I’ve been bombarded with never-ending to do list items for the last couple weeks, but I’ve luckily found some time to write about my first dining experience at a 3 Michelin star restaurant: Alinea. I was able to get locked into their website a couple months back to purchase dinner tickets that, on a grad student stipend, cost an arm and a leg.
On a chilly February night, we were greeted with a dark hallway lined with pine trees. Then, as the doors to the restaurant opened, people in formal attire hustled around gracefully with platters of art while we were handed two small bowls of frothy pine nut hot chocolate (Course 1). My hands were immediately warm, and I was absolutely ready for a mind-blowing 17 course dinner with some reserve wine pairings.
We first started out with a play on a butternut squash soup, which was collected in a glass straw with muscovado and finger lime. Then we placed the straw in an ice well overflowing with West Indies spice vermouth (Course 2). Together, the mixture was a burst of spices that called out to every aspect of my palate.
Next came a Japanese medley of 5 courses. Two raw, sliced scallops marinated in mirin, a sugary rice wine based condiment, and topped with bonito flakes sat in a seashell (Course 3-1). Thankfully, I didn’t have to eat it raw as I was given a very hot rock to sear my scallops on (Course 3-2). I honestly think the rock was heated to a point so that it would cook the scallops to perfection because that’s what they were: a perfectly smooth texture that had all the essences of Japanese food.
In another glass, a fried shrimp head seasoned with togarashi, a Japanese chili pepper, looked up at me (Course 4). I picked it up, dipped it in the side of pincage aioli, and took a bite of one of the best shrimps I’ve ever had. I know, a shrimp head sounds a little out there, but didn’t you know? The best stuff is always in the head.
To my left sat a piece of raw onaga (long tail red snapper) on a thin bamboo stick over a glass of simmering lemongrass tea and star anise (Course 5). As I savored the rest of the series, I let the onaga cook in the tea. Once done, a relaxing lemony flavor was emanating from this delicate piece of fish, which I enhanced with a dip in the volcanic ash salt sprinkled on the edge of the glass.
This entire time, there were two tall cylinders of water and some orchids, which I thought was solely for decoration. But to our surprise, it was for the floating ehu, a short tail red snapper (Course 6). This fine, white soy sauce infused sliver wowed me with its gentle texture and tantalizing taste that had me wanting more.
The last in the series was a pineapple distillation (Course 7) that tasted like a pineapple in slushy form. I could have had a whole cup of it!
The dinner then flew us across the world to Mexico when we were presented with a halibut in an Oaxacan mole with a side of corn truffle, bone marrow custard (yes, this is a thing), and avocado (Course 8). Together, this dish would be just at home at Topolobampo.
In the next course, a “blis elixir” was heated over a bed of fiery stones (Course 9-1). As it was heated up, my sense of smell was heightened from the mixture of spices bubbling in water. This elixir was for a dish of maitake mushrooms, pumpernickel, black garlic puree and brown rice puffs that ended up looking like an appetizing forest scene (Course 9-2). And every mouthful was like a yummy bite of nature.
A small slurp of truffle was served with a cube of parmesan and a sphere of golden potato under an umbrella of black truffle (Course 10). Overall, this was a wave of truffle enriched with flavors from the other ingredients. By the way, I love truffle.
When a multi-colored plate of all shapes was brought out (Course 11-1), my eyes were probably popping. It was 60 unnamed toppings for duck five ways: confit, neck, breast, mousse and foie gras (Course 11-2). The waiter told us that we weren’t expected to try it all, but we certainly did! It was really exciting and somewhat challenging to try and guess every one. Some paired with the duck like a lock with its key while others were so nasty I wouldn’t match them with anything.
After the trial and error, we were given what was called a black truffle explosion, which was a black truffle ravioli with romaine and parmesan (Course 12). Why wasn’t there a whole bowl of this?! By far, it is the best ravioli I’ve ever had, but then again, this is my first experience with black truffle ravioli.
Now I am not a huge fan of pork because it often turns out dry, but this course of pork many ways made a literal splash on thick pain d’epices (gingerbread), turnip and orange sauces (Course 13). The best was definitely the fried pork skin, but when is that not the best?
The final “savory” dish was the ginger five ways (Course 14). Each piece of ginger was paired with a different ingredient. I tried one combination, but the ginger was so overwhelming I couldn’t even taste the other ingredient. This was probably supposed to cleanse my palate, but it did nothing of the like. In fact, I couldn’t wait for the next course so that I could get rid of the pungent ginger taste.
Thankfully, the desserts began with a carrot sorbet, coconut powder, white sesame paste and a dollop of caramelized honey (Course 15-1) over a citrus infused tea (Course 15-2). I didn’t feel that all the flavors worked together, but the textures certainly were one big happy family.
In any case, I was more excited for the second dessert of the night: a sour green apple taffy balloon with green apple infused helium (Course 16). Yes, the entire thing was edible! We placed our mouths on the balloon and inhaled the helium. As we ate the rest, we squeaked about how amazing it would be if real apples tasted like this.
And finally, the grand finale. At first, a ball of chocolate filled with cotton candy, mini waffles, birch syrup, and some ice cream was brought out, into which Grant Achatz himself poured liquid nitrogen. He then gracefully decorated the rubber table covering with orange and red wine poached pear reductions (Course 17-1). Then, Chef Achatz dropped the dark chocolate piñata in the center, allowing the pieces to shatter after being treated with liquid nitrogen (Course 17-2). After, we ate the table clean, and I still wanted more of that liquid nitrogen ice cream.
This is an epic dining experience that I would recommend to anyone who can acquire a ticket!
- Check Facebook or Twitter to see when Alinea is releasing tickets. They also release same-night tickets, but they are normally sold at the maximum price.
- Although every dinner is the same, the price ranges from which day and time you want to go. Obviously, weekend nights and optimal dinner times are more expensive (approximately $55 more).
- The reserved wine pairings are extremely well done, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the price (which was more than the dinner!).