“Best Restaurant in Chicago” – Alinea (Chef Grant Achatz) Grand Finale/Encore

by Mijune on July 15, 2012 · 46 comments

in $50+,American,best cocktails,Best Foodie Moments,Chicago,Eclectic,Euro-Asian,Events,Fine Dining,Food 6,Food Event,Fusion,International,Modern American,Seafood,Top 10,Wine

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Restaurant: Alinea
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 – Act 6 of 6 

**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:

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.

Gimonnet Brut with St. Germain and Esterházy Beerenauslese – It started off with a champagne cocktail that was so soft and smooth with honey and floral notes. St. Germain (France) is an elderflower liqueur and it was my first time trying it with champagne. This also had elderflower syrup bitters to enhance the fragrant aspect without being perfume like. The Pierre Gimonnet apparently lacks a finish, but its floral and citrus notes played well with the St. Germain. The richness of the Esterházy Beerenauslese (Austria) just rounded out all the flavours and it was a perfect way to start the meal.

Steelhead Roe5/6 (Excellent)

  • Coconut, curry, yuzu
  • It was Steelhead Washington salmon caviar with carrot gelée, curry yuzu emulsion, coconut pudding, young coconut shavings and micro cilantro.
  • It was the amuse bouche and I still remembered it at the end.
  • It was such a small bite, but there were so many flavours and each one was distinct and powerful.
  • It was almost a de-constructed coconut curry broth and the textures were silky, creamy, smooth and a bit crunchy from the coconut and carrot.
  • The juicy bursts of salmon caviar were the salty bites to this dish and the sweet and savoury balance was so unique.
  • It was coconut 2 ways and carrot 2 ways.
  • The coconut pudding was intense and those coconut oils were rich and coating my mouth with flavour and not grease.
  • Young coconuts have a softer flesh and jelly like meat and its texture just played into the carrot gelée.
  • The carrot gelée was transformed into slices of carrot and they tasted like they were made from carrots freshly picked on a farm that day.
  • The carrot was so natural in flavour and sweet and it went straight into the curry yuzu emulsion.
  • It was an Asian style of curry which tends to be sweeter and more fragrant than spicy.
  • I couldn’t taste any lemongrass, ginger or fish sauce so it wasn’t a traditional South East Asian curry.
  • It had the aromas of an Indian curry without being spicy or as heavily spiced.
  • There may have been carrot juice and it was likely thickened with coconut milk and it was more like a Chinese meets Japanese curry.
  • The spices were subtle but high quality and fresh and I felt like I was at an Indian spice market and I even got a hint of saffron.
  • The citrus yuzu gave the whole dish some acidity so it was sweet, tangy, and salty.
  • Each sauce and component was so labour intensive, but it was required to enhance and intensify the flavour of every ingredient.

Georg Breuer, ‘Terra Montosa’ Riesling, Rheingau 2009 (Germany) – This was one of my favourite pairings. It was a dry Riesling with a subtle smokiness and spice and there was a lemon forward acidity to it. It wasn’t that sweet at all and it was such a complementing match with the smoky and delicately spiced seafood.

Assorted Shellfish on Malaysian Driftwood

  • Whoa! I know! There were a few courses that came out with incredibly elaborate and dramatic forms of presentation and this was one of them.
  • The driftwood was covered with fresh kelp and he literally brought the South East Asian beaches and ocean to me.
  • There was an oyster leaf, king crab, lobster, and razor clam and each one was considered a course.

Oyster Leaf5/6 (Excellent)

  • Mignonette
  • The master of experimental cooking, Ferran Adrià, once served this at his 3 Michelin Star elBulli restaurant in Spain. Since then it has been a sought after ingredient at fine dining establishments.
  • I was told this one was from Ohio, but it originated in Europe in North-Scotland.
  • It’s an all natural leaf, but it tasted just like an oyster and it was basically a vegetarian oyster.
  • They grow wild by the coast so they have a naturally briny flavour that resembles oysters.
  • I would think it would taste like seaweed, but it was in fact the taste of oysters. It had those mineral flavours of an oyster.
  • The texture is a thick meaty spinach leaf and if you breathe in you can taste that raw oyster flavour gradually build and travel to your nose and head.
  • The mignonette was subtle, but the sprinkle of maldon salt and freshly cracked black pepper was all it needed.
  • I love raw oysters, but if you don’t like the slimy texture of them, than this would be a good introduction because you get a similar flavour without the texture.
  • It looked like it was on a Kusshi oyster shell and although it didn’t replace an actual oyster, being introduced to a new ingredient was more exciting.
  • If you’re in Vancouver and you want to try it, Chef Hamid Salimian offers them at Diva at the Met (his style is also similar to Grant Achatz – see my post here).

King Crab5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Passionfruit, heart of palm, allspice
  • This was my favourite of the 4.
  • It was an incredibly juicy piece of crab which is surprising since it’s not in season.
  • There were dollops of avocado which gave richness to the fragrant, sweet and acidic passionfruit and pineapple sauce.
  • There was a great balance of flavours and I could taste the passionfruit the most.
  • It was almost like a half dessert, but the crab flavour was not overpowered.
  • It was gentle yet bright in flavours and there was a bit of warm heat, but not spice which went great with the Riesling.

Lobster5/6 (Excellent)

  • Carrot, chamomile
  • This course can sometimes be a mussel instead, but I was lucky that he was featuring it with lobster this time.
  • The foam was properly made and held its shape and the bubbles just enhanced that whole ocean theme.
  • It was reminiscent of lobster bisque, but not as thick or creamy.
  • The foam was fragrant and the carrot was a sweet sauce underneath.
  • The carrot really enhanced the natural sweetness of the lobster meat and I think it was also made with lobster stock.
  • The lobster was juicy and tender and it was not the claw meat so it wasn’t mushy.
  • The sauces were good enough to make me want to eat the shell.

Razor Clam4/6 (Very good)

  • Shiso, soy, daikon
  • It was a hibachi grilled razor clam, glazed with XO Sauce, fried coriander, carrot, ginger, cucumber, daikon, tapioca pearls and micro shiso leaves.
  • I usually only get razor clams when I’m in Asia so I was so happy to be reunited.
  • I’m a bit biased because I’m Asian, so I’m quite familiar with XO sauce and have a certain expectation from it since it’s close to my culture.
  • XO sauce is a highly prized Chinese hot sauce made from dried shrimps or dried scallops. It’s considered a delicacy and a higher quality one uses all dried scallops.
  • This XO sauce was made with unagi (eel) sauce so it was more Japanese, but it tasted Chinese too with the soy sauce.
  • It was very sweet and very salty with a slight seafood flavour from perhaps added oyster sauce, which would be Chinese.
  • Unagi sauce and oyster sauce are very potent and salty so a little goes a long way.
  • There was a nice spicy heat, but generally there was a lot of sauce for the small clam, so I wouldn’t have minded a bit less.
  • I thought the clam would be glazed and then grilled, but the XO sauce was poured on top again so it kind of masked the razor clam.
  • I loved the texture of crispy whole coriander and chewy tapioca pearls, but I almost forgot about the clam which showcased more in texture than flavour.
  • The tapioca pearls which are traditionally used in Chinese desserts are neutral in flavour, so they were used more for their chewy texture.

The next course required some preparation and waiting, but good things come to those who wait. They came out with a siphon coffee maker (or coffee vacuum brewer) filled with ingredients I’ll explain later. This technique was a cooking tip from Ferran Adrià and I’ve tried it once at EBO Restaurant too – see my post here.

