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Alinea, French Laundry & Per Se - Mentor-Protege Dinner

Alinea, French Laundry & Per Se - Mentor-Protege Dinner
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  • Alinea, French Laundry & Per Se - Mentor-Protege Dinner

    Post #1 - December 8th, 2008, 7:37 pm
    Post #1 - December 8th, 2008, 7:37 pm Post #1 - December 8th, 2008, 7:37 pm
    Through some extremely fortunate -- and slightly odd -- circumstances, I was able to attend last week's (12/2/08) Mentor-Protege Dinner at Alinea. The dinner featured dishes from Alinea, French Laundry and Per Se, served alternatingly and paired with some amazing, rare wines. Of course, chefs Achatz and Keller were in-house, which -- for me -- provided a certain amount of electricity that came close to upstaging the food itself.

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    Before the meal, the chefs came to our table to chat for a moment, which was a genuine thrill. I'm actually taller than I appear in the picture but my knees were buckling at the time. :wink:


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    Cornet Of Salmon | black sesame seed tuile, red onion creme fraiche
    One of Thomas Keller's signature dishes -- the quintessential amuse bouche with explosive flavors and contrasting textures.


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    Prawn | yuba, miso, orange
    One of my favorite Alinea dishes. All the components go so well together. I love the bite of the miso mayonnaise, the richness of the prawn and the crunchiness of the yuba.


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    White Sturgeon Caviar | lemon verbena gelee, cauliflower (left)
    Blis Char Roe | coconut, coriander, vanilla fragrance (right)
    A couple of highly fragranced dishes, in which the aromas countered the main, briney elements evocatively.

    Above courses paired with H. Billiot "Cuvee Laetitia" Brut, Ambonnay


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    Black Truffle Duo
    For me, having these 2 dishes served together was like listening to Stairway To Heaven and Freebird back to back :)


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    Black Truffle Explosion | romaine, parmesan


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    Hot Potato - Cold Potato | black truffle, chive, butter


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    Jacobsen's Farm Musquee de Provence Soup | sea urchin sabayon, black truffle puree (left)
    Hen Egg Custard | ragout of black winter truffles (right)
    I really enjoyed the soup course but the highlight for me was the amazing custard and the trove of pungent, ultra-delectable ragout beneath it. Dayum!

    Truffle courses paired with Leroy Meursault Premier Cru "Les Perrieres" Cote de Beaune, 1999


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    Iberico Ham | valley oak acorn, compressed apple, celery, endive, honey
    Interesting combination of flavors, which really highlighted some of the more subtle notes in the sublime ham.

    Paired with Rene Barbier "Clos Nelin" Clos Mogador, Priorat, Spain, 2006


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    Vienna Roll
    Bread service was, on this particular night, as good as it's ever been at Alinea. The butter-induced flakiness of this roll made it absolutely intoxicating. Breads were served with the nearly mythical butter that's made from Diane St. Clair's cows' milk in Vermont.


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    Wild Striped Bass | chamomile, shellfish, ginger
    The fish here was excellent but my 2 favorite elements may have been 2 that weren't listed on the menu: celeriac in 2 forms -- raw ribbons atop the dish and a puree at the base of the plate -- and saffron puffs, which can be seen at the edges of the plate.

    Paired with Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc, Rhone, 2000


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    Cardamom Challah


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    Japanese Greenlip Abalone | yuzu tapioca, seaweed, matsutake mushroom broth
    The floor of the ocean . . .


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    Japanese Greenlip Abalone | yuzu tapioca, seaweed, matsutake mushroom broth
    . . . as the sea rushes back in. A wonderfully delicate and aromatic dish. The textures of the abalone and the mushroom were similar to each other but just different enough to create an interesting contrast.

    Paired with Nicolas Joly Sauvennieres "Clos de la Bergerie," Loire, 2004


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    Coriander Focaccia


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    Elysian Fields Farm Lamb | fennel, pernod, coffee aroma
    The 4 pieces of lamb on this plate are (from left to right) neck, loin, sweetbread and tongue. The small pot was filled with an inedible aromatic condiment, which accentuated the flavors of the lamb and the other components.

    Paired with Brick House Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, OR, 2007


    (not pictured: Fig & Fennel Scone)


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    Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee" | brisket & cabbage dumpling, horseradish pudding, sour cherries
    Possibly the trump card of the entire meal, this beef dish was simply perfect and the accompanying elements -- horseradish and tart cherries -- were delicious and comforting.


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    Snake River Farms "Calotte de Boeuf Grillee" | brisket & cabbage dumpling, horseradish pudding, sour cherries
    A look at the brisket filling of the dumpling.

