Alinea, June 2007 – Chicago

Instead of talking about life and happenings like normal siblings do, my brother Victor and I only discuss food. It typically begins with him sending me an email during work about something awesome he recently ate—”I went to Otto and since it is ramp season, they had this awesome ramp pasta dish with chili and olive oil. It was excellent. I try to get it every year.” Then I’ll respond with something tasty I just ate and inquire some about his delights. We’ll generally email back and forth until one of us actually has to focus in order to get some work done.

During one of these email conversations a few months back, I mentioned that Alinea was the one restaurant I had to try before I died. My brother’s response was simple, “we should go.” I am pretty sure I squealed like a school girl at this point and repeatedly said to myself, “Oh, my God.” We called for reservations, booked our flights, and enthusiastically anticipated June 9th’s arrival. My brother and I, along with our cousin Danny (a culinary student), finally flew to Chicago last weekend to taste Grant Achatz’s groundbreaking cuisine.

We arrived at 8:30 and entered through a narrow and dimly lit walkway (top, left). As we strolled past the inlet on the left, our movement triggered an unseen sensor opening a sliding door leading to the restaurant. It felt like we were entering the bat cave, a secret portal, and a bomb shelter all in one. We were greeted by the hostess and waited a few minutes for our table to be ready. Alinea has dining rooms upstairs and downstairs and an unbelievably large kitchen. We sat at a spacious table upstairs (top photo, from www.alinea-restaurant.com).

Diners can either choose a Tasting (12 courses—$135) or a Tour (24 courses—$195). It was a no brainer, we went for the Tour. As a centerpiece, one of the many waiters serving us this evening placed three key limes inserted in plastic tubing upon our table (top, right). We were intrigued by their presence all night and wondered what role they would play in a future course. I thought the centerpiece looked like a choking victim, while Victor wondered if the Chef was inspired by beer bongs. Soon after, our first course arrived!

I: CROQUETTE – smoked steelhead roe, several garnishes

 

Presentation: All of the courses at Alinea are presented on tableware designed by Martin Kastner in collaboration with Grant Achatz. The plump croquette dusted in panko sat upon a “pedestal” and was wrapped in candied flower petals and topped with smoked steelhead roe.

My Thoughts: The croquette was a singular bite of perfection and an unbelievably stellar way to begin the evening. Warm and spicy notes registered first. And as the roe spontaneously popped, a smoky flavor was unleashed. Towards the end, subtle sweetness pervaded the senses, leaving all of us yearning for another taste. One bite, but a world of complexity.

Number of bites: 1

II: OCTOPUS – shiso, papaya, toasted soy

 

Presentation: Our second course was served in a spherical bowl, which needed to be held tightly in our hands due to the imbalance of the fork; the entire device would tip over if we placed it on the table. We were instructed to eat the contents on the fork first and then sip the toasted soy tea after.

My Thoughts: Following the delectable croquette, everyone agreed that the shiso and papaya were too mild. The tea had a deep herbal flavor, but did not enhance the initial bite and left our palates strangely bored. Perhaps the second course should have precededthe first? Timing is everything.

Number of bites: 1 + 2 sips

BUTTER – Goat, Cow

 

Presentation: As our waiters cleared away the second course, they left a curvaceous plate containing quenelles of goat butter and cow butter with black sea salt. No bread was presented at this point. The butter’s smooth and egg-like shape was deftly made using a singular spoon, which I’ve heard from the trenches is an incredibly difficult task. I’ve seen this presentation a few times with sorbets, but never butter.

My Thoughts: It turns out my taste buds are not deft enough to discern between cow and goat butter. Texturally speaking, both butters were spread-able and creamy. My vote goes to the cow because salted always trumps plain, especially on bread.

Number of bites: N/A

III: CHANTERELLE – carrot, curry, ham

 

Presentation: Our third course’s presentation was quite whimsical. A wider than average test tube filled with layers of dark yellow liquid and orange foam was placed on the center of a plate (top photo). Without warning, our waiter lifted the tube up, leaving behind a spectacular display of carrots, foam, and cream (bottom photo). The presentation reminded me of an updated version of the dramatic lid unveiling often found in traditional French restaurants.

