Alinea #2, part deux


Back once again with the renegade master, D4 damager, power to my dinner. I was going to begin this post with a long story involving the epic movie “Santa with Muscles,” starring Hulk Hogan, and how a line from the movie evolved from “Take a note, Chaz” to “take a note, Chatz,” but I was afraid you’d think I was either disrespectful or incapable of correctly pronouncing Achatz, so I decided against it. Just know that “take a note, Chatz” was a favorite line from the vacation, thanks to Erik. And Hulk. Now back to dinner.

One of the coolest, but also the most disconcerting, things about Alinea is what happens when you go to the bathroom. It happens frequently enough over the course of eleven glasses of wine to be notable. The second you remove your rear from your seat, a phantom alert signal enters the collective brainwave of the Alinea staff. Once your back has turned to walk toward the restrooms, within a split second, staff has de-crumbed your seat, whisked away your old napkin, and replaced it with a brand-new, perfectly folded, monogrammed napkin. I should point out that none of us ever made frivolous restroom trips just to see how quickly it happened, but there definitely was a certain undercurrent of competition as to who could make it the furthest before their napkin had been replaced. And not to sound petty or anything, but I totally won. I made it all the way to the bathroom door, I’m told. Yeah, what’s up? The restroom was gorgeous, by the way. I half expected one of those wacky Japanese toilets that sings lullabies and has a seat-warmer, but none materialized. A very pretty room, though, with beautiful monogrammed towels with which to dry your hands.

Take a note, Chatz. You need a Japanese toilet.

Returning to the meal at hand, though, we have a delicious specimen of a Japanese magic wand.

Yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi

This was the food of Japanese astronauts. The yuba itself is basically a “skin” of tofu. Soybeans are versatile little beasts, and this freeze-dried (or dehydrated and then fried, perhaps) stick of goodness was a great usage. It wasn’t exceptionally flavorful in and of itself. Tofu never is. But it served as a texturally fascinating delivery system for a ribbon of shrimp sprinkled with togarashi (Japanese 7-spice). The whole wand was to be then dipped in a miso mayonnaise. Given my furious hatred for mayonnaise, I decided to pretend it was a miso hollandaise. And it was damned good. I like dipping things. It gives me a sense of control over the flavor saturation of my food. With semi-unfamiliar flavors, I really enjoy this ability to add as much or as little of the new sauce as I choose with each bite. And it was really pretty (not that you’d be able to tell from my vomitous photography skills)

Much like Nicolas Cage, “I could eat a peach for hours.” Only I’m not talking about vaginas like N.C. was in Face Off. No, I’m talking about stone fruit. And I totally could, because they’re the succulent underbelly of summer goodness. Watermelon’s all like “look at me, look at me!” But peaches are so much more.

Avocado, peach, fennel, shiso

A cup came out, filled with a fragrant peach liquid, and topped with a fork that precariously held slices of beautiful avocado and stern-looking fennel. The idea was to take the bite of unctuous avocado, then gulp down the contents of the cup. We were told twice to NOT put the cup down on the table, as it would tip, It had no bottom, much like basically all of the Victoria’s Secret magazine models (I’m pretty sure Victoria’s Secret is withholding food to assure obedience). The avocado we were given was in place of yet more foie gras (which I still don’t eat, unless it’s an extreme circumstance, like Fear Factor). It was perfect, and played beautifully with the squeaky-clean flavor of sweet, fresh peach. The fennel was a delicate back-flavor, and I didn’t detect any shiso. Perhaps this is because I don’t know what shiso tastes like. I’ve never had it. I’ll try some soon, promise, as soon as I get out of this ass-tablet of a state. Overall, I liked the dish very much. I kept wanting to put my bowl down, though.

Onward, hooooooooo! Next up, a little chilly cup of froth with amber-colored gel cubes…wha?

Crab, carrot, five spice, duck

I’ll be totally honest with you–I’ve never had crabs. I guess it was just a matter of being really careful in college, being true to my own finicky nature, and also kind of believing that crabs were really giant, pink sea spiders. I had prepared them a few times before for a beau who really liked them (this should have been a hint as to how successful our relationship would be. That’s three years of college I’ll never get back—out of about seven years of college, so who am I kidding?). I had never eaten them, though. And I missed the explanation of what this dish was, so while I was enjoying its gorgeous balance of sweet, savory, meaty, chewy, spicy, I had no idea that a key member of the party was crab. The little amber cubes were a spicy ginger chew, I think. And there was carrot puree at the bottom of the cup. Carrot and ginger are like, long lost lovers or whatever, so that was a perfect match. Then there was firm crab meat and meaty duck and a foam of ginger ice (again, I’m just guessing). Each forkful pulled all of it together into a sexy package, and even Erik (whom I will venture to say has also never had crabs) really enjoyed it. Only thing was that the ginger gummies were tacky (not “I wear Crocs in public” tacky, but “this shit is really sticking to my teeth” tacky). Overall, a great dish. I’m glad we didn’t get the softshell version of this one, because softshell crabs creep me the eff out.

