Alinea: The Restaurant

April 21, 2011

What a Week for Grant Achatz and Alinea

Chef Achatz gets listed in the Time 100.

Alinea moves up the Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list.  They're #6 in the world, #1 in North America. 

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people.  Really and truly.

As for me, I'm cooking this weekend.  The mushroom lady at the farmer's market had fresh porcinis (she only has 'em once a year), so look for a new post soon.

October 18, 2010

Media Roundup

First, let me say that I love that you love the Tomato Video.  I had so much fun putting it together, and even more fun making the dish.  Thanks for all your great comments and emails.

I took a much-needed break this weekend to visit my cousin, her husband, and their daughter, so I didn't cook.  I'm tackling a few dishes this week, so there'll be a new food-related blog post up over the weekend or next Monday.

In the meantime, I thought I'd include some Alinea-related links and videos you might be interested in ('cause I am).

First, here's a video of Chef Achatz explaining "flavor-bouncing," and how he plans a dish at Alinea:


David Tamarkin at Time Out New York did a great interview with Grant in their most recent issue.  Click here to read the article.

I find the title/topic of David Chang's December 6 Harvard lecture intriguiging: Creative Ceilings: How We Use Errors, Failure and Physical Limitations as Catalysts for Culinary Innovation.

And, last but not least, I can't stop watching this video... and wondering if I can make food do what this water droplet is doing (particularly at the 1:40 mark): Bouncing Water Droplet on a Superhydrophobic Carbon Nanotube Array.


August 02, 2010

A Little Something From the Trib

One of the many things I do as part of my day job is teach.  My first teaching experience was at Johns Hopkins University, where I taught in their graduate communications program.  I then moved on to become an adjunct professor at Georgetown's graduate school of communications where I taught public relations writing and a class called "The Power of Opinion."  In that second class, my students were required to write and submit one letter each week to the editor of a major daily newspaper, and write and submit five op-eds over the course of the semester.

Most of them were solid writers to begin with; they just needed some fine-tuning and an editor (me) to help shape their pieces so they'd have a better chance to be considered for publication.  They had to be able to articulate in 200 words or less for a letter to the editor and 700 words for an op-ed what they thought about a particular issue and why... which is a hell of a lot harder than it sounds.  It's not creative writing, and it's not news writing.  It's opinion writing which is persuasive, factual, and sans adverbs.  It's the kind of writing I love to read, and getting my students to the point where they could whip up a really strong, printable letter in 10 minutes or less during a timed class assignment was quite an accomplishment.

By the end of the semester, I was so proud of them because every single student got at least one letter to the editor published, and many of them had their op-eds printed, as well.  And we're not talking about the Butt-Scratch Herald in NeverHeardofYourTown.  Their pieces ran in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chicago Tribune ... all papers and op-ed pages that our country's policymakers, decision makers, and business leaders read and pay attention to.

If you're not reading the editorial and op-ed pages of your daily newspaper, you should be.  While some may argue the print medium as a distribution platform is dying, the power of our opinions is not.  You should also be checking out the letters to the editor.  Sometimes, they're full of reader crankiness.  Other times, they shine an interesting new light on a news story you read a few days before.  And other times, they make you smile and say, "Richard and Carlotta, you are so, so right!"

This letter to the editor ran in the Chicago Tribune last week, and I couldn't agree more:

Food, not politicians, should represent Chicago

My, how times change. During our frequent travels, my wife and I have had some interesting conversations about our wonderful home town of Chicago. These have typically run the gamut from gangsters (Capone), sports heroes (Jordan), mega-celebrities (Oprah), wacky films (Blues Brothers), and most recently our pantheon of corrupt politicians (Blago).

Much to our delight, it appears as if the world view of Chicago might actually be changing. On a recent trip to Quebec City, we were momentarily taken aback, when one local, hearing that we lived in Chicago, posed the eager question: "Have you eaten at Alinea?"

It was our good fortune to be able to tell him about two wonderful dining experiences that we had there. After some further discussion of the allure of Chicago, we eventually tallied another future visitor to our sometimes overlooked, fly-over Midwest mecca. Go Grant Achatz!  A better ambassador we could not find.

-- Richard Hren and Carlotta Olson, Chicago

As a teacher, it thrills me to have an example such as this to share with my students. It's interesting, relevant, newsworthy, and tells a great story in a succinct, direct manner.  As someone who reveres innovation in business and food, this letter makes my day.

June 28, 2010

My Dinner at Alinea

Remember the last time I traveled to Chicago for dinner at Alinea?

It happened again, only this time on the ground, thankfully.  Nothing like being ready for takeoff when the engines shut down and you hear the captain say, "Uh, folks, some of you might have seen me outside just now; there's something leaking out of our left engine, so just hang tight until we figure it out."

I swear. Can't a girl just get to Chicago?

We boarded another plane shortly thereafter and got to Chicago safely, just a few hours behind schedule.  And by "we" I mean me, and my friend and neighbor, Linda.  She and her family have eaten nearly everything I've cooked for this blog, and her husband, Sean, went to Alinea last year with some work colleagues.  So, it was her turn to go.

