Hello to all my tens of semi-regular readers!! I went to Alinea recently for a one night trip to visit friends and eat well. I left on the 23rd and came home to San Fran on the 24th. Pretty sweet. The only not-so-sweet part was the lack of flash. They wouldn’t let me use flash when I took photos, so these are as good as they can be. I’m posting these knowing full well they’re not perfect. That being said, Ill stop rambling and get on with it.
Trout roe || coconut, pineapple, licorice
This was a tasty opener. Good salinity balancing sweetness and a bit of tart from the licorice. Pineapple froth behind a mousse of coconut. Coconut powder in front, roe on top. Good
Yuba || shrimp, miso, togarashi
Pretty damn tasty, considering my last experience with yuba left me unimpressed. Note to chefs, yuba is not a good pasta replacer. Moving on. Dehydrated yuba, speckled with togarashi, sesame, and a piece of shrimp that they somehow ‘glued’ to the yuba. Sitting in a little black holder that had a miso aioli-type sauce in the bottom. Good finger food. They even provided hot, moist towels. How thoughtful… Good
Navy Bean || many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air
As a cook, I’ll sometimes think of flavor combinations, and write them all down. Ill choose one main ingredient and then riff of of it; adding other flavor combinations that all jive with that one main flavor. That seems to be what he did here. The navy bean puree was awesome; topped with pancetta, and guiness froth. Starting from ‘noon’ – (cant see it – sorry) lemon marshmallow, bay leaf and vanilla gelee, romano beans and almonds, roasted garlic and chili flakes, parsnip chips, tomato and mango leather, mung beans and sea grapes, pear ‘shot’ with molasses. All in all an exciting dish, but some poor bastard was sitting there at his garnish station, crying as he plated 5 of these at once…. i dont even want to imagine how many he made that night… Very good.
Duck || butternnut squash, banana, thai flavors
Another out of focus shot – apologies. Blame them. Fork garnished with duck tenderloin, garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, mint, etc.. Squash soup in the bowl. Eat the fork, drink the soup.. Pretty good.
Salsify || caper, olive oil, smoked salmon, dill
Interesting dish. Salsify was cooked and rolled in dehydrated smoked salmon and bread crumbs. Many granishes, dehydrated onions, peppers, olive oil tuile, lemon pudding, capers, dill sauce, lemon zest, smoked salmon, dill powder. Really interesting texturally; it kept my mouth busy. I hate dishes that are all softness. Old people food is not enticing to eat. This, however, was. Very good.
Sweetbread || cauliflower, burnt bread, toasted hay
One of my top 3 favorite dishes of the night. Not enough sweetbreads, though. Puree of caramelized cauliflower dotting the plate, along with the burnt bread puree. Really interesting tasting note here – burnt bread puree – awesome. Really striking and not bitter or as off-putting as initially suspected. SUPER crispy cauliflower pieces. Vermouth puree dotted around the plate (clear). Micro thyme branches and a toasted hay sauce round out the dish. I loved the hay sauce. Apparently they just toast hay in the oven and steep it in cream, puree and boom. done. Excellent.
Black truffle || explosion, romaine, parmasean
Truly an explosion. I’ve read about Chinese soup dumplings and the preparation for these seems to be what was done here… as far as i can tell… You bite down and it is full of buttery truffle broth. Really balanced. Not sure what the romaine did here, but aside from that little extra, it was absolutely delicious. Excellent.
Beef heart || fig, long peppercorn, celery root
So glad this was on the menu. I love beef heart and this was paired beautifully. The celery, celery root and celery leaf added clean notes, while the fig added some rich sweetness. The figs, however, were fresh. No – no – no. Not in December. A little creamy horseradish vinaigrette added punch and a fig pudding added a little richness. Very good.
Pork belly || smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables
It was what it said it was. When i was watching the guys in the kitchen (i got a kitchen tour), he put a square tuile over the belly and veg and put that under the salamander to melt the tuile over and ‘sauce’ the belly. Pretty cool. Good.
Roasted quince || foie gras, candied fennel, sweet spices
The top of the soup cup was foie butter, and had tarragon puree, vanilla gelee, and some sweet spice mix. The soup was poured over it tableside and it melted over into the base, which contained one small piece of poached foie gras, one piece of candied fennel, and quince. i have blurry pics of the soup being poured, but the base was covered up by the soup. Overall good combination of flavors, but this was so sweet, it could have been dessert. Too sweet for my taste, at least. Good.
