CLICK ON THE MAIN PHOTO ABOVE TO VIEW CAPTIONS IN GALLERY FORMAT
Image 1: www.alinea-restaurant.com
Chef: Grant Achatz
Tasting (12-course): $150 Tour (24+course): $225
Image 2: The mysterious entrance foreshadows a meal full of surprises.
For some reason, I always had a feeling that Alinea was just one of those places where young chefs show off their molecular delusion with a bunch of gimmicks.
Image 3: I have to admit: I was WRONG! As the winner of the 2008 James Beard's Chef of the Year "The Oscar of Food", not only was he able to delight our taste buds, the entire experience turned out to be one of the most memorable, entertaining, and impressive meals of our life!
Image 4: All outfits of the service staff were designed by Zegna to fit the modern luxury ambience of the restaurant!
Image 5: We ordered the 24+course TOUR menu with wine pairing. Once we sat down, our server placed a unique rosemary decoration on our table along with a bottle of water.
Image 6: As a final preparation before take-off, he placed our set of cutlery on a small cushion as the centerpiece of our table. Now, let the TOUR begin...
Image 7: OSETRA - traditional garnishes
The first item was paired with a champagne cocktail of Henroit Brut with Orange Curaçao. What could be better than to start a molecular gastronomy meal with a twist on a classic dish using modern technique!
Image 8: Take caper, red onion, and dill (the traditional caviar garnishes) and turn them into jelly, mousse, and foam so that they wouldn't distract the true texture of the caviar! Brilliant idea and perfect execution!
Image 9: PORK BELLY - iceberg, cucumber, Thai distillation
Next, on the top left was a shot glass with sharp Thai flavours - lemongrass, ginger, and basil. Then they paired the salad with a northern Italian white, Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isargo, Alto Adige 2008.
Image 10: This Thai salad had a complex mixture of delectable flavours - aromatic coconut, savoury pork belly, sweet banana, spicy curry and exotic basil all wrapped in a crispy lettuce. A powerful salad to awaken our senses!
Image 11: PEAR - eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper
It was important to have this kind of tiny refreshment for such a long meal. This one was like a citrus version of "Polo mint" dusted with pepper! Very unique tableware by the way!
Image 12: BROOK TROUT - monseigneur
A beautiful dish surrounded by an array of expanding drops of red wine sauce. This course was paired with a unique Burgundy white wine mutated from pinot noir, Robert Chevillon Nuits Saint Georges, Côtes de Nuits 2006.
Image 13: This creation was based on a classic dish. Special trout from Michigan poached in red wine accompanied by barquettes, boat-shaped pastry. The big one was filled with poached quail egg in black truffle sauce and the smaller two were filled with trout roe.
More details from Alinea's Forum.
Image 14: PHEASANT - apple, shallot, burning leaves
Image 15: Things started to get exciting! A playful tempura of pheasant skewered on burning oak leaves. Obviously the chef tried to create a multi-sensory dining experience, but the strong burning aroma was a bit distracting to the food. Very trendy tempura holder though!
Image 16: DUCK - chestnut, mace, orange
This course was all about duck: foie, breast, leg, heart, and consommé, along with "chestnut pillow" and honey orange jelly. How could a dish work with that many ingredients all at once?
Celler de l'Encastell, Roquers de Porrere, Spain 2006
Image 17: No idea, but it was one of the best duck courses ever. Deep duck flavour along with a fruitiness from the honey orange jelly and a sweetness from the chestnut pillow (more like a chestnut flavoured tofu). A sophisticated course with beautiful flavours and wide range of textural contrast. Absolutely loved it!
An innovative trio of desserts to finish our first half of the TOUR. It was more a fun course combining the world of sweet and savoury! And look at all these interesting utensils!
Image 19: BACON - butterscotch, apple, thyme
Hanging on a wire was a strip of bacon coated with butterscotch garnished with a strand of paper-thin dehydrated apple.
Image 20: PEANUT BUTTER - dried and spicy
This was probably the most unpleasant looking item of the meal!
Image 21: THAI BANANA - beer, mustard, pecans
A tiny slice of frozen banana topped with pecan, Guinness jelly, and a drop of mustard. We were amazed by their attention to detail. A job well done by the team for such a high quality performance for the first half of the meal!
Image 22: Our server cleaned up our table, changed to a new set of glasses, and even opened a new bottle of water for the second half of the TOUR. We were both very excited and couldn’t wait for another round of innovative tasting menu. Let's begin once again with an amuse bouche!
Image 23: HOT & COLD POTATO - black truffle, chives, butter
Wow, this unique serviceware kept the hot potato separate from the cold potato soup! Genius creation! And look at that minuscule cube of butter!
Image 24: The idea was you pull out the pin when you are ready to eat for a sensational temperature contrast. Stunning! This amuse bouche was paired with a glass of champagne, Bruno Paillard 'Premiere Cuvee' Brut Rose, Reims.
Image 25: YUBA - shrimp, miso, togarashi
More strange looking stuff! Standing in a holder filled with an orange miso paste was a stick of dried tofu skin rolled with shrimp, and dusted with sesame and Japanese "seven flavour chili pepper".
Image 26: LOBSTER - aloe, vanilla, fennel
This round-bottomed "palm bowl" can't rest evenly on a table due to the weight of the fork. The idea was the chef must pass it from his hand directly to the server's hand and then directly onto my hand without touching any other surface! A bit gimmicky, but we enjoyed seeing the unique serviceware here.
Image 27: A small piece of Maine lobster resting on an allspice custard hanging on top of a bowl of vanilla and aloe vera foam. This course was paired with an Austria white F.X. Pichler 'Loibner Berg' Riesling Smaragd Wachau, 2000.
