, pillow of mace air.

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This dish was very clever. The plates were rested on pillows. The weight of the plates would slowly cause the pillows filled with “mace air” to decompress releasing the air to the diner and flavoring the dish olfactorially. My two favorite components were the foie gras and the duck skin. Yum. The Clos Vougeot Grand Cru “Musigni” 2001 from Gros Freres & Seour wasn’t too shabby either. This was a premium upgrade.

I’m not sure if this was the “Kobe Lozenge”, but the next course was Kobe Beef, yogurt, squash, smoked paprika candy.

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Another stellar combination, this was served with d”Arenberg “The Ironstone Pressings” 2002 from McLaren Vale, Australia.

This concluded the savory portion of the meal. Coming up later will be desserts, kitchen and additional commentary.

edited to add details to Chestnut.

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Spanktastic report docsconz. Well appreciated.

So they allow flash photography now, huh.

Thanks for the compliment, especially coming from the master Alinea photographer himself.

Our table was well situated so as not to be a direct nuisance. It just wasn't cutting it without the flash. I asked and stressed that I would desist immediately if it presented any problem. Fortunately for me it didn't seem to be an issue to anybody, other than perhaps to my wife who was facing the flash. Nobody else was, as it directed was away from anyone else. It is nice that the tables are quite well separated.

Perhaps they (and other like-minded restaurants) should keep a "photo dining room" where people who get their jollies this way :wink: can dine and photograph without self-consciousness or bothering those who would prefer to dine without it.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Dessert.

The first foray into the definitive round of desserts of course had to have a savoury base. That it was served with a dessert wine, the unctuous 2002 Ochs Blaufrankisch beerenauslese from Welden-am-See, Austria was the first clue. The beautiful presentation of Nicoise olive, olive oil, saffron, cherry was the second.

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The final determination was the taste. This was a spectacular entry into the realm of the sweet, all the while maintaining great balance.

Applewood, muscovado sugar, fenugreek was intoxicating and had no separate wine pairing.

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It came on a skewer.

Pumpkin, coconut, basil, tamarind may have been my favorite of the desserts.

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The coconut was in the center of the pumpkin almost like a takeoff of a fondant cake even though there was nothing cake-like about this dessert. The tamarind lent bracing acidity to the dish and IMO elevated it to greatness. The 2004 “Viognier Doux” from Bonny Doon didn’t hurt either.

That wine also served the Peanut, frozen pedro ximenez. Served in the “antiplate”.

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Flavor-wise this was reminiscent of “Peanut Butter & Jelly”, Chef Achatz’s signature from the spring. Texturally it was totally different.

Cassis, goat’s milk, beet, violet served with Olivares Dulce Monastrell 2001 from Jumilla was a beautiful dish again with impeccable balance.

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The “crepe” was cassis with beet “cake” around it. The light droplets were violet. The wine was spectacular as well and one of my favorites of an evening full of great wine matches and great wines.

Chocolate, avocado, lime, mint was next

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Chocolate and mint must be a hot combo now as I also had the combination presented differently on Thursday night at Blackbird. In both cases it worked remarkably well. We were served a wine cocktail with this; Alto Adige Moscato Rosa with Crème de Cassis. Beautiful.

Our final dessert was fun and delicious. Dry caramel, salt was dehydrated caramel that rehydrate perfectly in the mouth. Wonderful.

I will add some observations and comments later.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Doc,

Knowing you're from that that great big Apple state up North, I was wondering how you would compare your finest moments at Alinea with your finest moments at Wylie Dufresne's WD-50. (I've seen your picture with him.) I do realize that the approach that Chef Achatz and Chef Dufresne take are two opposite routes when it comes to presentation, flavor, and build of a dish, but the "avant-garde" binding is hard to ignore, especially with two chefs of this magnitude.

I've been to Trio when it was under Chefg and WD-50 about a year ago, and I will say that I enjoyed my time at Trio more just because there were less hit-miss dishes for me. The flavors at Trio both had a comforting feel to it, like I knew ahead of time that it should work, yet it was still "out there" enough to keep me guessing and oohing and ahhing. It seems the same has carried over to Alinea. Whereas my time at WD I found the flavors to be less so and more adventurous in what they put together.

I personally enjoyed both of my experiences, but with you having eaten at so many fine establishments, I was wondering your take on it.

