I have wanted to go to Alinea since it opened.  Lock of Curbed/Racked/Eater had not been either.  Shouldn't we go on a road trip together and do the deed?  I read the book that the chef, Grant Achatz, had written and it might be my favorite of all the bios written out there.  And so…we went, we tasted, we smelled, we experienced, we oohed, we aahed, we wowed and we are glad we went. 

The restaurant is a little jewel box with attention to detail everywhere.  A soothing grey color throughout.  Even every napkin has the small grey logo on it. 

There are no table clothes so instead you get a small square puff that they put their silverware on for you prior to each step of the meal. 

We opted to go with the wine tasting along side each dish.  The first few courses are fish driven.  They asked us a week in advance if there were any food allergies/aversions etc. so keep that in mind.  Our crew had none.  This is called Steelhead Roe.  A spoonful of roe sitting in a curry broth and then surrounded by thin slices of coconut, small teaspoons of a coconut and carrot creams and I believe the green leaf was cilantro.  Incredible.  Each flavor sung independently yet together it was just harmony.  This was served with a cocktail of Gimonnet Brut with St. Germain and Esterhazy Beerenauslese.

How about this?  Sitting on a piece of wood that appears to have been picked up on the beach and then perfectly placed seaweed strung around it.  Sitting on top are four small bites.  Starting with an oyster leaf, truly a real oyster leaf that comes from somewhere in the world with a migonette.  Tastes like the sea.  A king crab shell filled with king crab, passion fruit, heart of palm and allspice.  A closed dark black shell mussel that is perfectly clean.  Inside is a mussel sitting in a saffron broth with tiny pieces of chorizo and a hint of oregano.

The last thing sitting on this perch is the razor clam.  They do give you instructions on what order to eat in.  You open the razor clam and this is what it looks like inside.  Pieces of razor clam with shiso, soy and daikon.  This is served with a Barth "Charta" Riesling, Rheingau 2010.  Between the wine and the dish you could haved closed your eyes and be sitting at a restaurant overlooking the ocean.  Divine.

This contraption is used to make coffee.  Instead they put a mixture of vegetables in the top and turned it on to make a broth for a course to come.

Hands free on this course.  It is called Wooly Pig.  Charred squid with fennel and orange.  This was definitely more about the concept.

The broth that was made was poured over this at the table including a bit of the broth was poured into a small cup to finish off the course.  It looks like agedashi tofu and it has the same consistency of that but it is a scallop.  Served with Bodegas Godeval "Vina Godeval"valderroas 2010.  This was a total "wow".  If you can see the curled carrot being held together by a small piece of a edible branch.  Just gives you an idea of the attention to detail.

A colorful dish.  Thai banana, seat salt and kaffr lime.  It was like a palette cleansing.  The small pieces of ice in this dish just cooled your mouth.  Served with Chehalem "3 Vineyards" Pinot Gris, Williamette 2010.

Beets ince
This particular structure was our centerpiece when we first sat down. 

It was time to dig in.  We were each given a glass straw and told to stand.  Beet juice mixed with hibiscus and licorice.  You have to like beets for this one. 

Burn Morels.  Sitting on hot rocks was a perfectly executed mixture of finds as if you were foraging.  Morels, ramps, fiddlehead ferns, miner's lettuce, quail egg, Virginia ham, black trumpet mushroom custard and another cube of mushroom custard.  Served with Descendientes de J. Palacios "Petalos" Bierzo, Spain 2009.  This dish was just awesome.  Each bite was new with intense flavors.  A big "ooh and aah".

This small bite is a perfectly cooked potato mixed with black truffle and butter.  Brilliant.

These two mirrors are set down.  One mirror for two and since there were four of us, a mirror a couple.  Seven people worked on these little wonders.  This might go under the category of over the top in terms of the ability to actually make each of these individual pops of flavor and color yet there was nothing on this plate that I wish was larger or that I even loved.  It was just unique. 

This plate had lamb prepared three ways.  The lamb was perfect.  You are supposed to take a few of the pieces off the mirror to complement your lamb.  Served with Cheau Ollieux Romanis "Atal Sia" Corbieres 2008.

We were told that this has been on the menu from the beginning and I know why, it is an explosion of deliciousness.  Think of it like a soup dumpling but instead there is black truffle, parmesan and romaine inside.  Amazing. 

Achatz had seen a Miro painting and it inspired him to create this dish.  Each utensil has a bite of something else.  There is quince paste, a piece of squab, a square of foie gras and a few other things.  Creative yes but didn't get that excited about each individual taste.  Conceptually each taste is supposed to be clean, clear of anything but its one component and that he definitely did.  Served with Valpolicella Classico Superiore "TB" Bussola, Veneto 2006.

While you ate the dish above this silver container smokes the scent of lavendar lightly over the table. Theater.

Now we move into the cheese course.  On the end of a smoking cinnamon stick is a Anjou pear, onion and brie with a crispy covering holding it to the stick.  Different.  Served with "Boston Bual" Madeira from the Rare Wine Co.

Here is the true palette cleanser.  5 little bites of ginger all different.  Imaginative.

I happen to love blueberries.  There was a little theater here with the smoke.  You are to remove the round glass bowl that where liquid is warming the bowl.  Eventually you take another glass straw to taste the liquid.  On top was blueberries, sorrel, macadamia nuts and buttermilk for the ingredients. Served with Braida "Vigne Senza Nome" Moscato D'Asti 2010.

