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


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thanks for that response. i do feel a slight sense that you might feel like we came to the table without the right attitude and this, i feel, is not true. i am a chef myself and have looked forward to alinea for as long as anyone. sure the diner brings something to the event, just as any observer of art sees things things through their own eyes. the issues we had were not originated in this. there were mistakes made in menu discription, and server attitude. i know difficult patrons and we were not them. i suppose it's possible we just had a little worse experience than other people. i just want to know how much of an exeption we were. seems like we just got unlucky. we'll be back but i will give them 6 months to even out.

e

I'm very sorry if I gave you that impression. I did not mean to imply that at all. My point is that a lot is dependent on the diner too. This can include a lot of things such as having had too big a lunch or simply having the meal get off on the wrong foot. I find when that happens to me, the negatives tend to get compounded and sometimes taken out of proportion. If I am in the right mood, hungry and things are generally "right" I am much more apt to ignore the smaller things that in other situations might be magnified into bigger things. My point was not to question your attitude, but to describe how everything "clicked" for me. When that happens and the stars align an experience as supplied by Alinea becomes truly special. It often does not take much one way or the other to shift sentiment. That being said, I suspect your experience was not the norm for Alinea.

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.

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How large are the pours when the wine pairing program is chosen?  Are there different wines with each course on the Tour, or do several of the pairings cover several courses?

I'm guessing that the pours were each about 2-3 oz. Each course doesn't necessarily come with its own pairing. Some pairings are intended to accompany more than one course. All in all, I think we had about 15 different pours, (IIRC) over the span of our 28 courses. And when one of us happened to finish a pour in advance of its final course, we were always offered another splash to get us through. Our experience was that empty stems are either refilled or removed from the table immediately.

=R=

This was my experience as well.

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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Well, we finally got to Alinea last night and all I can say is "Wow". I'll try not to repeat what has already been said so well by others on this thread.

We decided on the 12 course menu, as our reservation wasn't until 8:30 and no one wanted to be there until 2am. Most of the party doesn't eat bacon, so that dish was substituted out.

It's hard to pick my favorite item of the night but standouts included:

The hearts of palm, especially #5 (with pumpernickel and black truffle)

The dungeness crab, whose wine pairing was simply brilliant

The bison, in particular the "corned" bison that was served with it

The liquid chocolate. I thought all of the desserts were major steps up from Trio.

What absolutely blew me away though was what was substituted for the bacon. I had requested that the Artichoke from the Tour be included on our menu since I had heard so much about it. Chef Grant graciously honored the request. Upon eating it, I think I actually shouted "oh my God!". It was that good. I think someone here has already said it, but this item is the "new" truffle explosion.

The only dish I wasn't crazy about was the broccoli stem. I thought the stem itself was very good, I'm just not a big grapefruit fan. Everyone else at the table loved it.

We got a brief tour of the kitchen after dinner. I don't know much about the inner workings of a restaurant kitchen or being a chef, but I think if I were a chef I would love to cook in a kitchen like the one at Alinea. Clean, spacious, well lit.

All in all, just a fantastic meal. It's scary to think how good Alinea is going to be if it's already this good after only 3 weeks.

Congrats to Chef Grant and the entire Alinea team!

-Josh

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I made it to Alinea last night, and while I won't dwell on individual dishes that have already been covered, I thought I'd throw in my ten cents.

Right off the bat I'd like to say that this was the best meal I have ever eaten in my life. Period. End of Story. Never have I experienced such perfect service, flawless cuisine, and encouraging atmosphere all in one restaurant. Truly sensational.

The only dish I found to be only marginal was the broccoli stem. It was too bitter, and I think the rest of my table agreed. It was delicious, and the stem was awesomely tender, but the grapefruit seemed to overpower the dish.

Two topics that are unrelated to the food. The first is minor and not necessarily something that anyone notices or minds, but the bathrooms presented a problem for me. After a long wait to use one (could one have been out of order?), I got inside and found myself unable to lock the door. Eventually I required the help of a waiter who was going past. He seemed to be used to the problem so perhaps they are working on it. The only reason I bring it up in the first place is that I spent so much time trying to lock the door that I was worried a would delay the service/food and ultimately require replating as we discussed earlier. Anyway that really wasnt even worth mentioning but...

Second point of interest. I whipped out my camera and was politely informed that pictures were no longer allowed at Alinea. The waiter alluded to pictures being posted on the internet amidst accusations that they were being posted by the restaurant itself...so we will have to see what is going on with that.

