“Best Restaurant in Chicago” – Alinea (Chef Grant Achatz) Act 6/6 – Desserts

Restaurant: Alinea - Act 6/6
Cuisine: Modern American/International
Last visited: June 16, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Lincoln Park)
Address: 1723 N Halsted Street
Transit: Halsted & Willow
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $50+ ($210 Tasting Menu + $150 optional wine pairing)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 6
Service: 6
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 6
Additional comments:

  • Chef/Owner Grant Achatz
  • 3 Michelin Star
  • Mobil Five Star Award
  • AAA Five Diamond Award
  • #7 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012
  • #6 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011
  • “2nd Best Restaurant in US” (World’s 50 Best)
  • #1 on 40 Top Chicago Restaurants Ever (Chicago Mag)
  • Best Chef (James Beard 2008 & 2012)
  • Multiple award winning
  • “Best” fine dining in Chicago
  • Opened 2005
  • 64 seats
  • Reservations required (2 months in advance)
  • Standard 18 course tasting menu only ($210)
  • Optional wine pairings (+$150)
  • 18% auto gratuity
  • 3-4+ hours dining experience
  • Other restaurants: Next, Aviary (bar)
  • Sun, Sat 5-9:30pm
  • Mon-Tue Closed
  • Wed-Fri 5:30-9:30pm
  • Alinea – Act 1 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 2 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 3 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 4 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 5 of 6
  • Alinea – Grand Finale/Encore

**Recommendations: Tasting menu (only option) with wine pairings. Wine pairings are optional… but do it. If you have his recipe book, the things I would say you should really consider making is the famous “Hot Potato” and “Black Truffle Explosion”. They really are as good as you’ve heard or seen.

It’s arguably an alpha world city famous for its arts.

From performing arts (The Lookingglass Theatre Company - Photo by Sean Williams)…

… to architectural art.

From comedians… (The Second City – Photo by Kristen Barker)

to classics. (Chicago at Broadway in Chicago – Photo by sdparadatemporal.blogspot.ca)

From “no-name” street performers…

… to world renowned chefs.

This is a city full of influential artists of every type.

And this is the Mother post of Follow Me Foodie to Chicago. Welcome to Alinea.

If this picture makes your knees weak, or gives you butterflies, or simply makes you feel like you are floating on clouds… then picture perfect. These are just some of the feelings I had before and after my dinner at Alinea. It was an unforgettable 6 hours (dinner here usually takes 3-4 hours, but I took 6) that I captured, savoured and documented every minute of.

You know those moments in life you can’t stop thinking about? The ones that make you feel so good and so happy that you go to bed dreaming about them and wake up thinking about them? It’s the times when you’re walking alone and you suddenly smile or smirk just thinking about that moment. This is usually followed by pursing your lips so you don’t feel like an idiot laughing by yourself. But in this case I just let it out because I wanted to relive those beautiful moments. I wanted to relive the joy and taste the food from this legendary dinner all over again. It was a moment I cherished and one that’s best shared.

Those tingly and giddy feelings have won me over for the last few weeks and I feel like I’m on a cloud I can’t come down from. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope to have happen more than once in my lifetime. This is Alinea.

If the name Alinea or Grant Achatz draws a blank stare I almost want to pull a “What?! You don’t know what Alinea is?! Or what?! You don’t know who Grant Achatz is?!”, but I won’t… although I kind of just did. (Sh*t Foodies Say). To sum it up, a visit to Alinea is likely on every food lovers “Must Dine Before I Die” list. It’s a 3 Michelin Star that was #7 on the World’s Top 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and it has more accolades and prestigious awards than I know of. It was basically my main reason for coming to Chicago and I made it my last meal. (Actually a Chicago style hot dog at the airport was, but let’s pretend this was).

Chef Achatz worked under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry for four years before opening Alinea. Being trained by arguably one of the best chefs is only part of what makes Alinea world class. Chef Achatz was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on his tongue in 2007 and during treatment he lost his sense of taste. Therefore at one point everything he cooked was reliant on memory, sight, sound, smell, feel and help from his supporting staff. He is now cancer-free and has regained his sense of taste, but that life changing experience has made him even stronger. It’s an emotional story that has translated to what Alinea is now, and it gives a better understanding of his culinary vision for it.

