Camera in the Kitchen: Alinea
By Rachelle Bowden in Food on Jan 22, 2007 6:38PM
Chicagoist has written a ton about Chef Grant Achatz and Alinea. In fact, one of our first posts ever was an announcement that he'd be opening a new restaurant. Imagine our shock and surprise when in December Achatz contacted us and asked if we'd be interested in doing a feature on him for Chicagoist.
The answer to this, obviously, is of the no-brainer variety.
While we're still working out the details of the feature, Achatz did extend to us an invitation to sample the latest incarnation of his 24-course tour with wine parings. What follows are descriptions and photos of each course from that evening; not a review of the menu but rather a feature on what Achatz is up to these days.
Click the photos above to see larger versions, click the link below to see brief descriptions of each course. We thank Chef Achatz for his hospitality and look forward to working with him on more features soon.
ROSEMARY CENTERPIECE :: When you're seated, there are some small metal bars at the table. The waitstaff inserts a sprig of rosemary and then each person at the table has a rosemary centerpiece. Beautiful in its simplicity, plus the entire restaurant has a rosemary scent. Little did we know that the centerpiece would be come an integral part of one of the courses later on.
HOT POTATO, COLD POTATO. Black truffle, butter :: This was a fun way to start the night off. The bowl is made of wax and on the pin are hot potato, black truffle, parmesan and butter. You pull the pin, it all falls into the bowl of creamy cold potato soup and then you slurp it down like oysters in a half shell. Quick, fun, delicious.
KING CRAB. Vinegar, aromatics, rice :: This is when we knew what we were in for. The king crab is in this piece of gelatin which is topped with aromatics. On the side, traditional sushi rice with vinegar. This also showed us right away that there were going to be a lot of Japanese and Asian influenced courses.
MEDAI. Radish, coriander, poppyseed:: This dish is handed right to you because it won't stand up on its own. You eat the bite off the fork then drink the liquid in the bowl. After you're done eating and take the fork off, then the bowl will stand up on its own.
CARROT. Smoked paprika, orange :: This is a single ball in a small amount of liquid in a shot glass. The server instructs you to take this all into your mouth in one shot and to make sure your lips are sealed. When you touch the ball in your mouth, it explodes with flavor.
WHITE TRUFFLE. Explosion, romaine, Parmesan :: There is a bit of romaine and a bit of parmesan on top of this truffle ravioli. It's served on a spoon, in a bottomless bowl. You take a bite and it's literally a truffle explosion inside your mouth.
SQUAB. Huckleberry, sorrel, long peppercorn :: Squab served 3 ways. We'd never had squab before. It's a very young domesticated pigeon that has never flown before and is therefore extremely tender (and very delicious).
CONCORD GRAPE. Frozen and chewy :: We were told that this course was inspired by Chef Achatz's childhood in Michigan. It's like super-cold, concentrated grape juice. It's put on the "anti-skillet" to freeze, the blocks are cut up, dusted with sugar and placed on the metal tab. You pick the metal tab up to eat the frozen grape.
CHESTNUT. Blis maple syrup :: The wait staff serves this dish by inserting a thin spatula into the notched are of the chilled bowl. They set the bowl on the table and then pull the spatula out. You eat this concoction by picking up the pin and eating it off the pin. It's kind of like a frozen chestnut whip with maple syrup in the middle.
PERSIMMON. Brioche, mace, grapefruit :: There's a lot going on in this plate. Persimmon ice cream is the main focus, but then you've got a ball of mace (derived from the same fruit as nutmeg), some grapefruit, brioche, and honey jam.
SHELLFISH. Gooseberries, horseradish, celery ice :: Before we began dinner, both Chef Achatz and the staff at Alinea asked if there was anything we were allergic to or disliked. We said no. We had no food allergies and wanted to keep an open mind in regard to any dislikes. You never know, right? We have to say, though, this was one of our least favorite courses. The clam salad with gooseberries and horseradish was overpowered by the flavor of the celery ice on top, and to make it worse, we're not fans of a strong celery taste.
HAMACHI. Buttermilk, blackberry, green peanuts :: This course is as beautiful as it is delicious. In the middle, you've got a small fillet of hamachi topped with a roasted peanut puree. On the edges, green peanuts, buttermilk sauce and blackberry sauce.
LAMB. Date, mastic, rosemary aroma :: Finally we find out what that rosemary centerpiece is for! The lamb course comes out on a terra cotta tray that's heated to 400 degrees. Each of the 3 pieces of lamb is prepared a different way. Imagine the smell, the lamb is still cooking and your mouth is starting to water. The server takes the sprig of rosemary out of its metal stand and puts it into a slot in the terra cotta. The smell of rosemary and searing lamb is all around you. The rosemary's metal stand is now a chopstick rest, for these are the utensils you're given to eat this course. We could sit with this rosemary and lamb smell all day.
VENISON. Encased in savory granola :: Like the Shellfish course, we were keeping an open mind on this one. When we were kids we refused to eat venison. It's deer, you know. But now, we realize everything was once a cute furry animal, and they're all delicious. Get over it. We've had the epiphany, but not much opportunity to go back and eat the things we wouldn't have before, like venison. Turns out, venison is great!
LICORICE CAKE. Spiced with hoja santa leaves :: Unwrap the paper from this cake and it's wrapped in hoja santa leaves (Mexican pepperleaves). Unwrap the leaves and you've got a perfect little licorice cake.
CHOCOLATE. Passion fruit, kaffir lime, soy :: We were really looking forward to seeing what could be done with chocolate, but we must say, we were a little disappointed. Dipped in chocolate were these balls of pressed passion fruit dust or something of the sort. The taste was really overpowering. Otherwise, the tastes on this plate were great, the ice cream adn the lime.
CARAMEL. Meyer lemon, cinnamon perfume :: This was the perfect sweet ending. You take the cinnamon stick and eat the ball of fried caramel with lemon off of it. So, you smell the cinnamon with the caramel, but you don't necessarily taste cinnamon.