My Thoughts: I couldn’t help but smile as I ate this dish because every element was thoughtful and delicious. Even though people like to hate on foams, achieving a distinct flavor from a substance that is neither liquid nor solid is noteworthy. Underneath the layers of carrot foam were orbs of carrots, a miniature spinach pocket filled with mustard, and a miniature ham pocket filled with curry. The spinach and mustard pocket was surprisingly tangy, while the ham and curry pocket was nice and spicy. My favorite was the spinach. A smooth and luxurious chanterelle cream served as the base layer.

Number of bites: 10+

Bread Pairing I: Herb Scone

 

Presentation: The waiter introduced our first bread pairing and simply placed it on our bread plates using tongs.

My Thoughts: In a thoroughly modern kitchen like Alinea’s, I did not expect to find humble fare like bread. I have never encountered bread pairings before, but as someone who embraces carbohydrates, they suit me much better than wine pairings. The scone was buttery, flaky, and savory, but maybe a little too salty. No butter was required; the scone was wonderful as is.

Number of bites: 4.5

IV: APPLE – horseradish, celery

 

Presentation: Our fourth course was to be taken like a shot. I find it a little ironic that the waiter assumed Danny and I knew what a shot was, but wouldn’t serve us alcohol without proper ID. I guess that’s how things roll in Chicago. The shot glass was cold and heavier than it looked because the bottom two thirds was completely solid.

My Thoughts: It seemed as though taste was intentionally secondary to science in this course because I doubt celery and horseradish is anyone’s favorite flavor combination. A cocoa butter sphere filled with chilled horseradish and celery juice popped in our mouths as we took the shot. This course mimicked a shot in more ways than one; the potent combination of horseradish and celery powerfully jolted the senses much like a strong shot of alcohol. The sphere was bathed in green apple juice. The horseradish was definitely the dominant flavor and thus overwhelmed my palate.

I was informed by one of our waiters that the liquid filled sphere was created through a dual refrigeration and freezing process. The celery and horseradish juice is initially frozen in a spherical mold. After the sphere freezes, it is dipped in multiple layers of cocoa butter. The outer layers of cocoa butter adhere to the frozen juice ball and solidify. The sphere is then placed in a refrigerator. As the temperature drops, the internal juice melts and the cocoa butter remains intact.

Number of bites: 1 shot

Bread Pairing II: Coriander Bread

 

Presentation: The waiter introduced our second bread pairing and once again placed it on our bread plates using tongs.

My Thoughts: A moist, flavorful, and salty bread. I appreciated that it was not very crusty. The roll provided a much needed flavor transition after taking the celery and horseradish shot. Once again, no butter required; the bread was wonderful as is.

It must be noted that Danny and Victor hardly touched their bread pairings out of fear of limited stomach capacity. I, on the other hand, risked fullness and indulged completely. I ♥ carbs.

Number of bites: 6

V: MONKFISH – banana, onion, lime

 

Presentation: The various components of this dish were placed inside an unusually deep bowl. The awkward depth proved useful when spearing the crisply battered monkfish, but useless for getting every last tasty bit of pudding. Without the bowl’s high walls, I’m pretty sure I would have embarrassingly shot the monkfish across the dining room.

My Thoughts: Sweet and salty were the major players in this course. I found the battered monkfish slightly dry, crunchy, and salty when eaten alone, but paired with the smooth lime and banana puddings, they worked together beautifully. The raw onions developed nicely with both the sweet and salty elements in the dish. The thin sheets of candied sweetness melted in our mouths and were texturally very interesting.

Number of bites: 10+

VI: SARDINE – black olive, tomato, arugula

 

Presentation: Our sixth course evoked a precious miniature bouquet complete with flowers and vegetation. The “vase” was formed from dehydrated sardines, while the “flowers” were sun dried tomatoes, arugula, and arugula flowers.

My Thoughts: Overall the dish tasted good, but was a touch arid. Danny commented that the sardines tasted similar to dried squid. Victor agreed with Danny’s assessment. Eating dried fish is probably novel for some, but for Asian kids who grew up snacking on dehydrated fruits of the sea, this preparation did not impress us.

