Alinea, Progressive American restaurant owned by chef Grant Achatz, was voted the number one restaurant in the United States and number six in the world in 2011 by Restaurant Magazine (top five are all in Europe). Chef Achatz is widely known in the culinary industry for his mastery in Molecular Gastronomy, the art of combining chemistry and physics in cooking. It was by far the most intricate and fascinating experience with food I ever had. If you’re ever in Chicago, I highly suggest you check it out.
Before I rant on how incredible each dish was, I wanted to highlight several things I noticed:
- Quick and friendly service. The timing of the dishes brought out and taken away was perfect. It was pleasantly faster paced than I imagined.
- The dinner had a variety of eating style (e.g. dipping, slurping through a straw, making a wrap, sharing a dish family-style, taking a shot, eating off a stick, not using your hands, etc.)
- Exceptional use of texture, temperature, and SMELL.
- I loved how he brought out certain items to foreshadow future dishes
Friendly staff greeted us after we went through the red lit hallway. We were immediately taken upstairs and an ice centerpiece in the middle of the table awaited us. There was no liquid on the base of the ice, so the centerpiece must have been brought out immediately when we stepped in. Each ice block on the other tables looked different. The red liquid inside the three cavities foreshadowed a dish later on into the night.
CHAR ROE – carrot, coconut, curry
First dish that started our adventure. Curry yuzu with ikura and coconut crème. These crème balls spilled out and mixed with the citrusy-curry sauce when I penetrated it with my fork.
The next four seafood courses came out together on an extravagant and creative platter. The first thing I noticed after our “whoaaa…” moment was the smell of ocean. The musty and salty smell enhanced the seafood dishes.
OYSTER LEAF – mignonette
Simply put: a leaf on an empty oyster shell. Interestingly, the leaf resembled the flavor of oyster.
KING CRAB – passion fruit, heart of palm, allspice
Freakin’ awesome, how can anybody hate on king crab!? But notice the detail on such a small dish (the small flower on top of the crab meat).
SEA URCHIN – banana, black truffle
First dish that made me speechless. Similar to a shooter, the uni easily slips out of the shell. Sweet banana combined with the richness of the uni and generous amount of black truffle (ooomg). I’m actually salivating just writing this description…
RAZOR CLAM – shiso, soy, daikon
Loved the texture of the tapioca.
“..wthhh is that!?” moment as the vacuum pot came out next. Second time our culinary adventure foreshadowed a future dish. The Bunsen burner boiled the water, the steam went up the filter, and rapid infusion with all the ingredients occurred in the top chamber. As our broth was being made before our eyes, the next course came out.
YUBA – shrimp, miso, togarashi
Crispy and airy yuba wrapped with shrimp with the sweet Miso dipping sauce. The whole thing is edible and I loved the texture and flavor contrast.
Broth is basically done! The waiter removed the heat and only the infused broth trickled down to the bottom chamber. (Yea.. I want one of these at home.)
SCALLOP – acting like agedashi tofu
The waiter placed the scallop dish and poured the broth in front of us.
Looked and felt like tofu, but it definitely tasted like scallops. Strange, but very delicious dish.
The waiter poured the rest of the broth in a ceramic cup for us to sip on. The flavor was incredibly strong for a broth that was made in such a short time. I liked the subtle hint of citrus.
WOOLY PIG – fennel, orange, squid
Another fun one to eat. The hibachi squid with iberico ham was suspended in the air and you had to eat it without using your hands. Well seasoned ham and squid followed by the sweet aftertaste of the orange.
ICE – beet, hibiscus, licorice
Finally get to try the centerpiece! The waiter brought us three clear straws for us to drink the juice inside of the glacier. The ‘juice’ had a strong floral scent of hibiscus and distinct flavor of beet and licorice.
White Burgundy wine break. Who knew that the meal comes with a bottle of booze. Crisp and light flavored wine cleared our palate.
Chef Grant Achatz went to each table for the final dessert dish. The only thing that was a let-down from this whole experience was that you can see what you will be getting in the future if you look at your neighbor’s table…
SCUP – caponata, mint, panella
Garlic Sicilian Porgy with crispy mint, Eggplant with Olives, and Crispy Chick Pea served family-style. I was fascinated with the tightly tied crispy mint… such attention to detail.