Woolly Pig - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Fennel, orange squid
  • They bring you the Woolly Pig course while you wait for the siphon cooking experiment to complete.
  • It was a Mangalitsa pork or Hungarian ham with grilled baby squid, semi-dehydrated navel orange and fennel.
  • It comes out dangling on a radio antenna attached to a glowing light bulb and the point is to eat it right off the antenna without using your hands.
  • I’m not sure if the antenna is supposed to stimulate your tongue, but the no hands and whole idea seemed a bit erotic.
  • It reminded me of bobbing for apples, but the grown up version.

  • It was a single bite and the ingredients just slid off like a kebab.
  • The star of the show was the ham although I couldn’t see it.
  • The squid was chewy and undeniably smoky and super charred and infused with smokiness throughout.
  • I could smell the smokiness and they must have smoked it for hours.
  • The Woolly Pig is an extremely fatty ham and I think its flavour was infused into the squid because I couldn’t taste any actual ham.
  • The fennel was pickled and the orange gave a juicy burst of citrus to contrast the deep smoky aromas that were almost bitter.
  • The fennel, orange, celery and dill were great aromatics to cut the richness of the ham too.
  • I thought the shellfish went well with the Riesling, but this was even better with it.
  • The course reminded me of the Braised Octopus, Saffron Tapioca Crackers I had at Fraîche Restaurant.

Bodegas Godeval ‘Viña Godeval’ Valderorras 2010 (Spain) – It was a light white Spanish wine with citrus notes like lemon, lime and grapefruit and it had a long finish. It’s known to have a mineral characteristic which was apparent. It was also in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines in 2011.

Back to the siphon coffee maker. It was filled with ingredients including soy powder, dashi powder, bonito (smoked fish) flakes, kombu (seaweed), chilli, wasabi, fresh ginger, fresh yuzu, green onion and perhaps some other aromatic ingredients, spices and herbs.

The bottom chamber sits under a gas flame and when the water is heated it transforms into vapour and gases expand which forces the liquid to rise upwards into the aromatics. The water stays up there as long as the bottom chamber is still hot and when the heat is turned off the liquid will dispense back into the bottom chamber where it came from. And voila, you have a 15 minute instant dashi!

Scallop6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Acting like agedashi tofu
  • A bit of the dashi broth was poured into the dish, just like agedashi tofu would normally be served, and the rest was poured into teacups.
  • There were more garnishes than the main feature and the plate really showcased the knife skills of the garde manger.
  • The garnishes were celery, carrot, daikon, fresh yuzu, and cucumber, Nasturtium and fresh wasabi.
  • I’ve never had fresh yuzu before and it’s very difficult to find in North America let alone in the US.
  • Yuzu is an Asian fruit mainly used in Japanese cuisine and it’s a cross of a sour mandarin and a grapefruit.
  • Traditionally grated daikon would be served on top of the agedahsi tofu, but this was showcased in small pieces on the side.
  • The Nasturtium leaf comes from a plant and it tasted like watercress.
  • The intricate carving of the celery and precise cutting, wrapping and preparation for the raw vegetables were so delicate and dainty.
  • Each garnish was cut and presented differently and they were all aromatic components to making soup broths.
  • Some of the ingredients were the same ones used in the siphon maker and it was a deconstruction of the soup broth decorating the plate.
  • The scallop looked just like an agedashi tofu, but it was made from scallop mousseline.
  • It was a steamed scallop that was lightly coated in cornstarch (?) before being deep fried and the crust was so delicate and light.
  • The scallop mousseline was made with soy milk and grapeseed oil and likely other aromatics, or maybe even dashi.
  • The texture of the scallop was puffy like a marshmallow, but the inside was slippery smooth like egg whites or silky tofu.
  • I would have never guessed this was a scallop and it was a mind game I couldn’t get over.

**Dashi - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • This cup of tea was the remaining dashi stock.
  • I literally start salivating just thinking about it. This was the essence of umami.
  • Holy mother of… !! I literally took a sip and right away I was hit with flavour and I couldn’t swallow that sip! It was immediate and my salivary glands almost started right away.
  • If you ever go to a Japanese restaurant and you hit a savoury flavour in a dish that you just can’t put your finger on, that is most likely from dashi.
  • Dashi is a traditional Japanese seafood stock made from some combination of daikon, kombu (kelp), dried and smoked bonito (fish) flakes, or sardines.
  • It’s used to make most Japanese soups (udon broth, miso etc), sauces, tamago (Japanese omelet), and chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard – see one in my post here) as well as many other things.
  • Since a traditional dashi is a time consuming process, this one used instant dashi powder and soy powder.
  • The ingredients in the siphon had to be sliced pretty thinly since the soup doesn’t brew for that long.
  • The flavours don’t get extracted as intensely as they would if the soup was slowly cooked all day, however instant dashi is very powerful.
  • Instant dashi powder is highly concentrated and has more glutamate so that savoury umami flavour was more intense than a home made dashi.
  • Think of home made chicken broth and chicken bouillon powder, the powder never replaces the authentic taste of the real deal, but that powder is intense and loaded with savoury flavour.
  • This dashi soup was amazing and it was actually well infused with all the aromatics in the siphon. I was surprised!
  • I could taste the seaweed, a bit of brininess and it was salty and sweet with a bit of heat from the chilies and fresh wasabi.
  • The dashi powder having more glutamate created this texture which just coated my tongue and roof of my mouth like a soupy gel.
  • The texture and flavours of the soup were so thick that I felt like it was congealing to my tongue.
  • I kept thinking how fast it could turn into gel if I put it in the fridge.
  • The stock was almost like a sauce and it was so flavourful that I was literally sucking on my own taste buds even after it was done.
  • My taste buds just absorbed the soup like crazy.
  • The broth coated my whole mouth with a wonderful savoury and fragrant flavour that was simply divine.
  • The dashi soup was kick the table incredible, but the “agedashi tofu” and garnishes were the labour intensive parts of this dish.

Chehalem ’3 Vineyards’ Pinot Gris, Willamette 2011 (Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA) - Oregon is known for their pinot gris. This had high acidity from lemons and lemon zest, a medium body and still some richness from pears. There was a mineral quality and maybe a little bit of spice and it was more dynamic than most pinot gris wines.

Otoro4/6 (Very good)

  • Thai banana, sea salt, kaffir lime
  • They placed a rubber white ring on the table and then brought out this half fish bowl. The bowl was placed on top of the ring to hold it in place.
  • It was basically eating fish in a fish bowl and the kaffir lime leaf “ocean surf foam” just attributed to the whole “ocean” theme.
  • This foam was not citrusy, but fragrant and sweet and I could taste coconut in it.
  • It was very well made foam that held its shape and it was dense foam rather than a watery one. It didn’t disappear or liquefy quickly.
  • It was foam that was used for presentation and purpose and it was the sweetness to the dish.
  • It also added texture and I felt like I was in the waves of the ocean as the bubbles faded away like a sweet tropical mist on my lips.
  • The dollop of cream on the side was supposed to be the ocean air, and it was a bit salty and almost neutral in flavour.
  • It smelled like a fruit Thai curry made with cucumber juice and it was surprisingly fragrant for being a chilled dish with water components like foam and ice.
  • The presentation reminded me of the Pumpkin Soup with Cold Smoked Salmon, Apple Curry Foam served in a fish bowl I had at C Restaurant.
  • Otoro comes from blue fin tuna which is near impossible to get in the US since it is near extinction, so this one was farm raised from the Malta Coast.
  • Of course I was happy to hear it was farm raised which also meant it had less mercury content which large blue fin tuna in Japan would have.