These little gems are helium balloons, literally, made of green apples.  You are to bite in and of course get the squeaky voice for a few seconds and eat the balloon.  Kind of like going to the carnival and having cotton candy.

This is the finale.  They roll out a rubberized table cloth and begin to bring out bowls and a round globe of white chocolate.  Freeze dried strawberry, english pea, lemon and chantilly cream are spread across the table.  Then they smash the white chocolate globes all over the table and basically you did in.  I honestly didn't love any of the flavors on the table but appreciated the humor and thought that went into this.  After all, eating should be fun too. Served with a Matteo Corregia "Anthos", Piedmont 2011.

Thrilled we came.  An amazing experience.  Some of the dishes were just out of this world delicious while others not as yummy but creative and thoughtful.  You have to just be impressed with the attention to detail as well as the idea of taking the tastes of flavors and food to another level.  Had to grab a pic of the kitchen before leaving.  Worth the journey.  Also, the company was fantastic. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    Art meets food. Molecular gastronomy at its best. I’ve been a big fan of Grant Achatz & Ferran Adria for years- both pioneers in this type of cuisine. If this isn’t food porn, I’m not sure what is. Which dish fooled you the most, where the look/color were one thing but the taste was in the opposite direction?

    1. Gotham Gal

      i didn’t love the dessert. the balloon was probably the most interesting in being fooled. the morel dish, the spoon of truffles and the potato were probably my favorites.

      1. William Mougayar

        Interesting. The trick for the chef is to not let the art/beauty part get ahead of the taste objective. The only issue I have with molecular gastronomy is that the food preparation demands excessive manipulation (or maceration in some cases).

        1. Sharon

          I keep thinking of the discipline that must go on in the kitchen to pull that off on a consistent basis. That in itself is impressive.  But perhaps, that is where the quality fall downs–because some the “taste/feel” gets compromised by repetition and volume. 

          1. Gotham Gal

            there was serious discipline that went into this meal. beyond incredible

        2. daryn

          That was always my complaint with WD-50, the dishes were creative and playful, but never wowed my palette. Alinea, on the other hand, I found perfect in every aspect. We went there over 5 years ago, and I’m glad to see that not a single item looks the same! Also, probably one of the best wine pairing I’ve ever had…

          1. Gotham Gal

            Alinea was magical. I haven’t posted my blog yet about Next but that was completely different. It was elBulli when we were there. Not enough food and way too much drink.

          2. William Mougayar

            What is Next? I missed this one.

          3. Ryan Drew

            The newest Grant Achatz restaurant, where you purchase a ticket, and the focus is on a specific food era (ElBulli, Paris in 1906). 

          4. Gotham Gal

            We did. Post tomorrow

          5. William Mougayar

            But WD-50 is not at the same level at Alinea 🙂

  2. Jill

    So lucky you got to go there!  I have been wanting to try this place but never get the chance when I go to Chicago(I never stay too long and usually have too many family events there).  I am headed there again in a few weeks, maybe I will get to Alinea this time. Looks like a fun, fun time. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      the bar at Next is fun too.

  3. Michelle Vaughan

    Thanks for the colorful photos Joanne, and for reminding me of the things I ate at Alinea 3 years ago. I’d like to add a few comments from our experience – -My husband and I met our best friends from LA in Chicago for a 40th foodie-birthday meal. We also chose the wine pairings. But I barely remember the food – here’s why… over the course of a tasting menu w/ wine pairings your meal is interrupted dozens of times. It becomes food theater. The wait staff will give you a long explanation of where each wine comes from, and then a very long explanation of each dish. How many courses did you eat? 10? 12? More? We could not hold a conversation with our dearest friends over great food and wine. We ate great food. We drank fine wine. But in fits and starts without flow, vibe or continued conversation which makes a special evening memorable (without photos as evidence). This kind of dining lends itself more to interactive performance art, which is totally OK, but wasn’t pleasurable for us.We also made the monster mistake of going to Moto the following night for a 20 course gastro-tasting, we were there for over 6 hours! Shamefully there was a genuine food fight at the table during desert (er, our bad) out of feeling psycho from wait staff, comical dishes and a disorganized front of house. Moto isn’t nearly as good as Alinea on so many levels, but they sure know how to turn a meal into the ridiculous. Paging Portlandia riff!For the last special birthday meal, we went to Daniel. My husband had pre-ordered the pressed duck. We drank great wine, ate one starter and then 2 servings of duck. There was food theater (they pressed the duck in a 19th century crank-contraption at our table!!) which lasted 15 minutes, and then back to amazing conversation with our amigos. I will never forget the taste of the sauce on the duck, out of this world – completely unique. It was a minimal experience with a maximum impact. For us, less is more… and BTW I can totally recommend this very special treat at Daniel.Now back to reality; peanut butter sandwich Monday 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      You have hit serious high notes. Total theater. Not your everyday pb and j We had no talking issues but I can see how that could happen

  4. pointsnfigures

    The kitchen was next to my kids orthodontist! We used to watch them working all day when their braces were getting adjusted. I have not been to Alinea-it looks exhausting. I loved Charlie Trotters and some of the other haute cuisine places we have here. It’s great what Achatz is doing. Pushing the creative envelope on food doesn’t just push food-but it pushes all creativity. The reason I haven’t been is I am more of a bistro guy.