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Alinea - Tour de Force - 11.14.07, 5.3.08 & 10.15.08

Alinea - Tour de Force - 11.14.07, 5.3.08 & 10.15.08
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  • Alinea - Tour de Force - 11.14.07, 5.3.08 & 10.15.08

    Post #1 - November 17th, 2007, 7:29 am
    Post #1 - November 17th, 2007, 7:29 am Post #1 - November 17th, 2007, 7:29 am
    I had the great pleasure to experience Alinea's newest menu this past Wednesday. Chef Achatz was in the house, intense as ever, after a couple weeks off for treatment. It's been said that 'half of cooking is thinking about cooking' and it was abundantly clear that chef Achatz had had some time to 'think about cooking' during his absence from the restaurant. The meal we enjoyed was the most tightly composed progression I've experienced in my many trips to Alinea. The delicious courses delighted our senses, evoked unforeseen emotions and captured the essence of the season masterfully.

    What follows are some images I captured at our meal, with a few comments . . .

    Image
    Duck . . . butternut squash, banana, Thai flavors
    I loved this delectable and complex bite. The duck was intensely flavorful with a satisfying and surprising density. The butternut squash soup in the bowl was luscious and ultra-buttery.


    Image
    Rainbow Trout . . . cucumber, kombu, coriander
    It was unusual that we were already on 'knife and fork' with course #2. It was an exciting indication of the intensity that was to follow.


    Image
    Yuba . . . shrimp, miso, togarashi
    I loved this crispy yuba stick with the succulent shrimp wrapped around it. It's being held in place in its stand by a delicious miso mayonnaise.


    Image
    Beans . . . many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air
    It's actually navy bean puree, paired with a bunch of delicious accompaniments. The puree was deceptively light and pairing little bites of it with each of the other elements on the plate was great fun; a fantastic tasting game on a plate.


    Image
    Caramelized Onion Roll
    Bread service at Alinea has evolved into something truly distinctive and unique. During our meal, we were served 4 different baked-in-house breads, which were all delicious and successfully highlighted the courses with which they were served.


    Image
    Sweetbread . . . cauliflower, burnt bread, toasted hay
    A great combination of flavors; especially the roasted cauliflower . . . the little black dots are actually dollups of burnt-bread pudding.


    Image
    Breakfast Radish & Horseradish Knot
    This tasty bread had a wonderful, almost bagel-like texture.


    Image
    Black Truffle Explosion . . . romaine, parmesan
    If chef Achatz has a signature dish, this is it. Glorious!


    Image
    Beef Heart . . . fig, long peppercorn, celery root
    Scrumptious beef heart, in deconstructed, Asian-style-salad form.


    Image
    Pork Belly . . . smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables
    Barbecue in a bite. The belly, smoked paprika and tiny nuggets of pickled vegetables arrived in orderly fashion on the palate and their distinctive notes faded slowly, just as they were delivered, one after another. Fantastic!


    Image
    Roasted Quince . . . foie gras, candied fennel, sweet spices
    Here, a 'cover' is crafted from foie gras fat . . .


    Image
    Warm, roasted-quince juice is poured over the top . . .


    Image
    After a short while, it begins to melt through the foie fat . . .


    Image
    and all the elements combine into an intensely rich broth, packed with chunks of foie gras and citrus accents.


    Image
    Cranberry . . . frozen and chewy, lemon, parsley
    Delightful on the palate . . . prepping it for subsequent courses.


    Image
    Pineapple . . . bacon powder, black pepper
    Another bridge bite, introducing crisp pineapple and smokey notes.


    Image
    Brook Trout Roe . . . corn, Blis maple syrup
    The roe and the syrup are both from Blis in Michigan. A fantastic pairing. I loved the way the maple and corn married up and accompanied the roe.


    Image
    Apple Cider . . . walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash
    A variation on a dish that's been around for a while. This time around it was mostly sweet, which I appreciated, given its position in the progression.


    Image
    Tagliatelle . . . white truffles, parmesano reggiano
    White truffles are shaved over the pasta at the table.


    Image
    White truffles in November. Perfect.


    Image
    Scallop . . . parsnip, orange, chamomile vapor
    Here the outside bowl is filled with hot water, which causes the chamomile vapors to rise. The scallop was perfectly cooked and the savory custard which surrounded it was simply delicious.


    Image
    Hot Potato, Cold Potato . . . black truffle, butter
    Another Achatz signature dish, which never gets old. At its core, it's perfectly distilled comfort food in component form.


