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

Followed by:

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.

There is a great article in this week’s New Yorker about Grant Achatz, the famed chef of Chicago’s Alinea restaurant.  The article provides background on Achatz and Alinea, details Achatz’ battle with cancer, and interweaves concepts regarding the science of taste.  Achatz opened Alinea in 2004, after working under Thomas Keller at French Laundry in Napa, awing the food world and me with his originality and talent.  Alinea specializes in molecular gastronomy,  “which aims to take familiar foods and, using scientific techniques, give them new tastes and textures.” Achatz gives diners only two choices: the tasting (12 courses) or the tour (24 courses).  Each course consists of, at most, a few bites, but of the most incredible, satisfying food you’ve ever had.  I have only eaten at Alinea one time, in March of 2006, and label it as the best meal of my life.  The only imperfection in the meal was that Carlo wasn’t there, which is why we are desperately trying to go when we visit Chicago later this year. 

Three years after opening Alinea, Achatz was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer (apparently there is no Stage V) and was told he would lose his tongue and his sense of taste.  Achatz is fighting on, trying to avoid surgical removal of his tongue and thus far, his treatment has been successful.  He is  even regaining elements of his sense of taste, one at a time.  He claims it has made him look at taste anew, and perhaps he will be an even better chef for it.  Nonetheless, the bitter irony of this story is inescapable.  Obviously, there are worse, more tragic things than losing one’s taste, but there is something mythological about a genius artist losing the sense that he depends on to thrive.  [literary buffs, is there is a myth out there?  Shakespearean or Dickensian tale?  I majored in accounting...]  Either way, it’s a good read and even if you’re not into food and chefs, it’s the New Yorker, so there is a cartoon on every page. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.