Okay, for this next dish, nothing I say is going to make much of a dent in our feelings for it. I’ll do my best. The pictures are in segments, so you can see each piece. In the final photo, you’ll see the whole dish, which was

Waygu beef, powdered A-1, potato, chips

: This is the potato and chips portion of the dish. A cube of mashed potatoes that were so clearly making out with twice their weight in butter that it was almost obscene, and then covered in crushed salt and vinegar chips. I’ve had this twice, and I still don’t even understand how something so simple could taste so freakin’ amazing, but there you have it. It does. I love salt and vinegar chips anyway, and have a theory that only women and gay men like salt and vinegar chips. There are a few straight ones who sneak through a loophole somewhere (maybe it’s being British, I have no idea), but for the most part, it’s a true fact that straight men hate them. But this dish? John Elway would eat this dish. And that is HIGH praise around here. The little potato cube isn’t lonely, though. It’s paired with this little fella:
a glistening slab of what is too good to be Waygu beef, so we determined (via the scientific method of letting Erik decide) that it was unicorn meat. What other mythical beast could produce a piece of steak so tender and deep and fucking outstanding?? I don’t like to throw the “f” word around (I totally do), but that’s the only way to say it. The powdered “A-1” elements are kind of a gild to the lily, but definitely nice for a few bites. We found ourselves bisecting the meat into progressively smaller and smaller pieces, hoping to make it last. Erik was downright emotional about his dish, and said “I’m worried about going to the bathroom in a couple of days. I’m actually going to feel resentful about saying goodbye to this meat.” If he looks at his firstborn child with the love he had looking at this plate, then I’ll know he’s going to be a good father someday.

the smoke was from a tippy vase of dry ice that was infused with smoke smell for that “barbecue experience.” Nice touch.

None of us really wanted to move on after that plate, but it was dessert time. If there is thing I can get behind, it’s dessert time.

Watermelon, lime, nasturtium

The first bite was a ping pong ball-sized sphere of crispy something holding a torrent of watermelon and lime flavor. It was intense and refreshing and wanted desperately to escape the confines of our mouths. I didn’t really detect nasturtium, though I saw a petal on top. I do love when he puts liquids in spheres, although this wasn’t the traditional spherification that I keep failing at reproducing.
Almost immediately thereafter came a paddle (spanking-style) that had three little, triangular packets filled with white powder. Cocaine? No. This is good, because I was still high on unicorn and wouldn’t want to mix vices. This was lemon soda, one bite. The packet was filled with powder that tasted and fizzed just like lemon soda. The packet dissolved, too. It was a good, understated little piece of fun. I don’t know how they got their triangle folding so precise. Perhaps a team of very strict, old Japanese women? Or a T-square, maybe?

Next, a thin sheet of pink.

Transparency of raspberry, yogurt

This brittle sheet of invisible awesome was raspberry flavored, and immediately dissolved in the mouth, and dusted with yogurt powder for a whack of tang on the tongue. It came in a funny little clip that wobbled all over the place. I made a mess with mine, which was okay because they come by after each course with a playhouse-sized broom and a napkin and clean up your crumbs. I need this to happen at home. I currently have maple syrup on my shirt. I’ve never been able to feed myself without making some kind of mess.

The tube of bubble gum was another repeat, but one that I would cheerfully repeat on a daily basis.

Bubblegum, long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche

The glass tube is meant to be horked back in one go, and is filled with tart hibiscus gel, creme fraiche, and tapioca balls, and tastes for all the world like actual bubblegum. Even the fun chewiness is replicated via the tapioca. I love this dish. It makes me feel less like Chef Achatz is this culinary batman who lives in an underground cave and only comes out in some kind of advanced transport system replete with lasers and a Pacojet to save the world. All of a sudden he seems fun and like maybe he’d laugh at NPH in How I Met Your Mother. A sense of humor is what this dish adds.