We checked in to our hotel room, and she started paging through Destination Hyatt while I looked for my iPhone charger.  She saw the "Science on the Menu" cutline on the cover and started skimming that article...


I found my charger, plugged in my iPhone, and started checking email while Linda read the piece.  "Yadda, yadda, yadda, Wylie.... then they talk about some guy named McGee..... there's Michael Ruhlman, oh look, there's Grant.... and OHMYGOD YOU ARE IN THIS ARTICLE, TOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!"


Thank you, Carrie, for including me in the piece.  What an honor.  And, couldn't have been more perfect timing, too.  Wow.

*   *   *   *   *

So, my dinner at Alinea.  Let's get to it.

We started with five cocktails Grant and the team are developing and testing for his new bar, Aviary (opening Fall 2010).



They were really fun and truly outstanding -- with the passion fruit "Hurricane" and Bloody Mary being my favorites -- and a great way to kick off the evening.  The descriptions of the ingredients in each one is listed on the Tour menu.  Have a read, then meet me below for some thoughts about the whole night:


Last week, when I finally felt ready to write about this dinner, I did a Flickr search for photos I could link to.  Turns out, Alinea at Home reader Kathryn Yu had the Alinea experience not long after I did and took the most beautiful photos, and she's graciously agreed to let me share them with you.

So, take a deep breath, click on this link, and take it all in.

Because of my gluten issues, a few of my dishes were different than Kathryn's.  Where she had "Malt," I had "Vanilla."  Instead of Nutella powder, I had Dry Caramel.  Where she had Corn, we had Green Almond (that was a seasonal difference, not a gluten switch).  Where Kathryn (and Linda) had Black Truffle Explosion, I had foie (poor me, right?).  And, where she had coconut in the chocolate table-top dessert, I had vanilla (that's not a gluten thing; that's an I'm-allergic-to-coconut thing).

When I sat down to write this post, I started describing every course but found I was repeating myself because every single bite of food I ate was phenomenal.  Whenever I do a tasting menu somewhere, I like to play the game of "what course could I have done without" and "what course was my absolute favorite" and this was one of very few times in my life that I couldn't answer either of those questions.  I was thrilled to find Kathryn's photo set because just clicking through those really tells the story of what the dinner was like.

I do want to spend a little time on four of the dishes I still think about at least once a day: Pork Belly, Salad, Squab, and Chocolate.

José Andrés had dinner at Alinea a week or two before I did and Tweeted photos of the pork belly dish, so as soon as these were placed on our table, I knew what we were in for: 

Photo credit: Kathryn Yu

They ended up being filled with creamy pork belly, and served with a tray of garnishes meant to be added to them, so that you could wrap it up and eat it like a summer roll:



Photo credit: Kathryn Yu

Just amazing.  Absolutely amazing. 

Let's move on to Salad.  I loved this dish because a) I love to eat salad with my fingers and this provided ample opportunity for that; and 2) I'd read about it on Alinea-Mosaic.  Here's how they developed this idea: Salad with Ranch Dressing.  The layered service piece is beautiful, and quite a nice surprise to find vichyssoise underneath.

The squab?  Divine.  Or, as I sang when they brought it to our table, "Squab on a Log, ooooooo, Squab on a Log, yeah-eah..."  Here's Kathryn's photo of it:


And here's the thread on Alinea-Mosaic where Christian explains how this course came to be: Squab, charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log.  Squab has never been a favorite of mine, until I had it this way.  Now I get how good it can really be.

The last course, Chocolate, I find myself going back to time and again because it was plated on a silicone mat rolled out on the table.  The last time I went to Alinea, a little over a year ago, they hadn't started doing this particular type of dish (in fact, they started doing it not long after I was there, and I was a little jealous of the people who got to see and eat it).  I remember reading about it and watching the videos people sent me, and thinking, wow, that's kinda cool but also a little, um... weird, maybe? But also kind of awesome?  But I'm also biased?  And jealous?  And maybe I need to stop obsessing over it?

So when the service team rolled out a translucent white mat on our table and started placing little dishes and pans of sweet-looking things on top of it, I started to jiggle my knee a bit.  A few seconds later, Chef de Cuisine Dave Beran came out at the end of a very long night to paint our table with dessert.  It was absolutely stunning, and just so much fun to watch.  Photos and video really don't do it justice.  It makes a difference when you see it in person.  Dave has these really strong, masculine hands -- hands that had spent the past 12 or so hours working in the kitchen.  But these really strong hands served this dessert in such a deft, beautiful, and captivating manner, I couldn't take my eyes off what he was doing.  Eating it was just a bonus.  If I could have licked the table clean, I would have.

Makes me wanna invest in a silicone mat and do one of the desserts from the cookbook that way.  Hhhmmmmmm.....

