8/06/2005

alinea, the tour: 6 hours, 23 courses, 16 wines and a partridge in a pear tree. just kidding. though poached partridge stuffed with foie with fried pear dumplings sounds kind of good, doesn't it? and pear chips! while in chicago, i splashed out on grant achatz's much-hyped alinea, which sits in an anonymous townhouse with no discernible external identification. there were some unfortunate circumstantial and incidental aspects of the evening that have little to nothing to do with the meal itself, but the only one that bears mentioning here is that i didn't realize that my camera HAS a close-up mode until i got to desserts. which accounts for those four or five years of fuzzy shots and for a few of the lousy ones here (though, admittedly, i oughtn't quit my day job any time soon for a career in photography), most of which i've left out. for better photos and a more complete pictorial experience of the full tasting here, it's worth checking out the egullet thread on alinea. i also seem to have left the menu in new york, so i'm relying on other sources for achatz's dish-naming conventions and can't find them in some cases. i've added my notes in the lines below each (which may or may not be very accurate as far as actual components go). * denotes a favorite. also, here's a description of the menu, which, like everything else at alinea, was very carefully conceived -- perhaps one of the more telling aspects of eating here where one might begin to understand the level of detail at work. anyway, to begin at the beginning: L(for libation)1: lillet 1. cucumber, mango, several aromatics saffron, ginger, clove salt 2. sour cream, smoked salmon, sorrel, pink peppercorn frozen organic sour cream. assembled like a cherry. L1.5: served with vichy catalan mineral water. L2: au bon climat 2000 3. heart of palm, in five sections
vanilla pudding, avocado garnish fava purée, lemon zest bulghur wheat, dried fish flakes plum, coffee vinaigrette pumpernickel, truffle
4. ? green almond, toasted almond tuile, croquante, citric acid L3: pol roger [bread selection: fennel raisin (like focaccia), pumpernickel, multigrain and baguette. two types of butter: goat's milk from québec, salted from wisconsin] *5. bass, shellfish, waterchestnuts, floral vapor wild bass, littlenecks, PEI mussels, freesia petals (onto which steaming water is poured), shellfish nage i wrote in my notes: "this course is amazing. perfect texture/flavor combination." *L4: bisson marea 2003(?) 6. ? chilled octopus, eggplant soy sorbet (cooked with 10-12 flavor components, then put into pac-o-jet. thai-style), blue lake beans, wax beans, chickpeas, mung beans, sprouts, cilantro L5: amarone 7. flavors of A1 spring onion purée, dried orange(?), potato purée, potato chips, beef cap (there were many more flavors than i've listed here. see all those little dabs and squirts and squigglies? all different flavor components.) 8. blackberry, tobacco, long pepper, smoke tobacco-flavored smoked cream (a little cream-colored slab served on a fork, with half a perfect blackberry embedded on top), thai long chile pepper, microtarragon L6: junmai sake (arahamashi or something to that effect) 9. zucchini, angelica, goat cheese, mint here i've got a little diagram in my notes (to compensate for the shit picture) of the assembly/plating. first a leather disc is placed in front of you, then a tilted dowl pierced through a stainless steel disc is placed on top, with the zucchini bread at the top.) 10. apricot shooter diced apricot, yogurt 11. cherry ice, quinine, toffee bing cherry in cherry ice? quinine jelly L7: guy larmandier brut rosé premier cru *12. porcini, kola nut, sunflower seeds, plaintain too many sunflower seeds (i wrote). but delicious (i remember). act i. act ii. L8: vin d'alsace, ehrhardt 13. ? soy milk/yuba, gooseberry coulis, yuzu, english peas, ham, lavender pillow L9: pfeffinger ungsteiner herrenberg 2001 riesling 14. lobster, ravioli of coconut powder butter-poached lobster, carrot ravioli, lemongrass broth L10: aglianico del vulture *15. squab, watermelon, foie gras, black liquorice fennel gelée L11: bower(?) estate syrah *16. bison, truffle, pistachio, sweet spice poached bison, eye of round in salad, blueberry gastrique, pickled blackberries, pickled golden beet L12: australian shiraz (i'm not doing so hot at writing down the wines, am i?) 17. bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme on "the bow". i remember ambivalence. L13: churchill tawny 10 year *18. Maytag Blue, wild celery, walnut milk, red wine red wine gelée, celery seed this is the only photo i have of this dish. i a) am drunk, b) love this dish, or most likely, c) all of the above. L14: pineau des charentes (lhérand?) 19. PB&J peeled grape, left on the vine. brioche? i am disappointed by this. 20. corn, honey, tonka bean, hyssop dehydrated kernels 21. verbena, buckwheat, lime, buttermilk buckwheat beignet, lime zest, on the "anti-plate" L15: moscato d'asti e brachetto, perrone 22. ? strawberry sabayon with strawberries, sesame sorbet, sesame crunchies *L16: pedro ximinez '71 23. liquid chocolate, dandelion root, chicory, banana chocolate sorbet, square; chicory sauce, feuilletine, dandelion root sauce 24. sponge cake, sour cherry, vanilla fragrance this is the mignardise. comments: this is a much more chill place than i'd anticipated -- far less formal (though not in dress). comfortable, elegant furniture, all generously spaced apart. very quiet. friendly, knowledgeable service. the food was all executed exceptionally well, sometimes perfectly. there were many hits and a couple misses. i can't decide if it'd been too overhyped when i went, but i guess i'd been expecting to be more blown away. and i guess the more i eat -- and the more haute i eat -- the more i'm impressed by simple things, done impeccably, or by a dish that's perfectly balanced and flawlessly tuned, flavor-wise, regardless of number or innovativeness/weirdness of ingredients. he does some fun, adria-style tweaking, like the foams, lavender pillow, the vapor, and some of it IS effective and raises the dining experience to another level. i'm curious to see how alinea plays out. that is, if it does get played out or if it has staying power. the food community in general has been quite positive, and i think achatz absolutely deserves the support. there are few things more impressive in the industry than a chef that staunchly adheres to his own vision.

3 Comments:

Blogger fwc said...

did you go by yourself?

8/06/2005 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous daisy said...

i went to his former restaurant (trio) a few years back . . . got the 23-course meal but was eh about the whole thing. it was fun (went with two other people), but i probably wouldn't do it again. the flavors were so excruciatingly detailed that i felt bad for the kitchen staff . . . the service was cool -- it was almost like there was a camera at our table. candle out? they relit it. napkin on the floor at another table? retrieved and tidied up. i suppose this is how real service should be, but it was just so instantaneous. cool.

the one thing i didn't really enjoy tasting was the lavender chip with the duck (confit, i think). the chip tasted like soap. and lydia's portion came with a little fly in the frisee. they took it back but made no apologies. huh.

i like trying out new restaurants, but i think restaurants like this aren't really my bag . . . four and a half hours later and $350 poorer (i paid for lydia's as a graduation gift), i was underwhelmed. but i agree that he should continue with his crazy ideas . . . grant's still young!

8/09/2005 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger winnie said...

that's funny abou the fly in the frisée. i had a similar experience recently in a nice place in cobble hill, brooklyn, where i found an inch-long plastic shard in my food -- actually, let me revise: i found the shard in my mouth, and i was too embarrassed to say anything and made my tablemate do it (which he did really nicely and politely), and the server was like, 'hm' and walked off without comment. the manager came back and said 'sorry, dunno how that got in there.' and that was it. somehow i feel that's not adequate -- especially since their nytimes review had JUST come out that day -- but at least there's always danny meyer.

8/10/2005 06:02:00 AM  

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