Really I hate to detract from the focus of the meal with those two petty sidenotes because it truly was sensational. The waiters were histerically funny and chatty, needless to say that they werent stuffy in the slightest. And of course the food. It was unbelievable. The Hearts of palm were a blast to eat. The different flavors of the same base...spectacular. The chocolate was unbelievable. And the bacon! oh the bacon. per sqaure inch the bacon packed the most flavor I have ever tasted in my life. It lingered and lingered.

Truly a memorable meal.

Some people say the glass is half empty, others say it is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?

Ben Wilcox

benherebfour@gmail.com

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A dinner at Alinea is to be reminded of how Charlie Trotter has, like Alice Waters and Rick Bayless, transformed American cuisine.

Is anyone else having trouble with this sentence? Is it just me? Alice Waters, sure. Trotter and Bayless? Doesn't mean that they're not great or even influential, but transforming American cuisine?

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A dinner at Alinea is to be reminded of how Charlie Trotter has, like Alice Waters and Rick Bayless, transformed American cuisine.

Is anyone else having trouble with this sentence? Is it just me? Alice Waters, sure. Trotter and Bayless? Doesn't mean that they're not great or even influential, but transforming American cuisine?

As I mentioned upthread, while the larger discussions are definitely worth having, this is the wrong thread for them. Let's keep the conversation here focused on Alinea.

New thread, perhaps? :smile:

Thanks,

=R=

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

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Second point of interest. I whipped out my camera and was politely informed that pictures were no longer allowed at Alinea. The waiter alluded to pictures being posted on the internet amidst accusations that they were being posted by the restaurant itself...so we will have to see what is going on with that.
:huh:

That's really interesting. I wonder if they had too many complaints from other guests about picture taking being too distracting? I know they ask you "refrain" from using a flash, so maybe too many people took that as a request and not a rule? I suppose if they will be posting pictures of every item on their menu, then taking pictures isn't a necessity, but there are still things you are going to want to have snap shots of.

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Similarly Achatz's "hanging bacon" takes another humble food of childhood memories (Who eats bacon today?)....

You've been hanging out with the wrong people! :biggrin:

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Second point of interest. I whipped out my camera and was politely informed that pictures were no longer allowed at Alinea. The waiter alluded to pictures being posted on the internet amidst accusations that they were being posted by the restaurant itself...so we will have to see what is going on with that.
:huh:

That's really interesting. I wonder if they had too many complaints from other guests about picture taking being too distracting? I know they ask you "refrain" from using a flash, so maybe too many people took that as a request and not a rule? I suppose if they will be posting pictures of every item on their menu, then taking pictures isn't a necessity, but there are still things you are going to want to have snap shots of.

Some diners may be disturbed by the flashes, but the story bentherebfor referenced is true. On another food site, a squabble broke out after it was raised that the appearance of the food in the beautiful pictures posted at the beginning of this thread by Yellow Truffle and JeffJ might have been influenced by the fact that the restaurant knew that the pictures would be going on eG.

It's a shame that this is keeping other diners at Alinea from being able to take their own snapshots (with the flash disabled, of course :wink: ).

Edited by bilrus (log)

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Some diners may be disturbed by the flashes, but the story bentherebfor referenced is true.  On another food site, a squabble broke out after it was raised that the appearance of the food in the beautiful pictures posted at the beginning of this thread by Yellow Truffle and JeffJ might have been influenced by the fact that the restaurant knew that the pictures would be going on eG.

It's a shame that this is keeping other diners at Alinea from being able to take their own snapshots (with the flash disabled, of course :wink: ).

Whoa, I TOTALLY misread bentherebfor's post. I thought he said the restaurant was going to post pics, therefore we shouldn't need to take them. HAHA, man I butchered that one.

I'm aware of that thread - is that really the reason! Unbelievable! We should start up a collection to send Steve there again with bells and whistles this time so he can have a proper meal. :biggrin:

Can't we all just get along? :wub:

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Some diners may be disturbed by the flashes, but the story bentherebfor referenced is true.  On another food site, a squabble broke out after it was raised that the appearance of the food in the beautiful pictures posted at the beginning of this thread by Yellow Truffle and JeffJ might have been influenced by the fact that the restaurant knew that the pictures would be going on eG.

That's absurd. On Friday night our dishes looked almost exactly like YT and JeffJ's pictures. The only notable exception was the bison, but that change in presentation has already been discussed.