A few of the courses we ate are featured on Alinea-Mosaic:

Lamb (served with the most amazing wine from the vineyard where Chef Achatz once worked)

English Pea

Tournedos a la Persane



King Crab (this is 3 courses in one, served in one serving piece that is both hot and cold (remember the McDLT? - ha!) and offers a progression of flavors that opened up beautifully.

*   *   *   *   *

Every year, I set goals for myself, or, I think of a word or two that I want to guide my decision making and opportunity creating.  Back in 2007, that word was yes.  I let it guide me in 2008 and 2009, too, and am now able to look back on some pretty remarkable experiences I know I otherwise wouldn't have had, had I not set my mind to it.

At the beginning of this year, I did a little re-evaluation.  A little fine-tuning.  I thought about the kinds of things that really and truly make me happy and decided to do them even better.  For example, I love going to concerts and seeing live music, but instead of cramming my calendar full of shows, I'm being more selective about the artists I see and am buying tickets for seats closer to the stage.  Another example of this is that I love working in the yard and gardening, so instead of just doing maintenance and pulling weeds, I'm setting aside time to read and learn more about cultivation and taking better care of the tiny patch of land my house is on so I can focus on making my favorite beautiful things grow.

When it comes to food, I've made some changes and have focused my life a little differently, too.  A few months ago, I found myself getting stressed out that I wasn't cooking through this book fast enough, or at least at the same pace I did with French Laundry at Home, and I had to stop and think about why that was, and more importantly, why it was bothering me.  I think it was bothering me because I love this little community we've built here. I love reading your comments and getting email (some with photos of the dishes you've done from the book).  I love cooking the dishes from this book.  I love what I'm learning.  But I had to wrap my head around the idea that this isn't a competition and it's not a race.  There is no point and no purpose in just making something to cross it off a list and post it online.  That's not why I chose the Alinea cookbook as my second blog.  I chose it because I needed to learn differently about food, and I needed to do something that made me feel a little uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone.  If I'm not challenged in certain areas of my life, I am bored.  And a bored Carol is a miserable Carol.  Trust me.

Lately, I've gotten a few comments and emails that said, "I wish you posted more often" (sometimes they're worded nicely like that, and other times, not so much).  And you know what?  So do I.  The reality of it is, cooking through this book is a different beast, and I'm at a different place in my life.  I want different things from this experience than I wanted from FL@H.  I know what some of those things are, but I know even more of them will reveal themselves long after I've finished.

A few weeks ago, as my dinner at Alinea was fresh in my mind, Michael Ruhlman wrote a piece that struck a chord with me.  It's called Literary Interlude: Unfinished Business, and I encourage you to read it when you have the time.  He writes about a book called Unfinished Business, which made him wonder what his own unfinished business is.  He then asked his readers to think about their unfinished business in the kitchen: what kind of things have they always wanted to make or master.  I took my time reading through the comments, and I hope you'll do the same because I think there are some great untold stories about people's larger unfinished business, revealed merely in their words about food.

I feel lucky to have eaten at Alinea, now, three times.  Incredibly lucky.  I also feel incredibly lucky that every time is better than the last.  And when I think about the notion of unfinished business when it comes to how I eat and cook and live my life, I've realized it all comes down to one thing for me: did my day have pleasure?  Could it have had more?

That, for me, is my unfinished business.

Pleasure is about desire and inclination.  It's about wanting something, doing something to make it happen, then being gratified when it does.  Pleasure, for me, is active.  It's not greed, because I'm not talking about possessions or material wealth.  It's also not the same as happiness or joy, which can come into your life with no work or effort at all.  What I'm talking about here is being intentional.

My dinner at Alinea this month left me at a loss for words because it was truly one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life.  Not only was it more than four hours of no cellphones and no email, it was eating great food, drinking great wine, being with great company, giggling with our servers over the April Fool's Day prank, seeing Grant, Dave and the team hard at work in the kitchen, being humbled by the skill and craft that went into every single moment I was there, and allowing myself to just take in the incredible experience being given to me in that restaurant.  It was perfect in every sense of the word.  To me, there's nothing more appealing and attractive than confidence, and every single dish placed before us was confidence on a plate.  There was nothing tentative.  Nothing halfway done.  Nothing arrogant or eye-roll-inducing.  Pure confidence, through and through.

And, it really solidified, for me, this notion of more pleasure being my unfinished business, whether it's in life, in food, or as a part of this blog. 

So tell me: any meal ever render you at a loss for words, and why?  And, what's your unfinished business?

June 21, 2010

Q&A with Joe Catterson, Alinea's General Manager

Below you'll find my interview with Joe Catterson, Alinea's GM.

But first, I hope you'll indulge me in a little link-love.  I hope you all regularly read Hank Shaw's fantastic blog: Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.  I'm a long-time fan of Hank, and had the great pleasure of meeting him (and Holly, hi guys!) in New York in early May.  Hank and I talked about the Alinea cookbook and how, when seasonal ingredients come into the markets, a home cook could really find inspiration in this cookbook.  And, he's gone and done it.  Here's Hank's post, Porcini-O-Rama, featuring a dish inspired by "Porcini" on Page 180 of the Alinea cookbook.  I love it!  Only wish I'd been there to eat it.