What Chef Achatz does is avant garde style New American or Modern American cuisine. He uses global and local ingredients and experimental cooking techniques. It’s typically referred to as “molecular gastronomy”, but that term is often misused and methods abused. Experimental cooking is a modernist way of cooking. It embraces cooking as an art form that is led by science, and just like any song and dance this craft stems from passion, and is rehearsed in a timely and technical manner.

At Alinea, it is not just about the food but the complete dining experience. I was living in this heavenly moment that felt created especially for me. I didn’t care that all the other tables were getting the same 18 course tasting menu (only option), I felt like the experience was mine. I didn’t notice anything else and I was enchanted and fascinated by what was in front of me.

I’ve seen his recipe book, watched his videos and gushed about his culinary brilliance with many chefs and food snob friends and now I finally experienced it. I had an idea of what to expect and I was still in awe. Every bite I took I didn’t want to let go and every flavour in my mouth was near impossible to describe… even for me. It was just so beyond what I know. It left me enough to feel satisfied, but also so much more to be curious about.

As “modern” as the menu is, the way I experienced it was as if I was a child. It was eating the food of the future, yet I felt like I was the one going back in time. He creates a sense of discovery with every dish and I have no doubt he is inspired by his life experiences and kids. The dishes are sophisticatedly playful and every dish is made with a plethora of ingredients, but the way they came across is not confusing.

He encourages you to create your own flavours and to be inquisitive. He stimulates all your senses and reminds you to value them while enjoying your food. His vision keeps me interested and entertained and it is sensory overload in the most tasteful way. He brings out emotions while creating memories that I remember by touch, sight, sound, feel, smell and of course taste.

Chicago is known for its performing arts and I consider Alinea one of the venues. It’s not listed under “Performing Arts”, but it is a culinary production. I was invited to play along in his dream which is a playground full of fresh ideas and new beginnings. This is the craft of a truly talented and passionate artist who is driving the modernist side of the culinary world. There are other chefs doing similar things, but each one has their own voice. The impact, influence and inspiration Chef Achatz has on many chefs of today is the mark of a culinary legend.

 On the table:

See - Alinea Act 1/5

See - Alinea Act 2/5

See - Alinea Act 3/5

See - Alinea Act 4/5

See - Alinea Act 5/6

This is Alinea Act 6/6

The name Alinea is the Latin name for the pilcrow (), a typographic symbol that is used to start a new paragraph. In Old English it would be used to start a new idea and that’s the guiding philosophy and the character of the restaurant, literally and figuratively.

Paolo Saracco Moscatto d’Asti 2011 (Piedmont, Italy) – I like Moscatto and I enjoyed this one. The alcohol content was only 6% so it went down way too easily which is fine since there were already so many wines before it. It was a very cold and crisp sparking wine with delicate bubbles. It was semi-sweet with citrus notes and it was almost like grape juice.

I remembered this as the rattling dish. I could hear it every time it was served to another table. I was anticipating getting my own and it was finally time. The sphere shaped glass lid on top was covering a glass bowl which was filled with nitrogen frozen sorrel and tea. The vapours were trying to escape causing the weightless glass apple to shake and rattle. It created an element of excitement and it was almost like something was about to explode.

The glass sphere was removed and inside was nitrogen frozen sorrel and tea.

Next they would pour water into the bowl. It reacted to the liquid nitrogen to create steam. It was reminiscent of baking soda and vinegar science experiments in elementary school, but on a much more sophisticated level.

It was such a spectacle and it made for a very memorable presentation. I’ve had something similar at Laurie Raphaël (see - Apple Crumble) and The Apron (see – Faloodeh), but this was more exaggerated and dramatic. It was a smokin’ hot dessert… although served cold.

Blueberry4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia
  • They don’t have an official pastry chef in house, so the desserts are more or less experimental.
  • I enjoyed the plated blueberry dessert on top more than the sorrel and tea drink below.
  • The blueberry dessert was almost like a de-constructed cheesecake.
  • Although this dessert wasn’t my favourite in terms of taste, it made up for it in presentation and entertainment.

