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Monday, May 28, 2012

On The Town - Alinea

1723 North Halsted, Chicago, Illinois

To celebrate our fifth anniversary, Baby and I spent an evening of wretchedly wondrous excess at chef Grant Achatz's Alinea in Chicago while we were wrested away from town for business. Alinea has been consistently listed as one of the top restaurants in the country so we went for it and secured a reservation. To say the least, it was an extraordinary experience full of fanfare in a relaxed, refined setting with an impish staff to attend to us over the hours we spent there poring over 19 courses of wildly inventive dishes that steadily walked a tightrope of molecular gastronomy, reserved elegance, and flights of childhood fancy.

After a brief wait, we were briskly escorted to the dining room proper and attended to by our entirely hospitable, comedic and nimble elves. We started with a hale Champagne cocktail, our bubbling flutes duly addressed by a dose of bitters and sweet vermouth and then lingered over a sole bottle of wine.

Without blathering on in fine detail about everything we savored, here's the menu we were presented with, and a few comments by me in italics:

CHAR ROE carrot, coconut, curry
A wonderful starter, with an evenly balanced shot of curry
OYSTER LEAF mignonette
Surprising, shocking! Although we had doubts initially when we were told it would taste like an oyster, the fresh, meaty Scottish leaf actually tasted like an oyster! It was part of a platter that also involved:
KING CRAB passion fruit, heart of palm, allspice

This trio was presented on a raft of Malaysian driftwood, outfitted with a filigree of seaweed:
MUSSEL saffron, chorizo, oregano
RAZOR CLAM shiso, soy, daikon
WOOLLY PIG fennel, orange, squid

SCALLOP acting like agedashi tofu
As fresh as you can imagine
ICE beet, hibiscus, licorice
Petite cubes served on diminutive spears
LOUP DE MER caponata, mint, panella
Branzino with a wonderfully ripe tomato mixture
HOT POTATO cold potato, black truffle, butter
Utterly mind boggling; a boiler of sorts hovered over a Bunsen burner on the table in infusing mystery before hot soup was prepared and added to a cold concoction. It was downed in one stupefying gulp 
WILD MUSHROOMS juniper, sumac, shallot
Best of the forest
VENISON red cabbage, mustard, paprika
Served with a "flag" of red cabbage to wrap up the meat
BLACK TRUFFLE explosion, romaine, parmesan
We plundered like pigs, sniffing out rich depths
SQUAB inspired by Miro
Art in motion that somehow summoned Miro's mobiles if you paid careful attention, spread on our plates by the hand of an artist's touch
ANJOU PEAR onion, brie, smoking cinnamon
Yup, it came out smoking, like a Hare Krishna sit-in
GINGER five other flavors
I don't remember what all the flavors were but the little bites were served on more diminutive spears
WINTER in New Hampshire
Naturally I glommed on to this, as NH is where I was born. This was glorious; peppermint-infused ice, like snow with wintry candies, served on birch wood cross-sections
BALLOON helium, green apple
It arrived to the table suspended by its own virtue and tasted like green apple taffy, as we pulled it down, inhaled the helium to talk to funny and then ate it 
DARK CHOCOLATE butternut squash, lingonberry, stout
A large chocolate frozen orb arrived, enshrouded in a cloud of liquid nitrogen gas that flooded the table. The waiter spread out a rubber mat, painted it with a mixture involving stout, vibrant butternut squash puree and splashes of lingonberry coulis. He shattered the orb, to reveal its contents: cookies, bits of cake and French toast. We scooped it all into the artwork, using the shards of chocolate as utensils.

Thanks for the photo courtesy of chef Grant Achatz from!

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