Monday, March 17, 2008

Alinea - Part II

I apologize for the "teaser," but it WAS a 4.5 hour dinner and I didn't think anyone had the attention span to read about 24 courses in one sitting, not to mention I doubt I could write it all at once.

Anyway, shall we continue?

4. SALSIFY - caper, dill, smoked salmon.
The salsify (root vegetable) was breaded with creme fraiche and dehydrated vegetables. The rest of the dish was a play on the smoked salmon classic - this time the smoked salmon was poached in olive oil served with a tart lemon gel and dill puree. Dehydrated red peppers and onions topped the dish. They encouraged us to play with our food, mixing things up so we got all the flavors. I knew there was a reason I love this restaurant!

5. BEANS- many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air.
Did Chef know I was coming and purposedly combine some of my favorite ingredients into this dish? I could smell this one before I even saw it coming. First, they bring out a large white pillow that smells wonderfully of nutmeg (i LOVE nutmeg!) and they place one in front of each diner. Next, the dish is brought out and placed on the pillow, causes the pillow to deflate and let off the nutmeg infused air. This was the first of numerous times the dish would use your sense of smell to change the way the food tastes. The dish they placed on the pillow contained a white navy bean puree (did I mentioned I've ordered a main entree just because it contained white beans?) with a circle of dried pancetta topped with Guiness foam. I usually am not a fan of the foams, but put my favorite beer in foam form and I'll eat it right up. This was covered with a sauce (oh, the SAUCE!) and then "many garnishes" surrounded the plate. According to the waiter, these were some components of a bean stew - from the top you have a lemon marshmellow, basil gelee, scallions with almonds, garlic confit, dried parsnips, tomato and mango fruit leather, sea grapes over mung bean sprouts and a mini apple with molasses. Again, mix and match aka play with your food, they instructed. With pleasure!

6. DUCK- butternut squash, bitter orange, Thai flavors.
First, an oversized contact lens made of glass was placed in front of us. "We'll need your help with dish." Again - this is why I keep saying its more of an experience than just a dinner. Then, they hand us a egg-white round bowl with a fork balanced on top. "Don't place these on the table - they are round on bottom and will not stand up." I'm left wondering how I'm going to get a picture of this one. "First, take the bite of duck (with curry powder, chili and other Thai garnishes), then place the fork on the lens and finally, drink the soup out of the bowl with both hands." Thank goodness I can semi follow directions. I had previously seen that there was banana foam on this dish, so I had listed bananas as a dietary restriction. I was a little afraid that by listing a restriction, I might miss out on the duck dish entirely, but not at Alinea. Instead, they are great at coming up with some additional flavor that blends just as well, if not better, with the dish. In this case, by butternut squash soup was topped with a bitter orange foam instead of JQ's banana foam. Fun, flavorful dish.

7. LAMB - red wine, mushrooms, diverse embellishments.I hate to keep making the same points over and over again, but the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw this dish was that, "hey, it looks like a playground." It took a good couple of minutes for the waiter to explain everything on the dish, especially when I had to ask again what something was. The dark blobbish thing in the center is a perfectly cooked piece of lamb, topped with a couple of mushrooms and covered in a red wine something (it was thicker than a sauce, kinda gelatinous). The rest of the dish from top left - enoki mushrooms, some sort of orange, a little pickled onion, and leeks toped with a lamb crisp. The diagonal strip down the middle has various types of mushrooms and dried and ground wild rice. At the top of the strip is some sort of custard and in the bottom of the diagnoal strip is a dried beet with a truffle inside (definitely my favorite part of the dish as well as the waiter's). The bright red splatter is a cayenne pepper puree. Finally, in the bottom right corner are some more mushrooms, lentils and a candied walnut. Phew, that was a lot. This was one of the biggest dishes and made me wonder if I'll make it through 24.

8. HOT POTATO - cold potato, black truffle, butter.
I had been waiting for this play on contrasting temperatures and it's actually now the background for my computer desktop. A little wax bowl contains a cold potato trufle soup. A thin pin is stuck through the bowl to support a hot potato, a teeny cube of butter and parmesan, and a bit of chive. Pull out the pin (slowly so it doesn't splash) and everything drops into the bowl. Tilt back and down the hatch like an oyster. I'll dream about this one too.

9. PORK BELLY - smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables.
It's BBQ time! So many of these dishes were just so CUTE in their presentation...kinda makes me want to go "eeeeee!" with excitement. Ok, I actually did go "eeeee!" when they brought ones like this out. Creamy polenta on the bottom, a square of pork belly in the middle with pickled vegetables on top, finished with a smokey sauce that was then hardened on top. The crunch of the outer shell and the vegetables with the creamy polenta, the sweet sauce with the salty vegetables and polenta - what a combination. During some of the previous "one bite" dishes, I tried to take two bites at least because 1. one bite leaves me with barely any room to chew and 2. then I can enjoy the flavors twice. Unfortunately this one, you just had to kinda tip into your mouth.

