So I didn’t exactly get to meet Grant Achatz. Very disappointing. But I did get a chance to eat the food he made. I am decidedly more infatuated than before. For a long time, I’ve taken issue of the art of cooking versus the craft. I’ve always felt that a lot of the more fashionable restaurants are a triumph of art – plating, sustainable ingredients, organics and odd food combinations – that generally does not work. The chefs work to satisfy the artiste in themselves, rather than to please the palate. I found that the case with Alinea is that art and craft intersect in rather pleasing ways.
I was joined by two friends, S. and P. for the 14 course tasting menu with wine pairings. This included two additional gratis courses. And, no, the restaurant doesn’t know I’m a food blogger.
Something interesting that is exemplified by Alinea is the satisfaction of all the senses, a strong driver of this blog. From the moment you step through the door, you are transported. Housed in a non-descript storefront, you walk down a corridor that seems to go nowhere. And just as you think that you are simply locked in a hallway, electric sliding doors open to your left and you enter into Alinea. While waiting to be seated you can catch a glimpse of the kitchen. Throughout the meal, the other senses are massaged and played with.
When you are first seated they bring out rosemary twigs, which are set to the side.
You are then presented with a lovely Tufte-esque menu. The size of the circles indicate the relative size of the course, while the shade of the circles indicates the intensity.
I would say that from this point forward, this post is less worth reading. I make some pithy and unpithy comments about the food. Get into more details, and talk about wine. It is boring. It does point to the idea of pleasing other senses, such as smelling and hearing. The manipulation of the conceptions through special plating and special presentations. Gelees concentrate a flavor to redefine its meaning, as does dehydration. Play with your food and take care not to poke your eye out while trying to consume it.
Wine: Chartogne-Taillet “Cuvee Ste-Anne” Brut with Pineau des Charentes – The Pineau was poured first to enjoy the sweet, golden flavor. The champagne was then added to create a more dry, bubbly combination. It was a beautiful combination.
Croquette – smoked steelhead roe, several garnishes
A little quick bite – a delightful little burst of sour cream, briny roe, crunchy friedness and candied endive. It was a beautiful blend of flavors that in such a small amount leave you begging for more.
Octopus – shiso, papaya, toasted soy
We were told to hold the bowls in one hand and eat the forkful of octopus, papaya and shiso with the other. The bowls were rounded on the bottom, so if they had been put down, they would spill. After eating the octopus place the fork on a dedicated watchglass, drink the toasted soy milk with a hint of mint. The octopus was flavorful, while the papaya and shiso did not add strong flavors, but rather accented the octopus. The toasted soy milk removed the usual raw flavors of regular soy milk, and was generously helped with the scent of the mint to provide a great palate cleanser.
Utensils – No detail is too small to neglect. Napkins were placed on the table for clean utensils, and we were asked to leave any dirty utensils on our plates. The utensils were regularly replaced with each course.
Wine: Frecciarossa Pinot Nero Bianco “Sillery”, Oltrepo Pavese, Italy 2005 – A white pinot noir.
Chanterelle – carrot, curry, ham
This started out as a filled tube in the bowl. The tube was pulled away so that the contents were dropped onto the plate. This came with an herbed roll, obviously for clearing up the puree. This dish included chanterelle puree, carrot foam, an egg yolk, chanterelles, boiled carrots, spinach ball in dijon mustard, curry in a wrapper of dehydrated apricot and prosciutto. It sounds like a lot is going on in this dish, but it worked very well. It was a nice blend of various soothingly creamy elements with the mushrooms complementing each element individually. I don’t usually like mushrooms, but this was creamy and wonderful.
Apple – horseradish, celery
My picture-taking gets progressively worse with each dish. Perhaps to accompany my increasing tiddlyness. We were warned by the server that we needed to make sure we got this all in one shot, and that it was slightly bigger than we might anticipate. In fact, he mentioned that we should be careful not to miss, squirt all the liquid out everywhere. Otherwise he would have to clean it up, and he does not like doing that. He said this rather wryly, so it was pretty funny. This dish was rather surprising – apple juice in a horseradish-infused cocoa butter shell with celery juice. There was an overwhelming whoosh hit from the horseradish with a strange texture from the cocoa butter. The juices were sweet. This was a really odd dish. I’m not entirely sure I liked it, but not entirely sure I disliked it either.
Wine: Vincent Dancer Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “Tete du Clos” 2004
Monkfish – banana, onion, lime
Monkfish three ways – poached, fried and mousse. Topped with dehydrated onions and lime gelee and banana gelee. The presentation reminded me of eating out of a toilet bowl. The poached fish was great with the lime and banana gelees. Meanwhile the mousse was a bit too salty, but made a nice combination with the fried monkfish. Salty and fried. Woot! I really enjoyed this dish with the fruity elements.
Wine: Rudi Pichler Gruner Veitliner Smaragd ‘Kolimutz”, Wachau, Austria 2001
Duck – mango, yogurt, pillow of juniper air
Pillows filled with juniper-scented air were placed on the table. Then the plates were put on top of the pillows, allowing the fragrance to waft out as I ate. I love duck, so this was a fantastic treat. Perfectly confited duck with little flakes of crispy skin tucked into the yogurt with a nice sweet, acidic mango puree. Lovely wine-braised turnips. Yum. And the scent of juniper… this was my favorite.
Short rib – Guinness, peanut, fried broccoli
Sous vide short rib with Guinness gelee, fried broccoli and peanut purees, red peppercorns, shaved raw broccoli stalks, fried broccoli and peanuts. This was a strange dish. I’m not a huge fan of sous vide. I feel like it tends to break the protein structures in the meat down too much, to the point of mush. This was still pretty good – stout and peanuts make a nice combination in my mind. However, I think the peanuts reminded me too much of Planters dry-roasted peanuts.
That takes us through the first seven courses. I will create a part II to this post, as I am too tired to finish. Also because it allows you, the reader, to take a break from my overanalysis. It’s great to simply enjoy without thought.