Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Alinea (Chicago) 01/2011

One does not just have dinner at Alinea one participates in an event. It's a set 21 course menu which is not revealed until the end of the meal. There is a a decent wine list or one may choose, for $150, , or more if you wished for upgraded wines, to have wines matched by the somellieur. The place exudes an understated elegance. the decor is simple with long stemmed lilies hanging upside down among gold coloured branches around the walls. Patrons are expected to wear jackets and most wear ties. There were seven tables with quality linen napkins,
deliberately bare particularly because of the last dessert. They were serviced by five to seven or eight well dressed, but not uniformed, wait staff, in the upstairs room in which we ate. Later we saw about 25 chefs, in the kitchen, preparing the dishes for the 50 or so diners that night. I asked about taking pictures and was told that it was no problem but flash was not permitted. the result is exceptionally poor photographs. If I am able I will enhance them when I get home I will replace them.
Every dish, some barely more than a morsel, is served in a unique, format. Cutlery is placed on small white cushion

but never returned there to keep it pristine. There are specially created wire forms on which the food is presented. One course, hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter is in a tiny wax bowl. I discovered this when it accidentally broke in half in my hand as I removed the silver pick that pierced it's base to cause the truffle and hot potato to drop into the butter. Not much of it got on my clothes and we were both offered replacements so we could eat them in unison! Several dishes required some sort of action from patrons before they were to be eaten.
The menu, when we got it, was almost unintelligible if one has not seen the food. (and these pic's will not help much)The left side is one of the major ingredients followed by three or four ingredients e.g YUBA shrimp, miso, togarashi or APPLE horseradish, celery. Many ingredients need a culinary dictionary to learn what they are and even then it can be difficult. For example togarishi is
a Japanese spice mixture consisting of mandarin orange peel, sesame seed, poppy seed, hemp seed, nori or aonori, and ground sansho!!! So what is sancho? Evidently it is a Japanese pepper related to but not the same as Sichuan pepper. Part of it's chemical structure, which it shares with Sichuan pepper, causes numbness and tingling in the mouth
The first three courses were LEMON luxardo bitter, luxardo amaro, grapefruit., APPLE laird's apple brandy, grenadine, thyme and SQUASH cynar, carpano antica, flor de cano 7 year.
Each was a small mouthful with variations in texture and unfamiliar tastes some sweet some sharp, none really dominating but blending well together. Luxardo is a small, gourmet, Marachino cherry from which the Luxard company, in Italy, make a sweet liqueur. Wikepedia tells me that cynar is an Italian bitter apéritif liqueur made from 13 herbs and plants. Predominant and most unusual amongst these is the artichoke (Cynara scolymus), ... whilst carpana antica is a vermouth and flor de cana is a fine rum. Here is the SQUASH
about as big as two walnuts!
This was followed by an oyster leaf.
Originally served at El Bulli and grown for Feran Adria this leaf was brushed with a mignon dressing and had a few grains of sea salt on it To promote the illusion it was served on an empty, oyster shell on a mountain of rock salt.
We were incredulous that it tasted just like a fresh young oyster. Totally amazing.
GOLDEN TROUT ROE dijon, rutagaba, grapefruit
that originally contained many black elements including black pepper and licorice which had been manipulated in the kitchen so as to appear almost pure white. The only taste we could not recognize was the licorice. The yellow turnip was, rutagaba, melded beautifully with the fish. YUBA shrimp, miso togarishi was a variation on the dish that was to follow CHAO TOM was a shrimp wrapped around a stick of dried tofu standing in a miso paste in a cavity in the base of it's little ceramic container. There was a small block of sugar cane
to chew between bites of the yuba which affected the taste in a very positive way. Next we had APPLE a glass in which a small ball of horseradish soaked in apple juice rested in a half a teaspoon of celery juice followed by RABBIT parfait, rillette, consomme, a large white porcelain pot with what turned out to be three different dishes one on top of the next but we were not to peep under the next section of the pot till instructed. We had no idea at this time what each dish was until it arrived at the table when the server described each ingredient. The last part was the consomme