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Doc,

Knowing you're from that that great big Apple state up North, I was wondering how you would compare your finest moments at Alinea with your finest moments at Wylie Dufresne's WD-50. (I've seen your picture with him.) I do realize that the approach that Chef Achatz and Chef Dufresne take are two opposite routes when it comes to presentation, flavor, and build of a dish, but the "avant-garde" binding is hard to ignore, especially with two chefs of this magnitude.

I've been to Trio when it was under Chefg and WD-50 about a year ago, and I will say that I enjoyed my time at Trio more just because there were less hit-miss dishes for me. The flavors at Trio both had a comforting feel to it, like I knew ahead of time that it should work, yet it was still "out there" enough to keep me guessing and oohing and ahhing. It seems the same has carried over to Alinea. Whereas my time at WD I found the flavors to be less so and more adventurous in what they put together.

I personally enjoyed both of my experiences, but with you having eaten at so many fine establishments, I was wondering your take on it.

I was planning onmaking some comments about Alinea and where I see it in the grand scheme of North American dining per my experience. To my taste, Alinea is the overall best restaurant I have been to in North America. That is take nothing away from any other restaurant I have been to including WD-50, Per Se, Citronelle, Jean-George, Daniel, le Bernardin, Charlie Trotter, Moto, Gary Danko, Susur, Toque etc. I have not been to the French Laundry or many other places so my experience certainly is not exhaustive. What sets Alinea apart to me is the combination of intense creativity, great tasting food, whimsy, superlative service as good as I've ever had that is both efficient, informative and unintimidating, a stellar wine program and a comfortable, luxurious environment. The only down side for me is that it is so far away in Chicago. On the other hand, that might be a good thing as I could see myself going broke if it was too accessible for me :laugh: None of the other restaurants that I have been to have that exact combination that is so important to me. The closest that I have come to this in the past was at Union Pacific in its heyday with Rocco DiSpirito when he was making some amazing food, but that lacked in consistency and Citronelle last spring. WD-50 is my favorite restaurant in NYC and I will be returning there soon to celebrate my eldest son's 16th birthday. I love that restaurant, but it has a completely different vibe. They are really apples and oranges. WD-50 does not have the same level of luxury that Alinea has. That is not necessarily a bad thing and I prefer WD-50 to Per Se even though Per Se is more luxurious than WD-50 with great food and service too. It is just that for me Alinea has succeeded in blending every aspect of fine dining (to me) together so perfectly. The only restaurant in my experience that I feel has succeeded even moreso for me is El Bulli.

Having been to both Alinea and El Bulli within the past year, I believe I am in a position to make some comparisons. While I have not yet been to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC, given that restaurant's size I think I can safely say that Alinea is the closest thing to El Bulli in the US at the moment. While some people may scoff at that or take it the wrong way, I make the statement as a compliment to Alinea. To say that it is most like El Bulli is not to say that it is a clone of El Bulli or an El Bulli wannabe. Stylistically Achatz resembles Ferran Adria very much. The kind of creativity, level of service, techniques and even the plating clearly owe a lot to Adria. But that is where the similarities stop. Adria's cuisine in my limited direct experience, but also through my understanding of having kept a close eye on the restaurant's doings for some time, is largely deriviative of his Catalan and Mediterranean roots. Even though he incorporates other influences, in particular Japanese, Adria's cooking as adventurous as it is, is based on his local tradition. His ingredients and flavors generally reflect that. In addition, it is my sense that above all else, Adria strives for the essence of flavor. The epitome of this for me was his olivo sferico, the gel encased olive essence and his mozzarella sferica, the same concept with the essence of mozzarella di bufala.

To me Achatz is striving for something different. While his techniques may be similar, Achatz's restaurant is clearly American. By that I mean, his culinary palate is not based on a particular tradition in the same way that Adria's is, nor is he after the essence of particular flavors. His art is taking from many traditions and blending them into unique and delicious combinations. Visually similarities of style abound. On the palate I find them vastly different. Both offer an incredible sense of fun and whimsy as well as ideal service. That to me is extreme attentiveness, efficiency, anticipation and also playfulness and excitement that is clearly but subtly conveyed to the diner. Both restaurants know where to draw the line and manage to not overdo it.

