Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Experience like no other at Alinea, Chicago

Alinea, ChicagoTwo years ago, I was in Chicago the same time Alinea was on summer vacation. Summer of 2010, the stars aligned and I was back in Chicago to visit my best friend and her boyfriend. My best friend is on a college budget and I was able to convince Danny of Kung Food Panda to take a mini trip to Chicago to dine at Alinea. True to gourmand form, Danny agreed and I made the reservation.

Beginning in August, Alinea no longer offers the choice between the tasting and tour menu. Our sommelier said it would be $185 for 20 courses. We were lucky to dine in July and ordered the 'Tour' menu at 26 courses ranging from one bite to entree size.

Alinea - Chicago, CAAs many know, Alinea has won plenty of accolades including James Bread Award - Rising Chef, Best Chef, Outstanding Service and many more. Alinea is currently 7th on S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants. To stop myself from repeating what many gourmands already know and other bloggers, click here to read more about Alinea, Chef Achatz and co.

Alinea - Chicago, CA

To preface, I will try not to go into too much detail on taste, texture, presentation, blah blah blah. ( I tend to yammer sometimes.) I, too read other blog post before dining at Alinea but the pictures and descriptions are NOTHING compared to the experience.

Alinea - sparkling starterI was blown away. The meal was interactive, fun, beyond inventive and new. New like a first kiss, new like the exhilaration of riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. The sensation and experience was new like that.

The restaurant is located in Lincoln Park, close to the FREE Lincoln Park Zoo (I had a fun time there) and one of the richest neighborhoods in America. The valet greeted us and thus our evening began. We walked through the entrance, a soft glowing pink light lead us through the automatic doors...

Course 1. English Peas - Iberico, sherry, honeydew

Alinea - Course 1: English Peas

Course 2. Lobster - lychee, gruyere, vanilla fragrance

Alinea - Course 2: Lobster

The lobster "kebob" on the vanilla bean enhanced the sense of smell while eating.

Course 3. Yuba - shrimp, miso, togarashi

Alinea - Course 3: Yuba

The course reminded me of the fried bean curd with shrimp at dim sum. Obviously, more refined, not oily but the same concept of flavors with the tangy yuba and shrimp.

Course 4. Choa Tom - Sugar cane, shrimp, mint

Alinea - Course 4: Chao Tom

The essence of Vietnamese Sugar cane shrimp flavor in a rectangle cube of sugar cane. It was a unique way to experience the dish I've had a million times.

Course 5. Distillation - of Thai flavors

Alinea - Course 5: Distillation

The clear liquid had scents from a local Thai restaurant, most pronounced was the chili peppers. Yet, it did not have any spice when consumed.

Course 6. Pork Belly - Curry, cucumber, lime

Alinea - Flag Centerpiece

The centerpiece is used into play...

Alinea - Course 6: Pork Belly
Alinea - Course 6: Pork Belly

First, we were asked to assemble our plate made of two pieces of hardware. The centerpiece comes into play - the rice paper flag. The rice paper was draped over our hardware and filled with pork belly. The pork belly was pulled and we were to add the toppings as one desired. Interactive, check. I felt like I was in my overalls, 3 feet tall, playing with my legos. Rad.

Course 7. King Crab - rhubarb, lilac, fennel

Alinea - Course 7: King Crab pt 1

More like a secret surprise birthday party...thrice. My favorite dish of the night. The cold king crab gelatin dome was plated on a dome. While we were eating, Danny commented why the top was of the dome was freezing cold and the bottom burning hot. We will soon find out...

The first level was lifted to reveal a warmer king crab dish with crusted avocado.

Alinea - Course 7: King Crab pt 2
Alinea - Course 7: King Crab pt 3

Another lift and the hottest king crab dish was unveiled. Burleed baby.

Course 8. Octopus - red wine, lavender, fava bean

Alinea - Course 8: Octopus

Our server kindly modeled his hand for a photo op. To be devour in one bite, the octopus not the hand.

Course 9. Lamb - reflection of elysian fields farm

Alinea - Course 9: Lamb

Reflection indeed. The dish dipicted the grass and river. The server told us one of the chef wanted to import the water the lambs was drinking at the farm onto the dish. Notice the small rectangle of lamb saddle on the dish. Detailed indeed.

Course 10. Hot Potato - cold potato, black truffle, butter

Alinea - Course 10: Hot Potato

The server informed us it was a time sensitive dish. Two clicks and I was ready to eat. Chef Achatz's signature hot/cold potato dish presented in a wax bowl. The pin skewered the hot potato and I was to pull the pin to "drop the hotness."

Like a surfer catching a wave, the hot potato seared the roof of my mouth for a milisecond before the wave of cold potato smoothed out the ride. Hangin' loose.

Course 11. Malt - English toffee, bourbon county stout, blueberry
Course 12. Bacon - butterscotch, apple thyme
Course 13. Nutella - bread, banana, chocolate

Alinea - Course 11, 12, 13Alinea - Course 12: Bacon

The infamous bacon on wire, if only the clothes I hung out to dry on a wire looked so beautiful.

Course 14 . Corn - crunchy, sweet, salty

Alinea - Course 13: Corn

One bite. We were instructed to pick up the plate to eat.

Course 15. Surf Clam - celery, tabasco, oyster cracker

Alinea - Course 14: Surf Clam
Alinea - Course 14: Surf Clam

The server painted us a picture of the beach, the wave, the sand. The clam practically emitted new age music by Enya.

