Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicago: Alinea - The Tour

#22: Chocolate - bacon, applewood, crabapple

Alinea, oh how I miss thee?

Enough to make a second trip to see you, even though its only been a few months (5 months to be exact). Although my trip was by chance, I could not pass you up. I had to diss another fine dining establishment to see you since you called me last minute to confirm. I maybe blacklisted from Trotter's forever but it was worth it to be with you once again.

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If you haven't noticed, I have a love affair with Alinea. Enough where I had Marc email Nick Kokonas to ask for advice on how to land a reservation at Alinea. I know. I'm obsessed, so help me. You can find my 3-part series of my first trip here, here and here.

Anyways, it's true. I was not suppose to dine here. I was left on the waiting list since I booked my reservation about ten days short of a month before my dinner date. Basically if you don't call at least a month to two months out, you're not getting in. Period.

I must of had some major lucky stars on my side because three hours prior to opening, I got the call. I was on the road with my boss, Steve, driving back from Wisconsin to O'Hare (a two hour drive). At first I didn't recognize the number since it wasn't the main number from Alinea. I figured I'd call back once we get to O'Hare. A half an hour later, I check my voicemail and there it was, the call I never thought would happen and it did. A cancellation that lead to one open seat at Alinea.

WTF! I had already confirmed my dinner rezzy at Trotter's. What am I suppose to do? Like any insane person would do, call Alinea back and say, "I'll take it!".

So here we are again. It's Friday, the 13th of November and I take on "The Tour".

Last time I was there, my camera died halfway through the meal. This time, no more lame excuses. I brought my trusty dSLR with HD movie mode and a battery life to last me 850 shots. Plus, I brought my point-and-shoot camera fully charged, just in case. Equipment check...we're good to go.

Ok, enough of this background info. Let's get on with the food shall we.

Here is a copy of the Tour menu which consists of 23-courses. Nearly twice as many courses from my last dining experience. Click to enlarge.
To make the descriptions of the courses more interesting, I've paired them with their dish development write up from the Alinea Mosaic site (cool stuff!)

I was escorted upstairs to Table ?? (ok, I forgot). It wasn't my previous table which meant different lighting and atmosphere.

The centerpiece of the night, Rosemary.

Here are the infamous, utensils on white pillows.

#1: Osetra - traditional garnishes
Wine pairing: Cocktail of Hennot Brut Chartreuse, Akvavit and Orange Curacao

#2: Pork Belly - iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation (not pictured)
Wine Pairing: Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2008

#3: Yuba - shrimp, miso, togarashi

#4: Trout - monseigneur
Wine Pairing: Franz Hirtzberger 'Plurus' Grauburgunder Smaragd, Wachau 2000

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#5: Black Truffle - explosion, romaine, parmesan

#6: Duck - chestnut, mace, orange
Wine pairing: Celier de l'Encastell 'Roquers de Porrera' Priorat, Spain 2000

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#7: Kumquat - rye, lemon, demerara

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#8: Bacon - butterscotch, apple, thyme

#9: Peanut Butter - dried and spicy

#10: Thai Banana - beer, mustard, pecans

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#11: Octopus - green peanut, mint, dill
Wine pairing: Vecchio Sampen 'Ventennate, Marsala, Sicily

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#12: Matsutake - pine, otoro, mango
Wine pairing: Vinosia Plano di Aveillino, Campanra, Italy 2006

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#13 Pheasant - apple, shallot, burning leaves
Wine pairing: W.H. Smith 'Marimar Estate Vineyard' Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2006

#14: Hot Potato - cold potato, black truffle, butter

#15: Lamb - pumpkin, eggplant, rosemary aroma
Wine pairing: Schwarz Zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria 2006

#16: Concord Grape - maytag blue, toasted walnut

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#17: Lemon Soda - one bite (no picture)

#18: Blackberry - goat milk, onion, lavender
Wine pairing: Ello Perrone 'Bigaro', Piernonte 2008

#19: Bubble Gum - long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

#20: Transparency - of raspberry, yogurt

#21: Hay - burnt sugar, coffee, huckleberry
Wine pairing: Klein Constantia 'Vin de Constance, South Africa 2004

Fall 2009 - Dish Development: Alinea Mosaic

#22: Chocolate - bacon, applewood, crabapple
Wine pairing: Olivares Dulce Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain 2004

When you see this set up, you should know what's coming next - The Mat Plate (the concept can be best described from Pulling Back the Kitchen Curtain by Chef Grant Achatz). This time around, I was completely in shock/awe because Chef Grant Achatz plated this dish. It was pure luck that he was back in town from Spain the night I was dining at Alinea.

So what was the first thing that came out of my mouth when I saw him appear at my table?

"Didn't you just come back from Spain?"

His reply: "Yes. I got in this morning."

And he's right back in the kitchen. Wow, I guess creativity never sleeps. I have much respect for his craft.

#23: Pound Cake - strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean

I concluded the evening with a pot of hot green tea. Nothing special. It's called kochika (well, that's what it said on my receipt).

Afterthoughts: Great meal as always. I liked how they've started to post their dish developments on the Alinea Mosaic website. Although I had some repeats from my last trip, they were all classics and I'll never get tired of them. I was happy that the Tour still incorporated classics from previous seasons like Hot Potato. I didn't think I would ever get to try it.

I did notice that the number of courses in the Tour menu has decreased from 26 down to 23 and there wasn't bread service this time around. Maybe its a good thing. I didn't feel like I had to be rolled out in a wheelbarrel like my last visit.

I feel this second trip was a redemption from my last trip. All of my camera equipment was working, I conquered the Tour and I got to see the man itself. He even signed my menu after arriving from Spain the same day. Would I come back? Yes, of course. If I plan on coming here a few times a year, I may just have to stick with the Tasting menu. If it's every other year, then its the Tour all the way.

Things to know:
  • The menu is constantly evolving. If you've been here a few times (like me) and you've done at least one Tour, it doesn't hurt to stick with the Tasting menu if you plan on coming here a few times a year.
  • Price Range: $$$$. The 12-course Tasting menu is $150 and the 23-course Tour is $225.
  • Wine pairings are 2/3 of the cost of the menu. In my case, it cost me $138.
  • If you plan on doing the Tour with the wine pairing, take a cab.
  • Dress Code: Dressy, no jeans.
  • Want to know more on what's in dish development for the season? Take a look at their dish development section on their Alinea Mosaic website at:
  • Alinea is one of the few restaurants that actually celebrates the holidays by - closing its doors. So no special turkey preps for Thanksgiving AND you can't spend Christmas here. This year, Alinea will be closed from Dec 21st until Dec 30th. They'll reopen on New Year's Eve.
  • Reservations: According to Nick Kokonas, he says "We are still months out on weekend reservations and 3 to 4 weeks on the rest." We say: Plan ahead.
1723 North Halsted
Chicago, Illinois 60614


Robyn said...

That's awesome Jocelyn! My heart was racing as I was going through your Tour pictures. Love it!

Joce said...

Hey Robyn,

It was insane! I almost passed out when I met Chef Grant Achatz in the flesh.

Remember: The elBulli rezzy book opens in January!

Anonymous said...

Amazing ! I was at Alinea tonight and loved it. You'll highly enjoy Gary Danko & Joel Robuchon!

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