    Image
    Kuroge Wagyu . . . matsutake, cedar branch aroma
    Tender wagyu beef capped with a delectable matsutake pudding. I loved the "foraging" aspect of this dish, which required a bit of hunting under the leaves to find the bite.


    Image
    Red Pepper Bread
    Partial Milk and Honey roll on the left; both of these bread pairings were terrific.


    Image
    Lamb . . . in cubism
    Here, delicious and tender lamb in 2 forms sits atop a gorgeous configuration of 9 different sauces. Atop the medallion at the back of the plate, elements of each of the sauces are delicately arranged. It was fun tasting the sauces and trying to identify them, although even with the provided clues, I was only 6/9.


    Image
    Maytag Blue . . . ginger, pear, tarragon
    Delectable cheese "course" which made my mouth tingle.


    Image
    Transparency . . . of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt
    Loved this "essence" of raspberry. The yogurt powder and candied rose petals were wonderful accents.


    Image
    Guava . . . avocado, brie, key lime juice
    Here, Key limes, which served as our 'centerpiece' for most of the meal, are finally incorporated into a course, as they are squeezed over the dessert . . .


    Image
    Next, Guava soda is also poured onto the plate . . .


    Image
    It all adds up to a dramatic, delicious and refreshing dessert.


    Image
    Licorice Cake . . . muscovado sugar, orange, hyssop
    The antenna, a service piece which goes all the way back to Trio, is used to deliver this complex and chewy bite.


    Image
    No, it didn't fall on the carpet! :P


    Image
    Chocolate . . . passionfruit, lemongrass, soy
    70% chocolate and passionfruit are combined with salty soy, which highlights the chocolate wonderfully.


    Image
    Pumpkin . . . brown sugar, pie dough, burning leaves
    Talk about seasonal . . . elements of pumpkin pie are combined, dipped in batter and deep fried into one delicious bite, which is accompanied by the take-you-back aroma of burning leaves. Awesome!

    =R=

    Alinea
    1723 N Halsted St
    Chicago, IL 60614
    312 867-0110
    Last edited by ronnie_suburban on May 23rd, 2008, 10:24 pm, edited 3 times in total.
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #2 - November 17th, 2007, 8:24 am
    Post #2 - November 17th, 2007, 8:24 am Post #2 - November 17th, 2007, 8:24 am
    Ronnie,

    Stunningly beautiful pictures, almost dreamlike; unbelievable.

    Does the Maytag Blue actually contain the cheese of the same name, or is that a visual “joke” of some kind. I tend to think the latter (as the cheese itself is now somewhat outré and so unlikely to be used -- or maybe that's part of the humor). And on the subject of “jokes” (and I use that term in the most respectful way), the caramelized onion roll (like the other breads) almost looks “normal,” but I got to believe something surprising was inside…or was it?

    Actually, many dishes here are funny (the foraged waygu, the pork belly on a pedestal, the little bean solar system), and looking at them I realized that the Alinean vision is in many ways comic.

    Seems like Achatz is experimenting with offal (sweetbreads, heart); I don’t recall such items being on the menu before, and in a way it’s also funny that such “lowly” foods should be given such ethereal presentations.

    Thanks for helping start my day with a larf.
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #3 - November 17th, 2007, 9:14 am
    Post #3 - November 17th, 2007, 9:14 am Post #3 - November 17th, 2007, 9:14 am
    Seems like Achatz is experimenting with offal (sweetbreads, heart); I don’t recall such items being on the menu before, and in a way it’s also funny that such “lowly” foods should be given such ethereal presentations.


    There's a very memorable section in The Soul of a Chef where Ruhlman talks about Keller using offal. I wonder if Achatz is taking some cues from that usage/time period, or if maybe it's just his turn to try organ meats.

    Either way, I know what's going on my Xmas list this year, but I don't know if I've been nice enough for this. Amazing report, Ronnie.
    Writing about craft beer at GuysDrinkingBeer.com
    "You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now." ~Ebert
  • Post #4 - November 17th, 2007, 9:41 am
    Post #4 - November 17th, 2007, 9:41 am Post #4 - November 17th, 2007, 9:41 am
    Stunning Ronnie, simply stunning.
    Sauce on the side, always, implied, axiomatic..........never a doubt, BBQ sauce without.

