Friday, August 6, 2010

Tasty, tasty goat at Birrieria Zaragoza

Last weekend, we inadvertently did a tour of Yelp's top Chicago restaurants. That Alinea would be near the top of Chicago's Yelp ratings is obvious, but we had no idea that (as of this posting) Birrieria Zaragoza would hold the top spot. A lot of people have issues with Yelp, and Zaragoza's perch on top of the Chicago Yelp scene has a lot to do with these issues: namely, small, self-selecting samples can hardly be expected to yield reliable results. Leaving aside the sampling issues, though, one fact remains. Birrieria Zaragoza makes some damn tasty goat. And it's a good thing they do, because that's really your only option if you choose to dine there. The menu consists of large plates of goat, small plates of goat, and goat tacos. If you aren't in the mood for goat, you can order quesadillas or tortillas and salsa, but if you aren't in the mood for goat, I have no idea why you would make the trek down to this place.
Zaragoza is a family run place, and everyone working there is super nice and clearly enthusiastic about what they do. So, while the food is great, the friendly service may be even better.

Birria is a stewed meat dish, typically made with goat, that hails from Central Mexico. Zaragoza's version is absolutely delicious. It's not too far away from Midway airport, so it's definitely worth checking out if you need to go there for any reason. The birria (pictured above) comes in a variety of different textures - from crispy to falling apart tender - depending on the particular cut. A plate of goat is served with freshly made tortillas, and it's a good idea to order a side of their salsa
You can eat the birria alone or you can make your own tacos. I recommend the later because the fresh tortillas are so good.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A couple Alinea pics

While we didn't take pictures of most of the meal, we did manage to grab a couple of snap shots...they aren't great, but I might as well post them. A shot of Alinea's impeccably clean, calm, quite kitchen. It seems like more of a lab than a kitchen.

Here is a picture of the English Pea dish that I liked so much. The dark spheres are "sherry caviar" that explode in your mouth when you eat them. Very cool.
And here are some shots capturing the process for the chocolate dish that they finish with. They start by laying out a rubber or latex table cloth, painting it with white chocolate sauce and arranging chunks of meringue, some type of coconut pudding or mousse, and chocolate disks (in the cups)
Then they spread chocolate cookie crumbs around the table and place these big, freeze dried chunks of chocolate mousse in the center
They smash the mousse into smaller pieces and then add chunks of menthol that are very, very Altoids on steroids.
And here is the finished product. Quite a complicated dish for something that the menu calls "Chocolate, coconut, menthol, hyssop."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Last weekend, we finally went to Alinea. We didn't get any pictures of the meal, but they probably wouldn't have done the food justice as the light in our dining room was pretty low. Here's a copy of the menu, though.
Each course has such a simple name that belies its sophistication. For example, "Tomatoes" included a number of different types of tomatoes, cut into different shapes with a variety of accompaniments such as a caramelized, balsamic onion, bits of grated parmesan, basil seeds, and crushed pine nuts, to name a few. However, the dish doesn't stop with the food on the plate. The plate is served on top of a pillow filled with air that is infused with the aroma of fresh cut grass. The air slowly escapes as you eat the dish, which manages to combine the summery, fresh taste and texture of tomatoes with a scent that is unmistakably summer. This might sound pretentious, but it works. The level of thought that went into this dish is typical of each course we had.

While it is hard to pick a favorite, I think the standout dishes were English Pea, King Crab, Hot Potato, and Black Truffle. The pea dish was incredibly creative, and I loved how each bite had a different combination of ingredients and flavors that worked together beautifully. The potato and truffle dishes were both single bites that were overwhelmingly flavorful. The King Crab dish was interesting because it presented the main ingredients - crab, rhubarb, lilac, and fennel - in three different preparation: one cold, one room temperature, and one hot. Each one was incredibly flavorful and completely unique.

While I'm typically not a dessert person, the Chocolate dish was also really impressive simply because of its presentation. The chocolate dish is prepared directly on your table, and resembles something like a cross between a moonscape and an edible Jackson Pollock painting. We were fortunate enough to have Grant Achatz assemble the dessert for us. I think my favorite part about the dessert, though, was the fact that they paired it with a port that was older than I am.

I've eaten at a number of really nice restaurants, and it is rare that I have a dish that surprises me. Usually, a dish impresses me because it represents a precise execution of familiar flavors. I know where the dish came from and, given enough practice, I might have been able to come up with something similar in my own kitchen. At Alinea? Not even close. Every single dish introduced completely different flavors and flavor combinations prepared in ways that I never would have dreamed of.

A meal here can be prohibitively expensive, but if you care about food, this is a place worth saving up for. If you're a sports fan, you shell out for tickets if your team makes it to the finals; if you're a food fan, you go to Alinea. This place serves the most interesting, if not the best tasting, food that I have ever had.