Oh yes - caponata. Or as I like to call it, the eggplant game changer (go read about courses 1 - 9. It's cool, I'll wait).
After the thing most resembling an entree came and went (with all of it polished off and the consideration of stowing the fish head in my purse for Miss Hazel) we came to the physical challenge part of the meal.
We were given a wax cup full of liquid with a little metal spear holding some unidentified squares dangling above it. At the word "go" we had to pull the spear very carefully out, depositing the squares into the liquid. We had to be very careful to this in a timely, yet gentle fashion while under the very judgmental eye of one of our waiters. Naturally, all this pressure got to me, and I nearly failed, but I managed to get my squares into my liquid and shoot it back with a quickness.
It was hot and cold at the exact same time while also managing to be simple and delicious. So many adjectives. It is called "Hot Potato, Cold Potato" which is pretty much exactly what it was. According to my limited internet research this has been on the menu for a really long time, which makes sense. It really encompasses everything Alinea is about. Its totally off the wall, requires tableware you cannot find at Sur La Table, and is very delicious.
The next course comes with a pillow full of juniper air, which I am seriously considering purchasing for my own at-home use. I forget how amazing juniper smells until they are putting a pillow of it in front of me, with a plate of mushrooms on top.
If you know me, you know I do not eat mushrooms. The texture of mushrooms makes my skin crawl. Just thinking about the way they feel in my mouth gives me a fit of the shivers. But I had a funny feeling this was going to happen, and I told myself long before we even got to the restaurant that I was going to eat everything put in front of me.
So I ate the mushrooms and once I got over the mushroom-y-ness, all of the other flavors were amazing enough to keep the texture-based goosebumps at a minimum.
Pillow of juniper deflated, we got to make our own venison goulash roll-ups in cabbage leaves. I was not anticipating spending all of the dollars and then having to eat with my hands, but I went with it. I know there is a part of me that is country girl (its smaller than the part that is Italian but it exists), and this country girl loves her game meat. Mmm, venison. I probably will never be able to have actual goulash without being severely disappointed.
Difference between Alinea and McDonalds? At Alinea you get a warm towels after you eat with your hands.
Towels removed it was time for an explosion (Fun Fact, the word explosion will always makes me think of the Madhouse Comedy Explosion and Summer 2004, good, drunken times). The black truffle explosion was a single ravioli served on a spoon and with a warning to eat it all in one bite.
Boyfriend summed it up best with, "Wow, I think I need a cigarette." They do mess around with hyperbole at Alinea, just black truffle oil.
For most of the meal, things seemed to be how they were just because... but the next course was apparently based on Miro's Still Life with Old Shoe.
What does a course based on this look like?
Different sized utensils, all with bites of food on them. While most of the other courses came with strict instructions, this one was the "there are no rules" course. All bites were eaten in whichever order we preferred. Of course, I have no idea what was on most of them except deliciousness. I wish I could be more specific. There was for sure a spoonful of jam, and a spoon with a bit of vinegar and oil on it, a bite of foie gras, some crunchy business and a fork of squab.
Having had utensils to eat with for 2 courses in a row, it was time to go back to eating with our hands and/or a smouldering cinnamon stick.
Most of the things that I ate during this meal I would never dream of recreating, but at the end of the smouldering cinnamon stick was a ball of brie cheese, caramelized onions and anjou pear with a crispy outside. While I will probably leave the fire hazard out of it, the rest of this dish sounds totally doable (and we all know how I feel about brie).
After I explained to Boyfriend that that cinnamon stick was his birthday candle, they brought out another torture-looking device. This one with five long, thin metal fingers sticking out of a solid base. On the end of each finger was a bite no larger than the size of this O (okay, maybe a little bit, but not much bigger. Maybe this O). Each bite was a different type of Hawaiian ginger, garnished with completely different flavors.
This is the moment where Rachel learns the lesson that it is not the size of the food but the size of the flavor that makes all the different. Each bite packed a wallop that had me reaching for my sparkling water. One of the pieces of ginger had a single cell of grapefruit on it. A single cell! These were some of the most flavorful things we ate all night. Ginger means business, everyone.
After letting ginger blow our minds a little bit, we got geared up for dessert which I am saving for another blog because it deserves at least this much description if not more.