chefseanbrock at eGullet wrote:
We were the first table sat at Alinea on opening day......words can't describe what It's like to eat at this restaurant
Alinea will change the way people look at restaurants forever.......I can't even imagine what this restaurant's future will hold, it is almost scary to think about
A completely flawless meal on opening night with a 28 course format, very few people can pull that off..... it will be a very long time before a restaurant of this caliber surfaces anywhere in the world.......
an amazing experience to say the least....alinea has raised the bar to unreachable heights!!!!!!
the kitchen is amazing and the new plates and serviceware are really cool as well
congratulations to chefg and the team at Alinea....I can't thank the entire staff enough for the mindbending experience and I am looking forward to my next meal (if I can get a reservation)
I have pictures of every course and will post them soon>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
chefseanbrock wrote this on eGullet
as the first person to describe their meal at Alinea during the opening day in May 4, 2005. I had an almost similar feeling back then, and I wondered if I would have the same kind of emotions for Next
I got a call earlier this week with an invitation to dine at Next for one of their "practice runs,"
(read: many things may not be up to standard, as the doors have not swung one yet). I immediately secured the earliest date available, March 30, the following day, and was so excited about the whole thing I neglected to ask questions. Or rather, I did not receive any information. The only thing I knew was the time. I stated to question a few things like, menu, cost, dress code, food allergies, et cetera, all the usual stuff one know before going into any fine dining establishment. It really doesn't matter, we are going. It will be Ron, Kevin, Steffi and I. Next: Paris 1906, here we come.
Next is located in a mixed-use building, with restaurants (and a gallery) on the ground level, and residences/office space above. It is flanked by Aviary to the west. East of Next is Ing
, Chef Homaro Cantu's innovative restaurants.
We entered the restaurant at 7:06 (that's 1906, in the 24hour clock system), greeted by two hostesses and Alinea's GM, Joe Catterson (there was a few Alinea staff there that day). As you turn the dark corner of the entry, you see a long open space, with two columns of tables, that looks like it could seat around 50 (bench seating along the wall and chairs in the aisle). The space, along with the staff's uniform, is monochromatic. Along the ceiling is an exposed (I assume non-structural) steel beam, that snakes its way along the the entire length of the dining room, into the kitchen at the other end. The kitchen looks like the Alinea kitchen, but cut in half. There is also a kitchen table that seats six.
We arrive at our table, where our fourth was there waiting with an already poured glass of Alsatian sparkling wine. Ours was immediately poured into a flute glass. At this point I was wondering if this would have been the sparkling wine glass used in Paris 1906. I thought the flute glass being used seems to have a more modern geometry (less curvaceous). I really didn't care, I wanted the coupe. I wanted to be taken to a different time. So far nothing really conveys Paris 1906. Except for the exposed steel beam, which someone in our party said, it reminded him of La Tour Eiffel.
While enjoying the wine, we are handed a "play-bill," as Nick Kokonas calls it. Inside we are given a frame work of what Next is trying to do.
Paris, 1906 – Escoffier at the Ritz was an easy choice as our opening menu at Next.
Auguste Escoffier's life wedged firmly in the middle of La Belle Epoque, a period of political stability, technological innovation, and a thriving economy before the chaos and horror of World War I. Forward thinking, refined, and disciplined enough to document his creations in Le Guide Culinaire, Escoffier is the father and bedrock of Western cuisine and his kitchen organization and methods are still taught today.
Cesar Ritz and Escoffier opened the Ritz hotel in Paris in 1906. Le Guide was at this point 3 three [sic] years old and Escoffier's dishes and technique were well established. A new upper class thrived and the Ritz, along with restaurants such as Maxim's, became something more than just dinner. Part fashion show, part social scene, part circus, the restaurant was now itself the entertainment.
The main liberty we have taken with the presentation is to 'plate' most of the courses. At the Ritz this menu would have been served as a grand buffet in part, and at other times upon great platters set amongst the guests at large tables. While Escoffier gave precise details on how these platters should be arranged, the visual feast occurred before the food arrived on a guest's plate. We have followed many of these guidelines, bur have done so on a personal scale.
Beginning with the king of French cuisine is the perfect start for Next. We will no doubt explore cuisines far from our Western traditions as we move forward. But it is doubtful we will present a menu from anyone or anyplace more innovative and influential.
From the time we entered the door, there was no clue as to what evening would hold, until now. Note that there is a sound system in the space, with music playing, but to my untrained ears, something not Parisian or from another century (read: more electronic, less big band instrumental).
The staff comes pours us what I assume to be, eau de Daley (aka Chicago tap), and asks us our other drink preference. "2 wine and 2 non-alcohol pairings, please." Still no question as to food allergies. It rarely becomes an issue with most of my guests, but what if, and then what.Hors d'oeuvres
arrive in grand buffet style fashion (shiny silver tray). Very beautiful, and not a single fingerprint on the tray. The server called out each item, although a little on the quiet side. IIRC; leek with mushroom, anchovy on top of quail egg, pig on cracker with chive, foie gras and brioche, creamy egg custard with truffles. I would have liked to have heard more about the dish, but instead we were left to experience it.
