Marty (yellow truffle) to document what we ate.
Until I have time to write fully on Alinea, lets just say it was good, challenging and not what I had hoped for, but I'd like to go back.
*** UPDATE ***
Alright, I've been stalling. A lot.
What can I say, it's been over 6 months since I've been to Alinea, and I'm still not sure what I think of the place. I know I want to go back, but that's more out of curiousity than because I really liked their food.
Don't get me wrong, there were some fantastic dishes to be had at Alinea. In particular we really liked the Sour Cream, Melon, Finger Limes, Pineapple and Strawberries. But there were also some real duds.
Duds. There's an interesting word. When I use it to describe Alinea's food, it's not because the food lacked flavor. On the contrary, I'd say that certain dishes contained too much flavor. Or at least too much of one flavor that the dish seemed imbalanced and over powered by items that were supposed to play a supporting role. One of the first dishes that springs to mind is the Broccoli Stem. This was a disappointing dish because I had been looking forward to it after reading about it online. The grapefruit in this dish and the steelhead roe just completely masked this poor broccoli to the point that you could have put almost any vegetable in there without making much of a difference.
Then there were dishes like the Porcini that tasted like nothing but pureed sunflower seeds. Oddly, since the porcini flavor is similarly earthy and nutty, it was just a muddled mass of goo in my mouth. I think this was the only dish I didn't finish.
Other dishes were just disappointing because, as creative as they were, they just actually didn't go far enough. The Beef (flavors of A-1) had all of these little flavors to try with your beef, but they didn't give you enough ink in your well to truly experiment with the canvas they gave you. I actually just rolled mine all up to combine all of the flavors and didn't bother trying to mix-n-match in what appeared to be a futile exercise.
I realize that I've focused almost exclusively on the negatives here, but that's because I figured there is enough praise and drooling on the eGullet forums that I should give a counter point.
Don't get me wrong, I can certainly understand what people are raving about and I really do think Chef G is an important figure in the American culinary scene. I think his influences will be felt for years to come, especially as he becomes more established and more of a household name among non-foodies.
Regardless, even after months of reflecting on our meal, it just doesn't change the fact that we walked away disappointed. Some have been criticized for going without having an open mind or they just don't understand the cuisine or numerous other silly knocks. I can confidently say that I went with an open mind knowing fully what to expect, but the food, or more specifically the flavors, just didn't seem like anyone tasted them before putting it on an antennae and sticking in front of me.
This got me thinking about the experience of dining. An interesting thing about dining, is that a single dish isn't going to make or break a meal. The experience as a whole is what people will remember when they decide if they like a restaurant. A particular dish is what people will remember when they decide if they like a particular flavor profile. A great example of this is The French Laundry. Aside from the Oysters & Pearls, I can't say there were a lot of dishes that really stand out in my mind, yet it was one of the best meals I've had in my life. In contrast, I remember quite vividly several dishes from Alinea, both good and bad, yet it was probably our least favorite meal of our entire Chicago trip (Ann Sather being the other).
So no, I didn't enjoy our meal there. Yes, I would encourage others to go. Yes, I enjoyed the challenge. And yes, I'm looking forward to returning. Weird, I know.
Finally I'll leave you with some quotes from other sources that I think sum up my thoughts and feelings about Alinea pretty well:
"That highly experimental movement manipulates textures, flavors and even the chemical properties of ingredients with interesting, thought provoking -- and not always tasty -- outcomes." (Referring to the molecular gastronomy movement in general)
"Our meal at Alinea, which ran us over $200 each, was well worth it, if only to stake out a farther end of a creative spectrum than I'm used to, and to taste things that I can honestly say were totally new to my tongue (...and windpipe, apparently)."
"I hadn't formed a conclusion about Alinea but I will say that Gray provided something, in contrast, that was missing at Alinea. I'm not sure what is was exactly, maybe a combination of time, the privacy accorded by food that doesn't require a chaperone, by food that requests an audience of several minutes from you, or the luxury of flavors that could get a whole sentence out, rather than hiccuping fatally before resigning to an afterlife in your cerebrum."
-Beans, a.k.a. Jules
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Alinea - Make a Reservation
Chicago, IL (Lincoln Park)
1723 North Halsted
Chicago, IL 60614
Hours of Operation
Wednesday - Sunday: Dinner Only
Monday - Tuesday: Closed
MORE RELATED LINKS:
2008 James Beard Award Winners ~ Outstanding Chef: Grant Achatz @ Alinea
2007 James Beard Award Winners ~ Best Chef: Great Lakes
Find recipes in The Alinea Cookbook