The main reason Mar & Sallie had planned a Chicago visit was for dinner at Alinea, a super swank, innovative restaurant run by Grant Achatz: http://www.alinea-restaurant.com. For those you that know me well, you know I love food, but also love choices. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like – therefore, I don’t like spending a ton of cash on a pre-set menu without knowing what I’m getting. However, I also didn’t want to be left out. So, Sunday night the four of us headed to Alinea for their Tour – 24 courses. I did get to put in one exception for no beef, otherwise, I was gonna have to be brave and try everything.
We took a cab to Alinea and arrived at a gray non-descript, nameless building except for the valet parking sign. Upon entering, there was a long dark hallway. At the end, we spent a couple seconds wondering where to go when a door to our left stealthy slid open to welcome us in. The restaurant only seats about 60 folks at a time, and we were sat upstairs in a room with one couple and a table with a group.
Sallie and I ordered a bottle of wine to share – you can do a wine flight designed to go with the meal, but that costs another gazillion dollars. $42 bucks for a bottle the sommelier said was a good pick seemed like a much better idea. Then it was time to eat.
1) Roes: traditional garnishes. Starting off with Roes worried me a little, but it was also a good way to plunge right into my fearless night of eating. I’ve had caviar before and it didn’t do much for me. Same with this dish – i think its a texture thing. There was a Toast foam though on the plate that was surprising.
2) Foie Gras: daikon, shiso, yuzu. Great, keep the weird things coming. They use so much foie gras on Iron Chef and it does not appeal to me at all with its creepy beige color. The presentation on this dish though made it interesting – the foie gras was one bite on a fork, served on a round bowl of soup we had to hold and not set down until we were down, otherwise everything would spill. I really enjoyed the yuzu in the soup.
3) Pork Belly: iceberg, cucumber, thai distallation. Pork Belly seems really popular right now. It was a tasty dish.
4) Green Almond: juniper, gin, lime. Gelatinous dishes sometimes scare me – but this was sweet and the almond was soft. A good bite.
5) Soft Shell crab: peas, 5 spice, duck. this was the first of two dishes that would use the same ingredients in different ways. This first presentation was more traditional, with fried crab though you can see the peas presented in a flat paste form. I’ve never had soft shell crab – the meaty parts were good. the shell-y parts were crunchy.
6) Blue crab: peas, 5 spice, duck. The second presentation arrived looking like a parfait. Cold, savory, creamy – three words I don’t usually like together in my food. However, this turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the night – it was delicious and the texture didn’t creep me out as much as I thought it would. Mar won over our waiter by noting the lychee in the dish that wasn’t in the first preparation.
7) Black Truffle: explosion, romaine, parmesan. This was like a ravioli soup dumpling. Very yummy.
8) Fricase: a la Saint Claire. The first of my two exceptions. This usually comes with squab, but mine came veggie – a savory tartlette of roasted veggies.
9) Bacon: Butterscotch, Apple, thyme. Three dishes served at once. The bacon was served swinging off a wire. sweet & salty.
10) Sweet Potato: bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon. a soft and crunchy fritter – mmm…
11) Mustard: passionfruit, all spice. a quick melting sherbet bite
12) Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter. Another interesting soup presentation as you pulled the skewer out from the bowl so the solid ingredients would fall in.
13) White Asparagus: arugula, white pepper, honey. Sallie & I had been eagerly anticipating this soup as we saw it served at the other tables. It was a little bland though and reaffirmed the fact that I don’t really like cold soups.
14) Yuba: shrimp, miso, togarashi. Another one of my favorites for the night. a crunchy skewer of shrimp with a tangy sauce.
15) Lilac: scallop, shellfish, honeydew. this had a similar look and texture as the white asparagus. the scallops were really soft and I didn’t like that.
16) Grape: Olive oil, ash, frisee. One quick bite and you can’t use your hands. yummy.
17) Chicken: powdered A-1, potato, chips. the second of my exceptions, chicken instead of beef for an all-American dinner. the powdered a-1 sauce was really cool and the potatoes creamy and crunchy.
18) Lemon Soda: One bite fizz treat to transition us towards dessert.
19) Yogurt: pomegranate, cassia. Three dishes served all together again. This yogurt bomb in pomegranate was tart but good.
20) Bubble Gum: long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche. Served in a test tube with jellies that reminded me of bubble tea. Another one of my favorites.
21) Transparency: raspberry, yogurt. super thin film, like a fruit leather.
22) Rhubarb: goat milk, onion, lavender air. A lot going on on this plate, all of it good. Served atop a pillow of lavender. I especially liked the cotton candy and the cheesecake.
23) Chocolate: blueberry, tobacco, maple. Again, a lot going on and I liked it all. Real blueberries and faux blueberries, maple explosion. mmm…
24) Pound cake: strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean. another dish playing with your senses – looks like one thing, tastes like another. a good way to end.
5.5 hours later we were done. It was quite a feat and very enjoyable. I’m proud of myself for trying everything and enjoyed most of it. The dishes were inventive and delicious. It was fun to be with my fellow foodies so we could geek out over it all. And surprisingly, thought we downed 24 dishes, I was full but not stuffed. I guess we paced it out well.