Tuesday, March 06, 2012

My Mouth's Most Happiness (part 2)

So, where did we leave off?

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.

Image (via)

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.

Friday, March 02, 2012

My Mouth's Most Happiness (part 1)

Sometimes, I write blogs for me, you guys. You can read them and everything, but I just need to remember things and so I write them down on the internet. This is one of those times. I need to remember everything about my meal at Alinea and writing it all down will help me (although, I cannot imagine ever forgetting it, but we all get old sometimes).

Please feel free to read the next two blogs and live vicariously through me (that happens so rarely I am kind of excited for the chance of it).


If you think that you might ever eat at Alinea (especially if that could be happening sooner rather than later), I think I would actually caution against reading this (at least until after you've gone and then we can compare stories).

One of the best parts of the meal (and there were quite a few best parts) was the surprise element of everything. There was no menu, no warning about what was going to happen next. I was even a little bit bummed that from my seat I could see other people's tables, so some of the surprises were ruined for me. Boyfriend's seat meant that he couldn't see anything before it arrived on our table and his glee from some of the dishes made me a little envious.

So, just...think before you read. If you don't think that you're going to get to Alinea in the next six months or so, than please - feel free to read away. This experience totally made my life.

I will start with the fact that this is the most I have ever spent on anything that wasn't a vacation and wasn't an actual, tangible thing. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think of it as a little 3-hour vacation. Probably the most expensive one I will ever take on a dollar-per-minute basis, but still worth it. I celebrate the fact that I currently live a life, where, with a bit of savings, an adventure like this is financially feasible for me. Can I do it every month? Nope. But once a year to celebrate something as awesome as Boyfriend's golden birthday? Sure.

So we get to Alinea. And it has a crazy, magic door that automatically opens as you get near it (its basically a grocery store door that is solid metal, which makes it infinitely cooler and more future-y looking).

Once you're there, its basically like a very well decorated town house with an enormous kitchen full of people, but then you go upstairs and its just a pretty, minimalist house, for antisocial people who don't want to talk to or eat with others.

And then they ask if you want wine. And you can say no. Because I cannot imagine the food would be that enhanced with wine. Boyfriend and I both just got single glasses which we managed to sip on throughout the total meal and it was totally satisfying as a between-course amuse-bouche (and way, way, way less cheaper. I am made of money, but not, like, that much money).

(this is going to be the longest two blogs ever. With no pictures. Sorry guys, I am trashy, but not trashy enough to take food pictures).

So then the first course comes and it looks just like regular food.

Its Char roe with carrot, coconut and curry. I was surprised by how normal it was. It was just food on a plate. It was delicious, with salty and sweet and lots of flavors but for a moment, my heart sank. I was expecting madness and here was just some food. But you don't put on your A game during warm-ups. Duh.

Then. Drift wood logs covered in seaweed were placed on the table in front of us and I was like, "Hell. Yes. We are not in Kansas anymore."

On this log with seaweed there were 4 shells. And no silverware. Eat with your shells everyone.

The Oyster Shell - which had an oyster leaf in it. This was a leaf that had the awesome saltiness of an oyster without the slimy-eyeball-sliding-down-your-throat sensation of an oyster. aka - amazing.

King Crab - with passion fruit, heart of palm and allspice. I am not going to say the meal peaked at this moment, but oh my crab meat. I put my finger in that shell and got out all the crab meat. Classy? Not me. There is crab on the table. I will have visions of this particular dish dancing in my head for the rest of time.

Mussel - I will now always be disappointed in mussels for the rest of my life. They are ruined. Unless everyone else starts serving them with saffron, chorizo and oregano.

Razor Clam - The sauce of this one (made with shiso, soy and daikon) made me lick the razor clam shell. I could have cut my tongue off. It would have been worth it.

After they removed our logs they put down a fancy device that used a Bunsen burner to make soup in a very science-y way where the water boiled and defied gravity then soaked up flavors of lots of yummy veggies and then came back down. This was a little side show happening while we got our next course.

A long, thin metal shish kabob stick stuck vertically into a metal paper weight was put down in front of us. This was the "no-hands" portion of the meal. At the end of that stick was some squid and woolly pig with a little orange and fennel all put together in something you could eat in one bite, but still had some serious squid tentacles happening. It was salty and strange but so delicious and now I kind of want all my food to be served in a way that I don't need to use my hands. Why? Because.

Our 7th grade science class soup was done, and so it was poured over a piece of scallop that looked (and inexplicably tasted like) tofu. But also tasted like scallop? Let's take the two funnest food-words to say and make a dish that puts them in the exact same bite. And lets pour some crazy delicious broth over it. Ohhh. Kay. And just for funsies, lets make teeny-tiny veggies garnishes in the bowl too. Like a carrot shaving curlicue the size of pencil shaving. Yep. Science Soup. Mind fuck scallop. Doll house veggies.

This whole time there has been a block of ice the size of a six-pack on the table with some red liquid suspended in it. At this point in the meal, they hand us some glass straws and tell us to go head and drink the red liquid. It is not some sort of animal blood, as I was slightly fearful of, but some beet juice with hibiscus and black licorice. If I liked beets, it would have been delicious. But I don't like beets enough to make up for the fact that I was terrified that I was going to have to consume blood.

The ice cube is taken away and then the closest thing to an entree is put down in front of us.

A Scup (which is a Sicilian fish), some chick pea fritters (which probably aren't Sicilian but are delicious), and caponata (which is the best goddamned thing that has ever happened to me, also Sicilian). The fish and the fritters were great but the caponata was so perfect. Like the sugo at The Girl and the Goat, it spoke to a part of me that I don't even know existed. The deep, soulful Italian part. When it was over, I was looking longingly at my plate and Boyfriend said, "Wow. You loved that stuff. You have never looked at me like that." I am so excited to try to make it. It probably won't be as good as it was last night, but even if it is 1/10th as good, I will be so happy. Forever.

And with that, I leave you to guess at what you think the next 10 courses might have in store.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March Awesomeness

March tends to be kind of a throwaway month as we all sit on the edges of our seats waiting for Chicago Summer but for some reason, this March is going to be amazing.  More details to come once all these totally amazing things have happened.

Tonight - This (to eat)

Next Thursday (through Monday) - This (to experience)

Then bright and early the next Saturday - This (to get ridiculous)

Then the next Friday, at 10 PM - This (to watch)

*edited to add* how could I forget?! - This (to watch as well)

And then to round out the month, on the 30th - This (to listen to)

This month is also going to have a lot of challenges and some tears as I try to work through a lot of stuff. But knowing that there is something awesome happening every. single. week should give me the motivation I need to get through all the crappy stuff.

Happy March!

She's pint-sized and amazing.