Alinea (Chicago) (Jun 2008)

Alinea. Probably the epitome of interesting and experimental molecular gastronomy now that El Bulli is about to shut its doors as a restaurant. I have to say that molecular gastronomy in general though, serves the type of food that you either like or don’t like. There really isn’t too much “in between” foods. Having said that, I personally enjoyed the experience whereas others in my company did not think it was that good.

Back in 2008, before the Michelin peeps arrived in Chicago, Alinea was already making a name for itself. And even though I was given the opportunity to try the now 2-Michelin starred Charlie Trotter’s, I was insistent on going to Alinea which, was rewarded its deserved 3-Michelin stars. Despite saying this, I cannot say that all the dishes were all that good, but there were quite a few that were simply amazing.

Arriving at the entrance of the restaurant, there is no hint that it is actually a restaurant. A very simple dark coloured house and a door. Push open the door and you are presented with a plain but coloufully lit hallway, still with no indication that there was a restaurant behind any door. Only once you get through the second door are you presented with a simple but modern and nice looking restaurant. I went with the 13-course tasting with wine paring.

Menu - 13-course Tasting with Wine Paring
Layout - beginning
Layout - dessert

King Crab – sudachi . avocado . bay branch
Cocktail of Henriot “Souverain” Brut with Banyuls Blanc, Farigoule and Chartreuse
This one bite king crab was an excellent way to start the tasting meal. The batter was light and there was some citrus taste that went well with the crab. It left me wishing I could have another bite. But then again, there were 12 more courses on its way.

King Crab - sudachi . avocado . bay branch

Fava Beans – lavender . banana . pecorino
Eric Texier “Janrode” Condrieu, N. Rhone 2006
This was a strange one to me. There was sweet, there was savory, and then they mixed. The dish was layed on a pillow of lavender scented air which was released into the surroundings via the weight of the plate. While the lavender smelt great, I’m not so sure that the dish worked well for me.

Fava Beans - lavender . banana . pecorino

Rouget – artichoke . garlic . bottarga
Fruhwirth Scheurebe, Steiermark, Austria 2006
YES, probably my favourite dish of the evening. In case you didn’t know, rouget is a fish. I’ve never seen it on a menu before, but this dish was just exquisite. Everything was pretty much deconstructed, and as you pieced it together and ate it, the fish just melted in your mouth with a slight crunch. The artichoke were the square bits, and the garlic was wrapped around the fish. The flavours were just perfect for me.

Rouget - artichoke . garlic . bottarga

Lobster – peas . ramps . mint vapor
Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rose, Loire 2007
Another special dish. A bowl in a bowl. The outer bowl had a bunch of mint leaves in them, and the inner bowl was like a lobster soup. As the waiter poured hot water into the outer bowl, the mint vapour was revealed and hit our noses. The lobster pieces in the foam were sweet and tender and surrounded a green blob of peas. A green blob of peas? Yes… within a round green delicate casing, was liquified peas. As you popped this into your mouth and bite into it, remember to close your mouth because otherwise the surprise explosion will go all over the place. Excellent stuff!!

Lobster - peas . ramps . mint vapor

Short Rib – guinness . peanut . fried broccoli
Paolo Bea Montefalco Riserva “Pipparello”, Umbria 2003
This dish was ok. I enjoyed the fried and crunchy brocolli, and the short ribs were tender. But overall, it wasn’t a memorable dish.

Short Rib - guinness . peanut . fried broccoli

Wagyu Beef – morel . smoked date . blis elixir
Prince Florent de Merode Pommard “Clos de la Platiere” 2003
The liquid nitrogen frozen wagyu was actually placed in front of us before the lobster dish came out to “defrost”. Two courses later, the wagyu was ready and the waiter laid the wagyu over a bed of morel mushrooms. Ok, so the beef was great. The mushrooms were good. But once laid out, there really wasn’t all that much and it was finished in an enjoyable but short two bites.

Wagyu Beef - morel . smoked date . blis elixir

Duck – chocolate . blueberry . thai pepper
Mino Calo “Quarantale” Salento Rosso, Puglia 1998
Another dish that didn’t really make sense to me. But again this is because of the mixing of savoury and sweet tastes together. I agree that it actually does work sometimes, but perhaps I have a thing against chocolate… it just didn’t work out too good here. The duck is inside the chocolate bar.

Duck - chocolate . blueberry . thai pepper

Rhubarb – ginger . basil
Strawberry – violet . nicoise olive
Bacon – butterscotch . apple . thyme
These three courses came out at the same time. Two were good, and one I just didn’t understand.

First the bacon. I didn’t get it. While presentation wise, it was different and it tasted pretty good, I don’t know why I have to pay so much to eat a slice of bacon. The savory and sweet mix worked together well here, but I can’t see myself paying even US$1 for this slice of bacon… WHY???

Next the rhubarb. Another ball of flavours. This is meant to be taken as a shot, ball and all. Once in your mouth, close it so as not to let the explosion fly everywhere outside your mouth. The ginger and sourness mixed well together and was very refreshing.

Lastly, the strawberry. This was like a dessert and you could just pop it into your mouth and let the nice strawberry flavours melt out.

left to right: BACON - butterscotch . apple . thyme, STRAWBERRY - violet . nicoise olive & RHUBARB - ginger . basil

Sorrel – honey . fennel . poppy seeds
“Braida” di Giacomo Bologna Moscato d’Asti “Vigna Senza Nome”, Piedmont 2007
Great dessert as you mixed everything together. The honey and sorbet went well with each other.

Sorrel - honey . fennel . poppy seeds

Whole Wheat – almond . apricot . chervil
Tamellini Recioto di Soave “Vigna Marogne”, Veneto, Italy 2001
This dessert seemed to have a lot inside it, but overall, I did not enjoy it as much as the sorrel.

Whole Wheat - almond . apricot . chervil

Chocolate – blueberry . hazelnut . thai pepper
Hmmm… it looks like a whole bunch of powder. In fact, it pretty much is a whole bunch of powder. Just take in like a shot again and let your mouth hydrate it back into chocolate. It was ok I guess… not one of the better dishes though.

Chocolate - blueberry . hazelnut . thai pepper
Restaurant decor

Overall, I was impressed with the food. Not all of it, but like I said, you either like it, or you don’t. Hopefully I will be able to go back one day and try a longer tasting menu than just 13 courses to experience more interesting and experimental love and hate of food that I think this restaurant brings to the table.

Recommended:

  • King Crab – sudachi . avocado . bay branch
  • Rouget – artichoke . garlic . bottarga
  • Lobster – peas . ramps . mint vapor
  • Wagyu Beef – morel . smoked date . blis elixir
  • Rhubarb – ginger . basil
  • Strawberry – violet . nicoise olive
  • Sorrel – honey . fennel . poppy seeds

__________
Alinea
1723 North Halsted, Chicago, Illinois 60614, USA
(312)867 0110

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