    Paired with La Jota "16th Anniversary" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 1997
    We were told that chef Achatz actually helped bottle this wine back during his time in California, which made it uniquely special.


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    Buttermilk Pumpernickel
    Another astoundingly delicious bread.


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    Chestnut | quince, chocolate, baked potato


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    Chestnut | quince, chocolate, baked potato
    An unlikely combination of separately familiar fall flavors that was provocative and tasty.

    Paired with Bodegas Tradicion 30 Year Palo Cortado, Jerez, Spain


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    Concord Grape | yogurt, mint, long pepper (front)
    Bacon | butterscotch, apple, thyme (back)
    I've had both of these dishes a number of times and love them both. Bacon has become an Alinea signature. The floating orb (or eyeball, as it was called by my dining companions) is an explosive combination of flavors, rigged by its form, to deliver them in short successive bursts.


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    Transparency | raspberry, rose petals
    Delicate and intense raspberry and rose petal candy.


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    Diane St. Clair's Buttermilk Sherbet | roasted pecan crumble, whiskey sour coulis
    Comfort food (disguised?) at its finest.


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    Spice Cake | persimmon, rum, Ohio honeycomb
    Another masterful Achatz deconstruction of a known classic. If you're going to take a dish apart there had better be a reason for it. Here that was clearly the case. Separating all these elements -- even the ball of rum -- into individual bites, provided a very illuminating experience.


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    Here, one of my companions decides that he cannot wait for the drizzled honey to hit the plate. :D

    Above dessert courses paired with Hans Nittnaus "Pinorama" Trockenbeerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria, 2001


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    Chocolate S'Mores | graham cracker "crunch," chocolate "cremeux," creamy "fluff," toasted marshmallow, chocolate emulsion
    If anyone saw chef Achatz recently on Top Chef critiquing one the cheftestants for turning out a weak take on S'mores, this dish may help explain why. Perhaps he had this stunning take on the old campfire classic by chef Keller in mind when he did so. Amazing stuff.

    Paired with Domaine Du Mas Blanc "Vieilles Vignes" Banyuls, 1996


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    Sweet Potato | bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon
    A familiar, sweet and delicious bite of fall that never fails to evoke a few memories, too.

    The downstairs dining room had been converted into a receiving area, so after the meal, the chefs were available to chat over mignardises, macarons and after-dinner drinks. Our group chatted with both chefs for a while and nibbled on some of the excellent post-dessert desserts. One of my companions, who'd had P-lenty to drink, was chattering away beside chef Keller, regaling him with tales of debauchery in California. Chef Keller seemed genuinely bemused by it. I was amazed because when there was a break in the action, instead of running off (which even I wanted to do), chef Keller just kept the conversation going. All in all, it was a memorable and extremely fun night.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #2 - December 8th, 2008, 7:59 pm
    Post #2 - December 8th, 2008, 7:59 pm Post #2 - December 8th, 2008, 7:59 pm
    Looked like an amazing meal! Thanks for allowing me to eat vicariously through the beautiful pictures. Interestingly, I noticed a distinct lack of quotation marks in Chef Keller's menu this time... :)
  • Post #3 - December 9th, 2008, 7:01 am
    Post #3 - December 9th, 2008, 7:01 am Post #3 - December 9th, 2008, 7:01 am
    Man, Ronnie, the only thing keeping me from outright hating you is the gorgeous pictures, allowing me and others to at least imagine what the dinner would have been like. I am especially envious of the bread. No solace really, right :?: :twisted:

    I do have one comment/disappointment (beyond not being invited along). Surely Chef Keller has the reputation of "perfection", and anything he touches will be anointed as "the best". That said, I have no doubt that Elysian Fields Farm, Jacobson Farms, Snake River Farms, etc., produce excellent food, but it would have been cool if Keller took a stab at local foodstuffs.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #4 - December 9th, 2008, 8:09 am
    Post #4 - December 9th, 2008, 8:09 am Post #4 - December 9th, 2008, 8:09 am
    Wow!
  • Post #5 - December 9th, 2008, 10:04 am
    Post #5 - December 9th, 2008, 10:04 am Post #5 - December 9th, 2008, 10:04 am
    Awesome, awesome stuff. Looks like a fabulous night.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #6 - December 9th, 2008, 10:11 am
    Post #6 - December 9th, 2008, 10:11 am Post #6 - December 9th, 2008, 10:11 am
    Obviously you also have to explain what circumstances allowed you to attend.
  • Post #7 - December 9th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Post #7 - December 9th, 2008, 10:24 am Post #7 - December 9th, 2008, 10:24 am
    Ronnie_S,

    Delicious beautiful pics from a, I'm sure, meal for the ages, and an an interesting backstory to boot.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #8 - December 9th, 2008, 10:34 am
    Post #8 - December 9th, 2008, 10:34 am Post #8 - December 9th, 2008, 10:34 am
    Vital Information wrote:Man, Ronnie, the only thing keeping me from outright hating you...