  • “Toro” is known as tuna belly which is the fattiest and most valued part of sushi or sashimi. It’s my favourite.
  • “O-toro” is the most precious part of the tuna belly that is closest to the head. This is the most valued part of tuna belly and what was served in this bowl.
  • Otoro is equivalent to beef tenderloin and in this case it was almost treated like it too. It was being executed as a tartare.
  • For such a highly prized cut of fish, I probably would have just wanted it as is, but I appreciated this artistic interpretation of it.
  • The fish is best in the Winter months, although this one could have been frozen.
  • It would make sense as to why he chose to serve it with green curry ice if it was though. It ended up freezing the tuna a bit.
  • The tuna was light pink as it should be and the bold white lines is the fat which resembles the marbleizing of a steak. The whiter, the more fat.
  • I would actually prefer the tuna less cold so that the oils would release which could help me taste the flavours of the actual fish.
  • Nonetheless it was still very buttery with a clean flavour and it was lightly marinated in Thai basil, Thai banana, Thai cilantro and Thai lime. 
  • The marinade tasted like a cold clear green curry and cucumber juice that was made in an evaporator and then distilled. It had a very pure flavour.
  • It was salty and aromatic with lemongrass, basil and citrus notes, but I couldn’t really taste the Thai banana.
  • The green curry ice was surprisingly not crunchy ice, and it was almost slush like.
  • I was so pleased that it wasn’t crunchy or it would have just ripped through the beautiful texture of the otoro.
  • The ‘ice’ was a bit salty and melted nicely with the texture of the tuna. It gave the toro some brininess and a bit of heat as well.
  • It was a very light and refreshing dish and the components were very delicate. The mineral and lemon flavours of the wine paired nicely too.

Descendientes de J. Palacios ‘Petalos’ Bierzo, Spain 2009 – It’s made by a famous Spanish family and this medium bodied wine was ranked #26 on the 2011 Wine Spectator Top 100 wines. This was a great wine for the next dish, but it tasted much better after airing out. It was a bit oaky and woody with dark fruit flavours like cherries and tart berries. It tasted like being in a forest with a bit of mushroom flavour too. It was perfect with this next dish.

Burn Morels5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Ramps, fiddlehead fern, miner’s lettuce
  • I know! Are you crying yet? It was gorgeous!
  • The stones weren’t edible; although I’m sure he could have made them edible.
  • I’ve seen Chef Jefferson Alverez at Fraîche Restaurant use black sesame seeds and toasted rice powder to make polvoron cookies that resembled clay or even stones.
  • The stones came out on a heavily charred oak plank and it was symbolic for how morels appear after forest fires.
  • Even the choice of plates he uses hold significance. This piece of burnt wood was from the forest fires last year.
  • This course really brought out the kid in me.
  • When I said in the intro “I experienced it… as if I was a child” and ”he creates a sense of discovery with every dish”, this is the dish that shows my feelings most.
  • The idea of foraging (searching for food) is considered one of the “food trends” of 2011-2012 and this course used all foraged ingredients.
  • It’s not really a “trend” because this is how humans and animals always ate since the beginning of time, but nowadays the grocery store is just too convenient.
  • Foraging is a messy and dirty activity and once again he brought the outdoors indoors in the most beautiful way.
  • This was the salad course, and I rarely get excited about salads because I find them things I can make at home, but this salad was very intricate and I was excited!
  • It was kind of ironic because foraging tends to be a hands on local concept, but I bet each ingredient in this was sourced from a one of a kind purveyor from somewhere around the world.
  • The presentation reminded me slightly of the Albacore Tuna dish at Diva at the Met.

  • He asked the diner to also “search” for their food as they ate because each rock had a different sauce and different ingredients.
  • There was no particular way to eat the dish, but he left you to discover and create your own flavours.
  • The first stone had morels which were found in the Pacific Northwest (who knows? Maybe in Vancouver? My home.)
  • There was also a piece of Surryano smoked ham from Virginia which was air cured for 400 days.
  • The Surryano ham was hickory smoked, sliced ultra thin, a bit chewy, buttery and rich and it tasted like a prosciutto, but more delicate.
  • The ham sat on a poached quail’s egg, and that egg yolk seemed almost sous vide or smoked. It was a well contained yolk, but still creamy and thick.
  • That pop of rich egg yolk and buttery salty ham with the earthy mushrooms was so simple, but just unforgettable in texture and flavour.

  • Each rock had its own unique sauce, and this brown dollop you see above was the best one. This was amazing!
  • This was a smoked onion puree and it tasted like caramel.
  • It was so rich and intense with flavour and I couldn’t put my taste buds on what it was.
  • It was sweet, thick and creamy and it wasn’t smoky as much as it was savoury, sweet and almost nutty.
  • It was an outstanding puree and it was also joined with some crunchy pickled red onion and sweet and spicy red onion marmalade for contrast.

  • The third stone had brown butter poached asparagus, asparagus purée and an earthy Maitake and Black Trumpet purée.
  • It let you experience the asparagus and mushrooms in different ways and textures and each rock was a new discovery.
  • Each leaf and morel I turned over was a fresh start to a new sauce.

  • The greens included salted ramps, fiddlehead fern and miner’s lettuce and they were crispy, charred and smoky like that had been near a forest fire.
  • I’ve had lots of fiddleheads before, but have never seen them unravelled like this. They were more delicate unravelled with less crunch.
  • They were long and stringy and they taste like asparagus meets broccoli.
  • Miners lettuce I’ve tried at Fraîche before, but the flavour was more likable here.
  • It’s a crispy wild green which tends to have a grassy flavour with a bitterness at the end. It was similar to spinach or watercress, but grassier.
  • This one didn’t seem as grassy and perhaps it was because it was a baby Miners lettuce leaf and used so sparingly.
  • This course was earthy, grassy, and woody in all aspects and the choice of asparagus and mushrooms just enhanced those qualities.
  • I would have loved to see a random berry or even a piece of fresh honeycomb to top off the whole nature/forest aspect, but it was truly a stunning salad.
  • I valued this beyond its presentation and flavour. The concept was brilliant.
  • Essentially, I was seeing the beauty after a fire or a natural disaster (forest fire).

**Hot Potato - 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Cold potato, black truffle, butter
  • I knew what this was as soon as he brought it out!
  • It’s one of Grant Achatz’s signature dish at Alinea commonly called “Hot Potato, Cold Potato”.
  • This was freaking amazing and it’s a standard on every tasting menu here.
  • It’s a time sensitive dish and it plays a lot with temperature hence the name.
  • The dish it is served in is actually made of paraffin wax and it’s especially made for this course.
  • It looked like frosted glass and it was a classy upgrade from a “shooter glass”, but you treat this course as if it were a shot.
  • You gently pull the pin out and all the ingredients slide off and fall into the cold and creamy truffle potato soup. And no, the soup doesn’t leak out of the hole from the pin.
  • The pin holds a very hot (in temperature) Yukon Gold potato confit in clarified butter, a shaving of black truffle, a chive, a cube of butter and a cube of parmesan cheese.
  • The lightest thing on that magical wand was the chive which was undetectable, so just think how rich this one bite was going to be. In that ratio too! It was a small bite.
  • I’m not sure what particular kind of black truffle it was, but it was a nice thick shaving.
  • The Danish Lurpak butter is a premium butter made from the purest Danish cow’s milk and that just melted immediately as soon as everything mixed together in my mouth.
  • The Parmesan cheese was from a region in Italy so it was technically a Parmiggano-Reggiano.
  • It’s a hard cheese with a natural saltiness and nuttiness and it actually melted rather quickly too. I was surprised since it was a pretty big cube that needed to melt fast.
  • After all these very high quality ingredients fall into the soup you shoot it back.
  • @#$%!!!!! As soon as it hits your tongue it’s pure decadence and intense flavour!
  • It’s not just salty, but savoury (umami) flavour!
  • It’s the richest and one of the most luxurious textures and flavours that I didn’t want to swallow. Heaven!
  • This is followed immediately with a sudden hit of this weird temperature contrast that happens in your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you’re expecting it, it’s still crazy.
  • The potato is very hot and the soup is very cold and they were almost fighting each other and it was such an unforgettable sensation!
  • The potato is melon ball sized so it retained a lot of heat. It didn’t burn your mouth and the chilled soup just cooled it down right away, but I could feel both temperatures equally.
  • The natural heat in my mouth just helped melt the cubes of cheese and butter, but you’re still chewing the potato and mushroom.
  • Potatoes, butter, cheese, and mushrooms is really a no brainier and they are flavours you’ve likely had before, but just not in this unique context.
  • Also with such highly sourced ingredients for something so simple, it’s likely going to be the best combination of those flavours you’ve ever experienced. It was mine for sure.
  • I honestly would remake this recipe and have 100 of them one after another for my dinner… and be very happy… but with heart issues.
  • It was a de-constructed mushroom soup and/or potato soup, but 100 times better and with a sick mind game (by “sick” I mean cool). It was honestly a toe curling experience.