I will leave this post with a thought that WD-50 is to Arzak as Alinea is to El Bulli.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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The only restaurant in my experience that I feel has succeeded even moreso for me is El Bulli.

Having been to both Alinea and El Bulli within the past year, I believe I am in a position to make some comparisons. While I have not yet been to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC, given that restaurant's size I think I can safely say that Alinea is the closest thing to El Bulli in the US at the moment. While some people may scoff at that or take it the wrong way, I make the statement as a compliment to Alinea. To say that it is most like El Bulli is not to say that it is a clone of El Bulli or an El Bulli wannabe. Stylistically Achatz resembles Ferran Adria very much. The kind of creativity, level of service, techniques and even the plating clearly owe a lot to Adria. But that is where the similarities stop. Adria's cuisine in my limited direct experience, but also through my understanding of having kept a close eye on the restaurant's doings for some time, is largely deriviative of his Catalan and Mediterranean roots. Even though he incorporates other influences, in particular Japanese, Adria's cooking as adventurous as it is, is based on his local tradition. His ingredients and flavors generally reflect that. In addition, it is my sense that above all else, Adria strives for the essence of flavor. The epitome of this for me was his olivo sferico, the gel encased olive essence and his mozzarella sferica, the same concept with the essence of mozzarella di bufala.

To me Achatz is striving for something different. While his techniques may be similar, Achatz's restaurant is clearly American. By that I mean, his culinary palate is not based on a particular tradition in the same way that Adria's is, nor is he after the essence of particular flavors. His art is taking from many traditions and blending them into unique and delicious combinations. Visually similarities of style abound. On the palate I find them vastly different. Both offer an incredible sense of fun and whimsy as well as ideal service. That to me is extreme attentiveness, efficiency, anticipation and also playfulness and excitement that is clearly but subtly conveyed to the diner. Both restaurants know where to draw the line and manage to not overdo it.

Doc,

I agree with some of your comparisons between Alinea and El Bulli, but I would like to add a couple of things. We did not eat the exact same menu at El Bulli so we did not have the exact experience. The first part of the meal at El Bulli is referred to as the "Tapas" portion and that is where the whimsical part of the meal was. We really enjoyed that part and it was surprising and unique, but following that part for us the meal fell flat. I would agree with Rogelio's take in post#144 and #146 in the El Bulli Dining thread. He wrote,"If I remeber well I think that last year after my second visit I wrote here something like that I was not as shocked as I was on my first visit and that the surprise factor is very important". "Last year the progression was in crescendo from low to the top and this year was the other way round so at the end of the meal the sensation was we were flat down." I have felt that Alinea has gotten better each time the menu has changed and Chef G keeps bringing Alinea higher. I do not think that Chef G is using a surprise factor to wow us. I feel that a great part of the meal is based on "real food" and not the essence of something. I really felt that our meal at El Bulli was a progression of courses of things that kept us off balance and like I previously stated following the "Tapas" section, not in a good way. I think your point of Alinea being an American restaurant is a great one. When Chef G riffs with the food our "flavor compass" is similar so we can appreciate the riff. He is a true talent and hopefully come James Beard time, he will reap the rewards of the year of Alinea with many more to come.

Molto E

Edited by molto e (log)

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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I agree. At WD-50, I found the flavor combinations more experimental and unusual - I was tasting combinations I'd never experienced before. Some of these worked; some didn't (but I enjoyed attempting anyway). At Alinea, I found myself focusing more on the additions of technique to less-rebellious flavor combinations - thinking "in 30 years, everybody could be using mastic and braising nuts." Flavor combinations were milder and better balanced - I'm thinking of the matsutake cake with cream in particular here. It included several flavors I'd never had before, but immediately felt "at home" to me in a way that WD-50's pineapple-chili-licorice didn't.

I guess for me it's that at WD-50, I feel like I'm participating in the experiment; at Alinea, I felt like I was being shown the best results from the experimenter's notebook.

This comment focused only on food. These comments wouldn't apply to the atmosphere of either.

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I'm thinking of the matsutake cake with cream in particular here.  It included several flavors I'd never had before, but immediately felt "at home" to me in a way that WD-50's pineapple-chili-licorice didn't. 

There definitely was something familiar in this very unusual dish. For my wife and I it reminded us of a specific place of a different era for whatever reason. Fascinating.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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