A few months ago, I wrote that Carlo and I were desperate to get to Alinea. Well, we’ve done it and it did not disappoint. According to Food and Wine, Alinea is at the forefront of molecular gastronomy. I ate there in Spring 2006 with my parents and had an incredible experience. The food was delicious, creative, and satisfying; the wine was perfectly paired and unique; the service was professional and friendly without any obsequiousness; the decor was very simple yet elegant. It’s the perfect fine dining restaurant (except for the prices, which are high). I especially like that, despite the molecular gastronomy, it’s not all science and art, which can afflict some restaurants that become too high-minded (Fat Duck outside London suffered a bit from this when we ate there in February). It is real food remixed. Ingredients are combined in ways that one would never think of, but should have. It’s dangerous to go back to a restaurant for which you have such stellar memories, but Alinea has only gotten better in my mind after my second visit.
Alinea offers two menu choices, and visitors make that choice at the time of reservation. You can get the 12 course tasting menu or the 24 course tour. Shockingly, Carlo and I went with the tour. In this context, more is definitely better. And we also chose to have our wines paired. Don’t worry, you don’t get 24 wines, only 13 delicious tasting portions of wine. Still pretty hard not to get drunk since the tasting portions weren’t all that small and I’m not all that big. By the end of the meal, we were definitely ready to go (Carlo actually said he was going into shock). I think this owed more to how tired we were when we started the meal rather than the meal itself, which was actually very well-balanced and we didn’t feel that full, despite some bread pairings in addition to the wine pairings.
I will recite the menu here, but unfortunately, we do not have pictures. Carlo will tell you this is because we forgot our camera. I actually prefer not to take pictures in restaurants so perfect. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when taking pictures of every course: you’re always taking a bite before you remember to do it; the employees stare at you contemptuously; the pictures never look as good as you remember. Anyway, if you want to see pictures, there were plenty of people flashing away and I’m sure you can find them at blogs all over the web.
Here is what we ate and drank:
Steelhead roe: smoked salmon, grape, celery on top of a lemon cream (all of which were made into spheres) served with a cocktail of Jane Ventura Cava with aloe pulp juice, Sauternes and vermouth
Lemongrass: oyster, sesame, yuzu (the lemongrass was the spoon)
Tomato: basil, mozzarella, olive oil (the mozzarella was almost like meringue and the basil was a sorbet) served with Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko “Santorini”, Santorini, Greece 2007
Rouget: artichoke, garlic, bottarga (rouget is red snapper), which was served with Fruhwirth Scheurebe, Steiermark, Austria 2006
Cobia: tobacco, radish, cedarwood (the cedarwood was smoking in this dish and I almost started crying as I was immediately transported to childhood memories of sitting by a fire; this memory transportation thing is one of Grant Achatz’ (the chef) goals) served with Fonthill “Sea Air” Verdelho, McLaren Vale, S. Australia 2006
Chicken Liver: bacon, carmelized onion, vin santo (layered in a tube, which you suction out) served with Hans Riesetbauer “Apfel-Cuvee” Schaumwein Trocken, Austria
A couple one-bite dishes:
Watermelon: green coriander, tamari, bonita
Oxalis Pod: sweet, hot, sour, salty
Short rib: Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli served with Elio Grasso Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Martina” Piemonte 2004
Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter (this is one of their signature dishes, which I had in 2006 as well; the hot potato and truffle are on a pin stuck through a small wax bowl, then you pull the pin out and they fall into the bowl, which holds a little pool of cold potato soup, then you shoot it)
Lamb: potato, sunflower, sweet spice served with Clos Dominic “Vinyes Altes”, Priorat, Spain 2004
Foie Gras: fig, coffee, tarragon served with Hans Nittnaus Zweigelt Beerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria 2005
Rhubarb: ginger basil
Transparency: of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt (this was a thin sheet of raspberry candy that melted on your mouth, it was placed in a round clip that could sit up right on the table which flew across the room when I let it shut too hard…I think the alcohol was getting to me at this point)
Nasturtium: abalone, ginger, eggplant
Lobster: popcorn, butter, curry served with Couly-Dutheil Chinon Blanc “Les Chanteaux” Loire 2007
Yuba: shrimp, miso, togarashi
Wagyu Beef: maitake, smoked date, Blis Elixir (the wagyu came to our table several courses earlier propped freeze dried and clipped into an upright choptick; we were supposed to guess what it was as it melted…we failed) served with Solena “Domaine Danielle Laurent” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2004
Black Truffle: explosion, romaine, parmesan
Duck: foie gras, mole flavors served with Bodegas Tradicion Oloroso “30 anos” Jerez, Spain (sherry, which I normally don’t like was delicious with this)
Bacon: butterscotch, apple, thyme
Strawberry: violet, nicoise olive
Dry Shot: pineapple, rum, cilantro
Sorrel: honey, fennel, poppy seeds served with Braida di Giacomo Bologna Moscato d’Asti “Vigna Senza Nome” Piemonte 2007
Whole Wheat: almond, apricot, chervil served with La Tunella Verduzzo Friulano, Colli Orientali del Friuli 2005
Malt: cherry, cashew, vanilla fragrence
If you’ve got the money and the time, I highly recommend Alinea. This food might sound a bit out there, but I promise you will feel like you’re eating actual food, just not in a way you’ve experienced before.