Château Ollieux Romanis Corbières ‘Atal Sia’ Boutenac 2008, France - I know. Don’t say it. I was too excited about the next dish and didn’t realize how bad this photo was. It’ll have to do. ‘Atal Sia’ means “Let It Be” and in this case it was implying “let it be [grapes]“. It was a medium bodied dark red blend with no oak and flavours of black fruit like plum and figs. It was a pretty standard red wine that goes with everything hence “let it be” and it worked with the lamb. I could see why they chose a less complex wine for this course because there was already so much going on with the food.

Watch the behind the scenes preparation for Lamb 86…

Lamb5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • ……..?????……….!!!!!!!!!!!! (This was actually the description for this course.)
  • ;alsdnf’pans’dfpdfadasedf!!!!! I know! It was garnish galore!
  • They don’t give you a menu until the very end of dinner so I never knew what the next course was going to be unless I peeked at my neighbour table.
  • I saw the Lamb 86 video when Grant Achatz first tweeted it back in May, so when I saw them bring this out I was on the edge of my seat.
  • They called it “Lamb 60″ at the restaurant though, so I thought they were serving the simplified version of Lamb 86.
  • It turns out that the dish is composed of 86 individual components (eg: lemon and lemon zest counts as two ingredients), so that’s how they came up with 86 originally.
  • There are only 60 garnishes and condiments if you count them on the platter though.
  • The whole idea is supposed to be a guessing game so they don’t tell you what anything is.
  • When they first started serving this course they used to give an answer key to the ingredients at the end, but they stopped doing that now.
  • A few ingredients are seasonal and they changed a few of the garnishes from the original so I’ll assume that’s when they also stopped with the answer keys too.
  • I ended up going through every single garnish…

Guess

Answer

Mintgel

Mint

Saffron gel + saffron threads

Saffron

Deep fried capers

Capers

Meringue

Rose water meringue

Herb

Tarragon

Smokey black walnut confit

Walnut

Red onion jam

Red onion

Pickled eggplant

Eggplant

Toasted nutmeg

Clove

Deep fried crispy herb

Basil

Sun dried tomato salt

? (It used to be Cinnamon, but it was definitely some type of salt now)

Tomato

Tomato

Smoked sea salt + herbs

Smoke

Yuzu segment

Blood orange (I think they changed this to yuzu)

Mint liqueur gel

Fennel

Salted Trumpet mushroom

King Trumpet

Kaffir lime leaf chiffonade

Sorrel

Curry gel + saffron

Curry

Anise herb

Anise Hyssop

Moonshine that burns; super boozy

Rum

Semi dehydrated fig

Fig

Candied lemon + lemon zest

Lemon

Preserved cherry

Cherry

Toasted oats

Oats

Toasted bread crumbs

Caraway powder

Lemon aioli

? (It used to be Thyme, and it could have been a thyme aioli?)

Sweet chili + sweet chili gel

Red pepper

Texture of jellyfish, but not jellyfish; neutral in flavour

Heart of palm (Used to be an artichoke)

Fava bean (not starchy)

Fava bean

Pickled blueberries

Blueberry

Sweetened cream cheese gel + sweet crisp

Yogurt

Salted herb and truffle butter

Butter (Used to be Bay Laurel)

Black liquorice ‘caviar’

Black liquorice

Baby oregano

Oregano

Rosemary powder

Rosemary

Grilled garlic ramp + spice

Spring garlic

Black currant red wine jam

Red wine

Peach preserves

Peach

Pickled ginger

Ginger (Used to be asparagus)

Fresh honey comb

Honey

Candied rhubarb

Rhubarb

Spice cake + cloves + cinnamon

Coffee

Pickled cipollini or ramp?

Onion? (Use to be endive)

White bean purée + white bean

White bean

Brandy gel with bitters

Madeira

Pickled red onion purée + spices

Tamarind

Cheesy polenta crumbs

Cous cous

Maldon salt + cumin

Cumin

Micro cilantro

Cilantro

Red, yellow and pink minced beets

Beet

Toasted bread (crouton)

Brioche

Dandelion

Dill (flower)

Toasted unsalted slivered almonds

Almond

Carrot

Carrot

Pistachio paste

Pistachio

Sambuca gel

Sambuca

Dried apricot

Apricot

Kalamata and Green Olive tapenade

Olive

Blackberry

Blackberry

Parsley gel

Parsley

This was the lamb which was meant to be eaten with the 60 or 86 garnishes and condiments.

They poured a lamb demi glace or red wine lamb jus reduction on top. It was a very glossy, thick, rich and syrupy sauce and it was wonderfully savoury, sweet and a bit tangy and well reduced. The lamb was likely grass fed so it tasted slightly gamier.

This lamb and the sauce tasted almost the same as the Duo of Lamb I’ve had from Chef Hamid at Diva at the Met. They used different cuts of the lamb, but the execution was close. Both chefs are inspired by Chef Thomas Keller’s recipes, so it could be why this dish shared similar flavour profiles.

Lamb Tenderloin – This was sous vide.

Lamb Belly – Lamb belly doesn’t get as much love as pork belly which seems almost impossible to get off the menu nowadays. Lamb belly is being used in parts of the States, but it hasn’t become popular in Vancouver yet and it’s still relatively underused.

This one was rolled up and extremely fatty, and although fat is flavour, sometimes it can be a bit much. I prefer more of a meat ratio, but this was still undeniably tender and obviously moist and almost creamy. The whole thing melted in my mouth and it wasn’t chewy, but still a bit gelatinous. The edges were slightly crispy and it was some combination of braised, sous vide and pan fried.

Lamb Shank – It’s a more familiar part of the lamb – the leg.

Garnish Key for Alinea Restaurant’s Lamb 86 

Mint Red
Onion
Smoke Anise
Hyssop
   Caraway
Powder
  Yogurt Red
Wine
Onion (?) Cilantro  Pistachio
Saffron Eggplant Blood
Orange
Rum   Thyme (?)   Butter Peach   White
Bean
Beet  Sambuca
Capers Clove Fennel Fig      Red
Pepper
  Black
Licorice
Ginger Madeira Brioche   Apricot
Meringue  Basil King
Trumpet
Lemon Heart of palm  Oregano Honey Tamarind    Dill     Olive
Tarragon  Salt (?) Sorrel Cherry      Fava
Bean
Rosemary  Rhubarb   Cous
Cous
Almond Blackberry
Walnut Tomato Curry Oats   Blueberry   Spring
Garlic
  Coffee   Cumin Carrot   Parsley

It was a very playful dish and the colours were so well thought out. It was fun to dip and dabble in all the sauces, purées, gels, and garnishes. It was that sense of discovery he brought with every dish that made the whole experience so entertaining. It challenged the palate and the best part was that it encouraged people to try things they might normally not have.

