One of the many advantages of traveling is the opportunity to try new and different experiences, in this case beer. Yeungling is one of the few breweries to survive the consolidation in the middle of the last century. Not available in Illinois, and only recently in Ohio, they produce a number of Lagers and this Black and Tan mix. Nothing super fancy but not a bad beer.
Our dinner at Alinea is now complete and I am having a really hard time trying to determine what information to share on the meal. I have rewritten this first paragraph about five times. If you are reading this you are obviously interested in our meal or some type of recap. The challenge is, and I know this sounds corny, I don’t have the ability to do the meal justice. I am neither a skilled enough writer nor brave enough to take numerous photos during the meal (Chef Grant Achatz’s post on photographing during dinner service). The experience we had at Alinea was something that was fun, interesting, humorous, unusual, and much more.
So, that still leaves me with how to share my experience with you? Well, in admitting my lack of writing skills and to attempt to impart some semblance of information to you, I will put some answers to questions that I have heard below. If you have something you would like to know, drop me a line.
- How did you get reservations? Easy, I just called when reservations open (first of the month two months prior) and kept redialing until I no longer got a busy signal. They start taking them at about 10AM and I was through by 10:30AM and had my pick of dates and times.
- What was your favorite dish? That is almost an impossible question to answer in that some are great for presentation, some flavor, some just for their strangeness.
- Okay then smarty pants. . . .
- What dish had the presentation? The short rib had a very interesting presentation that involved assembling a ravioli at the table.
- What dish had the best flavor? There was bass in a larger dish that consisted of taking familiar flavors and completely changing the texture and colors to where you would not recognize them immediately. The bass was poached in butter and was absolutely perfect.
- What dish had the most strangeness? That would have to be the above bass dish, it was just so confusing and great at the same time.
- How was the service? The service was phenomenal. What was best about it, was that all of the front of the house staff worked to read your table’s attitude. If you were serious and silently focused on the food, they would be so as well. If you were more casual and interacting with the whole experience, they mirrored that as well, joking and telling stories about the food or themselves. We were definitely in the latter group.
- How was the wine? The wine was great but this is probably where we were a little over our heads. We did their wine pairings were you get a little wine with every few courses. Erin and I are by no means oenophiles so I am sure many of the subtelties were missed by us. Nonetheless, the selections were very well chosen and paired perfectly with the courses. In particular, two wines that stood out were the 2004 Domaine de la Solitude Cuvee Barberini and the 1959 Toro Albala Don PX Convento.
- How was the atmosphere? Breathtaking and subtle at the same time. The focus is totally on the food so the décor isn’t dramatic but it is luxurious in an understated way.
- What about this molecular gastronomy stuff, isn’t it all powers, gels, and foams? One could think that but you would be wrong. One dish that particularly sticks out is the Canard a la Cussy. It is a dish that is an homage to Escoffier from the turn of the century. This course, along with the plates, silverware, and glasses were all a perfect example of his (and the kitchen’s) skills when it comes to classical French cooking technique.
- Is there anything you would have changed? Nothing went wrong, but if I could change anything (and I realize this isn’t practical) I would make it so you couldn’t see what other diners are getting. Part of the experience at Alinea is the surprise associated with learning what the dish is and how it is supposed to be eaten. Many of these dishes (such as the Hot Potato/Cold Potato and the cheese course) you have no idea on how you are supposed to eat them until you are instructed by the server, and that is part of the fun!
- What was the most amazing part of the meal? I can’t believe I almost left this out, but the dessert course was prepared table top by Chef Grant Achatz himself. I don’t know how we were lucky enough to get this honor (not everyone did), but it was truly amazing to watch a chef with three Michelin stars prepare your meal. I was grinning ear to ear.
- Any advice for anyone else is planning on attending? Yep, I think it is pretty simple. Go with people who enjoy food the same way you do (serious, casual, etc.), have an open mind, and finally don’t do any research on the meals! As I said above, one of the best parts of the meal is the surprise associated with each dish. There are a couple of surprises throughout the meal and I have tried avoid spoiling them here. Being lucky enough to eat here is a gift and I don’t want to ruin that for you.
*Proof of the title of the article title can be found at http://www.theworlds50best.com/awards/1-50-winners.
Erin and I were lucky enough to have a great friend who gave us a great gift. Our friend Krina had won a number of invitations to the friends and family dinner at Girl & The Goat, the newest restaurant from Top Chef Chicago winner Stephanie Izard. As this was a friends and family/pre-opening dinner, I wasn’t planning on doing much of a write-up and I am not planning on putting a review yet on Yelp. If there were any major failings (Spoiler Alert 1: there weren’t) in ambiance, service, or the food; it is the purpose of these pre-opening dinners to work out. Also, on the opposite side, for a dinner like this you are really experiencing something special that isn’t necessarily representative of how the kitchen and the staff will perform day after day.
We had known that the evening would be coming at some point in late June/early July but we weren’t sure of the exact date. Since we are homebound and not travelling as much as usual that didn’t pose too much of a problem. Our calendar was more open than usual and we only had one or two events during this time. Unfortunately, the opening of the restaurant fell on the same evening of the Bastille Day 5K which I had planned on running. Initially we were given a 6:30PM seating and the race was supposed to start at 7:30PM. After calling the restaurant and seeing about switching the date or the time we were told that they could accommodate an 8:30PM reservation which was their last seating.