Number of bites: 1

VII: KUROGE WAGYU -yuzu, seaweed smoke, sea grapes

 

Presentation: Our seventh course was introduced with an aroma. As our waiter lifted up an inverted glass cup covering the Wagyu, he unleashed the essence of seaweed smoke into the air. The pungent fragrance wafted for mere seconds before disappearing.

A simple plating proved to be the perfect presentation—a delicate filet of Wagyu was placed atop browned ground Wagyu; the humongous plate emphasized its petiteness. The green sea grapes played second fiddle to the luxurious cut of meat, but its color contrasted nicely with the pink filet.

My Thoughts: The Wagyu was definitely one of the highlights of our dinner. Not so much for the Chef’s vision, but because of the intrinsic quality of Wagyu (we’re talking cows fed beer and massaged with sake!). I tried to taste the Sapporo Beer ingrained within the flesh, but once again my taste buds failed me. The three bites of Wagyu were extremely tender, rich, and flavorful; truly a perfect piece of meat. It’s a shame that authentic Kobe beef is so hard to come by in the United States.

Number of bites: 3 (Wagyu) 4 (ground Wagyu)

VIII: DUCK – mango, yogurt, pillow of lavender air

Presentation: A pillow filled with lavender air was placed before each of us (top photo). Our eighth course was placed on top of the pillow (middle photo). The weight of the plate slowly deflated the pillow releasing a subtle scent as we enjoyed duck prepared four ways (bottom photo). Victor and I thought the perfume smelled like rosemary, but we trust that it was lavender.

My Thoughts: I wasn’t too crazy about the lavender air pillow because the fabric reminded me of communal airline pillows. Also, the smell wasn’t distinct enough to register as lavender. Incorporating smells via pillow is clever, but lavender may be too gentle for this type of treatment.

The duck prepared four ways (confit, cured, grilled, crispy skin) was unquestionably good and was served with a dollop of yogurt and turnips. The duck, turnips, and yogurt sat upon a slice of mango. I liked the confit preparation best because meat soaked in its own fat always yields a favorable product. The crispy duck skin came in second.

Number of bites: 6.5

Bread Pairing III: Olive Bread

 

Presentation: The waiter introduced our third bread pairing and once again placed it on our bread plates using tongs.

My Thoughts: What I like best about the breads at Alinea are their mellow crusts. Tough crusts tend to scrape the roof of my mouth and detract from the flavor. The olive bread only contained subtle olive tones, which worked for me because I don’t love them. The goat and cow butters enhanced the bread’s overall flavor.

Number of bites: 5

IX: BLACK TRUFFLE – explosion, romaine, parmesan

Presentation: A singular black truffle ravioli rested upon a spoon inserted in an anti-plate. When the waiter first placed the truffle in front of us, it appeared as though a dark broth lay beneath the spoon. However, this turned out to be an optical illusion because the plate did not contain a bottom (!). The anti-plate is Kastner’s trickiest creation and worked well with the ravioli and the table. This sort of playful conversation between Chef, designer, and diner is what makes dining at Alinea immensely pleasurable and interesting.

My Thoughts: While I wouldn’t classify the truffle as an “explosion” (I associate explosions with sweet, rather than savory), I would declare it to be the the greatest stuffed pasta I’ve ever tasted. I surely could have eaten many more. The singular ravioli was crammed to maximum capacity with sumptuous black truffle juice. The ravioli, along with the romaine and Parmesan, brought about an unparalleled surge of robust and woodsy flavor.

Number of bites: 1

Bread Pairing IV: Orange Bread

 

Presentation: The waiter introduced our fourth bread pairing and once again placed it on our bread plates using tongs.

My Thoughts: Of all the breads served this evening, the orange bread had the crustiest exterior. Its taste reminded me of eating toast with marmalade without having to bother applying preserves. A nice smear of butter was essential for completing the breakfast fantasy.

Number of bites: 6

X: SHORT RIB – Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli

Presentation: This course was texturally complex and visually interesting. While it is difficult to make out from the photos, the contents sat in one quadrant of a huge white plate; creating an appealing use of negative space. I intentionally stayed within the defined boundaries as I ate so as to not soil the immaculate outer region.