10. CHICKEN SKIN - truffle, corn, thyme.
Well, we were on a hot streak, loving every dish so far, so inevitably there are going to be a couple I didn't like. Here starts the first of a couple of those I didn't like. My second least favorite dish of the night, though I liked the serving dish - this was a bit like a chicken nugget, but I'd rather have the chicken nugget (alright, I'll let you add some truffle to that chicken nugget). Literally a ball of chicken skin, truffle, corn (flakes) and thyme - the flavors were pretty good, but it left my mouth feeling dry.

11. MANGO- soy, foie gras. It looks like a little money roll. Mango and soy make up the slightly chewy wrapper to encase a foie gras mousse. This was the first and only time foie gras made an appearance. The flavor was great, but there was so much mousse, it was a bit overwhelming.

12. CARAMEL CORN - "liquified." Officially my least favorite dish and the only I didn't finish. It was literally liquified popcorn in a shot glass - a little creamy and foamy, tons buttery and entirely too rich, especially after the foie gras mousse.

13. CRANBERRY- frozen and chewy, bitter orange, chevril.I made it halfway and I still have room! At this point, I'm STILL excited and bouncing in my seat. They brought this cold little dish out and used a spatula to place the dish on the table. The perfect sphere of frozen cranberry with dollops of bitter orange and chevril. We picked up the pin and carefully (with a "be careful not to poke yourself" from the ever so helpful waiter) placed it in our mouths, letting it melt into cranberry bliss. Perfect palate cleanser.

**I interrupt this food porn broadcast to talk about silverware and such**
The silverware had a little bed. A bed just for silverware! How cute (being such a girl for a moment here). The silverware was replaced with each course, and the table quickly wiped down (playing with your food gets messy!)

You might be wondering, "where's the wine?" Well, I passed on the wine flight (sorry wino friends) because I was already intimated by 24 courses. Plus, it's already a lot of money. Plus, ok, I'm a lightweight and after a couple of tastings, I probably would start to lose my sense of taste rather than add value to the meal.

**And now back to the food...**

14. ICE FISH - shellfish, horseradish, parsley.
This was an interesting one. A long dish with what looks like a little dragon made up of a long line of horseradish cream with pools of parsley puree in between. In the horserasidsh cream are bits of dried ice fish bits as well as asparagus, dried dried meyer lemon and other assortments. It tasted a bit like cuttlefish jerky (that you can get from the Asian markets). Nothing amazing, nothing bad...

15. APPLE CIDER - walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash. While the previous dish wasn't that noteworthy, this made me go WOW. Except with my mouth closed. Because they bring you a shot glass with a ball in it and tell you, "the best way to eat this is to open up wide, very wide, and basically tip the glass upside down. The ball is quite a bit bigger than it seems. And we recommend you keep your mouth closed as it tends to squirt if you don't."
So true. I tried to be discrete, slowly tipping the glass back, hoping the sphere would roll down slowly. No luck. Seeing how hard it was to get the apple cider ball OUT, I can't imagine how they get it IN the shotglass without breaking it. Once I had it in my mouth, lips sealed, my mouth was immediately flooded with the most delicious apple cider in the world. It catches you a little off guard because you don't know quite how hard to bite down, and that little bit of uncertainty makes the flavor burst that much better. Top sweet dish of the night, hands down.

16. WAGYU BEEF - black trumpets, cedar branch aroma.I paid all this money and all I get are some branches?

Nope, it's just the sense of smell thing going on again. Do a little, ok, a lot of digging which in the meantime surrounds you with the wonderful cedar aroma and a little pin containing a seared piece of Wagyu beef with a tad of yuzu. Think Kobe beef.

17. BLACK TRUFFLE - explosion, romaine, Parmesan. And I'm ending this post on one of my favorite dishes (yes, I have a lot of favorites). A truffle ravioli, topped with a sliver of truffle, braised romaine and sliver of parmesan. Remember what I said about the flavor burst? Now imagine a truffle flavor burst, I don't even have words.
Not to mention the cool plate, I mean, anti plate it comes on that was so cool, I had to take a separate picture. The spoon rests in a bottomless plate. Chef, when are you going to start selling your dinnerware?

Coming up next: bacon candy, smoke-chocolate-egg, and Transparency...
Are you ready to fly to Chicago with me yet?


LL said...

Holy Hell. I'm exhausted and still kind of sick and without a sense of taste, and I'm sitting here, enraptured by your play-by-play of this unbelievable food. My mouth is watering...

tonyleachsf said...

Oh man, no wine? That's too bad, I'll bet it would have made the whole thing that much better :)

Next time....

foodhoe said...

Hey Chu,

My jaw has dropped and I can't get it to close! such beautiful pictures - what camera do you use please? I've never been but keep seeing such compelling documentation about the presentation and techniques used that I'm really thinking about making a trip out there. Am also intrigued to see what kind of food a chef with limited tastebuds produces...

Chu This said...

Thanks, foodhoe.

At restaurants, I typically use my Canon S80. It's a little bigger than the typical Canon point and shoots, but it has full manual controls and has served me well. I usually already feel a bit self conscious about taking pictures (although I quickly get over it) at restaurants, so I like to avoid lugging a big SLR.

For the rest of my pictures on the blog, I use a Canon 30D.

It's definitely worth checking out the restaurant. I've contemplated making a trip out to Chicago just for another meal!