I like to try everything so I didn’t have an issue, but I know there are many people who don’t try things unless they know what it is. Or they don’t try it because they think they don’t like it (I admit I still do that with Chinese red bean soup).

A good rule of “foodie thumb” is keep trying it until you do like it. It’s hard, but it’s the only way to learn to like something and develop a palate for it.

The only items I wasn’t so keen on were probably the very highly concentrated liqueur gels. They were just really strong, boozy and bitter and I found them more palatable with the lamb, but it wasn’t really for me.

Another logistical challenge with this course was that by the time I tried each garnish my lamb had cooled down. I would have preferred getting the lamb after I had time to try everything. Luckily we knew that would happen so we ended up trying a bite of the lamb when it was hot before trying all the garnishes.

The ingredients ranged from au natural to completely transformed from its original state or texture. The concept of presenting 60 different garnishes and condiments isn’t really hard to recreate, but the time to make the gels, purées and powders is a labour intensive process. It also requires a good variety, no repeats, unique textures and colour contrast as well as consideration for ingredients that can be premade and served room temperature. It was a well thought out line up of garnishes.

I actually discovered a few unique flavour combinations I would have never really thought of before. I think that was the most rewarding part of this course. Obviously there wasn’t enough lamb to try every combination of flavours, but it was a fun game.

The pistachio and dried apricot were just one of the combinations I really enjoyed with the lamb, but even the coffee cake which tasted like a spice cake worked really well too. The saffron gel with a touch of the rose water meringue was also a nice Middle Eastern combination of flavours for the lamb. I just loved being able to experience lamb with so many ingredients from different cultures. It was a sophisticated way to play with food.

A funny story, well not funny at first, but when Lamb 86 arrived at the table my friend accidentally knocked the brioche off the platter onto the floor. My eyeballs nearly popped out of their sockets from shock or having a minor heart attack. I almost killed took her fork away. There was definitely a loud gasp from all of us followed by my hands on my cheeks to hold down the heat. There was a “what did you just do?” followed by a “you pick that up!”… and perhaps even a “you’re paying for dinner” (that last one wasn’t from me). As we were frantically searching for it on the floor the server came around with his fancy pocket tweezers to pick it up. He was about to head back to the kitchen to toss it out and we stopped him as soon as he turned his back…

Me: Put it down.
Server: Why?
Me: Just put it down.
Server: But it dropped on the floor.
Me: I don’t care, just put it down.
Server: I already got you another one on its way.
Me: *Sigh of relief*
Server: It’s just toasted brioche.
Me: Oh my gosh thank you so much!!!

… and in 2 seconds I got a new toasted brioche… and 10 minutes later my blush went away.

Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Bussola 2006 (Veneto, Italy) – This was a beautiful red wine. It was rich, juicy and ruby red in colour with a long finish and I could taste raisins and prunes. It was sweet and smooth with characteristics of port and it had some spice, but it wasn’t spicy. It just had luxurious characteristics and I simply loved it.

For the next course they brought out this irregular stainless steel vase filled with lavender salt. This is where the dirty silverware from my next course was placed in afterwards. I could smell it as soon as they walked in the room with it. It encouraged you to use your sense of smell as you ate the next course and it just made the wine taste that much more luxurious.

Note: The irregular shape of the vase resembles the bottle of gin in Joan Miró’s Still Life with Old Shoe painting. I know this sounds like a random comment right now, but you’ll see what I mean soon enough.

I know they used to serve a course on top of a lavender scented pillow and as you ate, the pillow would deflate to create “lavender air”. He has also done this with juniper before. I would have loved to experience the pillow, but now they serve it this way. It’s a similar idea, but the pillow just wouldn’t have logistically worked with how they presented this next course.

I appreciated the lavender at the time, but after further research I actually think this course would have been even better with scented juniper air. It would have played into the scent of gin (made from juniper), which was the bottle of liquor featured in Miró’s Still Life with Old Shoe painting. Again, I know this all sounds very random, but you’ll see what I mean.

Still Life with Old Shoe, 1937, by Joan Miró - Photo from moma.org

This dish was inspired by Chef Achatz’s visit to the Tate Modern in London during the Miró exhibition in 2011. It was his interpretation of Miró’s painting Still Life with Old Shoe. They did not give a photo of this painting at any point throughout the meal, but I did further research myself to better understand it.

Squabn/a (I can’t “rate” this. Read the whole post to understand why.)

  • Inspired by Miró
  • The table was sanitized before this course was presented.
  • The server comes out with utensils and randomly starts to place them in front of you.
  • Each person was given a different picture and there was no particular design.
  • Even if you asked they wouldn’t tell you what anything was or what order to eat them in. They said Chef Achatz prefers it this way.
  • You might not see the resemblance to the painting, but this course was so deep, meaningful and symbolic that I can’t “rate” it. It was pure art.
  • It’s 4am and I just spent hours researching on why Chef Achatz would use these ingredients. Holy crap. The guy is a freaking genius.
  • There are no actual articles explaining why he chose these ingredients (at least I didn’t see any), and most of the articles I found were just about how the course tasted. And honestly, that’s only a fraction of what this dish is really about.
  • Originally I was going to approach it the same way and talk about how it tasted and its textures, like I usually would, but this had so much more significance.
  • When I was at the restaurant I totally did not get it. I mean it tasted fine, but I didn’t truly understand what he was doing.
  • I kept thinking it was a bit odd to just eat one ingredient at a time instead of everything together. I wanted to enjoy the dish as a whole, but that was the point… it was a whole.
  • The idea was that each utensil was in its own category, but collectively they made one dish, or one painting. I kind of got this idea then, but I really get the idea now… or at least I think I do.

I have to go back to this painting. Again there was no photo of it given with dinner at any point, so I’m doing this on my own.

I felt like I was in Art History 101 all over again. I was playing detective and I literally got chills and goosebumps as I discovered why he chose the ingredients he did. This is all based on my interpretation of his art, but I feel like I truly understand what he was doing. Of course I can’t get into Chef Achatz’s artistic mind so I could be totally wrong in my analysis, but art is always left to individual interpretation anyway. So even if I’m “wrong” so be it. I’m not a history buff, but I love learning.

You have to know about the original artist to understand this painting. Joan Miró was a Catalan painter known for his Surrealism art. Surrealist art was about letting go of rules and traditional ways of making art. I think this is possibly why Chef Achatz chose to showcase this course the way he did. It was non-traditional and random. It was a freedom of approach and thought, just like a true surrealist.

Still Life with Old Shoe was created in 1937 and I had to read an article from The Observer to understand it better. The year has significance because the Civil War was happening in Spain so Miró fled to Paris with his family to escape the bombing. This painting was somewhat of an answer or his feelings to the Civil War in Spain.

Miro said in an interview in The Observer “The composition is realistic because I was paralysed by the general feeling of terror and almost unable to paint at all… We are living through a terrible drama, everything happening in Spain is terrifying in a way you could never imagine. I feel very uprooted here and nostalgic for my country… I am pessimistic, I am tragically pessimistic.”

The items he chose for this painting were a 6 tined fork poking an apple, a bottle of gin which was wrapped in a brown paper bag that he found on the street (initial inspiration for the painting), half a loaf of bread, and an untied old shoe which was an Ode to Van Gogh. They were very boring objects and that was intentional. He was uninspired to paint and uninspired by the world’s events.

As I mentioned, this course “Squab” was Chef Achatz’s interpretation of Miró’s painting Still Life with Old Shoe, and this is my interpretation of his interpretationEven the colours of the ingredients he chose were similar to the ones used for the painting. There was so much more than meets the eye… and palate with this dish. It was probably the most creative dish I’ve ever eaten and I wouldn’t have thought so until trying to understand it on a deeper level. I saw his vision.

