I think it was somewhere between sipping the most amazing Mosel Riesling I’ve ever had and noticing frosty white ice crystals begin to slowly envelop our black vase centerpiece that I started to wonder how the 12-course tasting at Alinea could truly be expressed on a blog. Not a review, post, iMovie (actually considered this one) or tweet can truly capture the full dining experience at Chef Grant Achatz’ award-winning temple of gastronomy. I was lucky enough to go last week and didn’t expect to be torn between taking photos of everything set down in front of me and sitting back and experiencing the sensory overload without the distraction of camera, pen and note pad fumbling. So, I did all of the above. I took notes, only to be reminded by one of our many patient servers that we’d be getting a copy of the menu at the end. My pen would go down just as yet another wildly creative dish was introduced, sometimes including how to eat it and in what order..Wait? Distilled vegetables? What? Wait..proceed to scribbling. A recorder might’ve captured it all, but we’re talking almost 5 hours of serious eating that would need to be transcribed. I later realized my cell phone has voice recording, but why ruin this amazing experience with too much technology? Also, why unveil the entire thing in one post?
So, I will attempt to bring you the first installment of our courses in order of consumption. We were seated a four-top round table on the second floor as the symphony of flavors, colors and textures rolled out..and our party marveled at everything, collectively dissected the nature of each juicy sphere of roe, savory foam bubble or something sweetly poised to be bitten from a burning cinnamon stick. We’d catch a hint of rosemary from another table, bonfire smoke from yet another as a pillow filled with lavender air was plopped down in front of us. At various points throughout the night, fists were pounded, mouths were stuck agape, hands were put on hearts, a laughing fit ensued towards the end, and one dining companion declared the restaurant “A place that makes problems disappear”…I bring you the first few courses of our night. More to come…
Roes. Two types of delicate, hand-harvested roe, airy toast foam and whipped egg cream. The light, fresh roe popped into slighly salty deliciousness onto our tongues while toast (yes, toast) foam played on our palates and egg cream added a lemon-kissed finish. Bowl-licking pondered but resisted.
We were handed these round bowls holding a holy fork-full of two silky foie gras lobes, shiso and daikon with a sweet yuzu foam beckoning below. The heavenly bite of foie paired perfectly with a silky smooth glass of Max Ferdinand von Richter Erdener Treppchen Riesling, 1990. It was sort of like sipping rare jewels in a glass and I could’ve stuck with it for the rest of the dinner if we didn’t have eight more glasses to try.
Pork belly with crisp iceberg lettuce, cucumber, Thai chile paste and Thai distillation. Stunning and well-balanced, the warm pork belly confit was hidden within layers of lettuce topped with dainty microgreens and mushrooms. In the corner, a mysterious shot glass contained mild, clean distillation of Thai chiles and lemongrass. Not at all hot, we detected just a hint of vegetable flavor in the palate-cleansing shot.
White asparagus with sorrel, white pepper and honey. Just as you are about to dip your spoon into this “glass”…
The server lifts it up and the picture perfect contents arrange themselves into pure spring loveliness in a bowl. Honey and what seemed like brown sugar granules rounded out the fresh and savory white asparagus, sorrel purée and white pepper soup. The dish was masterfully paired with a dangerously drinkable Junmai Daiginjo sake.
Next up… a palate cleanser, a bit of shellfish-kissed lilac, a butter-inspired plate and more to come..