CHICAGO : Alinea, Part 1
'A linea' is latin for 'pilcrow' which is that backwards 'P' used to indicate the beginning of a paragrah. But, in the Middle Ages, this symbol was used to indicate a new train of thought, and in the case of Chef Grant Achatz, a new concept of cuisine.
Achatz’s menu at Alinea offers some of the most radical ideas ever to hit the plate. You can see for yourself here. In my opinion, his presentation skills are rivaled only by El Bulli, which was rated the best restaurant in the world by Michelin…Alinea was ranked 10—that’s still pretty good.
Incidentally, during his first years at Alinea, Achatz was diagnosed with cancer that effected his tongue, preventing him from tasting his own food—a chef’s worst and most ironical nightmare. He eventually overcame it, but during his treatment, Achatz continued to work full-time and even developed new recipes, saying that the inability to taste forced him to think outside the box and create a dish through pure and mental conception.
I had the opportunity to eat at Alinea during my vacation in Chicago. We had the prix fixe menu which consisted of a whopping 14 courses, and it was unforgettable.
ROES. It was salty, sweet, very briny, but refreshing. It felt like I was eating something straight off the ocean floor.
PORK BELLY W/ THAI DISTILLATION. House-made Sriracha, cucumber-infused lettuce, and braised pork belly. But the real star of the show was the thai distillation. It had all the aroma of a thai bird chili with none of the heat.
WHITE ASPARAGUS PARFAIT. Served in a cylinder that, when removed, dropped the entire parfait onto your plate. Very interesting textures happening here.
BLACK TRUFFLE EXPLOSION. One of the most flavorful spoonfuls of food I’ve ever had. It was a literal explosion of truffle juice condensed into a pasta cup. I stole this idea and used it in one of my dinners mimicking a ‘xiao long bao’ (a Shangahai-nese dumpling filled with soup).
WAYGU BEEF W/ POWDERED A1. Pretty much like eating beef-flavored butter—it was so soft. It was served with a simple, but ingenious potato-chip crusted potato puree. It also came with a cellophane packet of powdered A-1…which was honestly more gimmicky than tasty, but it did taste exactly like A-1.
The kicker was the black urn centerpiece, which was sitting on our table the whole time. Water was poured into the urn and barbecue-scented smoke began to waft toward and engulf our entire party. A great end to the savory courses.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Desserts.