Caramel corn || “liquified”
Shot this one down, and man oh man, it was tasty. It would be a top 3 if it was somehow a real dish. Excellent.
Interesting course. We were instructed to swirl it around in our mouths before biting down to make it chewy. This did not really happen for any of us… it pretty much just crumbled in our mouths. Good.
Scallop || parsnip, bitter orange, chervil
The dish smelled great, but sadly, all of our scallops were overcooked. The play of flavors and textures were interesting with some dried scallop and a parsnip sauce. Good.
Apple cider || walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash
This course was delicious, but the ball inside the cup was not very good, and stayed in your mouth longer than any other part of the dish. The apple cider inside the ball was very good, but the vegetable ash was not even tasted. Good.
Lamb || in cubism
The lamb was beautifully cooked. The breaded and fried rillete was absolutely delicious as well. The sauces on the plate were not explained, as we were supposed to figure it out on our own. The lamb loin had several garnishes that were typical flavor pairings with lamb, such as mint, mustard, eggplant, and garlic. The ‘sauces’ were dijon, chocolate, saffron, lemon, almond, cranberry, and mint. Good.
Hot potato || cold potato, black truffle, butter
One of favorite top 3 dishes of the night. Pull the pin, drink the soup. Perfect seasoning and delicious, simple ingredients. Excellent.
Bison || turnip, candy cane, juniper branch
You could smell this dish in the dining room, which totally built it up. We were presented with it, and words cannot describe how great it smelled due to the hot rock cooking the meat and warming the branch. But words seem to fail me on how much of a let down this course was. Not only was the portion miniscule, what little meat there was, was wrapped around a piece of turnip 10 times its size, and furthermore was completely overwhelmed by the candy cane on top. I did not even taste meat. Not Good.
Transparency || of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt
Pretty good intermezzo of sorts… we all wondered aloud why he was using raspberries in december…. our waiter joked about going down and asking chef. We insisted that he didn’t, but he did. Apparently he uses them “because they’re delicious”. I’m still kind of embarrassed. But id love to taste those raspberries he’s using before they get whizzed and chemicaled-up. Good.
White truffle || toasted oat milk, pink peppercorn, pear
White truffle ice cream is closest to the camera in this tube. Followed by pears in toasted oat milk, and pink peppercorn tapioca. Vanilla gelee topped off both ends of the tube to keep it all in place. Absolutely delicious. Excellent. (asked for seconds and got it)
Chocolate || passionfruit, lemongrass, soy
The chocolate dessert that every restaurant must have. Might as well make it unique, right. Well, I never had chocolate and soy before, so this was a first. The chocolate flavor was really muted even though the server gave us an explanation of how great the Venezuelan chocolate was. Really lacking in chocolate flavor… The soy marshmallows on the plate and soy ‘puree’ on the right were ok. The passionfruit noodle was also really lacking flavor. The lemongrass ice in the middle of the platter was the most refreshing aspect. But holy hell, the quenelle of white on the left middle was supposed to be horchata… at least thats what the server called it. Now, I’m from LA – which is basically Mexico, so when you get horchata there, you GET HORCHATA. This was a sad midwestern excuse. No cinnamon or spices. Just a mild rice flavor. Good.
Licorice cake || muscovado sugar, orange, hyssop
Hands free dining. Lean forward and eat this sugar-spun cake. Pretty good flavor with the sugar and licorice supporting and bringing each other out; however, I’m not the worlds biggest fan of licorice in large doses. This was not my fav, but the texture of the cake was almost like a thick mousse. Velvety and rich. Very good.
Persimmon || carrot, red curry, spice aroma strip
This dish was all over the place. But it tasted delicious. Top right was a date ‘pudding’ thickened with agar, judging by the texture. Braised pistachios – interesting texture. The sphere in the center was a ‘ravioli’ of ginger juice. Red curry ice cream, carrot cake, persimmon in there some kind of green tuile that we never figured out, and some herbs, again unknown and flavorless. The little boat looking thing in the top right corner was a needle holding a listerine strip of spice flavor that we were instructed to place on our tongue before eating. Heavily spiced, similar to the quince soup earlier. Very good.
Pumpkin || brown sugar, tempura, cinnamon fragrance
They lit the cinnamon stick and paraded it thru the dining room so everyone could smell. I totally craved this course about half an hour before we got it. One biter, and it was crunchy, soft, pumpkin-y and gone. Excellent.
All in all, I can’t wait to go back. I can’t help wondering how many chemicals I ingested, but when you get treated like we did, and the food tasted like it did, you hope they go in and out.