1. Alinea - Best Meal Ever

    Hello hello, everyone.  As some of you may know, I recently traveled to Chicago in September for yet another foodie marathon.  One of the restaurants I visited was the famous 3 Michelin Restaurant Alinea.  I had heard great things about Alinea and was quite excited.  Many of my foodie friends said that it was the best meal that they had ever had.  I had thought Thomas Keller’s Per Se was the best meal I had ever had, but was very anxious to see how Grant Achatz’s flagship Alinea compares.

    I’m sorry, but giving detailed descriptions of each dish will just not be possible for me for this entry.  The meal was so delicious and phenomenal that thinking about it makes me want to cry (seriously…).  I will comment on a few of the dishes, but please accept my advance apology for not commenting on every dish.

    However, I can now easily say that Alinea was the best meal I had ever had.  Each dish was quite unique and the dining experience itself was like none I had ever experienced.  Alinea likes to have its diners be “interactive” with their meals, as I will explain in some of the pictures below.  Definitely worth every penny ($210/pp) and I can’t wait to go again.

    Alinea.  aka Pilcrow, the sign for “new paragraph”.  Get it?  A new paragraph…new chapter of food.

    Once we sat down, the staff brought out this little vegetable garden.  They said it was a live garden and that we would be using it later in our meal, as you will see later in this entry.  One of the diners w/ me wasn’t sure if it was real dirt so he tasted it.  It was indeed dirt.

    Our table cloths for the night were just these pillows and all that was placed on them was our silverware.  Quite creative.

    Steelhead Roe - watermelon, kaffir lime, oxalis.

    I have never really been a huge fan of the larger families of roe, but I think it’s starting to grow on me.

    Hamachi - west indies spices, pineapple, ginger

    Needless to say, this was the most unattractive dish of the night, but don’t let its looks deceive you!  This was like a hamachi tempura.  The black stock is a vanilla bean.  Just lift it up by the vanilla bean and eat the hamachi off of it.

    Oyster leaf - mignonette

    There is nothing in this dish that is made from oyster, but somehow they made it taste exactly like an oyster.  So bizarre!!  It’s just a leaf!

    Lobster - queen anne’s lace, huitlacoche, gooseberry

    Razor clam - carrot, soy, daikon

    Mussel - saffron, chorizo, orange

    Yuba - shrimp, miso, togarashi

    Hrmm…what are the scissors for?  They’re for cutting the vegetables out of our garden in order to use for our next dish!

    Farm salad - tomato, goat cheese, red onion

    We were given the above dish and were told to use our scissors to cut out the vegetables from our garden to use with our dish.  See, interactive!

    Bye bye garden.

    I’m not very good at placement.  What I remember the most about this dish was its heirloom tomatoes.  So fresh and bursting with flavor.  I love tomatoes, as some of you may know.  But I hate ketchup.

    They then placed these flags on our table.  What is their purpose?  You’ll see in a few more dishes.

    Wild mushrooms - pine, sumac, ramp

    Hot potato - cold potato, black truffle, butter

    This was such an awesome dish that we asked for seconds and got them!  We were told that this was time sensitive and we had to take pictures quick.  This dish was served in a small wax cup with a hot potato broth, and a pin which had a cube of potato, butter, cheese, and black truffle on it.  What you do is you pull the pin so all the elements drop into the broth and then you eat it all at once.  So. Damn. Good.  One of our diners said it was probably the best thing he has ever eaten.  I may have to agree with him.

    Agneau - sauce choron, pomme de terre noisette

    Next we “traveled back in time” to the 1800’s and were presented with silverware and wine glasses from the old days.  The silverware actually showed the date of 1847.  We were then presented with the lamb dish above and it was just out of this world.  Lots of flavor from the tender lamb and it combined very well with the pomme de terre noisette.

    Black truffle  - explosion, romaine, parmesan

    This was a black truffle ravioli and we were warned ahead of time to make sure to keep our mouths closed upon the first bite because it would literally explode in our mouths.  Apparently they had quite a few guests who didn’t adhere to that suggestion and ended up spitting out lots of black truffle.  This happened to one of the members at our table (not me).  It really did just EXPLODE in our mouths!