Image 28: MATSUTAKE - pine, otoro, mango
Whoa! A colourful complex plate paired with Sigalas 'Santorini' Asyrtiko Greece 2007.
Image 29: A seductive slice of smoked and seared o-toro accompanied by various types of seaweed. The fruity mango drops, the tangy-sweet balsamic reduction, the soft melt-in-mouth fatty tuna with a hint of charcoal finish... OH MY GOD!!!
Image 30: Our server then provided us with a refreshing fragrance by shaving yuzu zest onto the second part of the dish. A yuzu sorbet with broken pieces of pressed Mazutake mushroom purée and a crunchy "soya and rice rock".
Image 31: BLACK TRUFFLE - explosion, romaine, parmesan
Resting on a spoon and a bottomless holder was truffle ravioli stuffed with diced truffle and truffle jus topped with parmesan. What an awesome explosion! It completed coating my tongue with an intense cream of truffle! Spectacular!
Image 32: Oh I see! Our rosemary table decoration was actually a chopstick holder as the next course required the use of chopsticks. Clever use of table décor!
Image 33: LAMB - pumpkin, eggplant, rosemary aroma
This was where the rosemary came into play. Our server took it from the chopstick holder and stuck it into the hot stone providing a sudden release of rosemary fragrance! An aromatic and delicious course! This was a very well thought-out meal. Astonishing!
Image 34: Our surrounding was then dominated by an attractive seared meat aroma from this sizzling hot rectangular stone. Remarkably tender lamb loin using three different garnishes - eggplant, pumpkin, and quince.
Josef Umathum 'Ried Hallebuhl' Burgenland, Austria 2001
Image 35: LEMON SODA - one bite
Just a quick palate cleanser before the desserts.
Image 36: CONCORD GRAPE - Maytag blue, toasted walnut
This shot glass contained another explosion in the mouth. This time, a runny blue cheese, grape and walnut!
Image 37: BUBBLE GUM - long pepper, hibiscus, crème fraiche
Who could have thought of all these different ways of serving food? A test tube packed with bubble gum flavoured tapioca, vanilla cream, and hibiscus jelly. You basically suck it like a straw. The gummy tapioca mimics the texture of bubble gum. It was like having an edible bubble gum! Truly a genius creation!
Image 38: TRANSPARENCY - of raspberry, yogurt
A fragile piece of transparent candy.
Image 39: The way of serving food here was getting more and more fun. Our cheese course was pinned at the end of an antenna! FYI, the serviceware used here are designed by Martin Kastner who worked closely with the Alinea team.
Image 40: BLACKBERRY - goat milk, onion, lavender
This cheese was paired with an Italian red, Elio Perrone 'Bigaro', Piemonte 2008. Every course was served differently without any repetition. Unbelievable!
They continued to amaze us. Our server brought us a pillow filled with air...
Image 42: ... and placed our dessert dish on top. The weight of the dish slowly released the air from the pillow. We were now surrounded by a nutmeg fragrance. This was a really superb idea! I was impressed by the creativity of the Alinea team once again!
Image 43: At that point, I was so enthralled the whole organisation of the meal. I really wanted to walk into the kitchen to express my appreciation to Chef Grant Achatz and his team for coming up with that many cutting edge culinary concepts and to be able to perfectly incorporate those concepts into fine dining. Bravo!
Image 44: HAY - burnt sugar, coffee, huckleberry
The dessert consisted of a chunky chocolate, almond meringue, and some sticky huckleberry paste garnished with caramel.
Fattoria Le Pupille 'Solalto', Maremma Toscana 2004
Image 45: I thought the meal was over and I was about to order a tea to accompany the petits-fours, but for some reasons, they cleared our table again but covered with a silicon cloth.
Image 46: And they laid out bowls of ingredient and got us a glass of Smith-Woodhouse 1994 Vintage Port. I was thinking: what kind of petits-fours are these?
Image 47: And came out of nowhere, Chef Grant Achatz appeared in front of us. I was about to give him my long appreciation speech, but CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT HE DID!!!
Image 48: Our final dessert prepared by Grant Achatz right in front of our eyes right on our table CHOCOLATE - blueberry, tobacco, maple. It ended up I didn't say a word to him because I was completely shocked and left speechless from his artwork!
Image 49: What a mind-blowing way of serving our final dessert! Unlike many celebrity chefs who would just come out at the end of the meal to greet their guests, he came out and prepared an edible artwork for all of his guests! This meal has totally blown us away!
Image 50: We were literally eating his drawing off the table. A crazy but tasty finish to our meal with fresh blueberry, blueberry jam, blueberry chips, coconut powder, white chocolate, spicy tobacco leaf cream, maple wood consommé balls, walnut crumble, ice cream, thyme, anise hyssop, and a steaming cold "Liquid Nitrogen frozen" Taïnori chocolate mousse!
Image 51: Finally, our petits-fours:
POUND CAKE - strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean
A lollipop on vanilla bean.
It was like near the end of a good movie that we didn't want it to be over!
Image 52: Even the menu here is special as it contains hidden information! Note that each course is associated with a bubble with the size indicating the size of the course, darkness indicating intensity, and position (left or right) indicating its sweetness! Who came up with this clever idea?!
Image 53: Exceptional! The most fascinating Tour of all time! No meal has ever provided us with such a thrilling experience before. The menu must involved enormous team effort with thousands of man-hours of experimentation along with many creative and clever ideas! We were impressed, extremely impressed at the whole meal. Grant Achatz is no doubt a true culinary star of the 21st century. All top chefs must come to experience Alinea!