July 26th, 2008 · 38 Comments

it’s called ‘chinese take out’.  a 6 hour sous vide short rib on a guinness gelee film with roasted peanuts and peanut puree, shaved broccoli stalks, fried broccoli and red peppercorns. 

call it theatre.  performance art.  whimsical cuisine on steroids…  call it what you will.  and then we can all simply agree that grant achatz of alinea is a genius.  because after all is said and done – and trust me when i tell you that there is a lot being done to get to where this man goes – the food tastes as extraordinary as it looks.

carol (famed writer of ‘french laundry at home‘) and i continue on our restaurant tour (see: ‘per se’ and ‘per se’), this time meeting up in chi-town with our sole purpose: this one singular dining event. and being that we’d traveled far and were ready to experience all alinea had to offer – we chose the 27 course ‘chef’s tour’, the exact menu which you see below.  the size of the circle represents the size of the dish – the smallest being one bite, the largest being perhaps 3 or 4.

it is a bit of a 3 ring circus, but a highly sophisticated circus.  courses are presented – sometimes grouped together – in a various array of sculptural vessels.  a chunk of compressed watermelon pierced on a 14" stainless steel antenna which then pierces its heavy base – balancing on the thin end of the metal.  (3rd from left below.)

crucial detail is the maker of these unique pieces.


the shaved slice of wagyu (below) first defrosts on the table in a flag-like manner, doubling as table art – suspended from a diagonal cut of wood – only later to be carefully draped over a maitake mushroom and smoked date. 

from centerpiece to…

what one might dream of in a perfect world… wagyu, maitake, smoked date, blis elixir and oregano.

the foie gras course served with tapioca, fig and coffee, arrives in a glass tube that one then ‘sucks’ the contents from…

blurry, but hopefully you get the idea

i could go on… and so i will.

frozen lightly foamed mozzarella over just sweetened basil ice cream with tomatoes 7 ways – incredible

duck confit encased in chocolate with blueberries…
and 3 sauces, and gelee/jelly cubes – of which i have no recollection…

i found the duck course to be kind of, ummm, not my thing.  i mean, you can’t win them all and only 2 of the 27 courses were – for me, less than stellar.  i’d say that’s still 4 stars, wouldn’t you?  of course you would.

oh frothy lobster pea ball stuff with mint vapor, how i loved thee

can you match these 8 courses to the menu above? i dare you to try…

hot potato, cold potato

the needle goes through a small hole in the miniature bowl where a hot potato and sliced black perigord truffle are speared above a cold vichyssoise.  the pin is pulled, the contents of the needle hit the soup and you knock it back.

lamb with sunflowers 3 ways along with potatoes… one of the better things i’ve ever eaten and perhaps my #1 course of the night

oh and this little guy here…

this is some kind of chicken liver mousse made with vin santo and encased in a caramelized onion shell with bacon powder on top.  yes it is.  no really.  this way-too-little truffle actually exists on the face of the planet.  in chicago.  on north halsted.  and you know what i did?  i asked for seconds.  yup.  shocked?  oh, but then you don’t know me…. my balls are large.  much larger than one way-too-little truffle.

bacon being waterboarded or on a sex swing?  you decide…

and this is wafer thin bacon.  it’s dessert bacon, remember?  hell yeah.  with butterscotch, apple and thyme.  suspended from – a thing.  don’t ask me… i’ve no clue except to say, bring it on grant, because i am so very your audience.

and speaking of grant, he made it a point to come out and talk to us.  he was gracious to do so and if i may say, for a boyish kinda looking guy of slight build, the man has quite the handshake and mesmerizing gaze.  grant achatz has been through hell and back.  if you’re not up on the story, you can read it here.  there are no words except, rock on.  and thank you.

but perhaps the biggest thanks goes to carol.  because as each course was presented in all its glorious detail, i would grab my camera and try to get a half decent pic – with no lighting – on my old point and shoot.  so when i finally went to eat i always, but always said to her "so what’s in this?" to the point where i was even annoying myself.

but that’s why you dine with friends and lovers and well, anyone who’ll put up with the fact that you spilled your cold potato soup all down the sleeve of your little black dress…



Tags: restaurants · travel

38 responses so far ↓

  • 1 lifeinrecipes // Jul 27, 2008 at 6:14 am

    I fairly leapt out of bed this read your post on Alinea. Fantastic. Really provocative food, although the chocolate duck might be a bit too provocative for me to consider at the moment.

    What did you think of the dessert offerings?

    Let me know when you are ready to do it again.

  • 2 Diana // Jul 27, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Aw, man! I love the idea of the duck so much that I’m sorry it didn’t work. It all looks so incredible. Were 27 courses filling, or did they leave you wanting more?

  • 3 maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) // Jul 27, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Oh, Alinea has been on my list since forever. It sounds fancinating and delcious; but how about the experience–theatrical but was it satisfying?

  • 4 Mal Carne // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Wow, bacon on a sex swing…. what will they think of next?

    I’m envious.

  • 5 NOBLE PIG // Jul 27, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Oh my gosh, is there anything else to say but incredible.

  • 6 Lauren // Jul 27, 2008 at 11:02 am

    wow, that’s some kind of intimidating food. looks like a food circus. was it tasty?

  • 7 Robert // Jul 27, 2008 at 12:35 pm


    I was beginning to worry. It looked as if you you had lost me, not being the circus type myself….

    But then you asked for seconds. Shocked, no. Relieved, I knew it was going to be alright.

    Just wondering why you hadn’t rolled up your sleeves when you set down.

