Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chicago! Part 2: Alinea

The highlight of my trip to Chicago, and actually, the reason I went, was to eat dinner at Alinea. Some of you may think I'm a little crazy, but good food is reason enough for me to travel. And this meal was far more than just good food.

I happened upon the Alinea cookbook in Barnes and Noble about a month ago. After researching Alinea, and it's creator, Grant Achatz, I decided I had to go. An article published in The New Yorker, entitled "A Man of Taste" is particularly moving and I suggest you all read it. Very quickly, Achatz, a talented and creative genius at the forefront of molecular gastronomy
, was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2007. While he lost most of his sense of taste, he continued to develop new ideas and dishes at Alinea. He created a restaurant kitchen unlike any other; the floors are nearly carpeted, there are few stoves, and there are no noises.

I knew that I had to go to this restaurant. It was going to be a once in a lifetime experience that I simply can't have in Philadelphia, or New York for that matter. So, I booked my flight after I booked my dinner reservation.

I feel as though a course by course analysis of this 22 course meal wouldn't necessarily be helpful for you. The pictures are enough to entertain. I missed a few pictures because they were just one bite, or because you couldn't put down the food item (literally, the dish wouldn't sit level on the table if you did). I will, however, comment upon the parts of the meal that set it apart from other restaurants (as I did with Vetri). But, let me just say quickly, that I'm in love, again.

1. Hot Potato - Cold potato, black truffle, butter

H, Billot Brut Rose, Ambonnay

2. Yuba - Shrimp, miso, togarashi

3. Cauliflower - five coatings, three gels, cider

Josef Hogl Gruner Veltliner, 'Ried Spitzer Burgberg,' Wachau, Austria 2004

4. Pear - Olive oil, black pepper, eucalyptus

5. Wild Striped Bass - Saffron, shellfish, parsnip

Michel Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage 'Les Meysonniers,' N. Rhone 2007

6. Yolk - Soy, Wasabi, Yuzu

7. Chicken - Sesame, morel, Indian flavors

Bodegas Remirez de Ganuza 'Fincas de Ganuza Reserva,' Rioja 2001

8. Bacon - Butterscotch, apple, thyme

9. Sweet Potato - Bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon

10. Mustard - Passionfruit, allspice, soy

11. Foie Gras - Turnip, shiso, sudachi

Max Ferdinand Richter Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese, Mosel 1990

12. Lobster - Popcorn, butter, curry
Chereau-Carre Muscadet 'Comte Leloup de Chasseloir, Ceps Centenaires,' Loire 2003

13. Pork Belly - Iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation

Sequillo White, Swartland, South Africa 2007

14. Black Truffle - Explosion, romaine, Parmesan

15. Wagyu Beef - Powdered A-1, potato, chips

K Vitners 'Milbrandt' Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Washington 2006

16. Grape Soda - One bite

17. Yogurt - Pomegranate, cassia

18. Bubble Gum - Long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

19. Transparency - Of Raspberry, yogurt

20. Rhubarb - Goat Milk, Onion, Lavender air

Elio Perrone 'Bigaro,' Piedmont, Italy 2008

21. Chocolate - Prune, Olive, Pine
Dulce Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain 2004

22. Dry Caramel - Salt

The best dishes dishes were, by far, the Hot Potato Cold Potato, and the Truffle Explosion. They were the most flavor I've ever had in just one bite.

Beyond the food, the 3 1/2 hour dining experience was exquisite. Alinea has many unique qualities. From the unmarked lighted hallway that leads you to the Star-Trek-like automatic door that opens to the restaurant, to table center piece filled with ice that becomes part of your dining experience, you never can be sure what will come next.

I am particularly fond of the sleek decor. It is meant to provide a clean backdrop to the food. The table itself is also meant to remain as neutral as possible. To this end, they have a pillow for each diner that serves as a clean utensil holder only. You are instructed to leave your used silverware on the plate when you have finished. This leaves the table completely pristine; silverware never touches it.

In trying to compare Alinea to my other top dining experiences, I've found that I simply can't do it. It's unlike anything else. Vetri is fantastic, but it's just different. Vetri is more of a physical attraction, while Alinea is more of a cerebral attraction. At Vetri you're thinking: "Please, please give me more spinach gnocchi." At Alinea, you're thinking: "How did they create this? What is the idea behind it? How is this possible?" I just can't compare the two. They are each perfect in their own ways.

Alright, I know you're all thinking it (or I at least know my parents are thinking it), how much did this cost? Yes, it was expensive. Read some yelp reviews if you want to really know. But, yes, it was worth every penny and I would do it again in a heart-beat. A dining experience is so much more than just food. Done correctly, it's a completely indulgent escape from your everyday life. Everyone has their own personal escapist tendencies; mine just happen to involve food and wine.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great review! I will def. put that one on my list of restaurants I must visit.

David McDuff said...

If you're going to keep doing crazy stuff like this, you'll need to get a better low light camera so you can do your experience proud. Even so, great post.

If you'd like to check out a place closer to home that combines the cerebral aspect of Alinea with a little more soul (a la Vetri), you might consider hitting WD-50. It's only a two-hour train ride away and won't set you back quite as large a fortune.

Femme Fermental said...

Thanks for the feedback. I wasn't allowed to use a flash, so I had to go with the iphone camera. Even with the undercover camera, I got some disdainful looks from the staff.

Let me know what I should buy, my photos didn't do it justice.

I've heard of WD-50. I'm going to have to start traveling in the 2 hour range, AKA DC and New York from now on.