Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alinea - Courses 1-6

Alinea offers a wine pairing with their menus, but Michelle asked if they had any interesting non-alcoholic beverages, and we ordered the one option that was made in-house: a cherry soda flavored with thyme and balsamic. This sounds like an odd combination, but it was a really tasty and complex drink, lightly carbonated and quite savory with a strong thyme flavor. The server told us that this soda was made by the baker, who apparently experiments while he's waiting for the breads to bake (in the middle of the night). He also makes beer, which isn't served to the public.

Although the menu is primarily a surprise, they asked us if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies. We were more than happy to eat whatever they prepared, so we didn't make any requests. As we were waiting for the first course, Michelle mentioned that she hoped that we didn't get anything with a strong licorice flavor. So, it was kind of funny when they presented:

1. Char Roe - parsnip, licorice, ginger

Photo from Yelp (Vivian Y.)

Arctic char roe is lightly cured, and plated with 3 round drops (coconut cream, parsnip puree, maple-ginger gelee), parsley sauce, and licorice foam. This was a light starter, but with an interesting and complex mix of flavors. A good warmup for what was to come.

2. Lemongrass - oyster, sesame, yuzu

Photo from LTHForum (ronnie_suburban)

Alinea places a strong emphasis on aromas. In this case, lemongrass was both the aromatic and the serving utensil. Components included two types of seaweed (which even in this one bite were quite distinct), black sesame paste, and yuzu gelee. Michelle enjoyed her oyster, while mine was not that strong in flavor.

As if 24 courses weren't enough, we were also served a number of different house-made breads, with two butters (one from goat's milk, one from cow's milk made in-house). The first bread, a napa cabbage rye, tied in nicely with the next course.

3. Cauliflower - five coatings, three gels, cider

Photo from LTHForum (ronnie_suburban)

There were 5 cubes of cauliflower custard, each with a different crust. The gels were made with horseradish, vanilla, and possibly nutmeg (come on, we can't possibly remember all the details). Also, there were some crunchy extras: cauliflower florets (which I liked but Michelle didn't enjoy) and stalks. After it was brought to the table, the server poured a hot, creamy apple soup into the bowl. He told us that each coating was different, but he would only tell us two (smoked ham and caraway), and that we should be able to identify the others based on everything working with ham. Between the two of us, we were able to get the remaining three (white cheddar, onion, almond), which suitably impressed the server. This was a very complex dish, but all the flavors worked really nicely, and it ended up being our favorite course. It was a good mix of technique, whimsy, and taste.

4. Pear - olive oil, black pepper, eucalyptus

Photo from Flickr (jgiacomoni)

This was the first course that really showcased the emphasis the chef places on aroma and flavor going together. Though the actual dish was just one small bite, it was presented in a large white bowl that came to the table with its lid on. When the server removed the lid, we were bathed in the menthol-y smell of eucalyptus, which lined the bowl. Resting on a spoon above the eucalyptus was a drop of olive oil resting in a small morsel of pear, encased in a eucalyptus gelee. A sprinkle of black pepper added some bite and crunch. Brian tasted salt, as well. It melted on the tongue, and the aroma wafting up from the bowl really enhanced the taste of the gelee. (It did not, in case you're wondering, taste medicinal, but refreshing.)

5. Pork Belly - turnip, shiso, sudachi

Photo from Flickr (jgiacomoni)

For this course, we were each given a small bowl with a round bottom. The server instructed us not to put them down, as it would tip over if we did before removing the fork, which was resting in a little cutout. On the fork was a small piece of pork belly topped with paper thin slices of pickled turnip and kimchi turnip, and a cute little piece of micro-shiso leaf. The pork belly was very tender, and I thought there was a 'turnip gelee' - which was actually just the fat from the belly. The turnip slices offered a nice textural and acidic counterpoint to the pork. Neither the shiso nor kimchee flavors were very strong - mostly we came away with a greater appreciation for the unctuousness that is slow-and-low cooked pork belly (and really, we were pretty appreciative to begin with!) Underneath the fork was a foamy turnip soup with shiso and sudachi accents (the latter is a Japanese citrus fruit) - a warm, salty chaser.

6. Wild striped bass - chamomile, shellfish, celery

Photo from Flickr (jgiacomoni)

This was another rather complex dish with many components. The main ingredient was a small piece of perfectly cooked bass, covered with a shellfish mousse, draped in a 'sheet' of chamomile tea. Arranged on top of this was thin strips of mild-tasting celery (probably blanched), celery leaves, two different kinds of unidentified shellfish, saffron-flavored tapioca puffs, and a generous sprinkle of saffron threads. There were a lot of different textures (delicate fish, creamy mousse, chewy clam, crisp celery and crunchy tapioca) that played well together. The shellfish pieces, while adding a dimension of texture, didn't really bring any noticeable flavor to the dish. We quite liked the tapioca puffs, and thought the tea sheet was a really interesting, subtle flavor that combined well with the shellfish mousse to make an interesting sauce for the fish.

Served at the same time as the bass was a nice olive brioche roll.


riceandwheat said...

oh. wow.

Amy said...

i am quite impressed with your ability to describe each course so vividly! i think i feel full from just reading about your delicious dinner.