My Thoughts: Who would have thought beer, broccoli, and peanuts would go so well together? Certainly not me. Each flavor played off the other remarkably well and the varied textures kept this unusually large creation interesting through and through. I appreciated how each of the dish’s accompaniments was lavished with as much attention as the short rib centerpiece. The most striking component was the beer-based gels, which replaced traditional sauces and sharply defined the eating space. A gel sauce closely resembles plastic and behaves like a solid. The tastiest components were the plump and glossy broccoli and peanut butter puddings.

Number of bites: 10+

XI: CHEESE – in cracker

 

Presentation: Three “Cheese in Cracker” were presented to us on a narrow paddle covered in a linen cloth. We each reached for one cracker and placed it in our mouths.

My Thoughts: My first impression was that it looked like a Cheez-It and tasted like a Handi Snack. Although it seems a little wrong comparing hyper-processed supermarket garbage to Achatz’s creation, I can’t deny that the flavor brought back memories of schoolyard recesses and plastic red applicator sticks.

I am definitely a fan of high-end renditions of classic American junk food.

Number of bites: 1

XII: HONEYDEW – Blis sherry vinegar, mint

 

Presentation: The twelfth course introduced us to to Kastner’s minimalist spoon, which consists of a flat surface with a slight flip for a handle. While this spoon isn’t the most usable and would most likely need to be fished out of a bowl of soup, I wholly embraced its impracticality. The spoon rested on a slim glass frame, creating a slight imbalance. This course was our first foray into sweet after eleven savory courses.

My Thoughts: A honeydew gelee filled with Blis sherry vinegar and embellished with mint and a wilted flower petal; it went down easily like a Jello shot. The vinegar was uncharacteristically subdued and the overall taste was fleeting. In just one bite it was impossible to fully explore every faint undertone.

Number of bites: 1

XIII: RHUBARB – goat milk, beet, long pepper

 

Presentation: Achatz pulled out all the stops on this course by amusingly combining a plethora of textures, temperatures, and vehicles. No two creations were remotely similar and the colors were outrageously vibrant, ranging from carnation pink to deep magenta. Even though each piece was centered around rhubarb, they all had their own unique flare.

 

My Thoughts: We were instructed to consume this concoction first—any delay would cause the warm beet sphere submerged in the cool rhubarb juice to lose its heat. The juice was fruity and refreshing and the tepid beet easily dissolved in my mouth. The combination of different temperatures (hot and cool) and states (solid and liquid) came together brilliantly in this creation.

 

My Thoughts: Starting at the far left end of the plate, it seemed only appropriate to gradually move through the contents from left to right. Following the warm beet was rhubarb fruit leather sliced thinly like prosciutto. Rolled-up and delicate, the fruit leather tasted tart and sour.

 

My Thoughts: This third preparation left the rhubarb in its most natural state. Without the addition of sugar and frills, rhubarb is surprisingly very similar in texture and flavor to roasted beets, but chewier. The pin served as a vehicle for consuming the rhubarb, which I managed to successfully use without any poking or bleeding.

 

My Thoughts: The naked rhubarb was followed by what looked like a pink blob plopped atop a leaf. Based on its appearance, I was expecting a messy blast of something cold and creamy. As the leaf’s contents slid cleanly into my mouth (not a drop was lost), the contents turned out to be room temperature and yogurt-esque. I’m not sure what sort of molecular gastronomy lay behind this creation, but the texture was a cross between a milkshake and foam.

 

My Thoughts: The minimalist spoon made its second appearance to deliver this creation. Of the seven rhubarb delights, this piece turned out to be the most forgettable. The elements literally and and figuratively faded into the background.

 

My Thoughts: A perfectly executed rhubarb sorbet with a graham cracker crust came next. Victor declared this delight to be the best rhubarb rendition of the seven. The only iffy part was the delivery. The long pin speared through its side was rendered nearly useless when the sorbet began to melt. Perhaps we should have been instructed to eat this one second to insure a flawless transfer.

