May 18, 2007

Alinea: courses 13 through 24

jump to: prologue : part 1 : part 2

Sorry for the delay in posting this half of the meal; lots of work-related travel. Anyhow, now the meal continues...

GREEN ALMOND sweet, sour, salt, heat

A very deliberate assault on the primary taste bud zones. Sugar, citric acid, sea salt, cayenne pepper. Eaten in one bite, the sensation spreads uniformly through your palate, then each element gravitates to its own zone on your tongue. Really a strange, dynamic sensation.

SKATE caper, lemon, and brown butter powders
Ogier "Viognier de Rosine", VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes 2004

Billed as the closest to a "classical" dish, this version also employed slivers of banana underneath the micro-diced vegetables -- the most conceptually muddled expression of the night. I found the powder media for the caper, lemon and brown butter to be intriguing, if not necessarily soul-satisfying (in the way that traditional skate wing preparations are), but we were distracted somewhat by the chalky mouthfeel. The skate wing was cooked to perfection.

PINEAPPLE bacon powder, black pepper

Just a little bite of powerfully elemental, dessicated flavors: dehydrated pineapple wrapper, compressed bacon powder. Looked like a perfect, tiny Japanese gift box. Amazing palate-enveloping flavor, fantastic match of sweet and savory. Seriously good.

LAMB date, mastic, rosemary aroma
Jen Royer Chateauneuf-du-Pape "Hommage a mon Pere"
S. Rhone 2001

Three little coins of lamb with three different toppings, the last which utilized a caramelized braised-cabbage marmalade. Served on an oven-hot stone, searing one side and wilting the transferred rosemary centerpieces for a prevalent herbaceous aromatic note.

HOT POTATO cold potato, black truffle, butter

Stunning presentation, stunning combination of functional temperature contrasts. The cool potato/truffle cream had a muted flavor; upon chewing the hot potato sphere, the temperature increase dramatically increased the bouquet of the cool broth, creating a linearly escalating aura of black truffle richness.

BISON encased in savory granola
Schlavenza Barolo, Serralunga d'Alba 2001

I did not expect to like this dish, but it was fantastic. Meltingly tender bison, an impossibly rich wine-bison reduction, and oatmeal foam.

FOIE GRAS spicy cinnamon, apple pate de fruit

Amazing, amazing, amazing. "Dehydrated cinnamon water" shell... are you kidding me? Crazy, but so incredibly good. Like a high-tech meringue. But with fois gras and apple in the center. Crispy, then dissolving, then decadent unctuousness, with a high fruit note for clarity.

ORANGE olive oil, green olive, almond
Oremus Tokaji Aszu "5 Puttonyos", Hungary 1999

Essentially, a "creamsicle" of orange sorbet and olive oil ice cream, accompanied by olive oil powder. And savory olive. Seriously. Wrap your mind around that.

COCONUT saffron, kiwi, cornmeal
Cantine del Notaio "L'Autentica", Basilicata, Italy 2004

Coconut ribbon, mochi with coconut gel, cornmeal custard cake, candied micro-cilantro. Many high concept executions here. Although the flavor of coconut makes perfect sense to unify the elements, the physical manifestation of the ribbon made it stand apart in isolation to me... keeping the entire dish a collection of disparate flavors.

LICORICE CAKE muscovado sugar, orange, anise

Surprisingly subtle, with the anise note lingering just barely on the palate.

CHOCOLATE passionfruit, lemongrass, soy
Abbazia di Novacella Moscato Rosa "Praepositus", Alto Adige 2004

Getting really full, and my senses are at a breaking point with all of the new flavor experiences. Even still, the intense, sweetened soy reduction is a fantastically earthy complement to the chocolate. The passionfruit and lemongrass co-exist as muted secondary balancing tones.

CARAMEL meyer lemon, cinnamon perfume

A chewy, dense, wonderfully perfumed, lightly muted lemon analog to a churro.

And at the end of the meal, we were able to say a brief hello to Chef Achatz as he finished cleaning the gleaming kitchen after the service for the night. And he was the last person on his kitchen staff to leave that night, well after 2 a.m. That's a chef.

So... is it cooking? Chemistry? Architecture? Satire? Theater of the absurd? Transglutaminase, methyl-cellulose, soy lecithin, agar-agar... immersion circulation units, CookTek, PolyScience. These are not "food" words. Yet all of these things, in the right hands and with extraordinary vision, can be used to create as profound a dining experience as one can imagine. Some might use these techniques and gadgets as a cover for their culinary weaknesses. At Alinea, they more often are used to facilitate culinary breakthroughs -- sometimes masterpieces.

I was listening to an interview with Thom Mayne, the architect behind Tour Phare (to be completed in Paris in 2010). Mr. Mayne is well-known for using unexpected, non-traditional forms in his work -- eliciting equally loud responses of praise and criticism. One thing he said sticks in my mind, and I think is applicable here (though this is only my paraphrasing): It is a much more significant appreciation that we can have of the magnificence of the traditional and classical when we are able to contrast it against the new and avante garde. They don't compete against each other; rather, they exist for each other. Yeah... a little Matrix-y, but I think he's spot-on nonetheless.


  1. Anonymous9:12 PM

    Thank you for great photos and a wonderful descriptions.
    I had never heard about this restaurant before, but now I find myself wanting to go to Chicago for a meal :)

  2. Great review! I imagine it became very hard to keep flavors and textures and wines straight after a while!

    I'd love to go to Alinea. We went to the Fat Duck in May, but we haven't gotten the review up yet - that's the goal for the next two days.