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Jet City in the Windy City

Jet Windy City Gastrophysics

I hear it’s pretty hard to get into high end restaurants.  I’m not so sure – either the problem is exaggerated or I have an awesome lucky streak.  My dinner for Next:Childhood?  I just got online and reserved a ticket.  Benu in San Francisco?  I put in a request on the waiting list and a table cancelled.

So when I wanted to get into Alinea, considered the best restaurant in the US, and even the world (depending on who’s ranking), I called their reservation line.  It was busy.  I called again.  It was busy.  I called again.  They answered and I made a reservation.  I wouldn’t call that persistence.  I guess it’s either not that hard or the food gods want my taste buds to do some worshiping. And if all else fails, of course, you can always rap battle.


With my reservation for two in hand, I gave Scott a call and said “Dude!  You gotta go with me, man.  It’s Alinea.”  He would have to fly out and stay overnight in a hotel just for one dinner.  He was not hard to convince.  He was all in.

I let Eric know we were coming out.  He called me to say that my reservation had been changed from 5:30pm to 9pm.  The reservation was now for four.  Eric and his wife would be joining us.  A reunion of the JCG crew at frickin’ Alinea.  Nice.  Little did I know what I was in for.

Fine, Fine Dining

The day arrived and we met up to prefunk next door at Boka.  It’s a nice place, one star Michelin, but of course we didn’t eat.  I can say they make a great mixed drink, however.  From there we walked into Alinea.  The famous skewed perspective hallway was disorienting, even though I knew about it.  I walked past the door leading directly into the restaurant before it opened so the illusion worked perfectly.  We were led to our table and sat down.  So there I was with the Business Development Manager of Modernist Cuisine Scott and the Culinary Liaison for Alinea Eric and his wife. We were giddy and ready to dive in.

Now as I was just hanging out with great friends, I didn’t scrupulously take photos of every course.  But I did take a few with my phone and, well, here they are:

Woolly Pig, fennel, orange, squid

Woolly Pig, fennel, orange, squid

A freaky little seafood flower perched on one of Martin Kastner’s famous service pieces. That contraption behind the bite is a kombu broth that was brewing for  another course.

Burn Morels, ramp, fiddlehead fern, miner's lettuce

Burn Morels, ramp, fiddlehead fern, miner's lettuce

Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter

Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter

Lamb

Lamb...........?????............!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No, really – that’s what they had it listed as on the menu.  Why?  Because the sheet of glass in the center of the table had SIXTY components to mix and match with your lamb (done three ways).  All sorts of globs and blobs and cubes and cylinders to pick and choose from.  Really fun!

Anjou Pear, onion, brie, smoking cinnamon

Anjou Pear, onion, brie, smoking cinnamon

Blueberry, buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia

Blueberry, buttermilk, sorrel, macadamia

Balloon, helium, green apple

Balloon, helium, green apple

The balloon is so cool!  Food that floats in the air – I think this must be a first.  You pierce it with your mouth and inhale the helium.  I chose to sing a little Billy Joel in my ridiculously high voice.  Then you just right up and eat it – bright green apple taffy.  So cool.

So that’s seven of the courses.  There were twenty five.  The others were as equally over the top and so creative.  From avant concepts like otoro with kaffir lime foam or crushed ice with beet and licorice, to very traditional dishes like steak and frites or a tin of luxurious caviar paired with Russian vodka- they pulled out all the stops and brought it.  And then they pulled out some more.

An Unexpected Surprise

So I had my birthday about 10 days earlier.  I hadn’t seen Eric yet and he threw in an extra special present: a course of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream just for me.  I was not ready for that and was very surprised. This being Alinea, it wasn’t just any old chocolate cake.  It was presented like this:

A melting cake sphere.  Eric knows me so well.

The Final Course

We were led to another table for the final course.  It was another chocolate dessert: White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon.  Peas, fruit dust and sauces were strewn directly on the table by two chefs. Next they took white chocolate globes filled with goodies (cotton candy, donuts, flowers), poured liquid nitrogen into them and smashed them directly onto the table, after which they walked away and left the room.  Dramatic and fantastic.

White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon
White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon
White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon

It paired very nicely with a cup of coffee.

White Chocolate, strawberry, english pea, lemon

Alineated

This was my first restaurant rated as three stars by Michelin.  But I think Alinea doesn’t have just any three stars – they have the three stars from Orion’s Belt.  In Greek mythology, Orion is known as a great hunter.  Grant Achatz and his team are just that – relentlessly searching, in pursuit of the biggest game of all: surpassing one’s own expectations of oneself.  And from what I experienced, they are doing it effortlessly.  If you have an opportunity to go, I think you should.  All it takes is a phone call.

A Very Special Birthday Dinner

Jethro

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