  • 8 The Italian Dish // Jul 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Wow, thanks for taking the time to take/post all those pictures. You could have tried to describe the dishes but obviously, once you look at the pictures, well . . . how could you possibly describe them? They are unbelievable – food as art. I can’t wait to go to Alinea (I will – my son goes to school in Chicago) and I’m glad to hear Grant Achatz is such a nice guy.

  • 9 Meg // Jul 27, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    That sounds like so much fun. Although 27 courses? Wow. Still, dessert bacon on… a very moderne… (well, sex swing is one way to put it) kinetic sculpture?- sounds both tasty and funny.

  • 10 Ethel // Jul 27, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    The food, photo’s and writing are equally fab.
    I have never seen food “art” like this. And I thought dinner at Tru and Per SE was mind boggling.
    Dinner like this is going to the theatre where no one is bored or leaves after the 10th course.
    All I can say is that I WANT TO GO THERE thanks for the warning about pulling up a sleeve.

  • 11 Amy at Minimally Invasive // Jul 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Yet another reason or 27 for me to visit Chicago. Thanks for putting us slightly ahead of your appetite and taking these great pics.

    I’ve always been a little wary of these restaurants, wondering if the food could live up to the show, but you’ve completely convinced me to get out there. (Well, the bacon sex swing kinda tipped the scales, if I’m being honest.)

  • 12 Julie // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    OK, the presentation strikes me as bizarre but I know the food was amazing and I totally enjoy these vicarious restaurant experiences.

  • 13 chocolate mousse // Jul 28, 2008 at 12:32 am

    […] […]

  • 14 canarygirl // Jul 28, 2008 at 2:50 am

    In. Credible. This sort of presentation reminds me of Arzak (Spanish chef)…I have his cb, and haven’t tried to make a darned thing from it. LOL I think of it as an art book rather than a cookbook. :)

  • 15 Donald // Jul 28, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Wow! Definitely food art.

    I had no idea anything like this existed.

  • 16 aforkfulofspaghetti // Jul 28, 2008 at 5:06 am

    Wowzers! Words totally fail me. Make the most of it…

  • 17 jim voorhies // Jul 28, 2008 at 8:49 am

    wow. no matter what they actualy tasted like, the presentation was amazing. there are 7 ways to do tomatoes?

  • 18 Becky And The Beanstock // Jul 28, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Wow. What an extraordinary dining experience! Twenty-seven courses — what a trooper! : ) My poor Midwestern mind hardly knows how to wrap itself around this one, but all the gorgeous photos helped. Thanks for sharing this!

  • 19 Lynn // Jul 28, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Precisely why I want to go to dinner with you! You do all the cool stuff!

    Absolutely art.

  • 20 RecipeGirl // Jul 28, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    What a cool experience. I feel so boring around here having had a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch!

  • 21 lisa // Jul 28, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Very cool. So glad Achatz is back at work. Next time I’m in Chicago . . .

  • 22 Natalie // Jul 28, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Holly Crap. I didn’t know food could make me feel inadequate, on the internet no less. I feel intrigued, hungry, and befuddled all at the same time.

  • 23 democommie // Jul 28, 2008 at 8:14 pm


    Did all of that “2 way, 3 way” stuff have its genesis in Cincinatti 5 way Chili? No, prolly not. This sounds like that meal Tony Bourdauin talked about eating in Spain.

  • 24 chefectomy // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I literally “LOVE” your blog. I have heard so much about Alinea but the photographs you did are phenomenally helpful, no verbal description can match that. Must be tough in Nashville now that you have seen culinary truth.

  • 25 democommie // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:56 pm


    Love the name, but I have a small quibble.

    Claudia carries the “Truth” in her heart. I’m too far away from her house to get an invite, but I’d go there, anytime.

    Now I must go see your place. Do you have any leftover caviar or stuff like that?

  • 26 TaratheFoodie // Jul 29, 2008 at 7:47 am

    That place looks so fun! I love crazy places like that where the food is amazing, but also an adventure. Morimoto was like that for me, but it wasn’t even as crazy as this place you went! I LOVE the hanging bacon! Very cool.

  • 27 We Are Never Full // Jul 29, 2008 at 11:39 am

    unbelievably artistic. i felt like i just spent a few minutes checking out an online museum.

  • 28 Lesley // Jul 29, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Wow. Indeed–not a meal; entertainment.

  • 29 joycooks // Jul 30, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Wow, thanks for this report! I recently read the article in the New Yorker and also read about him in Ruhlman’s Soul of a chef, not to mention hearing about Alinea from literally every foodie I know. So thanks for the personalized report! I don’t know if I’ll ever go there, but I’m glad you did! :-)

  • 30 Neen // Jul 31, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    YES! I love you SO MUCH because you went and adored it! Do and I went for his birthday two years ago, and it was literally a life changing experience. We’d never thought about food that way before, it was eye-opening. We arrived at six pm and left after midnight after ordering the 24 courses with wine pairing. It was better than sex. Oh man. I am SO HAPPY that you were blown away as well! :) :) :)

  • 31 Peter // Jul 31, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    There is no emoticon for what I’m feeling right now.

  • 32 Trish // Aug 3, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Say what????

    I found this at TasteSpotting. I had to look – guess I’m too “blue collar” for this type of “food”.


  • 33 Gayle // Aug 14, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    The Huevos Rancheros looks great any time of day. I see that you fried the egg, would you also consider scrambing it?

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  • 36 Jaden // Aug 27, 2008 at 9:19 am


    I must go!!!

  • 37 Peter // Sep 9, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    Beautiful! We had all the same courses on our visit (, but in a different order and with some slightly different platings. And you know, the chocolate duck was one of our favorites… although we may have been influenced by the waiter telling us it was a staff favorite too.
    And yeah, it’s so impressive that you asked for seconds on the chicken liver!

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