Fantasm dinner at Alinea marks the end of an era

It’s really hard to believe that I start work in a week and that summer stay in New York will only get farther and farther away now.

Two weekends ago, I went to Alinea in Chicago. I made this reservation back in May and originally wanted to do this as a birthday type dinner thing for Ray. It turned into a fun sort of experience just for the meal.

I think Alinea kind of marked the end of the summer for me. After that weekend, I had one of weekend in New York before having to start preparing for my life after university, so in that sense it really was a marker of the end of my stupid, carefree and irresponsible days. *sigh*

Anyways, Alinea is one of those really cool restaurants that sets the mood with a futuristic entrance leading to the restaurant. I guess I should correct that, not entrance but hallway. (And for once I wish I took a photo of a hallway.) There they had floating cups of lemonade with wind chimes playing in the background. They lead you down a hallway rather aimless, where when you get to the end a door slide opens and a maitre’d welcomes you in and leads you up to your table.

So let’s begin.
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The meal steelhead roe in curry.
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It was a nice amuse bouche, if the lemonade during our entrance was supposed to be a palate cleanser.

Shellfish: oyster lead, king crab, lobster, and razor clam.
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Oyster leaf is a leaf that tastes like oyster
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Razor clam
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The crab and the lobster were also quite tasty, but I don’t have good photos of them.

Right before the next course, we got a surprise (of a “centerpiece”).
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Turn it on
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and we started the broth for one of the dishes.

While we waited for the broth, the woolly pig (of squid).
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This one was the first example of interesting plating (or rather lack there of) at Alinea.

Scallop acting as agedashi tofu.
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This dish will continue to boggle my mind. The scallop looks and feels like agedashi tofu. How they got the texture of the scallop to imitate tofu so closely is a mystery to me. This kind of reminds me of the dishes at WD~50, which look like one thing but taste like another.

Otoro, buried at the bottom
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but we scoop it out.
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Burn morels
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Mushrooms that have a smoked taste to them as a result of the forest fire. The puree was delicious.

Blurry photo of Hot potato, cold potato
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Ray says this wasn’t one of the memorable ones, but I thoroughly enjoyed the contrasting temperatures of the hot potato and the cold potato soup. Butter + potatoes are my comfort foods.

Lamb
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3 different cuts of lamb (shoulder, loin, shank?), 60 different ingredients to add, an infinite amount of flavor possibilities.

It’s also one of the prettiest dishes in this meal. You really see the care that goes into each ingredient in this dish. No ingredient is too small to be ignored.
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Black truffle explosion (more like perfection)
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The abuse of black truffle and butter was appreciated greatly.

Squab inspired by Miro.
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There was a funny story to this one. The server explained that this was a dished inspired by a piece by Miro that was of melting spoons. So the chef recreated the melting spoons. He said that if you looked at the reflection of the spoons that it would appear as if the spoons were melting. Well, I didn’t know which reflection he was talking about at first. So I was staring at the reflection of the spoons on the table scratching my head because I didn’t see it.

Only after the meal did Ray explain to me (while cracking up) that it was actually the reflection on the container that distorted the reflection such that it looked like melting spoons.
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Do you see the melting spoons?

Anjou pear, with caramelized onions and brie. It tasted like a fancier version of a crab rangoon.
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The cinnamon stick was on fire. It smelled quite good. Here’s another example of the innovative plating.

5 different flavors of ginger.
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It was an interesting lead into the sweeter side of the meal. The flavors varied from citrusy and sweet to salty and savory.

Blueberry cake, with liquid nitrogen and other really yummy things.
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The cake was on the drier side, but with fresh blueberries and jam + chantilly, the texture was balanced out. In the pit, where all the liquid nitrogen was evaporating was a lemony drink.

Green apple taffy balloon with apple leather
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One of the most fun(ny) parts of dinner. It was fun sucking out the helium in the ballon and talking in funny voices.

Interlude to the White Chocolate
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Setting up the ingredients with chantilly, crushed english peas, frozen strawberries, and flower petals.
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I think it was just liquid nitrogen in here
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and next to the white chocolate orb.
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Inside the white orb of chocolate is a basket full of goodies.
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The chef at this masterpiece
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Finished product!
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So the white chocolate dish was probably one of my favorite dishes, intellectually speaking. I thought it was pretty neat how it was so dynamic in several dimensions. Probably, most interesting to me was how it continued to evolved even after the chef left. If we define the static dimension as the picture itself, then the dish evolved as a picture. Visually, the  picture that was created initially by the chef had lines and curves that added movement to the image as a static picture. Then boom! The chef cracks the chocolate basket of goodies. There’s the first phase of the evolution.

Then as the diners start to eat it, the image of the dish continues to change, the change affected by the diners.
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Finally, there’s the change wrought on this dish by the passage of time. Since most of the ingredients were frozen, after their initial plating, these frozen ingredients start to melt, again changing the image of the dish.
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And there we have it.

Alinea.
2012-07-28 20.28.09

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