*   *   *   *   *

Joe Catterson is the General Manager and Wine Director at Alinea.  His official bio on the restaurant's website is as follows:

Overseeing the service staff at Alinea is our GM/Sommelier Joe Catterson, a native of New York who, before settling in Chicago, had also lived in Seattle, Los Angeles, Berlin, London, and Tenerife. A career path that zigzagged between service and management positions in numerous fine restaurants and studies and professional engagements as a classical musician, found itself focused on a long-held passion for wine. Catterson honed his chosen craft and was named Sommelier at Le Français in 1996 and later also at Les Nomades. Challenged to create a wine program for Trio to complement the cuisine of incoming chef Grant Achatz, Joe found an ideal environment to explore the pairing of wine and spirits with Chef Achatz' cutting edge menus. The opportunity to entice diners with a highly eclectic selection of obscure discoveries as well as classic favorites led to Chicago Magazine bestowing "Best Wine Program" honors to Trio in their 2002 and 2003 restaurant award issues, and naming Joe "Best Sommelier" in 2003.

What the bio neglects to specifically mention is that Joe is awesome.  True story.  Read on to learn more about Joe, what makes great service at Alinea, and what the team had for staff meal:

Carol: First of all, congratulations on Alinea's 2010 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service.  Having dined at Alinea, I know why you won; but, if you were to encapsulate Alinea's service philosophy in 20 words or less, what would it be?

Joe: Strive for detailed, polished service.  Create a comfortable tempo and flow for the experience.  Provide engaging narrative for the cuisine.

IMG_0121 Catterson, celebrating with what looks like a g&t at the James Beard Awards, New York, May 3, 2010.

Carol: How did you get to Alinea?

Joe:  Henry Adaniya invited me to return to Trio when he hired Chef Achatz. He knew I would enjoy creating a wine program to match Grant's cuisine. Alinea was the next step, taking what started at Trio and finding ways to make the entire dining experience more polished and complete.

Carol:  In the course of your career, how have you seen restaurant service evolve?  Are diners more/less demanding than in the past 5, 10, 20 years? 

Joe: My experience is that diners are increasingly more knowledgeable about food and wine, and in many ways more demanding, but also, on the whole, more respectful and appreciative of a well-trained and professional server.  But as far as demanding diners, in a sense, we work at Alinea to diffuse the diners' need to control the dining experience; they'll have the best time giving themselves over to our program.

Carol: Does your front-of-house staff turn over regularly, or have many folks been on board for the five years Alinea has been open?

Joe: Very few remain from the opening team, but there’s been little turnover in the past 2 plus years.  Right now we have a very solid crew.
Carol:  Alinea is moving to a single menu in August.  What kind of impact will this have on both the kitchen and the front-of-house service?

Joe:  It will increase efficiency in many regards, but the net result will be a longer average menu and actually a small reduction in the number of guests we serve per evening.  More diners will get a broader sampling of our cuisine, and our currently very long workdays should become somewhat shorter.

Carol: It seems Grant's post on Alinea-Mosaic about photography and videography has spurred some debate, leading to many misinterpreting his post to mean that he hates or wants to ban photography altogether.  Care to set the record straight?  What is the restaurant's policy on photography and videography in the dining room and kitchen?

Joe:  It’s a very double-edged issue, isn’t it? On the one hand, much of the photography that gets shared in posts and blogs has undoubtedly served us well as effective promotion. On the other hand, the act of taking the pictures can be disturbing to other diners and, for that matter, to the staff.

We allow photography, but ask that in consideration of other diners, people not use flash in the dining room. For some reason, there are always some folks that don't agree with that policy and don't understand why we would ask them to do without the flash. So they flash anyway, and we ask them not to, et cetera. Some people will unabashedly film the chef preparing something at another table; we're amazed that we need to suggest that that might be intrusive of the other diners' experience.

We get frustrated that excessive photography (I've seen people honestly stage a dozen shots of a single dish, multiplied by 20-odd courses) interrupts the pacing of the menu (something we feel is important to the overall experience), and sometimes detracts from the intended experience of a dish, particularly when temperature is an issue.

I honestly get the impression that for some people, the act of photographing the food is more important to them than actually enjoying the food. I hope I’m wrong about that. But no, I don’t believe anyone here hates or wants to ban photography. We would, however, hope for moderation and, mostly, higher consideration for the dining experience of others.

Carol:  Thank you for clearing that up.  And while we're on the topic of manners, I'm not asking you to rat out rude diners or "tell tales out of school," but what kinds of things do you and your team find most frustrating or challenging?  Is it people who talk too loudly?  Show up drunk?  Not understand the concept before making their reservation?  Show up with a list of alleged food allergies instead of telling the reservationist ahead of time?

