Alright, it’s finally time to tell you all about the grand finale of this challenge! This past Friday, my friend Amy and I celebrated my birthday dinner at Alinea, Chicago’s only three-star Michelin restaurant. We had to make reservations three months in advance, and I can see why. The restaurant is world-renowned and was even named the World’s Top Restaurant by Elite Traveler Magazine. Holy jeez.
Neither of us could wait for our 20-course dinner, but when our cab pulled up next to an unmarked building with a blue door, we were confused. “This is it,” the cab driver announced. Interesting. We walked through the blue door into a long hallway, and a hidden door slid open to our left. Through the door was a beautiful staircase. A hostess took our name and we were escorted upstairs to a small room with about five other tables. The ambiance was very chic and modern, but minimalistic to ensure that the food was the star of the show. Our waiter greeted us and offered us each a 10-wine flight to accompany the meal. We both accepted, of course. Then, before we knew it, the meal had begun. We were poured our first beverage (champagne) by a crazy-haired sommelier and our first course arrived.
The first course was steelhead trout roe with carrot and coconut in a curry sauce. The roe burst in our mouths and was perfectly countered by the sweet, creamy sauce and the crispy carrot and coconut. It was amazing- the perfect introductory course.
After that, a large piece of driftwood covered in seaweed was placed in front of me. I was definitely taken aback. There were four different seafood “tastes” on the driftwood. We later found out that this was actually four courses in one- if I had known that at the time, I would have taken better, more detailed pictures of each one. Sorry, folks.
The first one on the left was a Scottish oyster leaf that tasted just like the sea. It was salty and fresh and delicious. I never thought a leaf could taste so good!
The second one was a razor clam (I really should have opened the shell to display how beautiful it was) with soy and daikon. Amy found this one to be the most mundane, comparing the sauce to teriyaki. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my favorite.
The third one, which you can hardly see in this picture, was a mussel with a sprinkling of saffron and oregano, plus a bit of chorizo. This one was absolutely heavenly and tasted almost like a curry to me.
The final taste was king crab with passion fruit and hearts of palm. Very fruity and tropical, with a creamy mayo-like sauce. Deelish.
The next course they described as the “hands-free” course. It came out on a thin wire-like contraption (I couldn’t get a good picture because my camera wouldn’t focus on it properly) and you were supposed to just lean in and eat it without using your hands. A little embarrassing, for sure. Here’s a picture of the whole thing:
On the end of the wire was a small squid, along with a piece of woolly pig, some fennel, and some orange. Amy and I found this course disappointing because we could only really taste the orange. It was bitter and chewy, like eating an orange rind, and we didn’t really get the flavors of the other ingredients at all. Bummer. Meanwhile, various wines kept being poured for us and stories of the vineyards and the varietals went on and on. I smiled and nodded, but I was starting to get a bit tipsy and found myself thinking about all sorts of other things as the sommelier gave his spiel. I’m clearly not mature enough for this place.
All of a sudden, a bizarre contraption was placed on our table with no explanation. A fire was lit under it, and as I watched the contents bubble up, I felt like I was in high school chemistry class again. We soon learned that what had just been concocted before our eyes was dashi, a Japanese stock made of seaweed, soy, chili peppers, and a lot of other things I don’t remember. The dashi was then poured over the next dish and also into a little sake glass for sipping.
As you can see, the thing in the middle looks like tofu. If you were there, you’d know that it also tasted like tofu. But it was actually a scallop that they emulsified with soy milk to turn it into a kind of imitation tofu. While the idea was cool, I’d much rather eat something that tastes like a scallop than something that tastes like tofu. The dashi was tasty, though. Salty and full of flavor.
Now, what I didn’t mention was that the whole time we were seated, there was a large, clear crystal-like sculpture on our table. It had two streaks of red in it and looked like a very cool modern art piece. At least, that’s what I thought until they pulled it in front of us and gave us straws. “Here is your next course!” our waiter said, revealing that what had been sitting there was a block of ice with beet juice inside. We stuck our straws in and slurped it out! It was a great palate-cleansing course- cool, refreshing, and with a kick of healthiness! This pic shows what our “sculpture” looked like almost fully drained.
I’ll stop here, because this is getting long. We’ll get to the rest of the meal (including the black truffle!) soon, so come back and visit!