Lavender Noodle

  • I had no idea what this was when I ate it. I asked later and was told it was a lavender noodle.
  • It looked like an udon and it tasted like it was dressed in a sweet syrup, but I couldn’t taste the lavender.
  • The noodle was silky and the texture of egg whites.
  • I interpreted this as either the string that wraps the bottle of gin or the shoelace on the old shoe.
  • I thought it would be neat if this was made with gin.
  • That’s also why I wrote at the top that I wish the lavender air was juniper air to tie in that gin theme.
  • The lavender might just be his own style because he has been using this “lavender air” idea for years now.

Olive

  • It tasted like an olive. Go figure. I’m not sure what the herb was.
  • My guess is that this was supposed to be the 6 tinned fork piercing the apple in the painting.
  • I think the choice of an olive was supposed to refer back to the bottle of gin.
  • I was thinking gin martinis and how they’re served with olives, so I think that’s why he chose an olive.
  • Most forks are 4 tinned, but the 6 tinned fork enhanced the idea of the brutal deaths that were happening during the Civil War - I think at least.
  • Now that I know the painting, I’m actually very surprised Chef Achatz didn’t custom make 6 tinned forks especially for this course.
  • Most of his dishes did have custom made serving dishes, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think he would go to those lengths to showcase his art.

Pomegranate Jelly with Red Pepper

  • It tasted like red wine jelly infused with basil and that’s what I thought it was at first.
  • I must have spent at least a couple hours just researching the pomegranate.
  • I don’t really know why he chose it and it seemed the most random out of everything after my research.
  • According to Wikipedia (I know. Not the most scholarly source, but it gives me an idea) the pomegranate was introduced to Latin America and California by Spanish settlers.
  • I’m not sure if this was a tribute to Spain and Miró being a Catalan painter.
  • The pomegranate is very tart so it could have been playing on the idea of Miró’s sour perspective on the world at that time.
  • It could also just be because the apple in the painting sort of looks like a pomegranate.
  • Another article I found was from 2007 in iwpr.net and it was about pomegranate orchards being destroyed in Afghanistan.
  • This could be a really far stretch and maybe I’m looking way too into things, but perhaps it was to do with the US and Afghanistan war.
  • I really have no idea why he chose the pomegranate, and I refuse to believe it was because it complemented the squab. That answer would actually be considered way too simple in this case.
  • **Update – Follow Me Foodie reader Anita left a comment with her analysis on the significance of the pomegranate. Read her comment here. It’s fantastic.

Plum

  • It tasted like a plum.
  • But why did he choose a plum? I had to find out.
  • I spent quite some time researching the plum and I literally got chills discovering what I believe is “the answer”.
  • This is completely based on my interpretation.
  • Operation PLUM. It means nothing to most of us, but it’s actually a code word that was used during World War II, but the term never stuck.
  • Operation PLUM meant death.
  • Well then of course he would choose the plum! GENIUS.
  • During the Civil War lots of people were dying and Spain was being bombed.
  • I think this is probably why the plum on this spoon was round and looked like a cannonball.
  • It almost made me think of a food fight too and how one would catapult things off spoons.

Prune

  • I thought this was fig jam with Medjool dates.
  • It was a lot of jam or prune purée on a spoon.
  • At that moment it wasn’t really pleasant to eat so much purée by itself on a spoon. However, that’s not what it was about. I get it now.
  • A prune is a dried plum so the course showed the two textures of the plum.
  • I think it could have been the explosion of “the bomb”.
  • The fermentation of the plum before it becomes a prune could be implying the rotting of people during the Civil War.
  • It was almost like the death of the plum or the death of the people.
  • The apple in the paining also appears to be rotting, so it could be a play on that image too.

Squab

  • It was sous vide and had little fat.
  • Squab is naturally quite lean and this was very tender and moist. It was a beautiful piece of squab.
  • It took me ages to figure out how he interpreted the old shoe in Miró’s painting.
  • None of the ingredients said “shoe” to me except maybe the lavender noodle which could have been the shoelace.
  • I kept thinking why wouldn’t he make a fruit leather to represent the shoe?
  • I did some further research on squab to figure out why the heck he would choose it.
  • Squab. It’s also referred to as pigeon and I knew this.
  • During the World War II pigeon meat was eaten when food was rationed in England. Ohhhh!! And now it all makes sense!
  • Rationing. What else was rationed in World War II? Shoes!
  • During WWII there was a serious shortage of rubber and leather and much of these materials were in demand for the military.
  • The squab was symbolic for the shoe! At least that is how I interpret it.
  • War pigeons also carried messages, so choosing squab as the “main” was indeed a very well thought out ingredient.
  • Again this is all based on my interpretation and I could be wrong, but it feels right.

Aged Sherry Vinegar with Duck Fat and Thyme

  • This was possibly my favourite bite and I was so surprised.
  • It looked like oil and balsamic vinegar, but I wrote “6/6″ next to it in my notebook.
  • It was after I realized that it was “Aged Sherry Vinegar with Duck Fat”. Oh duck fat… you make such a difference.
  • So why oil and vinegar?
  • I think it all goes back to WWII.
  • Cooking fats were rationed during the Civil War as to why he likely used duck fat.
  • Duck fat is an expensive cooking oil, so it was an interesting contrast to the theme of the painting, but this is still Alinea so it’s natural to expect high quality ingredients.
  • The duck fat also played into the squab or the foie gras custard featured later in this post.
  • Duck and squab actually taste very similar, but the squab has much more symbolic meaning to the painting.
  • As to why he chose sherry vinegar it could be because it’s from a Spanish province which is Miró’s home.
  • The idea of oil and vinegar not mixing crossed my mind as well, and that could show Miró’s mixed feelings at that time too… or I mean “thyme”… ha!

Pumpernickel 

  • It was crispy toasted pumpernickel breadcrumbs and I think a celery root ribbon.
  • This was obviously supposed to represent the loaf of bread in the painting.
  • The bread in the painting looks like rye and it looks dried out too.
  • Pumpernickel or rye bread is traditionally considered German war bread or peasant food.
  • It has a dark, nutty and almost bitter flavour and it was toasted to likely resemble the fires during the Civil War.
  • I interpreted the crumbs as being the ashes from the war and also to enhance the dry quality of the bread in the painting.
  • I researched for a while what significance celery root might have, but I honestly think it was there to hold the breadcrumbs in place.

Foie Gras Custard/Panna Cotta

  • It tasted like a very rich foie gras crème brûlée, but without the brûlée and instead a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  • I could really taste the umami of the foie too, I loved it… but then again I love anything foie.
  • I’ve actually tried a Foie Gras Panna Cotta at Fraîche Restaurant before too.
  • I finished with this because it looked like dessert.
  • So why foie gras custard?
  • I tried breaking it down and I came up with “milk, eggs, and sugar”. The every day basics.
  • These 3 ingredients were also rationed during WWII and dessert was considered a luxury.
  • People had to be simple with the limited ingredients available.
  • I think this would have been neat as a pudding because pudding is a standard “war dessert”, but this is Alinea so it can’t be peasant food either.
  • A custard or pudding was an easy dessert to make during the war so I think he reinterpreted it here.
  • Dessert was a luxury then, but he just made it mean luxury in the context of today… with foie gras.

I appreciated this course so much more after trying to understand his vision for it. Without knowing the painting I don’t think many people would understand this dish… I know I didn’t at that moment. Since this was all based on my personal research and analysis I could be completely wrong, but only the artist knows the answer anyway.

I know Chef Achatz wanted all the flavours to kind of flow in together one after another to create one dish, and they did, but in a very deconstructed way. Since people had to be creative with flavours during the war due to limited ingredients, we as diners had to do the same thing here. I felt like I was being given the colours to paint my own picture and create my own flavours. It was beautiful.