Knowing from the start that the evening was going to be a bit frantic added quite a bit to both of our stress in the day leading up to the race/dinner. I met my sister Judy who was also running the race at about 6:00PM so I could get a good parking spot and she could pick up her packet. We hung out and chatted for a bit knowing that I was going to be taking off immediately after the race. The race was ran in the heat/humidity/rain and Judy did great for her first 5K since my nephew was born. My result was less than stellar, but I jogged across the finish line and headed straight to the car. Luckily Erin and I are members of XSport and their North Avenue location is nearby so I dashed into XSport took a quick cold shower to cool down and changed into some business casual attire (turned out I was over dressed). Erin had worked out before and was getting some work done at the Starbucks next door so she was waiting for me as soon as I was out. We were out the door of XSport by 8:25. We got stuck in some traffic and called the restaurant at about 8:50PM to see if we could still be seated. The host was extremely helpful and assured us that it wouldn’t be a problem. We were there by about 8:55PM (85 minutes after starting my 5K) and seated almost immediately. Phew.
As noted above, I am going to hold off on doing a formal review until they are officially open (Spoiler Alert 2: we are returning) but I do want to share information for my friends who have asked and/or who may be considering going.
If you have seen the pictures online, you will see it is a large and well designed space but the first thing that hits you when you open the door is the wood smoke from the kitchen. It is a little overpowering at first but gives you a hint of what you are about to experience for the evening. We were promptly seated by the friendly front of house staff of whom there were at least five or six mulling around the front door. The tables were a nice faux butcher block that fit in well with the overall look and feel of the space. The napkins were wrapped with a cute piece of paper featuring the goat logo, it was a nice touch. The menu is tapas style and our server encouraged us to try as many dishes as possible. We had six dishes between the two of us and it was too much food for us to finish. The mind was willing, but the body was weak. Our meal was as follows with descriptions straight from the menu, which came home with us.
tortone. sweet onion butter. herb oil.
The menu is (currently) divided into three sections: vegetable, fish, meat and within each section is a bread. The server made sure to mention that there was an in house baker who handled all of the breads. We chose the bread from the vegetable menu and couldn’t have been happier. The bread was crusty on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. The sweet onion butter was really good and was a great start to the evening. Make sure you get a bread when you go.
chilled sweet onion soup. olive oil poached shrimp. fresno chili.
This was probably the weakest note of the evening. This was full of flavor and had a great smooth texture and the poached shrimp were perfectly prepared. The biggest problem was the serving size was just too large. Because of how rich the dish was a shot glass size would have been perfect, but this was served in a normal soup bowl which we didn’t even finish 1/5 off. Also, soups in a tapas style restaurant are always challenging. Good dish, but we probably wouldn’t order it again.
sauteed green beans. fish sauce vinagrette. cashews.
I would have to defer to Erin on this dish because she ate most of it while I was busy with the lamb. But the beans were very well cooked and the sauce was full of flavor. This is really one of those dishes you just keep eating and eating.
grilled baby octopus. guanciale. lemon-pistachio vinaigrette.
Wow. This is where the meal really started to hit its stride. Erin and I were fighting over this dish and cleaned our plates. The octopus was a really high quality and had a great color with a real meaty texture. The saltiness of the guanciale (pig jowl) was really well balanced by the sweetness in other elements of the dish.
seared ny strip. salted goat milk caramel. wilted cucumbers. basil.
There were some more adventurous dishes on the menu (pig face, beef tongue, etc.) but because of the late hour we stuck to some of the safer items. The strip was cooked perfectly and had some beautiful color. One thing we noticed is that if you didn’t get all of the components in single bite, there almost wasn’t enough flavor compared to some of the other items on the menu but if you did get a bit of everything it really worked. Our recommendation if you choose this, would be to make sure you get this a earlier in your meal while your taste buds are still warming up.
grilled lamb ribs. sweet onion bbq. grilled avocado. pistachio picada.
The server heavily recommended the lamb and it was a very tasty dish. The pistachio picada was a great complement to the perfectly cooked lamb. The meat was falling off the bone tender and this would be a great dish to share as the portion size was very large.
dessert: potato “doughnuts” & goat cheese blueberry cheese cake
They still seem to be sorting out their dessert menu as they didn’t have a printed menu and only had these two options. The potato “doughnuts” were really delicious. One nice treat was the eggplant garnish which had been soaked in lemon juice and sugar. The goat cheese blueberry cheese cake was a much more challenging dish. The dish was exactly as it sounds with the goat cheese served on top of the cake. If you didn’t really dig to get a lot of cheese cake with your bite, the goat cheese could be very overpowering. It might not be for everyone, but I would recommend it to those willing to try something a little different.
Well, for not doing a review, this turned out to be quite a lengthy comment. One item of note is that both Erin and I were very pleasantly surprised by the pricing on the menu. Since it was a friends/family night the meal was gratis, but the prices listed on the menu were very reasonable. Most of the fish/meat plates were $12 or $13 with only the chicken dish at $15. Also, the serving sizes were very large where 2-3 dishes will be more than enough. The restaurant itself is very large so I am guessing that they aren’t going to be as focused on turning tables as they will be on encouraging a tapas style meal where you may order 3 or 4 times as you sample various dishes. All in all, we are very thankful to Krina and even though our meal was on the house, we look forward to returning in the very near future and spending our hard earned money.