Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Oh, Alinea

I've been putting off a post about my trip to Chicago and it's not exactly 'cuz I'm lazy - but more because my trip to Chicago was such a Foodie Tour, that I don't even know how to begin sharing it! I'd want to share EVERYTHING and then this post would need a table of contents, a prologue, chapters and an appendix! However, certain news came out this week which has helped me to narrow down which part of my Chicago trip I should share first. Anyone hear about this? Or care? Cuz, hell, I do!!

"Cocktails": Pisco sour, Juliet and Romeo rosewater and cucumber
and an 'Improved Manhattan'

Steelhead roe on top of frozen coconut mousse with pineapple powders.
This was just about our FAVORITE dish of the night!

I heard rumblings about Alinea when they first opened back in 2005. And I've basically been wanting to go ever since! Molecular gastronomy was brand-spanking new (and if you live in San Francisco, you'd think it's still up and coming!) A few years ago, my BFF and I decided we'd go to Chicago together sorta specifically to dine at Alinea, but also 'cuz neither of us World Travelers could believe we'd never been. Well life sorta got in the way so our grand plans were pushed out. And we FINALLY made our way to the Windy City in September. The FIRST thing we did was make that Alinea reservation... then plane, hotel...

Yuba (tofu skin) wrapped in gulf prawn with miso mayonnaise.
Sugarcane with compressed shrimp broth, Thai chilis.

Heirloom tomato salad with frozen powders:
Mozzarella, pinenuts, bell pepper, Parmesan...

Oh and in case anyone is wondering? [Chef] Grant Achatz rhymes with Ant Jackets.

I wish I'd taken a photo of the front door and hallway into the restaurant. But I was trying to not be a huge touristy dork. *TRYING* is the key word here (since I soon became aforementioned huge touristy dork upon being seated at my table).

We are big dorks - and *SO SO SO* excited to be here!!

Thai flavors distillation - palate cleanser.
Fish sauce, lemongrass and Thai chili

We kinda had no idea how to get into the restaurant once the cab dropped us off. There was no sign and no address. If I recall correctly, all that stood out was a small valet sandwich board - but I don't remember seeing a human out there. Fortunately Debbie and I are reasonably well educated and figured we'd try the unmarked door. It led to a dimly lit, long, entry hallway. But I had a feeling we were on the right path due to the very polished and contemporary feel that little hallway exhibited. We walked to the end and began to ponder what to do next - but before we could panic, a door to our left electronically whizzed open to produce a bustling foyer and smiling faces welcoming us to Alinea!

Wow, it's almost like Disneyland! OK, kidding... kidding. Though, if you consider just how happy this meal made two grown-up girls, perhaps it IS like Disneyland...

Spring roll of Pork belly confit

Add the other ingredients to the spring roll: salt, cucumber balls, garlic chips,
mango with curry, lime, daikon matchsticks, red onions, "sriracha".
And basil seed vinaigrette.

Wrap it all together and shove it in your mouth...
well, that's what we did at least

We had a very early 5:45 reservation. But were extremely surprised to see that we were in no way the first diners that evening. In fact the other Super Foodies who were eating in our room were done as we got to about our halfway point! What time did they start? 4pm??

Note this awesome serving dish.
It started like this - serving: King Crab mousse with plum jelly,
candied lemon, ginger pâte de fruit. Over buttermilk lilac sorbet.

Remove the top of the dish and we get another course:
More King Crab, flavors of plum, daikon, avocado, mustard seeds.

The bottom level of the dish:
Fennel glissade (?). More King Crab and plum flavors.
Star anise "explosion" and cippolini onion.

A course of Midwest memories:
Burning oak leaves. Tempura Pheasant breast with grapes and nuts.

We were whisked upstairs to our waiting table immediately upon arrival. I always wonder what the planning must look like to make a restaurant run like this. How is the table ALWAYS ready when a meal can sometimes take 4 hours and when they'd NEVER rush a party to finish? And additionally - there were very few empty tables! Gosh I'm a nerd - why do I think about these things?

Lamb: Poached lamb loin. Calf's belly. Fried green onions.
Dehydrated shoulder with blackberries.

Filet of Australian Wagyu Beef. Jasmine rice filled pepper. Fried banana.

Truffle explosion. Ravioli of truffle broth, topped with Romaine and Parmesan.

The photos throughout this post should show you how well we ate and just how fantabulously creative all the food was. WE WERE IN AWE.

Cocktails we could chew
Thai flavors we could drink
Powders that tasted like balsamic vinegar
Burning leaves used as a skewer
A pillow of vapor to scent our table
Dessert one sucked from a tube
We assembled one course with our hands...
...and ate another right off the table top

It WAS like Disneyland! Could we have stayed all day long? Or maybe gotten a multi-day pass??

Dehydrated bacon wrapped in butterscotch apple leather

Hybiscus vanilla creme fraiche, bubble gum with tapioca.
Raspberry puree with yogurt powder. And that's how you eat it!

Earl gray shortbread, lemon curd bubbles, pinenuts, noodles of white chocolate.
Atop a pillow of "Early Grey vapor"!

Deb and I have had the extreme luck, privilege and pleasure of dining at quite a long list of highly starred restaurants - Mr. Keller's included - and we both decided that Alinea. yes, Alinea. was the best meal either of us had ever eaten.


Our final dessert started out like this...

Then the chef in charge that night (unfortunately, not Achatz) came
and "decorated" our table with our dessert. AMAZING!

Apricots poached in basil syrup, apricot puree, peanut nougat, chocolate peanut
powder, organic milk sweetened with honey, milk chocolate, frozen milk
chocolate mousse, freeze dried apricots, basil,
warm honey custard with brûléed brown sugar

We weren't sure where to start, we were just so mesmerized!

But somehow... we managed.

If that doesn't deserve a few Michelin stars, I don't know what does...


  1. Wow, fantastic! I particularly love that dessert... Lucky girl!



  2. Love your pictures. That's how my friends and I planned our chicago trip too!!!! Alinea then Second city ...

  3. Were you given a copy of the menu, or were you EXTRA nerdy and took notes the whole time? :)

  4. LUCKY DUCKY!!!!!!!! Looks fabulous! What an experience!!!!!!!!

  5. Heehee - Trace: I *was* given a copy of the menu, but it didn't really have much info on it other than the course "titles". I was frantically taking notes on my phone through the entire meal. Yes. NERD.

  6. I don't know if I could eat all of it, but that pudding had me say aloud 'woah'. How fantastic! What a great place to try. It's nice to have you back Lisa.

  7. Reading that just allowed me to re-live the whole experience. That was truly such a memorable meal! I'm so glad we got to experience it together...thanks, Lise!

  8. AMAZING and drooling! i'm assuming whoever brings the dish explains how to... er?... approach it, yes? or do you just have to wing it and figure out how iut best goes down the hatch?

  9. Molecular gastronomy is not a new thing. Ferran Adria of el Bulli has been doing since 1987.

  10. I've been wanting to head there really bad. Great picks. thx for sharing! Until i go i will just try to make this all up in my kitchen.hehe.

  11. You asked about how a place like this is ran, the tables always ready and you eating for four hours.
    I don't know how they manage in the place you visited, but el Bulli (Adria's restaurant and the guy who created molecular food) as a fact has double (or even more) cooks in the kitchen that the ammount of people who will eat that night, so each table has several cooks working exclusively for them. This might also be the reason as to why your final dessert wasn't prepared by the guy you expected, he (like most chefs out there) control other things in the kitchen

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