As I mentioned, during the Civil War, Miró didn’t want to paint and the simplicity of these ingredients almost shows how Chef Achatz didn’t want to cook.

I must say it was very ironic at the same time. All these ingredients were supposed to represent rationed foods during WWII and we were enjoying them in some exquisite ways at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant. It was almost “war food” in the most glorified context.

I think this was the contrast though. To see beauty after a disaster. It was a new beginning. A new start. This is literally and figuratively the meaning of Alinea (¶).

Black Truffle – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Explosion, romaine, parmesan
  • Along with the “Hot Potato, Cold Potato” this was another Alinea signature course.
  • Both courses have truffle and butter, a winning combination every time.
  • !!!!! Gah! I can hardly contain my excitement for this dish. I’ve always wanted to try it!
  • This is major elitism, but the words “Black Truffle”, “caviar”, and “foie gras” denote the same kind of feelings as the words “bacon” and “cheese” might in everyday ”foodie vocabulary”. Basically you automatically start drooling when you hear them. It’s a placebo effect.
  • Black truffle may be seen as overdone in the fine dining world, but it’s still one of the world’s most highly prized ingredients. This dish just embraced it.
  • The ceramic dish was hollow so the spoon touches the table and there is no sauce.
  • It was supposed to be an “anti-plate” and this was somewhat of an anti-ravioli. It was executed quite non-traditionally.
  • It is a one biter and it was essentially the truffle version of a Shanghainese soup dumpling or “xiao long bao” or “XLB”.
  • It was topped with a piece of wilted romaine and a shaving of black truffle and Parmesan cheese.
  • I’m not sure why he would use romaine instead of basil, but it was likely intentional and for some unknown artistic reason.
  • The ravioli pasta skin had somewhat of a thicker skin and it was al dente with a bite.
  • As soon as my teeth pierced the skin my mouth was filled with a sudden explosion of rich and buttery truffle broth.
  • It was pure liquid and no stuffing. It was as if someone had extracted the juice from 50 truffles.
  • The truffle flavour was intense and potent creating that savoury umami flavour.
  • The broth was hot enough not to burn your mouth, but it also melted the shaving of cheese, and that extra hit of salty Parmesan and fresh earthy truffle just topped off the bite.
  • I couldn’t even swallow the broth because I knew I couldn’t get it again! I didn’t want to let go of the flavour and moment.
  • It was very rich and decadent. He first came up with the recipe when he was making the black truffle reduction with butter at The French Laundry.
  • The broth is just truffle juice, truffle oil, salt and butter and it is very simple, but the execution is what makes it special.
  • The execution is a bit similar to the ancient Shanghainese methods of making soup dumplings.
  • Chef Achatz uses gel sheets and turns the truffle broth into gels before stuffing them into ravioli, whereas the Shanghainese technique would use pork fat and soup broth to create that gel.
  • This Black Truffle Explosion leaves you shaking and I wanted to order another 50.

The Rare Wine Co. ‘Boston Bual – Special Reserve’ Madeira (Madeira, Portugal) – It was a beautiful medium bodied sweet and rich dessert wine with flavours of walnut, molasses, cinnamon, cloves and some citrus orange or lemon peel. It was more sweet than acidic with warm spices and a mild smokiness. It was a great pairing for the next course which was the cheese course.

Anjou Pear5/6 (Excellent)

  • Onion, brie, smoking cinnamon
  • It came out in a device that looked like one of those scalp massagers.
  • The cinnamon stick acted like an insent and it was lit at the top hence “smoking cinnamon”.
  • I could smell the cinnamon initially and it just scented the air.
  • Again he was encouraging the diner to use their sense of smell for this dish, just like he did with the lavender air from the “Squab” course.
  • The cinnamon scented smoke really made the cinnamon and smoky notes in the wine sing.
  • It was a ball of creamy, rich, and salty melted brie with a sweet contrast and bite of tender pear, caramelized onion, and a crisp shell that was gently dusted in cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • The tempura batter was very light, slightly lacy and crisp and it was almost detached from the chunk of cheese.
  • It was likely an alcohol laced siphoned batter and I just loved how delicate, thin and flaky it was.
  • It was a fruit and cheese platter in a single bite and I would have loved a walnut crunch inside, but I did get some walnut notes from the wine.
Ginger4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
  • Five other flavours
  • This was the palate cleanser for the next course.
  • Usually I would expect a palate cleanser to be some sort of refreshing sorbet, but at Alinea I shouldn’t expect the expected.
  • I don’t know when I’m ever going to experience 5 other flavours [of ginger] as fresh as this in one seating, so I really valued this course.
  • I like ginger, but I normally don’t eat chunks of it raw. I do like raw ginger though and I appreciated this for its quality.
  • We were told that ginger takes 5-6 weeks to arrive at the grocery story after it is picked so it looses a lot of its flavour by the time it gets to the market.
  • At Alinea, Chef Achatz is building relationships with Hawaii ginger farmers and this course showcases that.
  • This ginger is brought in from Hawaii every week so it is very fresh and juicy ginger that is non fiberous.
  • From the bottom up this was Galangal, Kona Blue Ginger, Turmeric, White Ginger and Yellow Ginger.
  • Technically they weren’t 5 types of ginger because galangal and turmeric are just in the ginger family and Kona Blue Ginger is not really ginger at all.
Galangal
  • It is a type of ginger commonly used in South East Asian cuisines, but especially in Thai cuisine.
  • It was a bit sweeter, milder and less spicy than regular ginger.
  • I’m not sure if it was candied dried coconut on top, but it was so small I could hardly tell.
  • The sweetness could have been coming from the coconut if it was.
Kona Blue Ginger 
  • This was my first time trying Blue Ginger.
  • This is called “Blue Ginger” because it produces purple blue flowers and has ginger like qualities.
  • It grows in other parts of the world too like Brazil, but this one is from Kona.
  • It is actually not ginger, but it tasted like it and it was spicy sweet, but stronger than the galangal.
  • The garnish was so tiny I couldn’t taste it, but I’m guessing a coconut jelly.
Turmeric
  • I think I was most excited to try this one.
  • I’ve never tried fresh Turmeric before.
  • I didn’t think about it staining my teeth, but turmeric is often used as a dye.
  • I associate it with Indian spices, but it grows in South East Asia and is used in their cuisines as well.
  • It was a vibrant carrot orange colour and again the garnish was almost specs so I couldn’t taste them.
  • It tasted like a starchy vegetable with a powdery texture.
  • It was again sweet and spicy, but more mild than typical ginger.
White Ginger
  • This tasted more like regular ginger to me, but slightly floral and it was the spiciest of them all.
  • I thought it would go last because it had the strongest kick and it was pungent.
  • It wasn’t fiberous and just very fresh, but I couldn’t tell what the tiny bit of garnish was again.
Yellow Ginger
  • This was sweet and candied and although it could have been spiciest (being last I would think it was supposed to be), the sweetness masked that spice.
  • It was a nice way to end the ginger tasting and lead into dessert.

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.
  • 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. It was fun!
  • It was very messy to eat though and 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. It 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 apple chips. The flavour was similar though. I loved the “Balloon” dessert for entertainment more so than anything else.

Boroli Barolo Chinato (Piedmont, Italy) - Sorry for the blurry photo! I didn’t realize. Anyway this was a digestivo, an after-dinner liqueur so it’s a bit acquired. It reminded me of amaro and it’s a very popular liqueur to sip on in Italy, but we don’t have that culture in North America really. There is a wide range of spices and herbs with bittersweet flavours of anise, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and fennel etc. It can also be served as a dessert wine and paired with chocolate, but it works better with darker chocolate and richer desserts. I wasn’t really keen on this pairing, so I just sipped my Moscato.