Joe:  I’m sure we could post quite a long list, but I think you landed on one of our most regular challenges. It is disappointing that there are often groups who seemingly have no concept that the volume of their conversation and laughter is out of any reasonable proportion. Of course we want them to have fun, but there are other people in the dining room. Pretty basic lack of manners.

Carol: Most chefs I know do what they do because they've always known they wanted to cook.  When it comes to the service side of the business, I'm wondering if the same pull is there.  Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

Joe: I was always interested in wine and cuisine; I became fascinated by the running of a restaurant and the choreography of the dining experience. This was never my first choice of career, but it was something I did for a job and came to appreciate more and more over time.

Carol: Never your first choice of career?  What was? Astronaut?  Cheesemonger?  Neurosurgeon?  Race car driver?  Barber?  In a dream world, is there another career you'd love to pursue?

Joe: When I was in high school, I narrowed my college choices down to studying architecture, enology, or music. Music won out. My choice of career was playing the horn. I was lucky enough to get to do that for a while, but unfortunately injury led me to veer from that path. If I were to leave the food and wine business altogether, I’m sure I would find some way back into music.
Carol: What advice do you have for those who want to get into the restaurant management business?  Do you need a culinary or hospitality degree?  Or, can you learn by working for good people/establishments? 

Joe:  I’ve seen people get great benefit from culinary and hospitality degrees, and I’ve seen many who didn’t. I was fortunate to work for talented people in some really excellent restaurants. It worked out to be an effective education for me. Whether someone chooses a focused culinary or hospitality degree or not, I don’t think there is any substitution for practical experience in the best venues possible.

Carol:  You're managing service and operations at Alinea while also helping open Next Restaurant and Aviary.  (do you ever sleep?)  How will service be different at these two new ventures?  Will some of the Alinea staff move over to either of these new spots to help during the opening? 

Joe:  The nature of the new ventures will undoubtedly be more casual, but we would certainly expect to uphold similar standards of service. The bottom line of the success of Alinea's service is the care and thoughtfulness everyone in the house applies to their job, I should hope we will be able to carry that over to Fulton Street. And yes, bringing along team members from Alinea will be an important step in expanding the brand.

Carol:  Alright, no more talk about work (for a minute).  What's your ideal vacation?  What do you like to do when you have time off?

Joe:  An ideal vacation definitely includes plenty of beach time. I also very much enjoy exploring other cities, checking out the local food scene, art, and architecture. With time on my hands I will go to symphony concerts, look for good jazz, get to sports events when I can. And, over the past five years I’ve played a fair amount of poker.

Carol:  What did you have for staff meal last night?

Joe:  We had chicken breast fillets with a very tasty barbecue sauce, fingerling potato salad, slaw, and green salad.

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks, Joe.

*   *   *   *   *

Read My Previous Post:  Beef, elements of A1

May 10, 2010

I know, I know........

I've been MIA.

I'm still in the work-hell homestretch and very close to getting back to a normal pace of life. But can I talk about the James Beard Awards for just a minute?

What a remarkable two days in New York.  Wow.  Let me take this opportunity to thank the  James Beard Foundation for inviting me to live-blog the event.  The team I worked with at the Foundation were true professionals, and a pleasure to work with.  It was a remarkable night, and one I'll remember forever.  I know that sounds totally cornball, but stay with me for a sec....


It KILLED me not to peek at those before the ceremony began.  Damn my moral upbringing!!


This man made my 40th birthday incredibly special. [Get your minds out of the gutter, you sickos. He made me an incredible 25+-course dinner at Per Se, and for that I will forever be grateful]


David Kinch of Manresa (Best Chef, Pacific), who was just lovely and whose restaurant I can't wait to enjoy  (and who was there with his partner, Pim, who I feel like I've known forever)...

If you haven't read the James Beard Awards blog, check it out.  I'm still kind of blown away that I was even there, let alone able encouraged to talk to and spend time with some of my heroes. 


You guys? Jean-Georges is really, REALLY hot in person.  Like hotter than Mayor Bloomberg.  Yes.  THAT HOT.   I KNOW.

In addition to hanging with two of my favorite chefs in the whole world, I also had a hilarious time backstage in the press room with that Ruhlman chap, a ton of media folks, as well as a few of my fellow bloggers -- particularly, the team from Shut Up Foodies and Alyssa Shelasky from Apron Anxiety.  


Alyssa and me backstage in the staff room, nursing our feet after being in heels for SEVEN HOURS.

On a side note, it was fun to learn about who in the food media and chef world really reads this blog: I can't tell you how many times I was asked how my butt/back were. Totally sweet, and totally noted.  And, totally humbled.


Alyssa, Jose Andres, me -- DC, represent!

It was an incredible night.  Some of my favorites won; others didn't.  But even bigger than who presented, or who won or lost, was this magnificent electricity in my veins, down to my capillaries.  I don't know how else to describe it, other than this other-worldly feeling of a humming... or a tingly buzzing in my system all night and into the next morning. 