 

My Thoughts: The final creation sat on a glass lens that reminded me of a laboratory Petri dish. Of all the vehicles employed in this course, this one made for the most potentially messy delivery because my mouth was not nearly as wide as the lens. Luckily, my white dress came out unscathed. The rhubarb Jello with foam provided a clean finish to an extensive course.

Number of bites: 7

XIV: STRAWBERRY – frozen and chewy with wasabi

 

Presentation: The “Strawberry” was speared with a needle on its lower right corner and served on an icy eye. After experiencing a few courses employing needles, I have concluded that it is my least favorite mode of delivery. The needles strike me as too aggressive and harsh to be served with Achatz’ quirky creations.

My Thoughts: If fruit snacks and ice cream were to have a love child, it would resemble our fourteenth course. It seemed to me that the “Strawberry” was an extension of the rhubarb course because rhubarb and strawberries are often paired together. Each of the previous creations seemed to build upon one another, readying the palate for a frozen and chewy climax. The “Strawberry” took its sweet time melting away, which I more than welcomed.

Number of bites: 1

XV: STURGEON – candied and dried

 

Presentation: After three sweet courses, the “Sturgeon” brought us back to the realm of savory. Resting in a wide-rimmed glass beaker, the orangey candied sturgeon was embellished with plain and black sesame seeds and a tangerine-colored strand. Each and every detail conveyed a message of sweetness, which was contrary to reality. We ate the sturgeon in the same fashion as beef jerky. Snap into a sturgeon!

My Thoughts: Traditional tasting menus move from savory to sweet—each course building upon the previous and eventually ending with a sweet crescendo. Achatz disregards this conventional practice and chooses to bounce between savory and sweet courses all within one sitting. The Chef’s unorthodox style creates an element of surprise and keeps diners on their toes not knowing what will come next.

In theory, wavering between different flavors seems well and good. However, in practice I found it difficult to fairly assess a savory course following a sweet one because I have a penchant for desserts. It turns out that my personal biases and preferences got in the way of my enjoyment. In my case, maybe it is best to stick with tradition.

Number of bites: 4

Bread Pairing V: Paprika Croissant

 

Presentation: The waiter introduced our final bread pairing and once again placed it on our bread plates using tongs.

My Thoughts: The paprika transformed the croissant into a brilliant shade of red, but surprisingly did not affect its taste. The croissant was flawless. As a testament to its deliciousness, Victor and Danny risked running out of stomach capacity and enjoyed the entire thing. As in the case of the scone, the croissant was amazing as is and did not require any additional butter. My favorite bread pairing of the evening.

Number of bites: 7

XVI: WHITE ASPARAGUS – chorizo, egg, red pepper

 

Presentation: Our sixteenth course of white asparagus resembled a prism. The first piece was white asparagus au natural, while each subsequent piece was enhanced with a little something extra. The bold accompaniments consisted of chorizo, green asparagus gel, mushroom, and a quail egg yolk. The plate was garnished with drops of white pepper and green asparagus flowers.

My Thoughts: Dressing up simple asparagus in jewel tones makes for a colorful and appetizing dish. It’s no surprise that my favorite asparagus piece was the one wrapped up in chorizo. The chorizo was spicy, salty, and transformed the ordinary asparagus into a sexy treat. Pork really does make everything sexier!

Number of bites: 10+

XVII: PINEAPPLE – bacon powder, black pepper

Presentation: The narrow paddle made its second appearance to deliver us “Pineapple.” We examined the goldenrod envelope and placed it on our tongues. I let the small piece of hard candy slowly fade in my mouth to avoid a sticky mess.

My Thoughts: As the candy’s exterior diminished, the bacon powder and black pepper’s flavors came out in full force. The pineapple’s lingering sweetness coupled with the forceful bacon and pepper was awesome. The sweet and savory tones played off one another and evoked memories of Christmas hams dressed with pineapple rings! This creation should be mass marketed and sold in check-out lanes across the land under the name “Pure Genius.”