    Low & Slow
  • Post #5 - November 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
    Post #5 - November 17th, 2007, 10:01 am Post #5 - November 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
    You had mentioned the seasonal aspects to some of the courses but I found it curious that some courses featured ingredients that clearly are not in season?
  • Post #6 - November 17th, 2007, 10:07 am
    Post #6 - November 17th, 2007, 10:07 am Post #6 - November 17th, 2007, 10:07 am
    mkiss wrote:You had mentioned the seasonal aspects to some of the courses but I found it curious that some courses featured ingredients that clearly are not in season?


    Burning leaves, cedar branches, toasted hay all seem seasonal, but it would get boring, don't you think, if Achatz pulled the autumnal theme through every dish?
    “We all have to stand before the kitchen gods.” Chef Jacob Sahaya Kumar Aruni
  • Post #7 - November 17th, 2007, 11:10 am
    Post #7 - November 17th, 2007, 11:10 am Post #7 - November 17th, 2007, 11:10 am
    Ronnie,

    Fantastic pictures as always. Sounds as if you liked the meal? :lol: All that it did for me was make me very, very hungry.
  • Post #8 - November 17th, 2007, 12:05 pm
    Post #8 - November 17th, 2007, 12:05 pm Post #8 - November 17th, 2007, 12:05 pm
    David Hammond wrote:
    mkiss wrote:You had mentioned the seasonal aspects to some of the courses but I found it curious that some courses featured ingredients that clearly are not in season?


    Burning leaves, cedar branches, toasted hay all seem seasonal, but it would get boring, don't you think, if Achatz pulled the autumnal theme through every dish?

    Yeah, it was a theme that ran throughout the entire meal, which was supported by many elements, such as those mentioned above by Mr. Hammond, as well as ingredients like quince, parsnip, squash, nutmeg, pumpkin, navy bean, white truffle, offal, etc. In fact, there were elements of autumn in all but a few of the dishes we enjoyed.

    In many of today's top kitchens, ingredients are also sourced globally. That allows chefs to routinely reach out to various, trusted sources around the world in order to complete their menus. So while not every ingredient is seasonal, the predominant theme is plain to see.

    David, as for the Maytag Blue, it is actually used in the dish. It's the thin white layer underneath the translucent disc on top. Also, the breads were not filled with any surprises but they were all very intensely flavored. They do look fairly conventional but their appearance is a bit deceptive.

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #9 - November 17th, 2007, 5:20 pm
    Post #9 - November 17th, 2007, 5:20 pm Post #9 - November 17th, 2007, 5:20 pm
    Ronnie, you should teach a class in on-location food photography. Your photos invariably look better than what comes out of professional studios under controlled conditions.
  • Post #10 - November 17th, 2007, 9:59 pm
    Post #10 - November 17th, 2007, 9:59 pm Post #10 - November 17th, 2007, 9:59 pm
    Amazing!
    It's hard for me to comprehend how someone can create these dishes.
    Thanks for the report!
  • Post #11 - November 17th, 2007, 11:19 pm
    Post #11 - November 17th, 2007, 11:19 pm Post #11 - November 17th, 2007, 11:19 pm
    Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments about the pictures. Alinea's food is genuinely beautiful. I just brought the camera and pushed the button. The kitchen did the rest.

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #12 - November 19th, 2007, 12:35 am
    Post #12 - November 19th, 2007, 12:35 am Post #12 - November 19th, 2007, 12:35 am
    The composition and lighting of your photos are amazing - what type of camera and flash do you use? Thanks for sharing! Did the restaurant mind your taking so many pictures?
    luvtoeat
  • Post #13 - November 19th, 2007, 12:42 am
    Post #13 - November 19th, 2007, 12:42 am Post #13 - November 19th, 2007, 12:42 am
    luvtoeat wrote:The composition and lighting of your photos are amazing - what type of camera and flash do you use? Thanks for sharing! Did the restaurant mind your taking so many pictures?


    I'll be surprised Ronnie used any flash. Most of those images seem done in natural light. I do agree those are fabulous photos.

    I was at Alinea a few months ago. In the dining room where I was seated, there were two tables with cameras. Nobody used flash at either table.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #14 - November 19th, 2007, 12:55 am
    Post #14 - November 19th, 2007, 12:55 am Post #14 - November 19th, 2007, 12:55 am
    Cathy2 wrote:I'll be surprised Ronnie used any flash. Most of those images seem done in natural light. I do agree those are fabulous photos.