Our next dish, which I forgot to photograph, but it’s okay because I photographed it last time I had it, was the rhubarb, goat milk, onion, lavender air. Who knew onion could be sweet? Well, we did from last time, but Erik didn’t yet. This is the one that came on the inflatable pillow filled with lavender air that whooshed out every time you pressed onto the plate with your fork. Chris, Erik and I all watched a video on Gizmodo about how this and some other effects are put together, to which Erik announced “that’s Harry Potter stuff.” Yes, it is.

Then they cleared off the table and rolled out a big silicone mat. We got excited because we’d heard of such trickery before, and were jazzed for the “special treatment.” For all I know, they do this for everyone, but it felt really special.

First, they brought out a gang of ingredients and pieces for the composed dish of Chocolate, blueberry, tobacco, maple

Then Chef Beran (I believe he’s the Chef de Cuisine) came out and used the ingredients to make abstract art on our silicone mat. Can I just say that Chef Beran is totally adorable? I kind of wanted to smuggle him home in my purse to play in our kitchen at home. He flung spheres of liquid blueberry and maple all over the place, drizzled something or other, freeze-dried chocolate ice cream, and other mystery surprises. We were given silverware and allowed to go at it once he was finished. I was giddy about this whole experience.

The final composition

Finally, it was time for the last course:

Pound cake, strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean

A single bite of compressed, flavored pound cake, skewered by a moist, fresh vanilla bean, and sitting on a sweet vanilla powder. I sucked on the vanilla bean for a while after the pound cake was gone, dipping it over and over in the powder on the plate. And then it was time to say goodbye *sniffle*

Our tea came, and Erik quizzed Sommelier about the tea selection. At first he seemed confused by the question on origin, but then he all of a sudden was Mr Knowledgability about silver needle tea, so I’m pretty sure he has a microchip in his brain that gets activated by someone in the basement of the restaurant whenever a tough question comes up.

So it’s all over. Alinea has been the two best culinary experiences of my life. I don’t even remember what we ate after that. I know we had RJ Grunts two days later, where I had the best burger of my life EVER but that’s all I remember. Two days of post-coital bliss following my meal at Alinea, and it was time to head home.

I got the cover of my cookbook autographed by Chef Achatz, which was cool, but it ended up getting all creased up on the flight so that breaks my heart, plus he wrote “toward creativity” instead of “Kristie is Awesome,” which is what I wish I would have asked him to write had I a moment to consider it.

Also, how the hell do some of these people get fully lit pictures from their dinners? Twice now I’ve had mealy, dark photos because there’s no flash. Is there a special room that allows real pictures? Or am I just a fool for obeying?

Anyway, I’m going to go make myself a stiff white russian and watch the Broncos game. Right now I’m just feeling sad that it’s all over, and trying to scam another trip at some point in the future. Sigh. True love for food is still true love.

5 thoughts on “Alinea #2, part deux”

  1. I'm just stuck on two points:

    A) There's a difference between "I've never had crabs" and "I've never had crab." Probably a pretty important distinction to master.

    B) If it takes you a few days to say buh-bye to that steak, you may want Chris to refer you to a good proctologist.

    :-) Sorry, I couldn't resist. A lot of the dishes on this post sound more appealing to me than the first one. I'm sure they were all great though. I absolutely love being let loose in a new city to try all the great restaurants. Even if it's just a good hot dog or burger place.

  2. 1. Is it starting to sink in that you hate the idea of most things much more than you hate the actual taste of those things? I could feed you foie gras and not tell you what it was and you'd thank me for it later.

    2. It's surprising to me that he hasn't changed up the menu more since June.

    3. I love salt & vinegar chips, but then I'm half English. That steak was pretty special wunnit?

    4. You might want to consider other cities with other great restaurants for your next outing.

    5. Chef Achatz himself did the dessert-hurling when we were there. Ergo, he likes me better.

  3. Now I know why Huck has been crabby of late; he was sad over the loss of his bouncing baby unicorn slab. He still can't stop talking about the good times and delicious cuisine that you all shared. Kinda makes me feel like I'm serving up shoe on a plate when I throw together the usual pot roast with carrots and potatoes or whatev. How bout them Broncos?! Love you lots! Momma

  4. this might break your heart. but they sell dish #1 on our street corner. bah! oh how i wish. but i do have a heated toilet that sings to me!

    totally loved this story btw!

  5. My favorite line to come from your fingertips in a very long time : "a glistening slab of what is too good to be Waygu beef, so we determined (via the scientific method of letting Erik decide) that it was unicorn meat. What other mythical beast could produce a piece of steak so tender and deep and fucking outstanding??" EFFING PRICELESS!!! I want unicorn meat. :-)

    I am so impressed by your dinner. And your mealy photos. And your descriptions. And the fact that this was your second time. :-)

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