Thursday, July 23, 2009

alinea, chicago, july 18 (part 2)

(we now return to the alinea meal already in progress.)

(when we left the last blog post, our team of intrepid eaters had just completed the first wave of savory dishes. we now pick up with the first wave of desserts.)

(remember, click on photos to make them bigger. i made them small for fear of running out of internet.)

mustard, passionfruit, allspice: a small disc is placed in front of us, upon which sits another disc with a pin sticking out of it. we are instructed to pick up the pin, put the disc in our mouths and let it melt on our tongues. then were are asked to guess what the flavor is. just as it started melting on my tongue and the burning started, we are told it is mustard ice cream.

bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme: this is one of the dishes i had targeted in the cookbook as one i'd like to make. the bacon is dehydrated, the apple turned into strands of fruit roll-up and twisted around the bacon as it hangs from its bow. in my version, there will probably be more butterscotch.

sweet potato, bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon: the cinnamon is like the popsicle stick for a sweet potato ice cream-y thing. mine was falling off the stick, but i managed.i'm a trooper like that.

that concluded the first phase of dessert. now we restart the meal with phase 2 of the savories. the coolest concept ever.

hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter: this is another i targeted from the book that i want to make. you've got a small paraffin bowl filled with cold potato soup. piercing the side of the bowl is a pick which suspends over the soup a small cube of parmesan, a small cube of butter, and a hot potato ball with a slice of black truffle sitting atop it. the idea is you pull the pick out of the side of the bowl, the hot potato, truffle, butter and cheese drop into the soup and you slurp it down. that is fine engineering. very tasty. i'm not making any paraffin bowls, but i'll make this dish.

yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi: so, you can't prove that i just went back to wikipedia to find out what yuba is. wait, its tofu skin? really? huh. well, this dish sort of looked like a pen in an ink well. a long stick of yuba -- which is tofu skin, btw -- sticking up out of the miso-sauce filled blotter. the yuba stick was wrapped with a long, thing strip of sweet shrimp. outta sight.

white asparagus, arugula, white pepper, honey: this dish came to the table plated in a large cylinder inside its bowl. the idea was to pick up the clear cylinder and let the composed elements of the soup fall together. i didn't take a picture until after the cylinder was lifted. my bad. the table got pretty quiet during this course. there was much reverence.

foie gras, peach, fennel, shiso: we were handed a bowl about the size of a baseball with a little bit of peach soup in it, and a fork straddled across with a few bits of foie on it. perfect.

lilac, scallop, shellfish, honeydew: i wasn't sure i got the lilac, but i loved the celery. i'm allergic to most melons, so i was nervous while eating the honeydew, but it was fine.

wagyu beef, powdered a1, potato, chips: at french laundry, rommie was nearly in tears over the wagyu course. at alinea, almost all of us were. at french laundry, when i was down to about one bite of the wagyu, rommie asked "are you sad that its almost gone?" and when i was eating the wagyu at alinea, i kept hearing him say that in my head, because i was. it was a beautifully cooked, remarkably tender chunk of beef. on the side was a small bar with powder in it that was a dehydrated and powdered version of a1 steak sauce, using the ingredients found in the original recipe for the steak sauce. not the current version, we were assured. anchovy, tamarind, raisin and clove. wow. i have no idea what was in the potato cube, but i kept finding myself cutting that in half, too, to make it last longer.

this was also the course in which the vase came into play. the course was meant to evoke the feeling of a cookout. but the beef was cooked sous vide, which means it was sealed in a bag and put in water at a temperature that was the target for the final temperature of the meat. no smoke at all. so some liquid was poured into the vase, and smoke billowed out over the table. it was cool and had the vague scent of a bbq. a lot of fun. you can watch below.

now, on to phase 2 of desserts.

transparency of raspberry, yogurt: i broke mine. it was still good. basically the best fruit rollup ever, and it was crisp. you were supposed to pick it up by the clip, but i must have grazed the fan of raspberry instead and it shattered. i picked up the pieces. it was still good. i didn't get a good photo of it. in this dessert trio photo, it is the coral-fan looking thing on the left.

bubble gum, long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche:
how many favorites am i allowed to have? because this was one. w
e are presented a clear plastic tube with three colors in it. we are told to pick up the tube and suck out the contents all at once and chew. it was like being hit in the mouth with a bubble gum milkshake. when i got home, the first thing i did was look to see if this was in the cookbook. if not to make it, just to figure out what was in there. i suspect the biggest layer carried most of the flavor and texture, and i suspect that was where the creme fraiche was, and that it was full of tapioca. anything else is just guessing. actually, that much was just guessing. it is in the middle, on the plate, in the photo.

watermelon, lime, nasturtium:
a shot glass with a little globe inside. you drink back the globe, it shatters in your mouth and next thing you know you just swallowed a watermelon. again, i ignored allergy to try that, to no ill effect. it is on the right in the photo above.