    You're right - it looks like no flash was used in these photos, but just wondering what equipment Ronnie uses, camera, lens, flash. Thanks!
    luvtoeat
  • Post #15 - November 19th, 2007, 9:41 am
    Post #15 - November 19th, 2007, 9:41 am Post #15 - November 19th, 2007, 9:41 am
    Ron - these are gorgeous. Are we going to get Anthony's POV too? I see he had his big gun out too. ;)

    Grant's work is more breathtaking than ever. If his medium were not food there would be absolutely NO question that he is one of the great artists working today.

    Were the white truffles shaved over *just* pasta - nothing else?

    Thanks so much again.
  • Post #16 - November 19th, 2007, 10:44 am
    Post #16 - November 19th, 2007, 10:44 am Post #16 - November 19th, 2007, 10:44 am
    luvtoeat wrote:
    Cathy2 wrote:I'll be surprised Ronnie used any flash. Most of those images seem done in natural light. I do agree those are fabulous photos.


    You're right - it looks like no flash was used in these photos, but just wondering what equipment Ronnie uses, camera, lens, flash. Thanks!

    Thanks again, for the kind comments. I use a Canon 20-D with a 17-85 mm lens...no flash. Alinea is so accomodating, they'd probably find a way to allow flash in the dining room if a patron asked but I try to never use flash. Not only is it potentially disruptive to the other diners in the room but it doesn't produce the best images, anyway.

    Louisa Chu wrote:Ron - these are gorgeous. Are we going to get Anthony's POV too? I see he had his big gun out too. ;)

    Grant's work is more breathtaking than ever. If his medium were not food there would be absolutely NO question that he is one of the great artists working today.

    Were the white truffles shaved over *just* pasta - nothing else?

    Thanks so much again.

    I'm not sure about Anthony's images. He jumped on a plane to France for 2 weeks the morning after our meal, so it'll be a while before they appear, in either case. He certainly has a better eye than I do and he was sitting on the brighter side of the table, so I hope he does post them because they should be superior to mine.

    As for the truffles . . . yes, white were shaved just on the pasta and then the black truffles appeared in the Explosion. In the past, I've managed to weasel additional truffle courses out of the kitchen at Alinea by claiming it was for "research." This time I decided not to play that card. :wink:

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #17 - November 19th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    Post #17 - November 19th, 2007, 12:11 pm Post #17 - November 19th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    What was the pineapple course?
    It's hard to get a sense of scale
    in that picture. Looks like a
    couple cellophane-wrapped
    packets on an ironing board.
    :lol:
  • Post #18 - November 19th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    Post #18 - November 19th, 2007, 2:13 pm Post #18 - November 19th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    SCUBAchef wrote:What was the pineapple course?
    It's hard to get a sense of scale
    in that picture. Looks like a
    couple cellophane-wrapped
    packets on an ironing board.
    :lol:

    That course consists of melt-in-your-mouth pineapple "paper" wrapped around bacon powder, seasoned with black pepper. It's a nifty and delicious little bite. The server presents them on that thin white board and, in theory, each diner takes one of them. :wink:

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #19 - November 19th, 2007, 2:21 pm
    Post #19 - November 19th, 2007, 2:21 pm Post #19 - November 19th, 2007, 2:21 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    SCUBAchef wrote:What was the pineapple course?
    It's hard to get a sense of scale
    in that picture. Looks like a
    couple cellophane-wrapped
    packets on an ironing board.
    :lol:

    That course consists of melt-in-your-mouth pineapple "paper" wrapped around bacon powder, seasoned with black pepper. It's a nifty and delicious little bite. The server presents them on that thin white board and, in theory, each diner takes one of them. :wink:

    =R=



    It is an intense wonderful flavor. I remember that bite swirling in my mouth for several minutes, basically until the next course arrived.
  • Post #20 - November 19th, 2007, 2:29 pm
    Post #20 - November 19th, 2007, 2:29 pm Post #20 - November 19th, 2007, 2:29 pm
    What's next...?

    An Array of Porcine Preparations
    injected between your "little piggies"?

    An Exploration of Chicharones
    in a transdermal patch?
    :lol:
  • Post #21 - November 19th, 2007, 2:44 pm
    Post #21 - November 19th, 2007, 2:44 pm Post #21 - November 19th, 2007, 2:44 pm
    SCUBAchef wrote:What's next...?

    An Array of Porcine Preparations
    injected between your "little piggies"?

