An experience: Alinea in Chicago; 3M

Everyone has seen Youtube videos of the dramatic dessert presentations at Alinea, Grant Achatz’s Chicago masterpiece.  We’ve been dreaming of going here for years, and finally saved up enough of our moonlighting money to make it there.

First, booking it was a feat – we set a timer for the exact time that the reservation website would open, but watched as the two-table seats disappeared before our eyes. Fortunately, we were able to snag a four-person reservation, and we found two foodie friends up for the experience.

Warning – Alinea is more of a show than a meal, and there are spoilers ahead. We tried to go in without doing too much reading beforehand, so as not to ruin the surprise. If you don’t mind, then read onwards!

We started the meal with ‘Communal’ – everyone was at a giant table where you could barely hear the person across from you.  It was uncomfortable and there was weird music in the background. Our friend with a seafood allergy was taken to a special seat and after that, everyone knew who to bring the non-fish dish to. Smoked dishes were brought out and then we were taken into the kitchen for a treat! We got to see our cocktails get shaken up in an interesting wheeled contraption, and when we returned to our seats, to our shock the room had been completely rearranged – gone was the giant rectangle table and instead we were at small circle tables for each of our parties. Much better! The painting banners had all been switched as well, from a dark painting to a light painting.  What a surprise!

I enjoyed how the courses flowed – one dish came out with a centerpiece that was lit on fire. Next, a juniper branch was placed over the fire to give scent; there were little ‘eggs’ of lamb beignets. After that, a surprise potato was dug out of the fire material, dusted off with a brush, and then mashed into a clam chowder soup! I also loved the oranges that had dry ice poured over them to fill the air with a citrus scent.  All our senses were engaged – the dessert was carried out to a smoke machine and music by Childish Gambino.

Some people pay hundreds of dollars to go to the theater, others pay for concert tickets or the opera. For us, Alinea is an experience, where the servers are friendly and playful, yet disciplined and attentive. Definitely my favorite wait staff of the Michelin restaurants we’ve been to.  They were knowledgeable, and answered our questions, explaining some of the mysteries.  There was humor in the meal – green apple taffy balloons filled with just a little bit of helium – we were encouraged to inhale and talk to our table in hilarious high-pitched voices, giggles filled the room.  While the food was fascinating – so much use of the distiller! – I actually wasn’t too huge a fan of the taste. Nothing was bad, exactly, but I didn’t find anything amazingly delicious either.

Was it an amazing experience? Am I glad I had the privilege of going and the joy of sharing such an interesting time with friends? Certainly.  But honestly, I was more impressed with the food at Per Se or EMP.  Really loved the playfulness of the staff though; had a great time. Photos definitely don’t capture the experience. Check them out on Yelp or at their website!

Travels: Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, Missouri

We stopped by this place after checking out the cooler than expected City Museum.  We were hungry from exploring the caves and multi-story slides and the smell of BBQ really hits you as soon as you even approach the restaurant. There was a long line despite us getting there only a little after opening, but it moved quickly. There’s lots of porcine paraphernalia, maybe fun to some but I don’t really like getting reminders of what I’m eating. Like adopting a turkey before you eat it on Thanksgiving, weird. Anyway, got a half rack of ribs that were very tender and fell off the bone, burnt ends that were also succulent, moist, and flavorful, and pulled pork and chicken that were the most boring of the meat, but still good by any standards. Service is slick and efficient and the tables turn over at lightning speed. Check them out on Yelp or at their website.
Pappy's Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

And some St. Louis shots:

 

Le Bernardin in NYC (3 Michelin Stars)

My husband loves nice food, so we are trying to eat at all the Michelin restaurants in the New York area.  I am not a particular fan of seafood, but don’t mind it when it is done well, so agreed to grab lunch at Le Bernardin during an NYC stopover.  We showed up early to our noon reservation, but despite that, were rushed through the whole meal, only getting the menu seconds before having our orders taken.  We spent less than an hour for our lunch, and while it speaks to efficiency on the part of the staff and kitchen, it certainly put a damper on our meal.  I was shocked that this restaurant had three Michelin stars.  Our appetizers – okay, entree – meh, dessert was quite nice though.  Overall, really not impressed at all.

