Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Alinea Creates New Wave of Cuisine

This past weekend we went on a trip to Chicago. This was my virgin trip and quite a memorable one too! The most exciting thing that happened in this trip was our journey to try the new restaurant Alinea. The whole restaurant was well thought and carried out down to the very little detail, even with the stairs. The whole restaurant was chic and full of exquisite detailing and surprises, from the time I walked in feeling like Alice in Wonderland, until I was surprised by the stainless steel doors springing open and revealing a whole new adventure. I could go on and on about the restaurant, but the main focus was on the food, which was what I shall elaborate on below.

There are only two choices for the menu - Chef's tasting menu, which had 13 courses, or the full menu, which had 24 courses. Each menu items created new sensations in my mouth, and all were amazing. We accidently picked the tasting menu because of some confusion created when my fiance did the reservation. The first course was an ice cube of corn and coconut broth, with cayenne, lime zest, and a drop of mint sauce presented on a flat aluminum spoon on top of a glass block. The presentation was great, but the flavor of the cube was explosive. The small 1" cube packed complex flavor and tasted like a condensed cold soup. Even long after I swallowed the ice cube, the flavor of corn and coconut still lingered for a long while. The second course was a tomato course, which was butterflied and topped with various toppings, including african cous cous, dried salami, dark crouton, saffron and mollasses jelly, curry sauce, and along with a mozzarella balloon filled with a tomato foam. Each flavor gave a slight twist to the tomato, and the tomato foam and mozzarella was exceptional. The third course was poached mackerel topped with turmeric, bee balm, and poppyseed broth. The mackerel was soft and tender, with the turmeric giving a little tartness. Along with the broth, it was a small bite of heaven! The fourth course was lobster with vacherin, ginger, and litchi, tempura battered and fried and served on a vanilla stick. This provided a familiar flavor since Japanese food was my love, but the dish also provided new flavor such as the combination of vanilla and litchi. The litchi and ginger were hard to tell in the dish, but the vanilla aroma added an interesting layer to the simple dish. The fifth course was black truffle on top of a broth-filled ravioli with some parmesan. The ravioli melted in the mouth and the black truffle did not overwhelm the dish at all. The sixth dish was porcini paste with sauteed porcini mushroom, with ham, cherry, and some garlic cream. The porcini paste was a little strong in this dish, but the combination of the porcini, ham, and cherry was good.

The seventh dish was Peach and carrot puree with some smoked paprika. This was defintely my favorite dish because the dish was taken as a shot, and the first layer of flavor I got was the carrot, then the sweetness of the peach took over with a smoky overtone from the paprika as it exploded in my mouth (seriously!!). It was just heavenly. The eighth dish was Kobe beef with cocoa-dusted watermelon and chilled marinated watermelon. I've never tried a beef and watermelon combination, but this was a very pleasant surprise. The cocoa provided a slight smokiness and the sweetness of the watermelon and Kobe beef were actually extremely compatible. The ninth dish was three cubes of lamb, one with a mastic jam (tasted kind of like mint, but it wasn't mint), one with some sort of garlic cream, and the last one was with various pepper in southwestern flavor. Each lamb gave a different flavor, and the gradual increase of flavors made this dish a very interesting one. The tenth dish was a hot potato cube with parmesan cube topped with white truffle with cold potato soup. The difference in temperature was the interesting point in the dish, and the different earthy flavor combination also worked extremely well together. The eleventh dish was a pan-seared squab with peppercorn pudding, duck hash, and strawberry. This was not my favorite dish even though the squab was very tender. The dish was very "ducky" in flavor and also the combination was fairly common. But, moving on.

The next dish was applewood bacon with butterscotch string and thyme, swinging on a wire trapeze. The flavor combination was absolutely amazing, and, while the dish was not overly sweet, the applewood smoke was enhanced by the sweetness of the butterscotch and thyme. The next dish was a raspberry with goat milk cream, red pepper taffy, and pistachio crisp. I've never been a pistachio fan, but this dish has turned me into a fan! The red pepper taffy was not too sweet and was great with raspberry. The cream gave a well-rounded finish to the dessert. The next dish was poached fig with semisweet chocolate and served with infused tea. The infused tea and fig was absolutely incredible. Along with the semisweet chocolate, the flavor was simple and the combination perfect. And, FINALLY, the last dish was a salty dry caramel. The caramel was simple and excellently done, as it was liquified within your mouth. The salt excentuated the caramel's sweetness, but the caramel was not as sweet as some of the dry caramel in the market. This finishing dessert was just amazing.

After the 13 course amazing food adventure, we went on our way back to the hotel(and, with the help of Al Unser, JR. as our cab driver, we were back very quickly!). I really applaud the chef for trying new boundaries with food combination and presentations, and I think he truelly understand that we eat with our eyes first. The restaurant was absolutely amazing, with true 5 star service by the fantastic wait staff, and I hope the new wave of cuisine created by Alinea would move toward Columbus soon. If you want to experience absolute pleasure for your taste and visual senses, and if you just to happened to be in Chicago, please go to Alinea on 1723 N. Halsted, Chicago IL 60614. www.alinearestaurant.com