I keep forgetting about how TALL that Achatz chap is.  And, as I'm writing this caption, I'm noticing the odd fairy-like creature on Grant's shoulder.  What the heck?

Look, you guys know I do PR and media and events for a living.  So usually, I'm really jaded about most things.  I've worked for Presidents.  I've written for celebrities.  I've been on TV. I hosted my own radio show.  I've done media training for and consulted with people you read about in the news every day.  I've seen and done a lot here in this city of mine in the almost-25 years I've lived here.  But there was something really special about being in New York for the James Beard Awards this year.  Was it that I knew a lot of people there?  Maybe.  Was it that I had incredible access to some incredibly amazing and creative people?  Probably.

But there's something else I haven't yet -- almost a week later -- been able to put my finger on.  So let me just write for a few seconds to see if I can get to the core of it.

I really loved the camaraderie and seeing men hug each other.

Does that sound weird?  It's not meant to.

Here's what I mean: I work in politics and entertainment.  To be honest, there's not a lot of honest, heartfelt, supportive stuff going on among men in those fields.  There's a lot of glad-handing, finger guns, and fakey-fake-fakeness.  Phony smiles and forced handshakes.  Frat-boy hug-slaps.  Know what I mean?

But what I LOVED about being at the James Beard Awards was seeing any one of the winning chefs come off the stage, down the elevator to the photo-op area, then to the press room where he was greeted by his peers and colleagues with what felt (to me) like genuine, sincere joy and praise.


Coliccho.  A good egg.  And, he smelled nice.

Were there some snarky comments and sidelong glances?  Well, duh.  Of course there were.  It's a competition.  That's to be expected.  But overwhelmingly there were hugs, hurrahs, high-fives, hell-yeahs, and so much testosterone.... I loved every second of it.

And I know I'm talking A LOT about the men who won awards.  That's not to take away from the women who were nominated and who won (because there were a few).  I'm focusing on the men because I work around many, many men in my everyday life, and it was a true pleasure to see men, unplugged.

Maybe that's what it was.

It was a sense of men not being afraid to shed a too-cool-for-school front, and instead really be happy for one another. 

IMG_0113 Thomas Keller and "Rising Star" Tim Hollingsworth, cheers-ing.  I adore Tim.  He's really great, down-to-earth, and incredibly smart and focused.  Oh, and a damn good chef.

The word camaraderie is from the French word comrade and means "a spirit of friendly good-fellowship," and that's exactly what this night was about.  Friendly good-fellowship.  I loved every minute of it.

So, that was Monday night.

Oh wait.  There was an after-party Monday night, well into Tuesday morning, at Eleven Madison Park.  You know the saying of Whatever Happens at EMP STAYS at EMP, right?

I'mma break that rule and share a (blurry) photo of Daniel Boulud standing on top of the hostess stand at Eleven Madison Park with chef Daniel Humm, spraying the crowd with champagne while the DJ spun some Prince and some Snoop.  But that's ALL I'm gonna say about that party, because it was a writhing, grinding, awesome mess of 200 people who probably definitely had headaches the next morning day.


On Sunday afternoon before the media and book awards, I had the distinct pleasure of having drinks and a lot of laughs with some amazing people -- friends old and new -- and thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  Some of them have blogs, some of them have books, some of them have columns, and some of them edit entire newspaper sections. All of them are Beard nominees and/or winners.  Give these guys some love (again, with the men... I KNOW):

Michael Ruhlman

Joe Yonan

Tim Carman

Francis Lam

Hank Shaw


So what's up with me now that I'm back home and off the James Beard high?  Here's the dilly-o:  my dishwasher is d-e-a-d, dead.  And the repair guy can't get here until May freakin' 18th.  So, I'm gonna spend the next few days adapting some of the recipes in the Alinea cookbook to see what I can come up with for those of you who a) live in small apartments; and/or b) don't have dishwashers. 

When asked what tools are most important in doing a blog like mine, I always answer: patience, and a dishwasher.  So, I'm thinking I'm gonna adapt a lamb dish and the opah dish, and mix things up a bit.  You with me?  Good.  I knew you would be.

I've got a Q&A with me coming down the pike pretty soon (hit me up in the comments if there's anything you wanna know), and I'm planning to do an interview this week with Joe Catterson, the GM at Alinea -- and winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service -- about service in the restaurant, service in general, and whatever else you'd like to know (you can submit your questions for Joe in the comments section, as well).   
Here's Joe (with one of the press room's famous gin & tonics).  Don't you just wanna squeeze him for hours and hours?

See you on the flip side.....

April 29, 2010

Some Things For You To Read and Think About and Help With

Congratulations to Alinea for coming in at #7 on the S.Pellegrino Top 50 World's Best Restaurants list (and #1 in the U.S.).  So well deserved.  I love that this list focuses on and rewards innovation and creativity.  I don't know about you, but I'm grateful for chefs who take risks, try unconventional things, and push the envelope... chefs who take us outside our comfort zone and make us think about what we're eating and why.  Do I want this in every meal?  No.  But, am I damn thankful for chefs and cooks who mix it up and make me think about food differently than I had before.  I love artists who challenge my way of thinking about painting or sculpture, actors who take risks and do bold things in their medium, and musicians who innovate... and when it comes to food, I so appreciate the amazing group of chefs in the top ten on that list who shake things up and unabashedly try new things to keep the industry on its toes.  That takes courage and guts and gumption, and it's awesome.

