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.