There is a fascinating documentary on Netflix “Chef’s Table” highlighting the life and career of Grant Achatz (Chef’s Table, Season 2, Episode 1). The show features Chef Grant Achatz and his restaurant Alinea. Chef Achatz battled tongue cancer which caused him to loose his sense of taste for a period of time. I was hesitant to watch the show at first, thinking it would be a sad story, but it turned out to be an amazing saga with a happy ending. The culinary masterpieces he serves in his restaurant defy the imagination and showcases the talent of the creative chefs at this restaurant. Since opening the restaurant in 2005, Chef Achatz has become well-known for his deconstructions of classic flavors, meaning that what you think you are eating may not be at all what you are actually eating. This show enticed us to hop on a plane to Chicago to dine at Alinea, a three star Michelin-starred venue, rated number 34 on the top 50 restaurants in the world list. The restaurant takes its name from the symbol alinea (prominent in the restaurant’s logo). You may remember it as the “new Paragraph symbol” used in manuscripts.
Chef Achatz also wrote a book about his fascinating life and career: Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat.
Our Chicago experience began with a leisurely brunch at our hotel…
Boody Mary brunch at Michael Mina’s Margeaux Brasserie … Croque Madame, Butter Lettuce Salad with laclare farms chèvre, shaved radish, crème fraîche dressing.
Then off to a Chicago River boat architectural tour. I loved how the large buildings reflected in the glass on the skyscrapers that lined the river.
One of our favorite parts of the tour was the history of the Montgomery Ward Mail Order House. The warehouse was as long as 2 1/2 football fields and at one time had its own post office branch. Due to the expansive length of the building the employees wore roller skates to pick merchandise off the shelves in the warehouse to fill catalog orders. When the warehouse closed they found dozens of pairs of roller skates stashed away in the building. The skates quickly sold on e-bay.
Spoiler Alert! Alinea is all about illusion. If you do not want to know the secrets that are served at this fabulous restaurant please do not read any further.
The centerpiece of our dining table was a silver bowl full of Kieffer limes.
After a few courses had been served by our fabulous waiters and sommelier (pictured below), hot liquid was poured over the centerpiece to create a misty “dry ice” effect that floated over our table. Dreamy and so romantic!
The Alinea menu in the form of a word-search puzzle was posted on our table. Later that evening a complete menu with wine pairings was given to us to take home.
First Course – Smoke: Osetra, Sunflower, Onion, Lemon and Terrarium: Iceberg, Avocado, Herbs
Wine Pairing First Course: Château La Nerthe “Clos de Beauvenir” Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhône Valley, France, 2010
We found the premium wine flight that we chose to accompany our dinner to be extraordinary.
Second Course: Glow: Lemongrass and Kaeng: Scallop, Mustard, Chili
The lemongrass “test tube” was a palate cleanser. They glow in the dark! You put the red end to your mouth and suck it down just like a jello shooter. It has a citrus taste, very refreshing.
The dish that was served with the Lemongrass Glow was Scallop fried ramen on scallop pasta – shaved scallop that resembled pasta that was hidden underneath the fried ramen. So your eyes were telling you that you were eating pasta but your tongue was telling you that you were eating scallops. In my opinion the “simple presentation” of the scallop pasta was one of the most memorable.
Wine Pairing Second Course: Domaine Marcel Deiss “Altenberg de Bergheim” Grand Cru, Alsace, France 2010.
After the first course we were whisked away to the kitchen where one of the chefs prepared a cocktail in a hand-cranked, cast-iron contraption flown in from Amsterdam. This “cocktail machine” shakes four shakers at a time. Chef Achatz looked for the shaker for three years before he acquired this one. There are only 30 of them in the world.
We were seated on the second level of the restaurant so we walked through the first floor dining room to get to the kitchen.
When we returned to our table from the kitchen, the Kieffer lime centerpiece had been replaced with a bowl of fire.
Photo of me and my husband at our “table on fire”.
Third Course: Ink: Octopus, Scallion, Black Lime
Ordinarily octopus would not have been my favorite bite, but the preparation of this octopus made it taste like a tender Japanese inspired steak, yum!
Third Course Wine Pairing: Turley “Dragon” Zinfandel, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California 2016
Imagine our surprise when the fire in the middle of the table was extinguished and out comes a potato. The potato had been baking in the heat of the fire as we enjoyed other courses.
There were many more surprises to come – it was an 11 course dinner. will feature them in my next blog post…until then…bon santé!
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