  • It was blueberry 3 ways (confit, brownie and ice cream), with buttermilk cream, ricotta salata, Macadamia nut crumble, Génoise sponge cake, crystallized violets and a bit of black pepper.
  • The blueberry confit was very buttery and rich and I could taste the duck fat. The blueberries were tart though.
  • The blueberry brownie was almost like a crumbly chunky paste or moist dough and it was the texture of marzipan.
  • The brownie had a hint of cocoa powder and it wasn’t a traditional brownie at all, but it still tasted good.
  • The blueberry ice cream was very fresh and almost like a sorbet. It tasted like frozen blueberry purée and it was natural in flavour.
  • The buttermilk cream was reminiscent of yogurt so it was comparable to a blueberry yogurt and it gave a tart contrast to the dish.
  • There were 2 shavings of ricotta salata and when eaten with the blueberries and buttermilk cream it tasted like a blueberry cheesecake.
  • The Macadamia nut crumble was a small mound and it almost tasted like almond powder.
  • I thought the crumble would be crunchy or crispy, but it was dry and powdery so I did miss some texture in this.
  • The small piece of Génoise sponge cake (Italian sponge cake) was slightly crystallized on the outside so it was a bit crispy.
  • Génoise sponge cake is naturally dry and while I thought it was supposed to be semi-dehydrated I think it came in its natural state.
  • The dessert as a whole was a hybrid of a blueberry cheesecake, blueberry parfait and blueberry trifle.

Frozen Sorrel and Tea Drink - 2/6 (Okay)

  • Sorrel is a green leafy vegetable or herb and it’s very sour like lemon.
  • The water melted the liquid nitrogen sorrel and tea ice and it turned into a drink.
  • They served it with a stainless steel straw which looked like a bubble tea straw.
  • I had it when it was still icy cold and I was biting on bits of crushed ice.
  • As the ice melted the drink tasted like a watered down slushy.
  • The drink was the only thing out of 18 courses that I didn’t finish.
  • I tried it on its own and then paired with the dessert and I just couldn’t warm up to it.
  • It was very sour and almost savoury and I could taste herbs and cucumber even if it wasn’t in there.
  • It tasted like a sour cucumber and lemon and /or lime juice in a tea broth.
  • It was just fighting and overpowering to the sweet blueberry dessert.
  • I tried the drink alone as well, but the flavour wasn’t quite balanced and too acidic for me.

Balloon - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Helium, green apple
  • I know! I don’t care how old you are, this is freaking cool to anyone!
  • We each received an edible balloon and mine got stuck to my hair… I’m serious.
  • The balloon was swaying and it swayed right into my hair and starting deflating immediately until it was glued to my side bangs.
  • It was almost like getting bubble gum stuck to your hair, but it looked like a major case of Something About Mary.
  • They recommended me to wash it out under hot water. Luckily it’s not nearly as hard to wash out as gum and it just melts under hot water.
  • After having to walk past the kitchen with white stuff stuck to my hair and washing my hair in the Alinea bathroom, I returned to my seat and they brought me a new balloon… I know… embarrassing, but it’s another story.
  • It was a green apple infused helium filled balloon made from green apple taffy attached to green apple leather so the whole thing was edible.
  • This was a time sensitive dessert and I was told to put my lips to the balloon and inhale the helium.
  • The helium was indeed apple scented and then everyone had squeaky helium voices for a short few seconds after inhaling it. It was fun!
  • It was very messy to eat though and as the balloon deflates it sticks to your lips… make sure you tie your hair back too!

This is what it looks like after the balloon deflates.

  • I rolled it around the mini metal skewer it came with.
  • The balloon part was all green apple taffy, but it was very sticky and chewy and it would just stick to your teeth like crazy so it was hard to eat.
  • The apple taffy reminded me of a gourmet Fruit Roll Up.
  • The apple string I enjoyed more and it tasted like dehydrated apples, but it was still moist and not like crunchy apple chips. The flavour was similar though.
  • I loved the “Balloon” dessert for entertainment more so than anything else.

There is still one more dessert that starts off like this. See what it was in my Grande Finale post tomorrow!

 Intermission

See - Alinea Act 1/5

See – Alinea Act 2/5

See – Alinea Act 3/5

See - Alinea Act 4/5

See - Alinea Act 5/6

See – Alinea Grand Finale/Encore

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Alinea on Urbanspoon

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