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Alinea Part I – Pinch me, I’m dreaming.

I’m at a loss for words.

I officially had the best meal of my life. A meal that has confirmed that food is an art and an experience. A meal sitting next to people that understood that I don’t just eat to live, but that I live to eat. And since leaving the restaurant, I’ve been struggling with words to describe my dinner at Alinea.

A little background first – Alinea was opened by Chef Grant Achatz (who also worked under Thomas Keller of the French Laundry) in May 2005. Since then, the restaurant has received numerous rave reviews, including being named the “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet magazine. Immediately after being told I was going to Chicago for training, I called Alinea for a reservation. Not surprisingly, they were booked, but I was put on the wait list. Three days before leaving Chicago, I received a phone call that put the biggest smile on my face – I was going to Alinea on Friday night! No exaggeration when I say I had a hard time sitting through class after that call…

Alinea has two menu choices – the tasting menu (12 courses) or the tour menu (24 course). Yes, it seems like a ridiculous amount of food, even for me, but keep in mind that a course is often times one or two bites. Despite my previously done research, I forgot that the entrance was unmarked minus a small sign noting valet service for Alinea. Alinea has a cool, lounge like feel to it – nothing too pretentious and far from stuffy. My dining buddy remarked several times how great of a night spot it’d make – I much prefer it to house my new favorite restaurant.

Once they confirmed any dietary restrictions (eggplant for JQ, bananas for me), we waited for the magic to start. Oh boy did it start…

1. Steelhead Roe – coconutFor each dish, the servers always did a fantastic job of instructing us how to eat the course. We were instructed to use the vanilla bean as the utensil to pop the morsel into our mouths and pull the vanilla stick out. I really liked this dish, but the combination of coconut cream and roe was so different and unexpected, I wish it came a little later in the meal.

2. Yuba – shrimp, miso, togarashi.
Yuba is made from soymilk. The soymilk is boiled to form a film on the surface, which is then collected, dried and subsequently fried to create the stick for this dish. The shrimp is wrapped around the yuba stick, then the whole thing is sprinkled with togarashi, a Japanese pepper spice mixture. The yuba was nice and crunchy (Dad, you would have liked this) and a nice contrast to the shrimp. At the bottom of the little black well was some miso mayonaise (though far from mayo, much to my happiness). I would have preferred to start with this course.

3. Crab – passion fruit, avocado, heart of palm.Bite-sized crab meat wrapped with a passion fruit leather (more fruit leathers to come in future courses) and heart of palm, teeny dots of avocado puree, microgreen, chevril, etc. These one bite courses really made my experience at Alinea. I’ve now written, then deleted, then written and deleted my attempts about ten times trying to describe why I really liked the one bite courses so much, but I’ll leave it at they just leave me speechless. This was one of my favorite courses of the evening.

Over the next few days, I’ll post each of the courses and end with a wealth of information that I’ve since found on Alinea. I contemplated posting a picture of the menu, or the menu itself as an introduction, but I thought it’d ruin the surprise. Part of the excitement of dining at Alinea was that you really put your trust in the chef to provide you a entertaining dining experience – a large part of the excitement came from not knowing what was next and trying to catch a glimpse of what the table across the room was getting.

Stay tuned for the rest of Alinea….

Happy St. Patty’s Day, All!

2 comments to Alinea Part I – Pinch me, I’m dreaming.

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