    Squab - inspired by Miro

    Too much going on here to explain, but basically, Chef Achatz was inspired by an artist named Miro for this dish.  It’s like solving a puzzle (kinda like Jenga?).  One must carefully pick which silverware to remove in order to remove them all without destroying the masterpiece.  Only one way to solve the puzzle.  It was also planned perfectly such that the courses started off salty and then got sweeter.  Off the top of my head I can remember the squab, foie gras, lavender, olive, and fig.  There were quite a few more, but I can’t remember what they were.

    Next we were finally going to make use of the flags you saw earlier.  We were handed the plate above and we were told that our next dish would be making our own pasta/ravioli thing.  We were to use the flags as our wrap.  But first, we had to solve one more quick puzzle of assembling our workshop.

    Short rib - olive, fermented garlic, blackberry

    There were way more ingredients than the ones listed above, but you can get the idea of what we had to do.  We assembled the metal stand, placed the flag wrapper on it, and then were given pieces of shortrib and had to add in the extra spices and ingredients to complete the dish.  Then just wrap them up and enjoy.

    Octopus - eggplant, coriander, red wine

    The last of our savory dishes.  Onto desserts!

    Snow - yuzu

    Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit.  Alinea took some yuzu froze it in liquid nitrogen to create this dish.  We were told to only use our spoons and not touch the dish with our tongues to prevent freeze burning our tongues.

    Peach - jasmine, basil, balsalmic

    This was Alinea’s interpretation/twist of a caprese salad dessert.  Some cubes of balsalmic, cheese, green tea, ice cream.  Very interesting and delicious.

    Lemongrass - dragonfruit, thai basil, finger lime

    This was very unique.  It was a tube filled with liquid with the above listed ingredients.  We were to suck from the dragonfruit end (right) and inhale the entire tube.  Very creative.

    And alas, we come to the very last dish of our meal, and when we all started to cry inside because the experience was finally coming to an end.  I won’t explain to you folks what this grand finale dish was.  Instead, I will show you.

    Chocolate - red pepper, bitter orange, banana

    And that’s that.  Best meal of my life, over.  Highly recommend anyone who’s visiting Chicago to try and get reservations at Alinea and give it a try.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

    Now please excuse me while I go cry after looking at these pictures and remembering how wonderful of a meal and experience it was.

  2. Ludobites 007

    Traveled down to Los Angeles this past weekend with a few other friends for our 9PM reservation at Ludobites.  For those of you who don’t know about Chef Ludo Lefebvre, he is a French chef who started a pop-up restaurant called Ludobites in Los Angeles, California.  The restaurant is somewhat French inspired and doesn’t really have a set location.  The restaurant will lease out the buildings from other restaurants which don’t serve dinner and Chef Ludo and his crew would take it over at night.  Chef Ludo and his wife Krissy also star in the show Ludo Bites America where they travel around the nation creating pop-up restaurants.  I will have to watch that show one of these days…

    Anyhow, we were a bit rushed for time on our drive from NorCal to SoCal that we had to drive straight to the restaurant and arrived around 8:30PM.  This was the 7th Ludobites opening and was located at Gram and Papa’s.  Apparently there are only two seatings a night with only 20 tables per seating and we were able to grab a table for the second seating.  It was encouraged that we order one of everything on the menu and share all the dishes, which is exactly what we did!  I apologize for the quality of my pictures.  It was pretty damn dark in Gram and Papa’s so I couldn’t get proper lighting in my pictures.

    Bouillabaise Milkshake - $10

    The first dish of the night was a Bouillabaise milkshake and unfortunately it was my least favorite dish of the night.  My taste buds had a very weird reaction when the milkshake touched my tongue.  It tasted very weird, but as I drank more the milkshake started tasting very fishy.  We almost ordered two of these at first because we had 5 people and thought sharing one tiny milkshake amongst 5 people was a bit extreme, but after we tasted it we were happy we only stuck with one.  Very interesting dish and very fish, but not my thing.

    Onion Tart, Bottarga - $10

    Second dish was much better than the first.  An Onion Tart with Bottarga (fish roe), which actually tasted more like a pizza.  Very crispy crust and with a nice not-too-overwhelming fishy taste from the Bottarga.

    Jamaican Fried Chicken Wings - $10

    Accompanying the Onion Tart was the Jamaican Fried Chicken Wings.  Fried to a perfect crisp, and with that slight Jamaican, sweet jerk flavor.  The chicken meat was quite flavorful.  Could’ve used some more jerk flavor though.

