Sunday, April 15, 2012

alinea

yes, i know it's been a while since i posted an entry about restaurants i've tried. between the korean trip entries as well as being busy with work and preparing for a rather huge transition in my life - it's gotten a bit hectic. there are still a few more entries that i have been postponing for months and sitting on my to do list but i begin to wonder if it's worth writing (but i probably will in due time)

now i am back with a restaurant entry and with one that is considered the best :)

sooo...i've made my way to alinea!

yesssssss...it has FINALLY happened!!

it was for a very special occasion ^^ and yes, it was a HUGE splurge so i don't think i'd do this again although i'd love to. just don't ask me how much we spent on the meal there ><

alinea has been my #1 restaurant to try for a few years now since it is pretty much ranked as one of the highest restaurants in the united states. there is a very inspiring story behind the genius who is the face of alinea, chef grant achatz. he is also the driving force behind the new restaurant concept that is next restaurant where i had the pleasure of experiencing his beautiful and delectable interpretation of paris 1906. two very successful restaurants (also my favorites) in my second home, chicago ^^



a few notable accolades alinea has received include ::
o1 | one of the rare michelin three star ranked restaurants in the world (106 in the world as of 2012 and 10 in the USA)
o2 | voted as the top 6th restaurant in the world by restaurant magazine 2011 - highest ranked by a US restaurant {way to go, chicago!}
o3 | named the world's best restaurant by elite traveller in 2012
o4 | recipient of the AAA five diamond award from 2007- 2011
o5 | five james beard foundation awards including 'Outstanding Chef' in 2008 and 'Outstanding Service Award' in 2011


did i mention this was my very first three star michelin restaurant i've ever been to? i was uber excited for the day to come. :)



i made my reservation the earliest i could make it for march 31st - which was january 6th. we requested regular wine pairing for one person that adds an extra $150 to the already hefty price tag..(again, don't ask, kay?) there was another option of wine reserves for $250 per person. i skipped either of the pairings since it would be a waste cos i can't drink at all. ><

instead of doing a full blog entry as i usually would, inspired by an entry written by roam&home blog authors, i've decided on a more whimsical way by using the menu as a score card for each dish we had at alinea. this is supplemented by photos to tell the story of my elegant, delicious yet interesting 3 hour tasting adventure. ^^ so expect a photo spam and single phrases to describe each course :)



one aspect that added to the awesomeness of this dining experience which never crossed my mind until after the meal were the elements of mystery and surprise - since we were not given a menu, we didn't know what to expect as they serve each course at our table making it all the more special :)




hence, pictures first :: the score card second :)


{MENU}


course o1 | steelhead roe :: served with carrot, coconut, and yellow curry - an apt beginning with a lightness yet many layers of flavor ~ a foray of what were to come



course o2 | exploration of the sea :: oyster leaf, mussel, king crab, and razor clam resting on a bed of kelp atop piece of indonesian driftwood





{special presentation :: what i could only lovingly call as the "mobile dashi broth maker" in preparation for course o4 - i admit it brought out my inner nerd lol. i was quite intrigued and excited about it - i love that i could watch as the dashi broth was brewing at my table - too cool! ^.^}





course o3 | woolly pig :: fennel, orange, and squid - one bite, "hands free" 



course o4 | scallop ::  secret agent, code name ~ agedashi tofu;  served with dashi, japanese condiments and yuzu





course o5 |  ice :: beet juice, hibiscus tea and liqourice - expertly presented as table centerpiece since the start of the meal



course o6 | scup :: caponata, mint and panella - a more traditional presentation of crispy yet tender fish served family style,  contrasting the whimsical + modern approaches of the other courses that night.





{special presentation :: the only things the server said as he placed this on our table was "this is for a later course" and "please refrain from touching it". i guessed it was cooked radicchio - was i right? to find out, skip to course o9}



course o7 |  hot potato  :: cold potato, black truffle loving, butter - freezing potato cube in shocking contrast with the creamy hot potato soup; all in a single sip




course o8 ::  wild mushrooms :: pine, sumac, shallots - resting on a comfy, aromatic pillow; engaging the senses of smell and taste. 





course o9 | venison :: red cabbage, mustard, paprika - a very messy hands-on and build-your-own cabbage wrap; fun but took away a lot of my savoring experience because of the huge bites to avoid getting stains on my dress.





{note :: what i thought was radicchio is actually white cabbage that has been braised in red wine for about 2 hours to give it the purple tint }

course 1o | black truffle :: explosion, romaine, parmesan - earthiness epitomed,  all in a bite..with good reason!



course 11 | squab :: inspired by miró - a personal exploration of textures and flavors through mysterious one bites arranged in an artwork of utensils :)






course 12 | anjou pear :: onion, brie, smoking cinnamon - that of crispy exterior encasing the savory and sweet surprises inside





course 13 | ginger :: a tasting of five different gingers which i never knew existed - also served as a palate cleanser to make way for the sweets



course 14 | winter :: in new hampshire - the beginning of molecular gastronomy visibly at play ~ peppermint 'snow' with four fruit bites and clear, colorless distilled hot chocolate







course 15 | balloon :: helium, green apple - a revisit to childhood memories but with a lot more whimsy and laughter ~ tart candy and a chipmunk voice! ^^




course 16 | dark chocolate :: butternut squash, lingonberry, stout ~ sweet treats explosion from the delicate chocolate bombe after an artsy and beautiful presentation by the chef at the table.. it's also the one time it's okay to eat food straight off the table.