Third foreshadow: Red Cabbage flag on the side of our table… Stirred our curiosity when and how we were going to use this.
HOT POTATO – cold potato, black truffle, butter
The waiter rushed out of the kitchen and explained that this was the most time sensitive dish. You pull the green stick out through the wax bowl (like a grenade) and drop the hot potato, truffle, and butter into the sauce and immediately shoot into your mouth. Simultaneously having the rich cold sauce and the hot potato in your mouth was purely mind-blowing.
WILD MUSHROOMS – juniper, sumac, shallot
Pillows filled with vapors of Hollywood Juniper were placed in front of us. Our whole table literally smelled like forest. Seared mushroom with thyme foam was amazing!
VENISON – red cabbage, mustard, paprika
We assembled the metal components together that became the holder for our venison wrap. Generous amount of meat was placed on the cabbage with a variety of toppings.
Chef blau is speechless.
After we engulfed the perfectly cooked deer, the waiter brought out warm wet towels and took away all the utensil and water glass. Evidently, they replace everything after this dish because we could have gotten grease on something and negatively affect the rest of the dinner. AMAZING detail to service to say the least.
BLACK TRUFFLE – explosion, romaine, parmesan
Seal your lips for this one because this ravioli topped with welted herbs, cheese, and truffle EXPLODES in your mouth. This is not ravioli “stuffed” with truffle… the inside is basically all liquid. The truffle flavor fills the inside of your mouth and touches every taste bud. The waiter was nice enough to point out that the bottom of the saucer is not sauce lol.
SQUAB – inspired by Miro
Spoonful of various items. The interesting feature to this course was the very strong smell of lavender that came from the spoon dump bucket. The squab (basically pigeon meat) was gamey and the duck fat (dark cube) melted on my tongue. Needless to say, everything was delicious.
CHESTNUT – veal heart, quince, root vegetables
One of my favs. Slightly sweet veal heart washed down with warm and rich chestnut soup with foam. Let’s just say the memo I left myself was “hooolllyyyy shiiiitt!!!!”
APPLE – onion, brie, smoking cinnamon
Cheese dish was next that served as the transition course into dessert. Hard to see here, but the end of the cinnamon stick is on fire and fills the air with burnt/caramelized cinnamon aroma. On the bottom was a brie tempura with onion and granny smith apple. Crispy outside and gooey melted cheese with sweet apple inside. Hate to make this comparison, but the flavor reminded us of Funions potato chips.
WINTER – in New Hampshire
Four dessert items placed on top of frozen stones (using nitrogen) and peppermint snow. What presentation! What’s cool was the clear hot chocolate on top of the log. Looked like water, but smelt and tasted like hot chocolate… No idea how that’s even possible.
LEMONGRASS – mango, thai basil, finger lime
We had to suck the concoction out of a test tube for this dessert. Refreshing course and reminded me of a mojito with strong lemongrass aftertaste.
DARK CHOCOLATE – butternut squash, ligonberry, stout
The entire table turned into canvas for chef Grant Achatz. After he designed the periphery of the dessert with chocolate and various sauces, he showered the table with edible flowers and smashes the chocolate ball on the center of the table.
Like a piñata, various goodies spread on the table. The combination of hot and sweet chocolate sauce, bitter and cold chocolate shells, crunchy thin sheets of candy, light cotton candy, and cookie-like objects that disintegrate on your tongue was truly phenomenal.
A copy of the menu in a black envelope came after our meal (interesting that the menu comes after you eat everything). These circles actually have meaning behind it… but I unfortunately forgot sometime during the series of drinks at the Aviary (same chef’s bar, you actually need to be picked in a lottery to reserve a seat). However, I do remember that the size of the circle represents the size of the dish.
Damage – with tip it was a thousand dollar dinner for us three. By far the most expensive I ever had.
We had the honor and pleasure of visiting the main chef in his laboratory/kitchen. Chef, thank you for the meal of a lifetime.