Her: It all started when he surprised me with tickets to Alinea for my birthday. We had been learning more and more about Grant Achatz – his struggles and accomplishments. Alinea seemed to us, to be outside the realm of anything we experienced before, and knew we wanted to try it together.
As good as we are in the kitchen, and as wide as we thought our gastronomic vocabulary was, nothing could really prepare us for this. I mean, sure…there are pics all over the interwebs of the different courses. But – they change often, and we really didn’t want to spoil it by knowing too much.
Months later…with flights booked, dress clothes packed, and Airbnb rental reserved, we were on our way to Chicago. Our friends and family were nothing more than confused when they learned our main reason for travel was a restaurant. But we live at Ten. Not half way, not almost. We go for it. In everything we do.
And we went for it. We flew to Chicago to eat at Alinea. And we will never forget it. (We probably won’t ever do it again!), but it was really unforgettable.
This would be a 16 course meal. We had a wine pairing with almost every course, but the champagne was our absolute favorite.
We ordered this when we got home, and it did not disappoint. It was approx. $35/bottle.
|Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blanc Brut
Amuse Bouche: Osetra
|Toasted brioche foam with onion gelee, egg yolk emulsion and caviar.|
Did you know what salsify was? We did not. So when the server chucked this wooden wreath on our table, and told us to forage for our food, we were stupefied. Lost. He said he’d come back to check on us.
We spun the thing around, searching for something – anything – edible. No dice. The server took pity on our hungry souls and helped us find the first piece. It was dried, and camouflaged by the wreath.
Clever you, Grant.
Okay, a good ice breaker. No more frou-frou impressions, and we could relax. The servers were mischievous yet instructional. We were having fun now.
We now know that salsify is actually a root vegetable related to the parsnip, and can be prepared the same ways.
|Skate with brown butter, lemon, herbs|
Pebble (The Beach)
|Ebi, ogo, clam shells, white bean puree, white mushroom cap|
An empty can of “Alinea Achatz Style Corn” sat in front of us, with just some ash at the bottom. Again, we wondered what was happening.
Next was a hollowed out log cradling a charred, smoky ear of corn, not appearing much different from something you’d pull off your own grill. The top of the husk is removed and placed in the can. The can! It’s just meant to hold your smoking husks, silly. No smoke and mirrors this round (okay, maybe a little smoke).
The course was a perfect reassembly of grilled corn kernels, atop a corn pudding like your mama never made. The whole thing was infused with truffle, manchego cheese and sherry. My favorite course, this one.
This course was served on a bourbon barrel plank, giving a cool presentation for two. The barrel had been home to bourbon, maple syrup and most recently, fish sauce. On each side of the plank were identical displays of trout, Vietnamese coriander, broccoli, roe – with a surprise in the plank’s center: fish bones! The trout carcus. We didn’t eat the bones at first, but the server assured they’d be delicious – and he was right. The bones crunched with the texture of a potato chip, but drizzled with a sweet spicy fish sauce. Lovely bones.
|Rambutan, distillation of caviar lime, edible flower petals|
No, we wouldn’t be roasting our own next course. But while we were enjoying our warm ambience, we would be presented with…
|Pine, huckleberry foam, tapioca|
Interesting blend of flavors and textures. But I’m starting to get full. I’m feeling a wine haze. I’m really enjoying this personal campfire. And then…
Our server put out the flames, and said our next course had been cooking in front of us the whole time. Jaw drop. What looked like charred wood, was actually pork belly wrapped in a protective seaweed, along with a charred parsnip, and a mushroom. Playful and delicious.
|Pork belly, parsnip, black trumpet, kombu|
Hot Potato/Cold Potato
White Truffle Risotto
|White truffle risotto, parmesan, truffle beurre monte|
Our first time trying squab. Deep, dark flavors on this plate. Blackened squab, squab offal truffle, roasted carrot, beet, and orange for contrast.
|Squab, beet, orange, carrot|
Transitioning to the dessert stage, here. Probably the least appetizing in appearance. The brain has a keen way of convincing you that because something looks grey and unappealing, it probably will be. Here was squash, draped in ashen goat cheese, served on a chunk of asphalt, and “tagged” with licorice spray paint by the server. Gimmicky. Fun. Not our favorite.
|Bubblegum noodle, lilac, sorrel, blueberries|
Green Apple Balloon
Gigglefits! By the time this course makes its way to the table, you can already hear the mood change in the room. Everyone is animated and having a blast. What you thought would be a quiet, formal atmosphere has caught you by surprise and before you know it, you’re joining in the fun. Helium-filled green apple taffy balloons. We were kids again. And I had the gigglefits. I even went home with taffy in my hair. (Pull your hair back, ladies!)
|Photo by Alinea|
|Rum, vanilla, kaffir lime|