the aftermath

this dessert course was a beautiful and creative closing to a near perfect meal. i really wanted a memorabilia to commemorate this unbelievable dining experience and we asked the server if we could somehow get a copy of the menu to which he responded that they usually hand the menu to the diners at the end of the meal ^^


as promised, my menu score card from my alinea dining experience ^^

since blogspot has changed their image settings, i had to crop this "score card" into two
so you'd be able to read my notes that i worked so hard on ^^ check out the next two images!

these are the two parts cropped (as perfectly as i could get it) - you could say this is my method of working around blogspot's image settings changes - to magnify the original image  haha. i apologize if it looks disjointed.

note :: BEST viewed by clicking on the image to read my notes on each dish.



a couple of quick notes :: the size and random positioning of the bubbles on the menu actually are with purpose and reason. the size of bubbles signifies the size of the dishes (bite size or full tasting size) and the positioning corresponds to how sweet/savory they are..

{quick Q&A of my dining experience at alinea}


one | which is my favorite course of the night?
i can't decide on one but instead i narrowed it down to two (even doing that was already an extremely difficult feat in itself)

one has to be the hot potato soup and cold cube of potato with slice of black truffle - huge burst of earthiness but it caught me by surprise when the freezing cube of potato hit the back on my mouth and while the warm, comforting creamy potato soup trickles down my throat. it's the unexpected factor that gives this dish an edge.

the second one was the squab inspired by miró . the creative artwork of spoons and forks that held one bites placed in random fashion echoes the way the course was eaten. although i could tell what a few of them were (i.e. squab, foie gras and what the server called, lavender noodles),  i loved that the rest were mysterious one bite wonders until i tasted it. and great thing was i could decide in what order i'd like to eat them. hence, each tasting experience would be different for every diner - definitely an exploration of taste and texture.


two | was there a miss throughout whole tasting menu?
if i had to choose, it would probably be winter with the peppermint snow and fruit bites served with distilled hot chocolate. the hot chocolate was amazingly interesting and lovely but the fall of the dish for me was the peppermint snow. it overpowered the other ingredients and i am not a huge fan of peppermint.

not exactly a miss but because of the messiness while eating the venison (don't get me wrong.. the venison was very deliciously hearty and i loved the flavors) took away some of my experience from savoring the multiple complicated layers of flavors the chef worked hard at creating.


three | anything else that qualifies as surprising/unexpected?
the one that stood out was the oyster leaf which still boggles my mind - how does a leaf taste so similar to an oyster? 

the other one was the beet course where i thought to be a fancy ice centerpiece served as the course in the evening. 

oh, the scallop dish where i was completely deceived by the tofu look-alike sitting innocently in the middle of the plate. and yes i was fooled! also, what was great about the scallop dish was that each bite with different condiments hits different taste buds on the palate - delicate and divine!


four | the fun aspect of the dining experience?
the many opportunities to play with your food since there were a couple of hands on courses. my inner nerd+foodie loved the mobile dashi broth maker. on the other hand, i especially had a good laugh with the helium and the chipmunk voice during the balloon course  and eating straight off the table for the first time ever! (which is strange in a good way esp when i think of this meal as fancy dining - it is absurb but yet it fits in chef achatz fun style)



five | will i recommend this to a friend?
i would say yes - at least once (because of the price tag on this dinner ~ maybe just once!) but only if you are into food.. (the reason being some cannot justify paying this much for food and dining experience since some does not have the same love for food experiences as much as others). i commend chef achatz for his attention to detail, the meticulous creativity with great balance of flavors, scrumptious fun, and the surprising subtleties in each course makes the whole dining experience amazing.    

as a cherry on top of my whole dining experience at alinea the staff asked if we wanted to visit to kitchen and watch the chefs at work. i am pretty sure my face immediately lit up at that suggestion (although surprised, at first) and agreed without any hesitation! i actually secretly hoped since the beginning of our meal that i'd be able to see the kitchen and when they offered, i was so ecstatic!

OMG - it was surreal - i was in alinea's kitchen, where all the yummy magic begins!



that totally made my night! pristine kitchen, all the chefs in clean, white chef's coat all working efficiently to make another diners' night heavenly.

we brought up a quick question with the staff if they were planning to add non alcoholic beverage pairing similar to what they offer at chef achatz's 'next restaurant', they mentioned that it has been a discussion in the past but decided that the menus and concepts of the two restaurants are different. from what i understand, with the number of courses at alinea and frequent changes to the menu, it is difficult to come up with beverages that pairs with the layers of flavors for each course and they want to highlight the main focus which is the food itself.





three hours later followed by a quick kitchen 'tour', hence endeth my alinea dining experience. alinea went beyond my expectations of what it means to be a michelin three star restaurant. chef achatz managed to engage nearly all of the senses through his attention to detail and his mastery of techniques in all aspects of an amazing dining experience, making this truly a one of a kind.

alinea has undoubtedly set the bar as one of the best dining experiences i've ever had (yet?) - deliciously subtle and intricate in exploring different textures and flavors in a fun and playful manner - a beautiful love story for all the senses :)

disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks awesome! -Tready

Sian Mei said...

thanks! <3 hehe.
when are we hanging out? ^^

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