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May 30, 2009

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....

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Carol, I live in Chicago, and was thinking, well damn, wouldn't it have been cool to meet her while she was visiting! And was also thinking... wow, that flight from D.C. that had problems, and on which our congressman, who was appointed under amazingly suspicious conditions, was present, sounded harrowing. But never ONCE did I combine the two to think... our grand statesman from Illinois (cough, ohSUREhedidn'tpay) was ON THE SAME FLIGHT with Ye Grande Mistress of following recipes (sortakinda)! I'm so glad it all turned out well, you enjoyed our fair city, and you made it home to eventually write about it. Phew...

p.s. My meal at Alinea included a few courses that actually, literally, made me laugh out loud because they were SO GOOD. So, while I didn't whisper "whoa" - I absolutely get what you mean... they were extraordinary!

I'm so glad you're safe, as I'm sure all your faithful readers are. The experience sounds incredibly harrowing, but isn't it great how getting through something like that makes you feel even more alive, more appreciative of all that we have? I was surprised at my reaction on my last intercontinental flight some six months ago. There was some rough turbulence that was clearly much worse than the pilot and crew had anticipated, but somehow, I felt so calm through it. I kept thinking "I've had a rich life." I didn't feel shaken up at all until we were safe on the ground. Then it was like, "YIKES! The plane felt like i was going to break apart!" Looking forward to your anecdotes about Alinea with eager anticipation. :-)

I'm glad you arrived safely, and that your story has a happy ending. (May I also add that Mr. Burris needs a stern talking to - at the very least).

In the meantime, of course we'll patiently wait for your description of dinner at Alinea.

Go garden, relax and enjoy your weekend.

OMG! That sounds horrible. I'm so glad you made it safely. I remember once needing a drink at lunch after being stuck in a crowded elevator in a Manhattan office building where it was pretty clear the guy talking to us through the intercom didn't know what the hell to do so I think I might have had to be heavily sedated after your experience. Whew.

And you can still be funny. (1) We all guessed which one. (2) Now I know how to spell buh bye.

Looking forward to hearing about dinner.

Wow, Carol. I didn't hear about any of this on the news, but that was probably because I wasn't listening & I don't get the paper. I'm glad the only fallout was the congressman's bullshit & not the plane falling out of the sky. We are glad you're still around to entertain us. XOXO

Dang, I live in Chicago and missed that whole story (Roland Burris SO does not represent me....) Glad you are are OK and look forward to the report.

Carol, on that plane was someone who's time was just not up yet, probably you....a holier power out there knew we were waiting for the Alinea review!!

Ah, Carol, I'm one who faithful reader who was worried about your silence. I'm so glad you're back and safe. You were indeed smart to let the dust settle first. And write about it so charmingly! I'll be looking forward to reading the blog on your experience at Alinea.

Is that Keanu Reeves "whoa"?

Alinea is on the list for November's Chicago trip. However: we just last week had a garden tour w/ David Kinch, followed by tasting menu at Manresa. I mention this because we didn't say 'whoa' once, but *did* say Wow. A lot. To the point where I apologised to the table next to us :-).

If Alinea is anywhere in the same league, this year may never be culinarily exceeded.

Glad you are okay! Gardening will be restorative, I'm sure.

So glad you are safe and can't wait to hear about Alinea. The first time I was on a plane was on a flight to London when I was 19. I was flying alone to visit a friend and my plane had to make an emergency landing in Iceland. I was very calm until I had to call my parents to tell them I was in Iceland. Something about hearing my mom's voice over the phone made me lose it! It is the reason I now have a double vodka before every flight. But, at least I got a one day visit to Iceland out of it! I'm glad you had Alinea to look forward to.

Yowza.

Man, lady, you are in the thick of things! Such feverish exhilaration in the throes of life and death! Carry on! Etc, etcetera!

Can the phrase "Pulling a Burris" enter the Alinea at Home vernacular? Maybe if a dish completely bombs or if a certain ingredient overpowers the others while bringing nothing to the party?

I'm feeling ya, right now. After surviving 3 plane crashes, I know the "ZOMG PLANE CRASH, BRIGHT YELLOW FIRE TRUCKS, LYING POLITICIANS, VODKA, CARSICK IN TAXI, TRYING NOT TO CRY BUT CRYING ANYWAY" you're experiencing. Add "water landing, fire, vomit" and you have my life in the 80's. It took me years to start flying sober, again, and I never did cash the "free 2 drinks" coupon from the airline when my Atlanta flight split in half on the runway (bad brakes). To quote the stewardess, "hey, at least you're alive." So, welcome home! I'm looking forward to hearing about your Alinea adventures.

Your "whoa" = happy dance for me. I was at The French Laundry on Saturday night and Leeks and Beets triggered a happy dance (ok, really more of a happy wriggle). And yes, tons of the dishes at Alinea did it too. I keep telling my husband we need to go back to Alinea in every season to see what they do with different ingredients. :D Can't wait for your writeup!

It was a little crazy following your Tweets that day. I'm glad you're back and a-o-k.

Holy crap! I somehow missed this story, but I'm glad it has a happy ending. Glad you're back and feeling better.

So glad you are ok....busy myself with a sick dog the last few weeks, I have been enjoying catching up today from bed. The almond/cucumber gelee sounds divine.

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