    An Exploration of Chicharones
    in a transdermal patch?
    :lol:

    I've always hoped for some sort of culinary slingshot, which would deliver food, launched from the kitchen, directly into my mouth. :lol:

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #22 - November 19th, 2007, 3:11 pm
    Post #22 - November 19th, 2007, 3:11 pm Post #22 - November 19th, 2007, 3:11 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:I've always hoped for some sort of culinary slingshot, which would deliver food, launched from the kitchen, directly into my mouth. :lol:
    Hmm...
    Maybe an elevated kitchen
    and zip-lines attached to each
    customer by a lip-ring:
    "The Ultimate Food-Runner".
    :lol:
  • Post #23 - November 19th, 2007, 3:51 pm
    Post #23 - November 19th, 2007, 3:51 pm Post #23 - November 19th, 2007, 3:51 pm
    How about personal face masks with tubes leading to the kitchen through which the diner is sent a stream of aerosolized food essences. Each diner could have a pair of lcd goggles displaying corresponding 3d images of the dishes they are tasting.
  • Post #24 - November 19th, 2007, 4:09 pm
    Post #24 - November 19th, 2007, 4:09 pm Post #24 - November 19th, 2007, 4:09 pm
    Seriously amazing pics, Ron! Thanks for sharing.

    d4v3 wrote:How about personal face masks with tubes leading to the kitchen through which the diner is sent a stream of aerosolized food essences. Each diner could have a pair of lcd goggles displaying corresponding 3d images of the dishes they are tasting.


    :) Easily approximated at home, especially in winter when windows are shut. Lots of (good) smells from the kitchen and LTHforum on my computer screen...
  • Post #25 - November 19th, 2007, 4:45 pm
    Post #25 - November 19th, 2007, 4:45 pm Post #25 - November 19th, 2007, 4:45 pm
    Ronnie - What lovely memories your photos bring to mind! We enjoyed many of these dishes during our visit to Alinea in October. Also, I am glad to hear that Grant is doing well.
    Life Is Too Short To Not Play With Your Food
    My Blog: http://funplayingwithfood.blogspot.com
  • Post #26 - November 19th, 2007, 5:18 pm
    Post #26 - November 19th, 2007, 5:18 pm Post #26 - November 19th, 2007, 5:18 pm
    NancyEsq wrote:Ronnie - What lovely memories your photos bring to mind! We enjoyed many of these dishes during our visit to Alinea in October. Also, I am glad to hear that Grant is doing well.

    Yeah, the man's an inspriration, to say the very least.

    =R=
    I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

    Do you know the muffin man? --Max Beckmann

    Twitter: ronniesuburban
  • Post #27 - November 19th, 2007, 8:16 pm
    Post #27 - November 19th, 2007, 8:16 pm Post #27 - November 19th, 2007, 8:16 pm
    Wow, wow, wow! Your photos are fantastic! It brings back great memories. That pumpkin pie course...I want that NOW.
  • Post #28 - November 20th, 2007, 3:19 am
    Post #28 - November 20th, 2007, 3:19 am Post #28 - November 20th, 2007, 3:19 am
    Cool! You should have included a dime in the photos for scale, LOL!!!
  • Post #29 - November 20th, 2007, 5:09 am
    Post #29 - November 20th, 2007, 5:09 am Post #29 - November 20th, 2007, 5:09 am
    RiverWester wrote:Cool! You should have included a dime in the photos for scale, LOL!!!


    Well, you know Ronnie likes to cut corners. :wink:
    Steve Z.

    “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
    ― Mark Twain
  • Post #30 - November 27th, 2007, 2:50 pm
    Post #30 - November 27th, 2007, 2:50 pm Post #30 - November 27th, 2007, 2:50 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    Louisa Chu wrote:Ron - these are gorgeous. Are we going to get Anthony's POV too? I see he had his big gun out too. ;)

    I'm not sure about Anthony's images. He jumped on a plane to France for 2 weeks the morning after our meal, so it'll be a while before they appear, in either case. He certainly has a better eye than I do and he was sitting on the brighter side of the table, so I hope he does post them because they should be superior to mine.

    Great pictures Ron. Thanks for sharing. The menu looks very appealing. Though I have to agree with Louisa, I'm very interested to see YT's photos. Hope he has fun in France and all, but his Alinea pics are always a great deal of fun to look at.
    Gastronomic Fight Club - Mischief. Mayhem. Soup.
    http://www.gastronomicfightclub.com/

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