Saturday, September 3, 2011


Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of dining at alinea for the first time. Since we are leaving Chicago in the next two weeks, my wife thought this would be a great birthday present and also a fond farewell to the city we have enjoyed so much over the past year. The dinner took almost four hours, consisted of over 20 courses, and the execution was most impressive. As soon as you walk into alinea, you can feel the that you are about to embark on a special journey. I've wanted to dine at this restaurant for over five years and now we had finally made it.  The entry was a small hallway lit with curtains shrinking along the walkway to create a Willy Wonka depth perception.  The wall suddenly opened on our left and a restaurant appeared.  The greeting station had only two seats that provided an open view of the kitchen to allow us a glimpse of the staff composing a symphony of food.  The brigade was enormous and still quiet. All of the cooks were constantly cleaning while working intensely, not a single wasted movement. The focus was there and everyone knew how special each component was for the upcoming plate. After a few moments we were taken to the upper floor dining area where we were quickly seated. The decor was quite simple with lots of clean lines, sharp angles, and complimentary shapes to accentuate. The rail lighting above hit the table perfectly creating a spotlight for every course and nothing lied on the table except a perfectly rolled white napkin. After a server greeted us politely, he began his introduction of the alinea story that was about to unfold and offered a wine pairing with each course.  Each course would be a small bite or slightly more to really pace the consumption of so many dishes.  Once all pleasantries were exchanged, the waitstaff placed these tiny square plates in front of us and topped them with tiny white pillows for our clean silverware.  As we talked about our upcoming meal, our excitement built and once the glassware had been filled, our first chapter began.

Steelhead Roe - Watermelon, Kaffir Lime, Oxalis
The golden watermelon was sliced thin like a ribbon and wrapped around a watermelon mousse and topped with steelhead roe.  Distilled watermelon juice was poured around the base with micro greens

Hamachi - West Indies Spices, Pineapple, Ginger
Tempura battered hamachi skewered on a vanilla bean and spiced with banana, curry, pineapple, and ginger

Oyster Leaf - Mignonette

Taylor Bay Scallop - hitachino white ale, old bay

Top Neck Clam - Carrot, Soy, Daikon

Mussel - Saffron, Chorizo, Orange
This was a fun course that was presented on a driftwood covered in ocean scented seaweed.  Each shell was shucked and composed inside and then covered to make the dish very minimalistic.  The oyster leaf and peppercorn vinegar sauce was a good start.  The scallop was raw and covered with a white ale foam that made me think it was actually the scallop shell.  The clam was grilled and glazed with a salty XO sauce and then topped with it's own shell.  The mussel has small chunks of Spanish chorizo and saffron to compliment the orange mussel flavor

Yuba - Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi
The yuba was deep fried in way that it created it's own stick.  The shrimp was wrapped around to create a striped appearance, and the salty miso sauce underneath gave you a really good flavor of umami.  This dish really reminded me of growing up in San Francisco and eating the shrimp chips in Chinatown

Farm Salad - Tomato, Goat Cheese, Red Onion
By far one of the most impressive courses of the night.  This dish truly screamed the end of summer tomato and they actually placed a centerpiece of live lettuces still in the soil for us to cut at the table.  The cherry heirloom tomatoes were perfectly ripe and peeled while sitting on a puree of flavorful red pepper gazpacho and flaked goat cheese.  A bread tuile garnish the dish, goat cheese and red pepper gazpacho, amazing flavor profile

Mackerel - Mango, Bergamot Flower, Juniper
This was a one bite no hands course served on a small antennae.  The mackerel was charred heavily and wasn't too impressive until you tasted the paired wine and found all the juniper.

Wild Mushrooms - Pine, Sumac, Ramp
A fun course that made you feel as if you were deep in the forest foraging for mushrooms.  Chanterelle, hen of the woods were cooked nicely with some pickled ramp bulbs, pine nut creme, and sumac powder.

Hot Potato - Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter
A small bowl was presented with a small elevated skewer with a cube of butter braised potato and black truffle.  As you pulled the skewer away from the bowl, the hot potato and black truffle fell into an amazing cold potato soup.  As we drank this quickly, you got the temperature change of cold potato soup and then hot butter braised potato, followed by earthy black truffle.

Agneau - Sauce Choron, Pomme de terre noisette
Sous vide lamb was seared and sliced into small medallions and topped with pickled turnip and green asparagus tips perfectly blanched.  A disc of brioche was toasted and placed underneath.  The choron sauce was a perfect emulsion of butter and tomato.  The Parisian potatoes were caramelized nicely and garnished with some lamb jus.

Black Truffle - Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan
This was by far my most awaited and favorite course of the night.  The ravioli is served in a spoon with a slice of black truffle, Parmesan, and romaine.  You are instructed to eat this course in a single bit and reminded not to open your mouth.  As you bite into this perfectly cooked pasta, an explosion of black truffle floods all of your taste buds sending you into a bliss of passion.  I could eat these all night...

Squab - Inspired by Miro
This dish was inspired by a painting chef achatz saw.  The plate comes out and there are about 8 pieces of silverware interlocking with each other holding a different component.  The squab is sous vide and tender with a slight game flavor.  A large cube of foie is seared hard on all sides and garnished with sea salt.  There is some lavender oil underneath catching the foie fat to create dressing.  Celery root string.

Short Rib - Olive, Fermented Garlic, Blackberry
Two flags are presented at your table 5 courses ago that are become the base of this dish.  They are in fact sheets of tomato pasta that is used to build your own springroll with prime beef short rib, black garlic, black berry, olive, smoked salt, tobacco sauce. 

Octopus - Eggplant, Coriander, Red Wine
A small piece of octopus is sitting on a morsel of creamy eggplant with micro cilantro.  The red wine has been infused into the octopus.

Snow - Yuzu
This was our palate cleanser.  A small bowl was dipped into liquid nitrogen and sprayed with yuzu juice creating a frozen snow of Japanese citrus.  Very refreshing and a good transition to the sweet courses.

Peach - Jasmine, Basil, Balsamic
Cubes of peach, basil, balsamic gelee are placed around the plate in various sizes.  A frozen parfait of almond really compliments that tartness of the peach.  Small marshmallow almond cubes give the dish some good textures.

Lemongrass - Dragonfruit, Thai Basil, Finger Lime
A clear tube sealed with a gelatin is placed in front of you is filled with a lime juice and micro basil, and dragon fruit.  The presentation is gorgeous and you are instructed to take the shot by breaking the gelatin seal.  So flavorful and fun.

Chocolate - Red Pepper, Bitter Orange, Banana
A moon rock appears in front of you with a fog beginning to cover the table.  The server then tells you that it's actually aerated chocolate mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen.  As you crack this frozen chocolate mousse, its mixed in with the banana parfait that has been bruleed, and a mosaic of sauces including orange and red pepper making this your final chapter.

Overall, an amazing experience that I will never forget.  It's encouraging to continue building my skills and striving towards defining my own style of food.  Thanks for an amazing birthday gift honey!!!

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