I love living in my small town, but I also love visiting big cities and getting caught up in the hustle and bustle for a few days. Brad and I just spent 4 nights in Chicago on a Wellesley College Davis Museum Friends of Art tour, which gave us access to unbelievable private art collections and stunning real estate, as well as time together with other art lovers.
We had lovely weather during most of our visit except for a drizzly Saturday. This is the view from our 26th floor hotel room. It's a city!
This post mostly consists of course by course documentation of the dining experience, so if you're not a foodie you may want to skip this one -- although it's fun to watch Brad on video after experiencing his green apple helium balloon dessert.
We were among the first people seated, which turned out to be really nice because we were the first to receive each amazing new course and could have the complete element of visual surprise. We sat side by side on the banquette so that the experience felt even more like a performance. It was actually nice to be just the two of us so that we could focus on the food and not be distracted at all by conversation.
At Alinea they do a wonderful thing and give you a copy of your menu without the guests even asking.
To begin: an ice sculpture is placed on the bare table -
First food: Steelhead roe with carrot, coconut, and curry flavors
Served with Cocktail of Gimonnet Brut with St. Germain and Esterhazy Beerenauslese
Then what we called the Swamp Thing Collection: oyster leaf mignonette, king crab with passionfruit, heart of palm, allspice; mussel with saffron and oregano; razor clam with shiso, soy, daikon, served in a bed of kelp and seaweed from the Pacific.
Shells after eating, along with mystery iceberg
The server then brings a Bunsen burner machine with vegetables that the water boils up around while you're eating your next course -
A single bite for each of us -
Then a scallop "acting like agedashi tofu" with absurdly precise vegetables arrayed about -
Broth from the Bunsen burner is poured over to make soup -
Then you are presented with a rubbery ring (not from the space shuttle) -
Upon which is placed toro tuna with thai banana, sea salt, and kaffir lime foam -
Then it's time to approach the iceberg with a glass straw -
Which contains a liquid of beet, hibiscus, and licorice - a bracing palate cleanser and a signal that the flavors move from the ocean to the earth -
Burn Morel mushrooms with ramps, fiddlehead fern, miner's lettuce and a quail egg served on hot stones and a burned plank that is still warm. This was amazing, full of spring flavors -
Another earthy course: Hot potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter, served in a wax dish with the ingredients separated on a pin that you pull to let them drop into the soup and then drink in one swallow. Incredible flavors -
The empty wax cup
And after all this theater, this was the most visually intriguing part: an array of accompaniments, including candied pecan, mint jelly, cinnamon, various and sundry herbs, and a blue gel of anise
To be eaten in whatever combination the diner pleases in combination with turbot prepared 3 ways -
And the messy tray after we'd had our way with it -
Another single bite: the black truffle explosion, with broth and romaine and parmesan inside. Unbelievable -
And another performance art course. The server brings a metal vessel containing a lavender infused bath of hot water which sends the aromatic essence around. Then individual bites are placed in a display inspired by a Miro painting with silverware in the title -
As you eat each bite you place the utensil in the lavender bath so that at the end all the silverware is gathered neatly together -
The next course is served in an intriguing metal pronged device. This was Anjou pear fried with onion and brie, served on a flaming cinnamon stick. While this was visually interesting, and smelled wonderful, it was my least favorite in terms of texture and flavor -
But it's fun and dangerous to have fire at the table -
The pre-dessert palate cleanser was tiny but incredibly intense flavored assortment of gingers. My favorite was Indian influenced with turmeric and yogurt -
The metal pins after the tidbits are eaten -
The presentation of a metal straw for the first dessert course -
Blueberry with buttermilk, sorrel, and macadamia flavors -
You remove the glass stopper in the middle and liquid is poured in to make smoke and create a cold broth to complement the sweetness of the dessert flavors.
After eating -
The next dessert course is mostly for the visual mastery of a green apple balloon filled with helium -
The server told Brad to remove his glasses to prevent the sticky balloon from getting all over. I didn't love getting sticky stuff on my face, but Brad enjoyed his helium. His commentary:
The final dessert: white chocolate vessel with strawberry, English pea, and lemon powders in a signature Alinea moment -
After pouring liquid into the white chocolate vessel, the server spreads Chantilly cream, English pea, strawberry, and lemon powders as well as flower petals and tiny meringues and assorted other spring accessories to create a Monet on the table -
The server gives the white chocolate vessel a sharp thwack and shatters it and then leaves you to figure out where to begin -
And that's all, and surely, that's enough. Amazing.
I'm including a link to Brad's iPhone photos, documenting his wine pairings and giving a different perspective -
The kitchen -
And I'll take a day or two to rest and then post about our other lovely dinner at Sepia
I'm sorry we're leaving just as the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective opens at the Art Institute of Chicago. Maybe we'll make a return trip to see that and eat some more!