which was kept hot with a hot stone at the bottom of the pot. It was outstanding, clear and flavoursome. HOT POTATO I mentioned previously. It had to be raised in the left hand and the skewer holding the truffle and potato had to be withdrawn with the right hand to get all the ingredients together so that it could be poured into the mouth. Simply a fantastic combination. SHORT RIB olive red wine blackberry was another cooperative dish. A thing that looked like two crossed pink flags had been left on the table earlier, described as centre pieces. A glass topped tray was now brought to the table. We lifted the glass from the tray to find a wooden platter with two metal inlays which could be lifted out and slotted together to make a small open stand. A waiter now removed the flag,s which proved to be sheets of pasta, and laid them in the stand. He then placed the braised short rib and other ingredients on the pasta and we wrapped it up, a bit like san chao bao. Whenever we had to eat with our hands extra paper towels or small serviettes were provided.
BLACK TRUFFLE explosion, romain, parmesan presented on a spoon which sat in a bottomless porcelain ring, had to be taken into the mouth, lips sealed and crushed or chewed. Like a Shanghai dumpling it let out an explosion of broth. CANARD a la Cussy
which should mean with a mushroom dressing, was described as a homage to Escoffier. I don't know why. It was three small slices of duck breast on a creamy dressing atop a square of crisp puff pastry. This was one dish that actually tasted what it looked like. VENISON lingonberry, gruyere, fireplace kindling was presented in a glass but on the end of a stick of kindling which had been lit just as it was leaving the kitchen and was still glowing as it arrived at the table. The venison was great and we were not required to eat the kindling! BACON butterscotch, apple thyme was all presentation. A bit of smoked bacon as big as a couple of postage stamps hung suspended from a wire on a curved frame, like the base of a rocking chair. The other parts of the dish were also in a sort of wire framework. QUINCE balsamic, goats milk was almost a palate cleanser followed by another complicated combination dish PINEAPPLE ham freeze dried cherries. The pineapple was a sheet like a large potato chip, infused with a ham taste. EARL GRAY lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate was presented on a cushion, like a pillow case, puffed up with bergamot infused smoke which was slowly released as the weight of the plat sank into the cushion. SPRUCE peppermint tea had been left on the table part way through the meal. It was a sprig of spruce covered in a white frost which slowly melted dripping int the glass it sat in. When it had all melted the green spruce sat in a teaspoon or so of liquid. A waiter removed it and we drank the residue which was indeed, peppermint tea. The finale was CHOCOLATE blueberry, honey, peanut. A server laid out a waterproof cloth over our table and half a dozen jars of ingredients along the side of the table. A moment later a sandy haired young chef came to the table
and began decorating the it by pouring ingredients, crushed nuts, chocolate and soft peanut butter over it, making circles, dots, rectangles and spreading blueberries around. It was Grant Achatz himself. Another waiter appeared with a brick size piece of honeycomb which was ceremoniously smashed up to edible proportions.
There must have been enough calories for the next week. We scraped up chocolate or peanut butter or both off the table, added blueberries or honeycomb and ate to satiety. We drank champagne with chrysanthemum liquer ($25 a glass) Wines, were well matched to the food and included a Portuguese sweet brandy, a De Bortolli Noble one a superb 28 year old gran reserve Pedro Jimenez sherry a Domaine de la Soltude Chateau Neuf du Pape 2004 and several others from Tuscanny and France.
There are a lot of extraordinary features of a meal at Alinea. There is the impressive ambiance, The magic of the food which is presented in unique and eye pleasing forms, there are the blends of tastes which sing on then palate with never a wrong note. There is the deception in appearances of food which rarely take the usual colours and shapes but maintain their tastes.
We had perhaps the finest meal ever.
Oh, and what did it cost? They added an 18% gratuity and including $175 for wine and taxes the check came to $753.
Score 19.5/20

2 comments:

KitchenSink said...

WOW. WOW. WOW!

I follow Carol Blymire's blog as she cooks through the Alinea cookbook. It's intense.

Don't you just want a grilled cheese sandwich now?

Elliot and Sandra said...

Hi
We could hardly look at food the next day but tonight it's Charlie Trotters. Hope it's still up there with the best.