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Speaking of creativity, check out this video of the Alinea team brainstorming some ideas for the Spring 2010 menu:

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Last week, the International Association of Culinary Professionals hosted their annual meeting in Portland, OR, during which time Michael Ruhlman took part in a panel discussion that discussed the death of recipes.  Check out his piece in the Huffington Post's new Food Section that goes further into why he called bullshit on the notion that people don't have time to cook.  Michael and I see eye-to-eye on this issue.  What do you think?

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On Monday, I'll post the URL for the James Beard Awards live blog.  Hope you'll come check it out.  And, a special thanks to James Beard Award nominee Tim Carman from the Washington City Paper for his Q&A with me on the awards.  I'll be in New York Sunday and Monday hanging with some of my favorite chefs and food folks, so if you're not following me on Twitter (@carolblymire), you should... 'cause I'll tweet updates and photos as the festivities get underway.  And, if you have a minute, check out the list of nominees, and let me know (in the comments) what questions YOU think I should ask these folks.  Any chefs from your cities or towns in the running?  Any restaurants or chefs you think are the ones to watch?  Let me know.

See you Monday!

March 29, 2010

Open Discussion: Photography, video, blogging as documentation... what's okay, when, and why?

Yesterday, Grant Achatz tweeted about something he posted in the forum on Alinea-Mosaic:

Picture 1

I clicked on his link, and read what he wrote on the Alinea-Mosaic forum, which is re-posted below (the link to his post and ensuing comments is here):

Documenting ...well me. When photo and videography becomes a bit much.

I appreciate that people are so into food, and excited about eating at Alinea, to the point where it drives them to record it. Obviously these “foodies” are a large segment of our cliental, and the very people that help propel the awareness of food and dining. I certainly admit that the popularity of web based reviews and information has helped Alinea achieve a certain level of popularity, and ultimately some level of success has to be attributed to this. In fact, since the beginning we have embraced the web, often contributing to food blogs with things like the egullet project before the restaurant was even open. With the proliferation of food blogs and the almost competitive nature of the posters to delve further into detail with their reporting, coupled with the ease of capturing images and video with our phones, we have seen a very high rise in photo and videography in the restaurant.

Documenting the food is one thing. I understand taking a photo in the kitchen with the chef after the meal to frame and hang in your office, perhaps of a particular course that you want to remember because it was so amazing, so you can remember the presentation, or even the manipulation of an ingredient in way you have never seen before. Taking it to the next level many people take pictures of every course and some even take photos of the wines as well. I don’t necessarily mind this, but I wonder why people so passionate about food would sacrifice the integrity of the courses, instead prioritizing the documentation. Courses get cold, or melt while the images are taken, and in extreme cases the intended effect of the dish is completely lost. A month ago a front of the house team member served the Hot Potato –Cold Potato to a blogger that was taking photos with a camera resting on a tripod. The server did their normal spiel, telling the guest the dish was intended to be consumed right away so the sensation of temperature contrast could be experienced. Instead they took a few minutes to move the course around on the table to find the right light, snapped several images, and then undoubtedly enjoyed….Warm Potato –Warm Potato. Not to mention the time that is added to the experience. Three extra minutes to take a photo is not much, but if you are eating 30 courses, you just added an hour and a half to your dinner.

And what about the people in the restaurant that are there to –- eat? Or enjoy an evening out with a significant other, or even having a business dinner? Often we have guest request to move tables in the restaurant because they feel the sound of the shutter, the light produced by the auto focus assist, or the person’s actions are ruining their own experience.

But recently the trend has been to video myself or the front of the house team. This is where I feel the documentation crosses the line. Now that I spend a good amount of time in the dining room with the table-plating concept we are doing guests will often stick the camera in my face as I walk up to the table. I never say no to guests when they ask to take a photo with me, but I always suggest we do it in the kitchen after their meal is finished. This is happening with the servers as well. Voice recorders are being held in front of them while they describe a course or a wine, or video is shot. It is uncomfortable… and frankly rude to do so without asking. This activity seems strange to me, I can’t imagine how celebrities feel. No wonder they punch the paparazzi out when they get the chance.

I re-Tweeted Grant's link (adding "it's about time someone said something") and have been getting some interesting replies via both Twitter and email in which most everyone agrees with what Grant's saying in his post.  A few people disagreed, and one person actually said they thought his post was rude and that because dinner at Alinea is expensive, you should be able to do whatever you want.  Which..... sigh.....  I mean COME ON.  A person can't honestly believe that, can they?  Wow.