Number of bites: 1

XVIII: LAMB – peas, consommé, morels

 

Presentation: Our eighteenth course’s arrangement was somewhat sparse, but done so in very attractive way. The three major components included a small bite of lamb topped with peas, a pea and morel gelee, and gel pea “sauce.” The dish could be consumed in any manner the diner fancied.

My Thoughts: I started off with the hunk of lamb because I didn’t want it to get cold. The two bites of lamb were good, but not mind blowing in the way the Wagyu was. Peas and carrots go together, but peas and lamb? Not so much. The gelee and gels was more visually interesting than appetizing.

Note—As our waiter was explaining the composition of this course, Danny spied a minuscule little insect sauntering around his plate. Our waiter brought him a new dish and offered to bring Victor and I new ones as well, but we declined. The waiter explained that sometimes bugs happen because the ingredients are all really fresh. I totally believe him.

Number of bites: 10

XIX: HOT POTATO – cold potato, black truffle, butter

 

Presentation: Kastner’s peg bowl is more or less a disaster waiting to happen—just ask my brother. A slip of the pin caused the “Hot Potato” to plummet into the cold potato soup, splashing its contents ubiquitously. How many dresses, sports coats, and Prada frames have been sacrificed to the “Hot Potato” gods? More than a handful our waiter assured us.

Aside from the messy debacle, I loved this course’s presentation. There is something very intriguing about the imbalance created by a skinny pin holding on to a much heavier and infinitely wider potato.

To consume the “Hot Potato,” we held the shallow bowl in our hands and slid the pin out from underneath, releasing the potato, truffle, chive, Parmesan, and butter into the cold soup. One tilt of the bowl and the entire contents happily swam in our mouths.

My Thoughts: I was highly anticipating “Hot Potato” because its image has been featured in countless food magazines and websites. The butter, truffles, and potatoes were expectedly luscious. But it was the ingenuity and whimsy brought about by the peg bowl that turned this intrinsically tasty dish into a true work of art.

Number of bites: 1.5

XX: BISON – encased in savory granola

 

Presentation: A circular cut of bison was handsomely coated in a granola blend comprised of oats and various nuts, most notably pistachios. The meat was topped with oatmeal foam, while a skinny scallion stalk rested by its side.

My Thoughts: The meat was moist and flavorful. The granola introduced a crunch that paired superbly well with the bison. Achatz chose to employ traditional liquid sauces rather than gels in this course as to not bring in too many dry elements, especially with the granola. This was my favorite savory course of the bunch.

Number of bites: 7

XXI: FOIE GRAS – spicy cinnamon, apple pâté de fruit

 

Presentation: Three dainty meringues rested upon a stainless steel serving platter. Though they appeared simple on the outside, these little puffs were anything but on the inside.

My Thoughts: The cinnamon meringue exterior gave way to a mixture of foie gras and apple pâté de fruit! Fruits that are concurrently sweet and tart, such as apples and kumquats, go spectacularly with rich foie gras. Chicago was one of the first cities in the US to ban the sale of foie gras, so I was pleasantly surprised to be served it this evening. Thank goodness the Chef is taking his chances with the law because my taste buds were in pure heaven!

Number of bites: 1

XXII: GUAVA- avocado, brie, key lime juice

 

Presentation: “Guava” consisted of four different components, all of which were incredibly delightful and capriciously scattered in a huge, shallow bowl. This course was definitely my favorite of all the sweet treats this evening.

 

Presentation: The first piece in this lovely arrangement lay atop the spoon; we were directed to eat it first.

My thoughts: The right-side of the spoon was crunchy and a bit salty, while the left-side was jelly and cool. The part I like the least about Alinea is having someone tell me how and when to eat. Under such watchful direction, I find it impossible to let go and experience every nuanced flavor.

 

Presentation: After we consumed the spoon’s contents, our waiter reached for our key lime centerpieces, poked holes through the fruit, and squeezed its juice on top of the green meringue. Then our waiter poured some pink bubbly guava juice into the bowl, effectively dousing the green meringue and the avocado and brie formation.

My thoughts: This dish was aesthetically striking and pleasant on the palate. A citrus-y tang pervaded this creation, which I couldn’t get enough of. My favorite element within my favorite sweet course was the creamy and sweet avocado and brie piece. It was utterly decadent paired with the refreshing and bubbly guava juice.