    Squid, Ash, Chorizo - $12

    Prawn & Scallop Ceviche, Aji Amarillo, Red Berries - $28

    These next two dishes were quite impressive.  The squid ink was surprisingly good and worked well with the squid and chorizo.  The ceviche I thought was really fresh and refreshing.  The prawns were very succulent and I really liked the hotness of the Aji Amarillo (yellow chili pepper).  The berries were also a nice addition adding some sweetness to counter the spiciness.

    Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca - $12

    The key to eating this dish was to try to get every layer in one bite.  We kinda messed this up by not diving the spoons all the way to the bottom, but it was still good.  Nice seafood taste.

    Raw Beef, Rainbow Carrots, Shallots, Red Wine Mayo - $15

    Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc - $18

    These two dishes were probably our favorite of the night.  The raw wagyu beef was so good that we actually ordered a second one later on.  Possibly the best raw wagyu beef dish we had ever had.  Everything in that dish just worked so well with each other.  The egg/sea urchin/caviar was actually my personal favorite.  There was just so much flavor from the combination of the ingredients and especially with the caviar.  We were debating which of these two to order a second order of, but we eventually went with the raw beef because it seemed less heavy.

    Lavender Ginger Lemonade - $4

    I can easily say that this is probably one of the best, if not the best, lemonades I have ever had.  The lavender and ginger really gave it a much more refreshing taste than normal lemonade and it wasn’t too sweet either.  Definitely worth the $4.  Would drink this for lunch everyday if I could.

    Pig’s Head Compressed and Cheddar, Barbeque Gelee - $14

    Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about this dish…sorry.  Wasn’t bad tasting though I know that.  Just didn’t stand out to me I guess.

    Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit - $18

    This was probably the most impressive dish of the night.  I know it doesn’t look like much, but we’ll blame that on the lighting.  Those white vegetable things you see along the circumference of the plate are very, very thinly sliced cauliflower.  I was amazed by how thin they were!!  And the octopus in the center was so darn tender.   I have never had octopus that tender and it had a nice charred outer layer of skin which just contained so much of the grill flavor.  Not sure how Chef Ludo was able to get the octopus so tender, but props.

    Foie Gras “French Dim Sum,” Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream - $28

    Compared to regular Chinese dim sum, this was just whatevers.  Was more like a ravioli.  Still good though, but not really what we expected.  Especially since one of our diners is the owner of LA’s Dim Sum Truck…we had higher hopes.

    Salt Crust Pork Shoulder, Beer Sabayon, Imaginary Choucroute, Juniper Berries - $25

    I saw quite a few of these orders being served before we got ours and thought it was one of the best presented dishes of the night.  The pork shoulder was very flavorful and pretty tender.  Not sure what the other things were, but they went very well with this dish.  There was some potato in there iirc…

    Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish - $22

    The duck here was very flavorful, but it was quite difficult to chew.  I remember I had to spend a lot of time chewing the meat, but was still delicious.

    Epoisse Cheese Risotto, Hazelnut, Egg Yolk, Herb Salad $18

    Our last main course of the night.  Well, no.  After this we ordered another raw beef dish, but this was the last unique main dish of the night.  The cheese was pretty strong and heavy, but not in a bad way.  Just made this last dish quite the finisher because of its heaviness.

    Onto desserts!

    Chocolate Cake, Chipotle, Orange - $12

    This was a pretty cool combination.  Sweet chocolate cake, but somewhat spicy ice cream.  I felt that there was too much oil on the chocolate cake though so I didn’t have too much of this dessert.

    Lavender Tropezienne Tart, Aloe Vera, Lychee - $10

    This dessert was simply superb.  Look at all that powdered sugar!!  You would think this dessert would be really sweet, but it wasn’t too bad.  Was the perfect amount and it was very fluffy.  My favorite of the two desserts.

    And alas our meal came to an end, but not before we were kindly greeted by Chef Ludo and his wife Krissy.  Great couple to chat with and Chef Ludo was kind enough to sign our menus.  I really need to watch those 6 episodes of Ludo Bites America.

    Us with Chef Ludo and Krissy

    Was an awesome meal and I’m very happy I got to share the experience with my friends.  Some dishes were okay, but most were spectacular.  Definitely worth the 350 miles. 

    Stay tuned next month…will be traveling to Chicago for another food marathon!