Fred’s review: Their take on crab cake was accompanied by a fragrant shellfish-cardamom sauce reminiscent of a bouillabaisse. The appearance was mesmerizing with a flavor to match – probably the best crab I have eaten. The dover sole was light, flakey, with a crisp skin accentuated by toasted almonds, and a slight tartness from the beurre blanc proved a perfect accompaniment. My dessert featured three separate preparations of strawberry – including a generous topping of freeze-dried bits, making the desert feel larger than a single course although still sticking to a single theme. The bread selection was also particularly impressive, perhaps revamped after the criticism from the latest NYT review – Clover and I both picked just one item (she got a soft slice of rosemary bread, while I had a roll flavored with sundried tomatoes), although I did get a twinge of jealousy when I saw the next table ask for three. I love the breadth and consistency of the menu, with each course clearly featuring a single fish front and center. I would be excited to try some of Eric Ripert’s masterful and innovative preparations of other seafood in the near future.

Check them out on Yelp or at their website!

Le Bernardin Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A fantastic meal at Vox in Reykjavik, Iceland

Vox was probably the second-best meal we had, after Grillid. It was a bit out of the way, and we had to take a cab to the Hilton but it was so worth it. I wasn’t particularly expecting much, it was almost empty despite it being a weekend night, and it was ranked highly on TripAdvisor. But my husband said it had a Michelin Plate and so was worth a visit. I’m happy I came because the food was amazing!

  • The sauce for the bread was one of the best bread sauces I’ve ever encountered – brown butter, mustard seeds, and chives.
  • The ‘Little Fly’ cocktail was adorable, but although it was an award-winning cocktail, it wasn’t really anything special.
  • The service was a little off – most of these nice restaurants ask about allergies, for example; the pacing was also off, only seconds after we got bread, the first course of the tasting menu came out, and we were left to scramble to rearrange our plates. Besides these little hiccups though, the food was wonderful.
  • The single of ravioli is raviolo and we had a lovely bite into this one. There was also a lot of last-minute sauces poured at the table, freshly mixing with the food.
  • Lamb and celeriac and mushrooms appeared again, as seems to be expected in Iceland
  • The brisket was overly salty, and unfortunately made a reappearance with the lamb
  • The pavlova dessert was divine.
  • Overall, a great experience, far above Nostra and just a smidge below Grillid. 10,900 KR. Check them out on their website!

Ristretto Roasters in Portland

Icelandic Street Food in Reykjavik, Iceland

Stopped by Icelandic Street Food because Matur og drykkur wasn’t open yet and we had a flight to catch.  It was a special day with everything being free and a pay-what-you-want system with all proceeds going to charity. We got a lamb soup bowl and a doughnut; we wanted the crepe-like pancakes but they were all out already, though another patch appeared right before we left. Nice spot for a cozy snack, check out their website.

Nostra in Reykjavik, Iceland

This is ranked higher than the amazing Grillid on Tripadvisor, so we were really excited to check them out.  While still a nice experience, this was certainly not as good as the one we had at Grillid, despite costing a similar amount (12,900 ISK).

My notes from the meal:

  • lovely design of the restaurant, lots of interesting glass and mirrors, would have been cool if the name were a palindrome or otherwise symmetric but instead, we just saw ‘ART/SON’ everywhere
  • they were nice and flexible with a change we had to make in our reservation on the weekend, this is always appreciated
  • they handled our friend’s allergy okay; he didn’t develop anaphylactic shock so that was good
  • there was certainly enough food in the 8-course tasting menu we got; I wish there was a written version of the menu because sometimes it was hard to understand our waiter, but here’s my general memory, please pardon any errors
    • amuse bouche with hazelnut butter and roe
    • bread and lovely butter (we got cautioned to ‘take it easy with the bread because there’s a lot to come’)
    • cheese wrapped in cheese whey?
    • fish and mousse/yogurt infused with hay and red onion crisp
    • ceviche-like dish
    • mussels on leek and foam
    • yummy potato chips and leek foam
    • cod with a lobster sauce, lardo
    • beef tenderloin, ‘horseradish snow’, celeriac
    • pre-dessert with whey sorbet
    • grilled pineapple on sorbet
    • fudge and frozen yogurt?
    • sweet treats – marshmallow, caramel, and delicious sour fruit
  • there seemed to be a lot of use of local ingredients, similar to what we got at some of the other restaurants we went to in Iceland; beef, celeriac, lots of fish
  • I liked how they used one ingredient in multiple ways – we got one dish with both pickled red onion and a red onion crisp
  • the plating job was lovely
  • it’s nice that they had cocktails; I enjoyed my ‘Burnt Orange’ though it bothered me that the glass was sticky
  • unfortunately, our water glasses went unfilled on several occasions, though to be fair, my husband drinks a ton of water with meals
  • things dragged on at the end

Check out their website.

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