The flavors were wonderful. The foie with brioche just melted in my mouth. Strangely it was not too rich. On the other hand, the egg custard was rich, or the be more precise, luxurious. The anchovy bite was my favorite of the plate, as it was the sharpest. As for the other two, for me it kinda got lost when placed up to the others. It almost would have been a better offering as a pre-hors d'oeuvre, amuse-bouche. But it really is about the grand buffet.
I am having a good time and enjoying the flavors, but I am still a little confused as to what exactly Next is. How much have they stayed true to the recipe? How much has been modified/deconstructed in the 'method Alinea?' I keep pondering this question throughout the evening.Potage à la Tortue Claire (#907)
was up next. It says soup, but is actually a consommé. Saucer and bowl arrive with only the traditional garnishes. Server comes by and starts pouring for each of us, but came a little short on the last one. Ron had to wait it out, I decided to wait with him, while the others carried on. Elapsed time, 5 minutes. His came hot, mine has cooled. The consommé was light and smooth, with no strong flavor of turtle. IMHO, it lacked richness. I would have rather it been made into a double consommé.
Bread service comes out with a small dinner roll and butter. No explanation as to what it is. I wonder if this was part of Escoffier's guide? I found that the bread need a little salt. Perhaps the butter was salted, but since I choose not to add butter, I will never know. I instead used the bread as a sponge for the sauces. Pretty sure that that is not in an Escoffier approved technique.
Up until now, the service ware was adorned with a gold rim. The bread plate looks like it was borrowed from Alinea. I haven't noticed anything from Martin Kastner (mister Crucial Detail
). Perhaps later on, we will.
At this point in the evening, tables were being filled with other guests. The place is getting a little loud, enough to drown the music, but not the table side conversation. As the space was being filled, it felt a little tight, especially with the tables close to each other.
Next up we have the Fillet de Sole daumont (#1950)
. Three plates on the table, for four guests. Nitpicking here, but those plates should not have landed on the table, that would never have happened at Alinea. Anyway, I gave up my plate and waited. Elapsed time, 5 minutes, felt like 10. Plate looked gorgeous, and the texture was wonderful. Loved every bite. The crustacean head reminds me of the Alinea tube, and I took to my Asian roots and sucked the filling right out of there. The fried item seems a bit misplaced in the seafood platter. Mushroom was great. Fish was the star of the dish. Great technique in preparation and presentation. Nice brûlée on the sauce. Also great for bread sponging. As I was soaking up the sauce, the staff started to take away the dishes, thinking I was done, but I was not.Suprêmes de Poussin (#3130)
. The chicken dish was the sexiest of all the dishes. Tender, juicy, and a velvety sauce to boot. It was hard to focus on the cucumber, as i enjoyed the chicken so much. BTW, I ran across a picture of this dish with a white sauce. I like the dark colored sauce better.
Beverages are doing alright at this point. Don't know if this is Joe's doing or guided by mister GAE (Georges Auguste Escoffier). Can't comment specifically, as we did not get a menu of beverages at the end of the meal. One that caught my attention was a smoky red for the chicken. That was nice.
And for the main course, le canard. Caneton Rouennais à la Presse (#3476)
and Gratin de Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise (#4200)
. This is the star of the evening, and boy did it shine. The plating for this one goes to family style, take some pass it down.
Starting with the potatoes, it was tasty, but I would have like a touch more salt. My gripe is with the serving size. It seemed disproportionate to the duck plate.
Which was amazing. Just amazing. Succulent, lardaceous, crispy. That pretty much describes this dish for me.
The sauce. Yeah. The sauce. Can't find the words. Actually I found two. Duck press. Maybe I was not paying attention, but I did not hear the server mention the words duck press. I have not even heard of the words until Chef Dave Beran gave us a little run down in the kitchen later in the evening.
After the carnage. I had to take a break. Made my own up call and headed to le toilettes, located in the basement. Also took a sneak peak into Aviary.Salade Irma (#3839)
. Beautiful. Wanted more greens, with less dressing.Bombe Ceylan (#4826)
. Dessert course. Another sexy item. But IMHO (and others in the group), fails to bring it home. Nothing wrong with the dish. It was wonderful. In fact if I was in an Austrian cafe, I would get a Bombe Ceylan over a Sacher torte. It lacked its place in the pacing of "depth of flavors." I wanted to pumped up again alike I was with duck. But not this time.Mignardises
, was nougat-e, chewy, cracker-e, jelly-e. Maybe add crispy? Would have also been nice to have had coffee service. Which brings up another logistical question. How do you charge for that, if you take payment up front?
That ends the dinner and beverage portion of the evening. No bill, no tip. Even with our insistence. I assume that it is like the real meal. Nick graciously invited us to preview the rest of the Next space, and what was going on next door at Aviary. We found Grant and Craig next door taking care of things while we went through, up, down, and the (no where near finished) anti-Aviary.
I had not been following the process of the restaurant/menu development, as I wanted to be completely surprised. And surprised I was. I wanted it to be like Alinea, but it was not. I always thought of the food and experience of Alinea to be its greatest asset. They are most innovative in this area. But Next fails to innovate in food.
IMHO, Next is not aiming at innovating food in the traditional sense. Rather, they orchestrate a poetic blend of sensorial dimensions: time, geography, and most importantly, lifestyle. All of those are grounded with solid food, with Grant at the helm. It's up to you, the diner, what you want to take away.