    Hating him? Are you serious? Ronnie, I have only one request: please, please, please ADOPT me!

    I'll try very hard to limit my comments here. Rather than blab on (a la dinner companion), let me simply say thank you for some beautiful photographs and your usual knack of finding a way for all of us to enjoy a truly once-in-a-lifetime event through your intercession. I can only imagine the reality and am otherwise unutterably jealous.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #9 - December 9th, 2008, 10:55 am
    Post #9 - December 9th, 2008, 10:55 am Post #9 - December 9th, 2008, 10:55 am
    uvasabri wrote:Obviously you also have to explain what circumstances allowed you to attend.

    It was a work thing, sort of . . .

    One of my partners had sworn that he'd never set foot in Alinea. He's definitively anti-fine dining and counts a dinner of frozen pizza as one of his great pleasures in life. When I learned about the dinner, I mentioned it in passing to one of my other partners, who immediately saw it as a great opportunity to punk frozen pizza lover (fpl).

    So, we hatched a plan. It started with an out-of-town supplier, who was in on our scheme. She set it up wonderfully, using information with which we covertly provided her. As instructed, she called our office and said that she was coming to town on 12/2 and had something very special to discuss with us. She wanted to take us somewhere nice to give us the news. I told her to suggest Boka, because it's right next door to Alinea and the thought of wearing a jacket there was not completely off-base. This she did and the time was set for 6:30.

    On the fateful night, when we pulled up to Alinea, the fact that it has no sign was a real boon to our plan. We stopped in front and all fpl saw was the Boka sign. As planned, we were early, so we stepped into Boka for a drink. We had a brief scare at the host's stand there because fpl walked in first and was told that there was no reservation for a group of 6. I told him to go sit in the bar and that I would take care of it. The people at Boka were extremely receptive to aiding our scheme and agreed to come to the bar at 6:25 to 'take us to our table.' When the time came, they did just that and we walked next door to Alinea.

    Here, the fact that Alinea has no sign again kept our ploy alive. I thought that fpl would suspect something when we had to go outside and enter another building to get to our table. But the lack of signage was key. Also, there are a pair of restaurants up near his house where this is done: Hole in the Wall and Next Door Bistro in Northbrook. Of the 2, only Next Door has a bar, so the concept of walking to another building for the actual meal after drinks seemed completely normal to fpl.

    Now, I'd explained to fpl that I'd never been to Boka, which nearly subverted our scheme because once inside Alinea (where I've eaten a few times) I was greeted by name by several people. Later in the evening, fpl told me that he didn't connect the dots at that point, although he admitted being amazed by my 'juice' because even at a restaurant where I'd never been, I was so recognized :D

    We were led upstairs to our table, where I figured the plan would be immediately revealed because it was only a 4-top and we were supposedly 6 -- and that would have been good enough. But by this point, fpl -- who had no suspicions whatsoever -- just assumed that we were having another drink before our 2 out-of-town companions arrived, so the prank rolled on. Even as chefs Achatz and Keller came to our table, fpl was completely unaware. He saw Grant's name on his chef's coat and even thought to himself, "hey, Ron knows a chef named Grant . . . that's an odd coincidence." But even then, he did not connect the dots (maybe the drinks at Boka had something to do with it).

    The chefs left and the captain came to our table. "Well, we're all here, so let's get started," he said. It was in that instant that fpl knew something was up. Finally, the fact that there were only 4 of us raised a bit of suspicion. "Where's Suzy?" he asked, referring to our out-of-town co-conspirator. He looked all around and then blurted out "Wait! Where are we?" The 3 of us just burst out laughing. We told him where we were and what the special occasion actually was. He was just blown away by our scheme. He got up and hugged each one of us for pulling it off so successfully. We could tell that we really got him.

    In the end, I'm not sure he really loved the food but he had a great time and we all had a wonderful night. It was definitely one of the most unusual work experiences I've ever had, too. :D

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #10 - December 9th, 2008, 11:03 am
    Post #10 - December 9th, 2008, 11:03 am Post #10 - December 9th, 2008, 11:03 am
    Ronnie-

    Even better than the pictures of the food (which are incredible, by the way) is the picture of you with Messrs. Keller and Achatz because you're positively beaming in that pic, and it's obvious that, in that moment, you couldn't be happier. Very sweet. :)
  • Post #11 - December 9th, 2008, 11:09 am
    Post #11 - December 9th, 2008, 11:09 am Post #11 - December 9th, 2008, 11:09 am
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    uvasabri wrote:Obviously you also have to explain what circumstances allowed you to attend.

