Alinea at Home Extra: So, that happened....
Wow. So sorry for the delay in writing about my dinner at Alinea last Friday. That post is coming in another day or two, I promise. Because quite a few of you have emailed me to make sure I'm alive and not in the loony bin, let me take a minute to clear up a few things:
Yes, the flight to Chicago last week was scary. For those of you who didn't see it all play out on my Twitter feed (and the Tribune, Sun-Times, NBC, Chicago radio, Politico, and Huffington Post), my flight to Chicago last Friday had to make an emergency landing in Pittsburgh because the plane's hydraulic system failed shortly after takeoff. We had a few VIPs on the flight (Senator Roland Burris, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and WH social secretary Desiree Rogers), one of whom lied about his involvement in the heroic efforts around our safe arrival. I'll let you guess which one. Ahem. Suffice to say, over the week, his story has evolved from, "There was a loud explosion, deafening noise, extreme turbulence, and I helped an elderly woman off the plane" to something about maybe being the one to open the overhead bin when we landed, or assisting a family from the shuttle bus to the terminal.
Anyhoo, that's neither here nor there.
What I do know is that after hearing the captain first tell you the grinding noise you hear is the hydraulics but they're fine/it's all good, then a little while later tell you they've changed their mind and they're now diverting to Pittsburgh because of a hydraulic system failure... and you have a window seat out of which you can see rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that the plane is circling over, nose up, plane tilted back at a 45-degree angle, and Pittsburgh is nowhere in sight... you have to wonder if you're going to make it to the airport at all. And, when one of your clients is an organization that works closely with the FAA and NTSB on safety and security issues so you're pretty up-to-date on procedures, technology, crash case studies, and the like, well... you're pretty damn sure know what the pilot meant when, after you've landed, he announces over the PA, "Boy, I'm glad we're here." We were lucky, and our pilot, co-pilot, cabin crew, and air traffic control staff deserve every accolade in the book for their work in the air and on the runway.
And here's what I find fascinating: If you'd had headphones on and were listening to your iPod the whole time, in an aisle seat, or maybe asleep, you'd never have known there was anything wrong. The cabin was quiet (save for a minute or two of a whirring, grinding noise under our feet after takeoff that made us think the landing gear couldn't retract), the flight was smooth (no turbulence, no shaking, no loud noises at all), and the landing, while strangely accelerated and fast, was gentle. We landed with no flaps, which meant the pilot had to use manual braking (we ended up with just a few feet to spare at the end of the runway; would've been poor form to crash through the wall of ambulances and firetrucks waiting for us, I guess), and the pilot and crew, along with EMS team that greeted our arrival were calm, cool, and collected, and made it far less scary than it could've been. It also helped that I had great seatmates -- Rachel and Jessica -- who were totally up for a drink and some lunch to calm our nerves before getting on the plane that eventually took us to Chicago. (Hi, Rachel! Hi, Jessica!)
So, that was my day last Friday. Emergency landing and an airport bar cobb salad (and a vodka shot) at lunchtime, followed by a mind-blowing, energizing, and humbling 23-course dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world just six hours later. You know. The usual.
It's only tonight that I'm able to sit down with a clear head, my menu in front of me, and pull together the words that can even begin to do justice to my experience at Alinea. If I'd written this post earlier in the week when I'd originally planned, it would've gone a little something like "ZOMG PLANE CRASH, BRIGHT YELLOW FIRE TRUCKS, LYING POLITICIANS, VODKA, CARSICK IN TAXI, TRYING NOT TO CRY BUT CRYING ANYWAY, and oh yeah, I had dinner at Alinea and here's the menu, buh-bye." And that's not fair. So, when I wasn't working this week, I dug in the garden, cleaned out the basement, fixed things around the house that have been on my to-do list for ages... all because I needed to do something apart and away from food and my computer, and let the dust settle so that the real reason I went to Chicago could assume its rightful place in my brain and on my palate. And it did. Today. FINALLY.
Dinner at Alinea was as inspiring as it was awesome, and in a few days there will be words better, more powerful, and more appropriate than "awesome" to describe it. In fact, I can still close my eyes and taste every bite, and let me tell you: nearly every single course provided that moment I hope you've all experienced at least once in your life -- when you unconsciously and almost silently gasp and hold your breath, smiling as you chew and your eyes widen and your palate opens up, and the only compliment you can muster at that very moment is a whispered "whoa."
Last Friday was an evening of "whoa" and "wow" and "thank you." On many levels.
So, stay tuned.... be back soon....