Course 16. Oxalis Pod - Whipped sorrel, honey, salt

Alinea - Course 15: Oxalis Pod

One bite.

Course 17. Salad - ranch dressing, soup, powdered

Alinea - Course 16: Salad pt 1
Alinea - Course 16: Salad pt 2

The darling vegetables are dusted with ranch dressing. This dish was also holding a surprise. When finished with the salad, the server said "no salad is complete without soup." A vichyssoise ranch soup, thick and creamy.

Course 18. Sardine - horseradish, pepper cress, tomato

Alinea - Course 17: Sardine

The sardine is served cautiously on a long pin, to be eaten without hands. I felt like a I was bobbing for apples...

Course 19. Squab - charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log

Alinea - Course 18: Squab

The squab was served on a log, a first for me. The plating was so interesting I could not help but enjoy the visual elements of the dish. The charred strawberries were really special, as simple as it seems, it was really "thinking outside the box."

Course 20. Black Truffle - explosion, romaine, parmesan

Alinea - Course 19: Black Truffle

Another one of Chef Achatz's signature dishes. The bottom of the dish was "the table" said our server and "make sure it is eaten in one bite." The truffle was intense counteracted with the ravoili pasta swishing back and forth within the mouth.

Course 21. Tournedo - a la persane

Alinea - Course 20: Tournedo

Our server said Japanese wagyu is hard to attain at the moment so they used Australian wagyu.

Course 22. Lemon Soda - one bite

Alinea - Course 21: Lemon Soda

A refresher, kinda like a pop rocks but more subtle.

Course 23. Bubble Gum - long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche
Course 24. Transparency - of raspberry, yogurt

Alinea - Course 22, 23: Bubble Gum, Transparency
Alinea - Course 23: Transparency

This was so simple (ok, maybe not to make) but the action of tearing each piece off with my hands and the tartness melting on my tongue made me feel like a kid. The bubble gum parfait came out of the log with the help of gravity and the tapioca.

I found Chef Achatz tweet about the bubble gum log very amusing, (ok, more outright hilarious)

"This happens every once in a while, everytime it surprises me. A woman slipped glass tube that we serve the bubblegum parfait in her purse." - 6:42 PM Aug 12th via web

Course 25. Earl Grey - Lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate

Alinea - Course 24: Earl Grey

The 2nd favorite dish of the night. We were brought pillows inflated with vanilla scent. The plate was set upon the pillow and the scent was slowly emitting as I was eating.

Alinea - Course 24: Earl Grey

The lemon curd, white chocolate noodle and pine nuts was a divine combination, different texture and spectrum of tang and sweetness.

Course 26. Chocolate - coconut, menthol, hyssop

Alinea - Course 26: Chocolate
Setting up our final course

Halfway through the meal we asked if Chef Achatz can sign our menus, our servers said, Yes. However, he did inform us if the chef was too busy they will mail us the signed menus. Lo and behold, Chef Achatz came out to assemble our dessert which was meant for four.

Alinea - Course 26: Chocolate

The dessert was meant for four
Alinea - Course 26: Chocolate

The two above pictures are by Danny of Kung Food Panda since I was recording

Yea. We finished it. Instead of me describing the dessert, watch the video below.

The extra special touch by Chef Achatz topped every restaurant dining experience. Our servers made us feel comfortable and taken care of for four hours. We really owe it to our servers who notified Chef Achatz there are two food nerds in the dining room.

I arrived at Alinea knowing the concept and read reviews from my favorite bloggers. However, (like a record on repeat) the experience is far from description and fawning over the pictures. Chicago is very lucky to have Alinea, Avec, Devon Street, Italian Ice, etc,.

Grant Achatz of Alinea
I am already planning a layover in Chicago when I visit my next destination, New Orleans. By then, I would like to dine at Achatz and co. other establishments - Next and Aviary Cocktails in addition to Alinea.

1723 North Halsted
Chicago Illinois
Alinea on Urbanspoon

6 comments: said...

Ok, that dessert looks like a pile of (tasty?) frozen-in-the-tundra compost. I would've asked Grant to autograph my boobs. How long was the meal? And did you read Bourdain's recent rant on Alinea?

Forager said...

Ah my boyfriend went here in July too and had the exact same menu - except they only had a crappy compact and the photos didn't do it justice. Yours really tells the story that I heard him tell me in laborious detail. Love the video - stroke of genius! And did you have the matched wine? My bf said that was by far the best matched wine course he's ever had.

Bonnibella said...

@Sinosoul - Next time I'll remember to ask him to sign my boobs. The chocolate dish was fantastic, the menthol was the kicker for me. Meal was about 4 hours long. I did read and saw Bourdain rant on Alinea and I would side with his wife where it's the best meal of my life.

@Forager- I did not have the wine pairing because I'm a lightweight but my dining partner Danny did. He said it was wonderful. Our sommelier worked with Achatz at French Laundry. They did give me a pour of a dessert wine which I loved. I hope to share a wine pairing next time with my sister.

Lolia S said...

The presentation is amazing. I've never seen anything so elaborate before. They even included fro-yo!

foodhoe said...

wow, were you the one who slipped the glass tube in her purse? I might... what a fantastic event, so creative and mind bogglingly beautiful. did you feel compelled to dress up to do the food justice? I would, and I rarely feel like getting dolled up.

Kung Food Panda said...

What a post and I don't know why I didn't comment on it when I read it the first time. Fail on me.

I can't wait to get back there myself. I'm actually posting this damn thing right now.

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