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.
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.
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
HOT POTATO cold potato, black truffle, butterStunning 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Surprisingly subtle, with the anise note lingering just barely on the palate.
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.
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.