    It was a work thing, sort of . . .


    You guys are hiring, right? How about if I "attach" a 60-day dry-aged porterhouse onto my application?
  • Post #12 - December 9th, 2008, 11:12 am
    Post #12 - December 9th, 2008, 11:12 am Post #12 - December 9th, 2008, 11:12 am
    I feel it's important to mention here that I absolutely hate fine dining, am opposed to it in every way...and I've been known to eat frozen pizza.

    :D
  • Post #13 - December 9th, 2008, 11:31 am
    Post #13 - December 9th, 2008, 11:31 am Post #13 - December 9th, 2008, 11:31 am
    aschie30 wrote:Ronnie-

    Even better than the pictures of the food (which are incredible, by the way) is the picture of you with Messrs. Keller and Achatz because you're positively beaming in that pic, and it's obvious that, in that moment, you couldn't be happier. Very sweet. :)

    Does it show? :lol:

    I asked the chefs if I could take their picture and it was actually chef Keller who suggested that I get in there with them. I would have never even thought of that but I'm sure glad he did.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #14 - December 9th, 2008, 11:32 am
    Post #14 - December 9th, 2008, 11:32 am Post #14 - December 9th, 2008, 11:32 am
    Bridgestone wrote:
    ronnie_suburban wrote:
    uvasabri wrote:Obviously you also have to explain what circumstances allowed you to attend.

    It was a work thing, sort of . . .


    You guys are hiring, right? How about if I "attach" a 60-day dry-aged porterhouse onto my application?

    LOL . . . just etch the resume right into the porterhouse, please . . . and please send multiple copies :D

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #15 - December 9th, 2008, 11:35 am
    Post #15 - December 9th, 2008, 11:35 am Post #15 - December 9th, 2008, 11:35 am
    Very impressive set of pictures(you are really good with a camera), thank you for sharing.

    It is interesting to see what these chefs do with the ingredients they use posted on LTH, since I doubt I will ever go to their restaurants to see it in person. I do appreciate the artistic creativity they express.

    thanks again.
  • Post #16 - December 9th, 2008, 11:58 am
    Post #16 - December 9th, 2008, 11:58 am Post #16 - December 9th, 2008, 11:58 am
    Gypsy Boy wrote:Hating him? Are you serious? Ronnie, I have only one request: please, please, please ADOPT me!

    I think Lucas would love a brother! :D

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #17 - December 9th, 2008, 12:40 pm
    Post #17 - December 9th, 2008, 12:40 pm Post #17 - December 9th, 2008, 12:40 pm
    Thank you for sharing this with us. A lot of Grant's dishes have me wondering exactly how you start to eat it, but I've heard instructions are given.
  • Post #18 - December 9th, 2008, 3:29 pm
    Post #18 - December 9th, 2008, 3:29 pm Post #18 - December 9th, 2008, 3:29 pm
    ronnie_suburban wrote:It was a work thing, sort of . . .


    you must work for
    Image

    TFPIC

    what a special night!
  • Post #19 - December 9th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    Post #19 - December 9th, 2008, 3:42 pm Post #19 - December 9th, 2008, 3:42 pm
    amazing food and setting! very cool that you know the chefs as well
  • Post #20 - December 9th, 2008, 3:55 pm
    Post #20 - December 9th, 2008, 3:55 pm Post #20 - December 9th, 2008, 3:55 pm
    "Later in the evening, fpl told me that he didn't connect the dots at that point, although he admitted being amazed by my 'juice' because even at a restaurant where I'd never been, I was so recognized."

    That's hilarious! Great post!
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #21 - December 9th, 2008, 7:56 pm
    Post #21 - December 9th, 2008, 7:56 pm Post #21 - December 9th, 2008, 7:56 pm
    Out of curiosity, what or whom was the driver behind this event? Was it perhaps a benefit for some worthy cause, or a fund-raiser?
  • Post #22 - December 10th, 2008, 11:53 am
    Post #22 - December 10th, 2008, 11:53 am Post #22 - December 10th, 2008, 11:53 am
    There was an article in the New York Times a few days ago that mentioned the dinners and Chef Keller said that the price was because of the cost of travel for the Alenia team to go to both New York and Napa and food cost among other things.

    So to answer your question my understanding is that there was no special cause or benifit that the cost of dinner was going twoards. I think it was quoted at $1,250 a head in the article.

    Hope this helps

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