rhubarb, goat milk, onion, lavender air: first, they bring you a pillow. you need a nap, but that isn't what its for. no, the pillow is filled with lavender-scented air. then your plate is brought to the table and placed on top of the pillow. this begins the process by which the lavender air is pushed out of the pillow and surrounds your plate while you eat the dessert. if i was just reading this, i would be thinking "that is sooo stupid." it was not. plus, there was cotton candy.

chocolate, blueberry, tobacco, maple: ok, sit back. we are told to move our chairs to make room on either side of the table. jeremy and i suspect we know what is coming. the table is completely cleared. silicone mats are brought out, and we are asked to help roll them out to cover the table. then a bunch of plates holding various ingredients are brought to the table. then chef grant achatz and a sous come to the table, standing on opposite sides, and start painting the table with the ingredients of the dessert. there is a blueberry sauce at the base. there are globules of berry. there are globules of maple, derived from boiling the wood, i think. there is a tobacco-flavored cream. there are shards of chocolate. then there are two mounds of chocolate malt ice cream that are placed on the table and shattered, the pieces falling where they may. then we shake hands with the chef and pick up our spoons. every element of the dessert was fabulous on its own, and like other dishes, you could combine the elements in any number of ways to give you something totally unique in each bite. this part of the experience doesn't happen for everyone. because of the time and the logistics, most people get this dessert plated. it was a real treat to get the table plating, and we were immensely grateful for it. it was singularly spectacular.

pound cake, strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean: our final taste of the night, it was exactly what it sounds like, with the bean serving like a lollipop stick. when we were done with the cake, we dropped the beans into our coffee while we finished the evening by doing hard math, probably a little too loud. perfect.

the team of servers were amazing. everything was there when or before we needed it. explanations were complete and funny. great care was taken to foresee needs and meet them. it was just out of control.

it had been suggested to me that i might skip the wine pairings for a variety of reasons. and while i am sure they were excellent wines, i wish i had. in the past when i've done pairings, i usually felt like it was too much wine, and in this case, i definitely felt like i had too much, and i didn't even finish all of them. also, most other times i have done pairings, i found a wine that i really liked and wanted to try to find, even if i have never actually been successful doing that. (except once, at the french laundry, when i had acutally bought a wine i liked before we had it at dinner. still one of my crowning achie
vements.) i talked to jeremy, whose opinion on wine i trust, and he liked the them. he thought they were well paired with their courses and he was glad he did it. so it could just be me. anyway, there was nothing that i loved, and the bottom-line part of me would have enjoyed the meal even exponentially more if it had not included the cost of the wine. now i know.

and that is good information to have. because while i have walked away from other crazy-cool dining experiences thinking that a return trip was prohibitive and/or unnecessary, i don't feel that way about alinea. i can totally see going back. i
mean, i'm not buying plane tickets or anything, but i can see it.

coming tomorrow: the postscript


jim webster said...

huh. there were only 22 courses. i thought we counted 24. only 22 on the menu tho. "only" 22. oh well.

Carol Blymire said...

The thing about the bubble gum course that I love is that they actually made bubble gum stock... and the taste of thai long pepper at the end just gives it an extra boost.... crazy good.

I'm still dreaming of the white asparagus course. That was phenomenal.

Alan said...

I actually had 23 courses because they brought me an extra one for my birthday. It looked like a chocolate bonbon; then the waiter poured some warm vanilla sauce on it, and the top caved in and revealed vanilla ice cream. It was divine. And yes, I'm gloating.

I made chilled white asparagus soup a few weeks earlier, and now I'm rather ashamed of it.

jim webster said...

but am i dreaming the 24? where did that number come from? why have i been convinced it was 24? no big deal. i certainly didn't need more food. but i was so sure.

carol: first thing i did when i got home was go to the index of the cookbook to see if the bubblegum was in there. i want that every day. i have never made bubble gum stock, as it happens.

Barbara "Somerville" said...

Jim, I'm really glad y'all had such a transporting experience, but reading through all those courses makes me pretty darned sure I never want to do Alinea. Seems like food idolatry, which I'm certain must be some kind of sin. But thanks for going to the extreme so others don't have to.

I looked for y'all on the sidewalks of Chicago, but saw too many other people standing in the way. Saturday night I was at Hopleaf, a very cool beer bar in Andersonville; and Sunday we went to Sepia in the West Loop, which I would recommend, even to someone with such exalted tastebuds as yourself.

jim webster said...

ha! i was looking for you too. and on thursday, i went to the green market bbq, and one of my favorite things was from the sepia chef. it was a merguez hot dog with eggplant relish. it was probably the best thing i had there.

i assure, we didn't idolize anything. well, i didn't, anyway.

we miss you. we should get together. maybe meet halfway or something.