Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Alinea: 9-06-09, Courses 1-3

The day to eat at Alinea finally came and I had one of the worst colds I’ve ever had in recent memory.  I was coughing pretty much nonstop, my body was rundown, my sense of smell was at limited capacity, but there was no way I was backing out.  Plus, I would’ve been charged a hefty cancellation fee.

IMG_3868 IMG_3869

I think it’s fairly well known by now how unassuming Alinea’s facade is on the street, but for the uninitiated, the only signage for Alinea is its valet parking sign.  One could easily walk right by the building and wonder where arguably the finest restaurant in Chicago is located if they miss the sign.  This was just the start of Alinea challenging one’s sense of how things should be.


Ah, the infamous hallway.  I had read about it before, so I knew what to expect.  I forgot to take a picture of the hallway (picture via, but my mom who lead the way pretty much ended up like the guy in the picture.  The hallway is an optical illusion of sorts, making you believe there is an entrance at the end by gradually funneling you to the end.  However, once you get to the end, you’re taken by surprise by a sliding door behind you to the left and you must make your way back a few steps.

IMG_3873 IMG_3875

We were greeted by the hostess who led us to our table on the first floor.  At the table, there awaited 3 servers behind each of our chairs to seat us.  I snapped a picture of the linens, which had a Alinea’s namesake on it.  After confirming that we would be having the Tour, typically about 24 courses, and that we had no dietary restrictions, the centerpiece for the night was place at one end of our table.  It looked like a ceramic gourd filled with what was thought to be dry ice due to the condensation and frost that slowly built up on the outside.  The centerpiece comes into play later on in the meal, and I was pretty excited to see what it would eventually be used for.

OSETRA – traditional garnishes

Copy of IMG_3879

The first dish out was osetra caviar with “traditional garnishes” prepared in an untraditional way.  The server described how Achatz wished to highlight the mouthfeel of the caviar, and so rather than serving it traditionally with some type of bread or cracker it was served along side a foam brioche.  The foam tasted so much like brioche.  It kind of blew my mind how a foam could taste exactly like bread.  Capers, onions, and dill were distilled and made into a gel to round out the traditional flavors alongside an egg yolk emulsion and crème fraîche.

 PORK BELLY – iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation


The second dish was a Thai-inspired pork belly dish served with a distillation of Thai chili, lemongrass, and fish sauce.  The distillation was taken like a shot and was meant to set the palette for the types of flavors in the pork belly.  The smell of the distillation was overwhelmingly of Thai chili, with traces of lemongrass and fish sauce.  The distillation tasted like mildly salty water, but not in a bad way as the saltiness subsided almost immediately.  Ultimately, I didn’t think the distillation added anything to the dish other than the initial aroma of Thai chili.

The pork belly was cooked incredibly well and sandwiched between two piece of crispy iceberg lettuce, topped with various herbs, and rested atop a pool of basil seeds.  I’d never had basil seeds in anything but Vietnamese basil seed drink (nuoc hot e, referred to as the “tadpole” drink when I was young), so having it part of the dish was neat and reminded me of my youth.  Another point of familiarity for me was the fact that the pork belly was paired with crispy lettuce.  This is such a common practice in Vietnamese cuisine: I’ve been wrapping cha giò in lettuce since I can remember.


The pork belly arrived with a bread accompaniment: a cilantro roll.  The two butters served were a butter made in-house topped with black lava salt and another butter from Wisconsin.  The cilantro roll made perfect sense going with the Southeast Asian tone of the pork belly.

OXALIS – juniper, gin, sugar 


The oxalis came incased in a gel on what is probably best described as a metal guitar tab with a curve at the tip.  At the time of eating, I had no idea what oxalis was, but it gave the bite a fresh bitter greens/floral taste.  Combined with the subtle sweetness of the gel, it served as a nice palette cleanser since Southeast Asian flavors can tend to be very in your face and set things up for the first substantial dish of the night: the lilac dish.

1 comment:

  1. The food looks beautiful. The one thing that bugs me though is the foam. When will this food trend end because I for one am not a fan.