I love how there is this conspiracy theory that folks from eGullet are somehow getting preferential treatment. At no time did I tell anyone from the restaurant that I had followed the opening on eGullet, and yet (what a shock!), I still had a great meal.

Part of what I thought was the beauty of Alinea is that every guest is made to feel as if they are receiving preferential treatment.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I don't know what to think about Alinea's newly-implemented "no pics" policy. I love looking at the pics on this thread and I generally hate having to interrupt my own meal (and those of the folks at the table with me) to take them -- especially over that many courses. I felt so unburdened that I didn't have to bring my camera to Alinea. I knew I'd have the great efforts of yellow truffle and jeffj to reference, going forward. It takes real dedication to deliver pics and descriptions of every course when you're dining for 5-6 hours; especially when doing so may cause one to enjoy his or her own meal a bit less.

But, I wonder what the actual reasons for the new policy are. I seriously doubt that the Alinea team would succomb to whining by those who felt or imagined that they were being short-changed. Perhaps, the picture taking by patrons was disturbing other diners or creating bottlenecks in service. Whatever the reason(s), I'm just glad that we've been able to enjoy and reference the images posted here, which made it out of Alinea before this new policy was implemented.

=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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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

--

Grant Achatz

Chef/Owner

Alinea

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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

Thanks, chef, for the clarification.

=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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There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

Well I guess I can eat crow now. Thanks Chef for answering this. :smile:

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Question for the Alinea team...

Are there any plans to further incorporate (or introduce) the "audio spotlight" or the LED lighting system? I had forgotten about them, but I was just re-reading the Food & Wine article that talks about them. I didn't notice either at the restaurant this weekend.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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All of the illumination in the light tubes in each dining room, as well as the lights in the entrance hall, are LED's. They can provide a full spectrum of RGB color, similar in scope to using the color-wheel on a computer graphics program. They may also be programmed to transition throughout an evening.

For now, we have left them a fairly neutral color, though it has changed a bit from the opening. In the future, we will be modifying the color schemes to highlight floral arrangements, seasonal changes, and perhaps even create variance throughout the evening. All of that technology is already in place... we just did not want to call attention to it in an obvious way. The fact that you did not notice them during your dinner is perfect.... next time you come in, they will no doubt be a bit different.

The audio-spotlight has proven trickier to implement. It is a really great technology, but the audio 'bounces' off hard surfaces and is very linear -- think of a raquetball going from floor, to ceiling, to floor at an angle. In Alinea, there are many hard surfaces. This creates a series of acoustic challenges that we have not yet fully solved. Pointing the spotlight at one table, or at the stairway, for example, 'bleeds' some sound into other areas as the audio bounces off of the wood, metal, or granite, and is then reflected again off of the ceiling. We do own the spotlights and will incorporate them when we are able to do so in an effective manner.

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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

I apologize. I'm not sure where the miscommunication could have been, but clearly it was somewhere. As I pulled my camera out of my pocket our waiter took note and politely informed me that cameras where not allowed at Alinea. I asked whether it was the flash or the camera itself that was the problem. Again, he politely informed me that pictures of all types were no longer allowed.

Either way, again, I apologize.

Some people say the glass is half empty, others say it is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?

Ben Wilcox

benherebfour@gmail.com

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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

I apologize. I'm not sure where the miscommunication could have been, but clearly it was somewhere. As I pulled my camera out of my pocket our waiter took note and politely informed me that cameras where not allowed at Alinea. I asked whether it was the flash or the camera itself that was the problem. Again, he politely informed me that pictures of all types were no longer allowed.

Either way, again, I apologize.

Never doubted you for a minute, Ben. Your accounts have always been right on the money. Obviously, there was some miscommunication in this case. But, considering what you wrote about your meal, it doesn't appear to have marred your experience in the least. :smile:

=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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While I understand now that they are open they probably don't have time to post, but I would like to hear why they implemented this policy.

They sure managed to drum up interest and try out ideas before they opened -- now that they are opened and have gotten the PR, they seem to -- at least to me lost interest in posting.

There must have been some form of miscommunication. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, other forms are tolerated.

I apologize. I'm not sure where the miscommunication could have been, but clearly it was somewhere. As I pulled my camera out of my pocket our waiter took note and politely informed me that cameras where not allowed at Alinea. I asked whether it was the flash or the camera itself that was the problem. Again, he politely informed me that pictures of all types were no longer allowed.

Either way, again, I apologize.

