Saturday, July 25, 2009

alinea, chicago, july 18 (postscript)

final thoughts on alinea. i promise:

* so, here are my top seven dishes from the meal. i know i said 10, but that's when i thought there had been 24 courses. 10 of 22 seems silly to me right now in a way that, say, 7 of 22 does not. plus, it's my list. they are not necessarily in any particular order. but might be.

-- black truffle explosion
-- bubble gum
-- chocolate
-- wagyu beef
-- hot potato, cold potato
-- blue crab
-- mustard

* dinner took 4 1/2 hours. that's a personal record. we had nothing better to do anyway.

* in fact, dinner took longer than the time between lunch and dinner. now it just seems silly.

* i am rarely awestruck by someone's mere presence, but i was a little taken aback in meeting grant achatz. (that and wine-buzzed, so i didn't really say anything, in a rare fit of good sense.) i find him to be remarkable on a number of levels. i will not get into the whole story, but click here to read the new yorker story about him. it is inspiring. it was awesome to watch him create right at our table, tho. and i hope i get a chance to see him do a demo or something sometime.

* possibly my favorite point of the night was when our waiter asked us what we did in the industry. i always wonder what conversations at other tables must sound like, because we get a question along that line so many places. i love the fact that our banter makes it seem to people in the food industry that we are too. we're just geeks, we assured him. our role in the industry: observer from as close as they'll let us get.

* favorite quote: about 3/4 through dinner, jeremy bowers says, "i think i have survivor's guilt." i knew exactly what he meant, because i think that is a good description of how i felt at french laundry.

* if i could go back and do the blog over, i would have riffed on seuss in the soft shell crab description instead of lucy in the sky. i think i could have been much more effective with seuss. oh well.

* after reading the posts, my pal laura, a professional eater, had a salient question: "was it delicious?" answer: almost all of it. i loved many things, and i didn't dislike any of the food. and i understood all of it. there were surprises, but nothing confounding. i have had food at far more traditional places that was far less comprehendible.

* this was my first extensive experience with "molecular gastronomy," and the rap is that it is soulless. maybe some places, but not here.

* i thought it was funny that there was no real indication on the front of the building as to what the building was. that makes four of the country's top restaurants that i have been to that kind of hide themselves. charlie trotter's just has a little plaque on a wall that doesn't face the street, chez panisse has a wood-carved sign that was covered in vines when we went there, and french laundry has a sign, but i missed it like 4 times before we found it. so if you want to have a world class restaurant, apparently the best strategy is to hide at all costs.

* the chocolate course where chef achatz and his sous turned our dessert into a table-sized work of abstract art was really cool because i felt like i had been in on that since the idea was hatched. a few months ago, he posted an open question on twitter ( that was something like, "what if the food was served right on the table without plates?" which spurred discussion. then a couple weeks ago i saw they were starting it on a trial basis and that they were working out the kinks and trying to be able to do it larger scale. i didn't know if there was even a reason to hope that we'd get the treatment, so i didn't think about it. but when they cleared the table and asked some of us to move, i was pretty sure i knew what was going on. it was so cool, but such a time commitment from such important people to the operation, i can see why there are issues with how many guests get the experience. i loved it though, and am very grateful.


Becky Bowers said...

I'm so grateful all over again you took photos. My memory of dessert art was fading; plus these images started a whole new conversation in my house about things we loved. Jer: "It's all so ludicrous when you think about it."

Alan said...

There's so much overlap between your faves and mine, I debated whether I should even bother to post. But what the hey:

Blue crab
Black truffle
Hot potato/cold potato
White asparagus
Wagyu beef
Bubble gum

Of course, as I go over the menu I keep murmuring, "Wait, that was great too ... and that one ... and that one ... "

Becky Bowers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Bowers said...

My top 8

(Since you started it ... and as I write, seems unfair to choose!):

Soft shell crab
Hot potato, cold potato
Black truffle explosion
Wagyu beef
Foie gras
White asparagus
Chocolate (for the experience)

Jeremy Bowers said...

These are in no particular order, though I feel guilty that I left off the mustard, the bubble gum, and the pigeonneau (I remember REALLY liking it when I ate it).

However, these are the ones where I was literally gibbering with excitement after every bite.

-- Wagyu
-- Soft shell crab
-- Chocolate
-- Yuba, shrimp, miso
-- Hot potato, cold potato
-- White asparagus
-- Blue crab

Crap. I really should have gotten the mustard on there, somewhere. But I'm not taking anything off.

Also, now that I think about it, the scallop/lilac/melon dish was pretty good too.

This is just the Sisyphean chore, isn't it?

Alan said...

So: Where are we going next year?

Robert Rittner said...

My favorites:
Soft shell crab
Blue crab
Black truffle
Sweet potato
Lilac (scallop +)
Wagyu beef with potato custard
Bubble gum

Everything was wonderful, but I remember those as making me particularly happy.

Old Chef Dude said...

Sounds fantastic what a great culinary adventure!I'm Heading to San Sebastian next week,looking forward to some extensive tasting menus!! That soft shell crab plate looks amazing.Nice photo work.