Number of bites: 10+

XXIII: COCONUT – kiwi, saffron, cornmeal

 

Presentation: This course wins the award for most beautiful. Candied cornhusks, thick ribbons of coconut, and miniature flowers speckled the pristinely white surface.

After seeing the “ribbon” effect used in a number of courses, I asked our waiter how it was achieved. The ribbons are made from a liquid and left to dry as huge sheets. Once the sheets harden, the ribbons are cut and peeled off like stickers. Warmed up ever so slightly with a blowtorch, the ribbons weave and sway over various elements creating the loveliest result.

My Thoughts: Whereas “Guava” was refreshing and cool, “coconut” registered as sweet and lukewarm. I would have enjoyed this course much more if it had been served before the “Guava.” The coconut ribbon was really fun to eat, but too cloying in the end.

Number of bites: 8

XXIV: LICORICE CAKE – muscovado sugar, orange, anise

 

Presentation: Our twenty-fourth course looked like a graying woman’s hairball sitting atop an oscillating antenna. In actuality, it was a piece of licorice cake infused with orange and anise wrapped in spun Muscovado sugar. We were instructed to to lean over and plop the cake into our mouths without using our hands.

My Thoughts: Neither Victor nor I are fans of licorice, but we both adored Achatz’s creation because it tasted nothing like Twizzlers or worse, black licorice. The cake was moist, sweet, and dense, but way too small. I would have liked a few more bites to really take in the taste of unadulterated licorice.

Number of bites: 1

XXV: CHOCOLATE – passion fruit, lemongrass, soy

 

Presentation: Our penultimate course consisted of chocolate and passion fruit “worms” strewn about on a huge white plate. Soy sauce in two forms—powdered and jellied—dotted the surface along with a block of lemongrass ice.

My Thoughts: At the start, the flavor combinations in this dish seemed too strange to fly, but ultimately, soy sauce and chocolate proved to be soul mates.

The chocolate worms were thick and rich, while the passion fruit worms were thick and tart. Both worms kept their tubular shapes well as I paired them with the various forms of soy sauce, the powder being my favorite. The lemongrass’ texture was slushy and icy. Its refreshing taste cleansed the soy sauce off my palate.

Number of bites: 8

XXVI: CARAMEL – meyer lemon, cinnamon perfume

Presentation: Our final course was an inverted, deep-fried lollipop balanced in the tentacles of Kastner’s squid. No licking was required; we simply held the cinnamon stick in our hands and popped the top off.

My Thoughts: I knew I would love our final course even before I tried it because cinnamon, lemon, and caramel are three of my favorite ingredients. The lollipop’s exterior was a crisp tempura batter and released a gush of lemony zest and caramel as it met my teeth. I wish The Astronomer could have tried “Cinnamon” because he would have fancied it as much as I did.

A fantastically sweet note to end an insanely delectable and indulgent Tour. What a great way to spend five hours.

Number of bites: 1

Alinea
1723 N. Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: 312-867-0110

Alinea on Urbanspoon

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6 Responses to “Alinea, June 2007 – Chicago”


  • Was it awkward when your companions didn’t eat the bread? What did the waiter say?

    And do you have to tip RIDICULOUSLY for someone serving you 24 times?

    Did the meal really take five hours?

    Do they recommend wine to go with the meal? Or do they suggest nothing but what they serve you?

    I am also all for any rendition “hyper-processed supermarket garbage”!

  • you’re my hero gastronomer!
    next stop for you – el bulli

  • chicago foodie girl

    I agree this is one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Our 24 course service took about 5 hours but was brilliant!
    Congrats on the engagement btw

  • Yup, this was the best meal I’ve ever had, too! Can’t wait for an excuse to go back one more time… Do you have the cookbook? xo

  • Alinea is one of the restaurants I want to eat at before I die too! Everything sounds amazing but the Paprika Croissant and that pineapple with bacon powder really made me sit up.

  • looks like regurgitated mucus. Not a chance I would consider, unless they off refried foamed goat balls

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