Never doubted you for a minute, Ben. Your accounts have always been right on the money. Obviously, there was some miscommunication in this case. But, considering what you wrote about your meal, it doesn't appear to have marred your experience in the least. :smile:

=R=

Not in the slightest, Ronnie. My experience at Alinea was beyond words, and my choice not to emphasise the higher points of the evening was only due to the fact that eGulleters had already outlined them so well. Truly, it was a sensational experience for the senses.

Some people say the glass is half empty, others say it is half full, I say, are you going to drink that?

Ben Wilcox

benherebfour@gmail.com

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I found Alinea to be a spectacular dining EXPERIENCE! I would not say that I found every course to be something that I loved...but the experience is more an experience than any other restaurant in Chicago. I do however agree with an earlier post that reflected some of the courses were more about the show than the flavors...but I enjoyed the show....I think Chef Grant will probably constantly evolve the menus so that they match experience and taste...

In my opinion any restaurant openning in the next year should be sad because next May's Chicago magazine on New Restaurants will be a hommage to Alinea....and I am guessing that this falls Top 20 restaurants overall will have Alinea in the top 4.....on par with Tru,Trotter, and Everest......

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My wife and I dined at Alinea last Friday 05/27 after much anticipation. Having done the Tour de Force at Trio several times, we knew we would do the Chef's Tour. As the menu from this night has been well-documented and thoroughly dissected, I will refrain from repeating. As far as individual dishes go, I'll comment on several. The sour cream, the hearts of palm, the wild bass, the limes and eucalyptus, the artichoke, and the chocolate were our favorites. The broccoli stem was disappointing. The stem was warm and even mushy, with little flavor. In the end, it tasted like roe and grapefruit and was not a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Everything else was generally outstanding. The wine was very good, although I felt the whites were a little weaker than the reds. In the end, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, but there were two overriding issues:

1. Compared to Trio, my wife and I both agreed that the average portion size was larger on the whole. We were both very full by course 15, making it a little more difficult to stomach the last third of the menu (although we did eat them all). I haven't seen this addressed, so maybe I'm all alone on this front, but I kept thinking that there would be a series of small bites, when what came was a steady succession of substantial (and richly flavored) dishes. I never thought that I would complain about being served "too much food," but many of the exciting moments from this dinner and dinners at Trio past were the ethereal one-bite experiences. The essence of a dish is its flavor and creativity, not portion size. The major take-home point from this is that I will either try not to clean my plate on every course of the Chef's Tour or reluctantly do the 12-course menu on return visits.

2. Secondly (and less important to me than the issue above), I was slightly disappointed, initially, in the lack of evolution from Trio to Alinea. I suppose that with all the intense coverage and "hype" surrounding the opening that I expected there to be a bigger leap forward in innovation. Essentially, it was a re-hash of the Trio experience in a more refined environment with slightly more polished service. The flow of the menu, the food presentations, and many of the ingredients were very similar to Trio meals past. Ultimately, I think that this shows us that ChefG has found the method that works for him (luckily for all of us); however, I suppose I expected a dining experience less like what I remember and more like what I had dreamed about all winter. After having thought about it a great deal, I realize that my feelings were a little unfair and likely due to the repeat diner phenomenon. I have no hesitation when someone asks me about my favorite meal ever: my first visit to Trio under ChefG. The sheer nature of the dining experience--the whimsical nature of some of the dishes, the enthusiastic servers, the wine. Subsequently it becomes more difficult to get that same level of astonishment when one knows what to expect. Nonetheless, dinner at Alinea was one of the best experiences of my epicurean life.

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The broccoli stem was disappointing.  The stem was warm and even mushy, with little flavor.  In the end, it tasted like roe and grapefruit and was not a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
I'm continually amazed at the lack of enthusiasm for this dish. It was so hyped up that many people, including myself, tried to make this at home. I'll admit when I made it, it was so-so. I was hoping this dish would be much better in the hands of a pro.

Just kind of curious, does anyone think that part of the problem with this dish is that fact that it's not what you expect? When I made it, it was so extremely tender that it caught me off guard. Also the flavor seemed to taste more like broccoli then broccoli does! I also noticed a background flavor of sulfur which I think was more pronounced because the gases were being trapped under vacuum seal.

We have just 9 days left until our reservation. We're excited to try everything since this is our first experience with Chefg and Chicago in general.

P.S. - Our reservation is for Saturday. Just wondering if anyone's been more then once yet and if so, have you tried going on different days? Interested to know if the level of service and the quality of the kitchen is well maintained throughout the week.

P.P.S. - Anyone have an ETA for when the website will be up (other then just a logo)?

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