Thursday, October 29, 2009

Alinea: 9-06-09, Courses 4-5

LILAC – scallop, shellfish, honeydew


I’d never eaten anything with lilac in it, and I really didn’t know what lilac smells like so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The lilac was integrated into what the server described as “pillows.”  The pillows were made of kudzu and were silky smooth and melted in my mouth.  They’re the white circular things in the picture.  It might have been the fact that my sense of smell was almost shot, but I couldn’t really taste the lilac.  I feel floral notes tend to be very dependent on aroma, so this could explain it.

Despite this, the lilac was the first dish that really made me think “wow.”  Although the main component of the dish was said to be lilac, the broth was pure essence of briny shellfish and was the real star of the dish.  I thought to myself “this is what clam chowder should taste like.”


A porous bread was served with the dish, which made it an excellent vessel for sopping up broth.  The honeydew foam and tiny balls of honeydew added a nice sweetness to even out the brininess, but I wasn’t completely in love with it.  The server mentioned that Achatz liked pairing shellfish with melon, but I didn’t leave convinced that shellfish and melon was a home run combination.

On to things that I didn’t like.  The scallops were cooked fine, but a couple of the mussels I got were overcooked and a little rubbery which shocked me considering the caliber of the restaurant I was eating at.  Also, there were small slices of raw celery that garnished the top of the dish, and if you know me then you know how much I hate raw celery.  I like to pride myself on how I’m not a picky eater and will eat anything, but more than a few bites of raw celery can make me gag.  I could've done without the celery, but that’s only because of my weird aversion to raw celery.

PIGEONNEAU - á la Saint-Clair


I knew something was up when antique stemware was placed on the table.  The server then described that the next dish would be paired with a drink: a house-made cherry balsamic soda.  It’s probably not fair to compare the soda to black cherry flavored Shasta, but it reminded me of it.  Only way more complex.   The balance of sweetness and tartness was perfect.

Then, the squab came out plated on antique dishes from 1903.  The server explained how on nights with lots of Tours (the dish was only available on the Tour) things can get a little crazy because they only have a limited number of antique dishes.  The story is that Achatz went hunting for the perfect antique dish but fell short because the vendor didn’t have enough.  Apparently Achatz turned to eBay and found someone selling antique dishes that met his aesthetic demands and at a decent quantity.

The squab itself was cooked nicely and laid on a bed of foie gras mousseline inside of a pastry.  Two quenelles of foie gras, mushroom, and onion outlined the circumference of the pastry with a super tasty sauce rounding out the dish.  Each individual component of the dish was amazing, but it wasn’t until I was smart enough to take a small slice of each ingredient, slather some sauce on top, and eat everything in one bite did the dish get elevated to a new level.  I suppose I wasn’t used to so many components to a dish being on the plate; this was the first of several times during the night where I was confused as to how I should eat the food.  What wasn’t confusing, however, was how well the cherry balsamic soda went with the squab.  It vividly reminded me of eating turkey with cranberry sauce.

Aside from the amazing taste of the dish, I couldn’t help but grin with glee and chuckle inside.  I took the fact that Achatz did such a classic dish prepared so classically as a retort to all the critics who may label his progressive style of cooking as heartless molecular gastronomy that strays away too far from what cuisine should be.  To me, it was Achatz saying “I’m more than just fancy foams and jiggly gels.”  The contrast of this dish with the rest of the meal was a nice touch.

After 2 incredible and substantial dishes, we would experience what is arguably Achatz’s signature dish: Black Truffle Explosion.

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