The next course started with a tablecloth that was custom made for Alinea. It was made from a very soft material that was as soft as micro fibre. When I asked what it was the server said it was “farm raised dolphin skin”. I had never heard of that before, but almost everything at Alinea was out of the ordinary, so I wasn’t surprised by his comment. Anyway it turns out that our server was just having fun and it wasn’t actually farmed dolphin skin, but just super thin custom designed silicon. But didn’t you believe the dolphin skin comment too?! It’s so believable in this context! Anything is possible at Alinea.

So we didn’t get Grant Achatz, but he does come out for the grand finale sometimes. It’s either him, his sous chef or one of the other chefs that come out to perform the last course. Forget “table side desserts”, they make this right on your freaking table! This was pure entertainment. It was one of the most fun courses of the night. I loved it! It was similar to a concert and this was the last act and they made it worthwhile. It was a complete show.

He started his art piece by filling one of the hollow white chocolate shells with water. The vapours were coming from the reaction with the nitrogen frozen strawberry ice cream that was already inside.

Next he started drawing and painting with edible ingredients and I felt like I was watching a mad artist at work. He spilled some freeze dried english peas on the table, sprinkled some english pea powder, tossed some sherry vinegar on top, shook some strawberry powder around, and drew some designs with vanilla bean chantilly. The most beautiful part was when he tossed some edible pansy petals in the air and let them fall naturally. I almost fainted at that point.

Before the chef leaves he picks up the chocolate balls and smashes them on the table and then just walks off without a word. The attitude and concept is standard for every table and it is intentional. It’s comparable to rock n’ roll bands smashing their instruments at the end of their show, or comedians dropping their mics at the end of their acts. It’s a “peace out, thanks for coming” kind of thing.

White Chocolate - n/a
  • Strawberry, english pea, lemon
  • This is just too hard to “rate” because the entertainment value exceeds the flavours.
  • Again they don’t have a pastry chef and everything was quite standard, but as an art piece it was beautiful.
  • The white chocolate shells were like piñatas and they exploded with a bunch of goodies that I didn’t even know were hiding inside.
  • I’ve had a smaller and simplified version of this at La Belle Auberge – see White Chocolate Shell and Gold Leaf from Chef Tobias MacDonald’s Global Chef’s Menu for WACS.

It was one of those images that looked good from every angle.

They used to make a similar dessert where the round dots of sauce would turn into square shapes as soon as they hit the material, but it didn’t happen with the sherry vinegar syrup. The dollops and dots just stayed as circles, so I’m not sure how the reaction works.

  • There were mini meringues, doughnuts, semi frozen Swiss roll cakes, compressed semi frozen honeydew, strawberry cotton candy and nitrogen frozen strawberry ice cream.
  • Almost everything was pre made to make it easy to assemble and serve.
  • I prefer dark chocolate, but I will still eat white chocolate. I don’t normally order it unless it sounds creatively used.
  • The white chocolate shell was quite even in thickness all around which was impressive for the size of the ball.
  • The mini meringues were commercial meringues where they were airy, light, and crunchy and crisp throughout.
  • I never really cared for meringues, but I do like pavlova, or the meringues that are a bit chewy, marshmallow-like and moist inside with a crisp exterior.
  • The freeze dried peas tasted like salty English pea infused mini melt ice cream.
  • Honeydew I’ll eat, but it’s not a fruit I would order, however in this compressed semi-frozen context they were fantastic, sweet and refreshing.
  • The slices of semi frozen Swiss roll cakes were a bit mis-shaped.
  • They tasted like semi-frozen chewy Twinkies meets semi-frozen lemon pound cake.
  • The round doughnuts were lightly coated with sugar and filled with an intense olive oil jam.
  • They weren’t hot and fresh doughnuts, but chewy chilled doughnuts.
  • The strawberry ice cream was nitrogen frozen so it was very icy, crunchy, airy light and very tart.
  • The vanilla chantilly was made with real vanilla bean seeds and for a vanilla chantilly it was actually fragrant enough to be memorable.
  • It was a very random dessert and I’m not sure where it was going with flavours, but it was what it was and fun to pick at.
  • I ate the whole thing like dessert “nachos” using the broken chocolate shell pieces as chips. It was almost finger food dessert.
  • The whole dessert menu felt very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2005 version) meets Mindfreak.
  • I was looking for that piece of chewing gum that would give me the 18 courses all over again.
My Alinea experience was a Modern American haute carnival and I would call it the culinary version of Cirque du Soleil. A Latin proverb once said “The imagination exercises a powerful influence over every act of sense, thought, reason, – over every idea.” This could not be more true at Alinea and the creativity alone is worth a standing ovation.

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 Act 6/6

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Alinea on Urbanspoon




{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Degan July 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm

oh damn, I would love to try that Chinoto!

2 Mijune July 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

@degan – I should have packed it for you!! Kind of wasted on me!

3 Jayda Home July 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Enjoying your Chicago postings as I hope to get back there again someday soon. I have family there and I want to surprise them with some suggestions for dining out next time we are there. I am very excited about you coming back to Vancouver restaurants though ….. need guidance for summer dining ASAP! I feel lost without your guidance Great Leader of Foodland.

4 Mijune July 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm

@Jayda Home – *BLUSH* Jayda!! Far too kind!!! I promise I’ll be back on Vancouver posts soon! I have one more tomorrow and then I’m home! I can’t wait until YOU go to Chicago and try all these wonderful places!! If you ever need specific restaurant recs please feel free to just e-mail me!! You know I love hearing from readers and it’s my job to help where I can!! :) xo

5 Jayda Home July 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm

We just booked a week in Marrakesh in Sept. while we are in France. Now there are 2 countries I’d love to have you review!

6 Mijune July 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

@Jayda Home – YOU are living life well my dear!! Please document and if I ever make it there (I hope one day) I will ask you for your advice :)

7 Jayda Home July 16, 2012 at 4:40 pm

lol…. You are always welcome to come visit and stay with us, as you know. We would be honored! Morocco is extraordinarily inexpensive right now. We bought a deal from LivingSocial to a palace right in the heart of Marrakesh. They even upgraded us to a deluxe suite. The best part is that the deal includes massages, hamman, dinners, breakfasts and Moroccan cooking lessons…. finally I’ll learn what to do with my tagine!

8 S W July 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Thanks for sharing this BEAUTIFUL experience.. The spoons via Miro is sublime. The FINALE is incredible! Looking forward to your next review.

9 Mijune July 17, 2012 at 11:40 am

@SW – thank you so much for the wonderful compliment! I’m so happy to be able to share this experience and showcase the art of cooking! I agree, the Miro dish was my favourite based on concept and execution. For once… flavour was irrelevant.

10 Mijune July 17, 2012 at 11:43 am

@jayda home – I want to be you when I grow up.

11 Ilan (IronWhisk Blog) September 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Wow, great post! I don’t think you get enough lamb though to try all those flavours with it though :)

12 Mijune September 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm

@Ilan – I had to really portion carefully, but could have used more ;)

13 Isabel August 8, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I finally took the time to read through the whole post! I am so excited to eat there – currently counting down the days till I can purchase tickets in December when I will go there. Not gonna lie, 30% of the reason I’m going to chicago at all is to eat here. !

14 Mijune August 9, 2013 at 12:35 am

@Isabel – OMG!!! I am SOOO excited for you!!! It really is an EXPERIENCE!! Let them give you a show!!! I’m truly appreciative that you took the time to actually read through this post. Means so much to me! You have no idea. Thank you!!! You have to come back on here and give me your feedback! You should have at least 4-5 new dishes than me by the time you go! :)

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