Maybe it's just that I'm a wannabe Luddite, but I can't bring myself to take pictures at Alinea, Per Se, The French Laundry... heck, most every restaurant I've ever been to.  I sneak the occasional iPhone photo if I wanna remember how something was plated, or if I want to make my Twitter followers drool along with me over something particularly delicious that's sitting in front of me.  But the thought of bringing a camera into a restaurant -- let alone a tripod or a videocamera (the Share Our Strength videos at Bibiana and Central were my only exception; and, I asked for permission ahead of time, and then also checked with the people dining around us) -- just seems so weird to me.  I mean, if Grant were plating something on the table in front of me, you can be damn skippy I wouldn't want even a tiny Flip video camera between us.  Video can't capture how a chef breathes as he works, how his whole body moves, what his hands look like when he holds a spoon versus an offset spatula, how the staff is attuned to a table's needs, what the food smells like as it's being placed on the table.  These are things that can only augment a diner's experience, if only he or she would allow them to be felt instead of putting up that electronic wall and separating him/herself from what's really going on.

Which led me to thinking about how it feels like the way we document our lives has totally changed, and maybe not for the better.  I'm not sure.  Stay with me here...

Like Grant wrote above, it does seem like more people are photographing their food, taking notes to post to Yelp (which is a whole separate matter, that hackjob of a site), and not paying very much attention to a) the pleasure of eating; and b) the pleasure of the company of their dining companion(s).

I'm not perfect.  Like I said, every now and then I've snapped an iPhone photo of the plate in front of me. There have been a handful of times where I've texted a friend about my meal while at the table enjoying said meal.  But on the whole, my phone stays in my bag while I'm enjoying what I eat (and the company of whomever is eating with me).

So now after reading Grant's post, I'm curious: do you take photos at dinner (whether at home, or out)?  Is it okay to bring a tripod to a restaurant or take multiple photos from multiple angles, possibly disrupting the staff or others' dining experiences, not to mention your own?  Is it okay to videotape your meal, doing running commentary or interviewing others at the table while they're eating?  Is it okay to do any or all of this stuff, which likely results in not getting the full experience of what it's like to eat at a place like Alinea (or any restaurant, for that matter)? Do you feel like you deserve to be able to do it?  Do you think it's rude?  Do you care if people do this?  Does it make you crazy?  Tell me.

This topic of documentation struck a nerve with me because I started thinking about it in the context of food and restaurants, but Grant's post also had me thinking about blogging in general, and wondering how many bloggers -- not just food bloggers, mind you -- think about their life as content.  In some ways, maybe, that's good.  Maybe to be a better writer or even a better human being, some people need to feel the pressure of having something to publish -- whether it's photos, words, video, etc. -- to be able to push themselves to do interesting things.  But then in the same breath I have to wonder if people who blog (or anyone, I guess, really) are really missing out on life -- or, at least, those great unexpected, mind-blowing moments in life -- because they're too busy photographing all the things they see/eat/do/buy/cook, scribbling notes about all the funny things their toddler says, or shoving a videocamera in front of someone's face to try and capture something likely uncapturable?

Then, that led me to ask myself: Have we lost the wonder of having personal experiences?  Does everything anything have to be shared?  And, if experiences are to be shared, how do we decide what they are, and then, how do we share them?  Have we lost the joy in simple, person-to-person storytelling?  Do we need 500 photos in our digital cameras or on our Facebook pages of a night out with the girls, or the dinner we ate in New York, a family vacation, or our kid's soccer game?  Is it not enough anymore to just have really wonderful personal experiences?  Does living a good life now have to be measured in the number of "likes" on Facebook, the amount of email or number of comments on a blog post, the size of your Flickr portfolio?

Do we do it to be in competition with one another -- I ate here and you didn't; my kid did this and yours didn't; I bought this cute red sweater and you didn't; I traveled here and you didn't ?  Is it about self-esteem?  Do people blog because it allows them to put a certain "face" on a life that in real life, they maybe aren't really happy with?  If you blog, tell me why.  If you once did but don't anymore, tell me that, too.  If you take a lot of photos, tell me why.  Do you still hand-write the day's account in a personal journal?  If you document certain things in life, but not others, tell me why... and tell me how.  Tell me what gets shared, and what doesn't.  I would love to know what's going on inside that lovely brain of yours.  I'm completely curious about what you document, and what you just experience.

I'm not a technology hater.  I think you guys know that.  I love that I can stay in touch with my faraway cousins via Facebook.  I like that my mom can see something on my Twitter feed and ask me about it the next time we talk.  I love love love that my nephew and I can make fart noises and sing the ABCs to each other over Skype.  I love that old college friends and former work colleagues find me blogging here when they Google my name.

But as documenting parts of our lives in certain ways can be a tool to help keep people together, has it also contributed to taking us or keeping us further away from ourselves?  And, with particular regard to what Grant wrote about, by documenting the things we do in the ways we do, what are we missing out on?  If these frequent-food-photogs take pictures or video in the way he's describing, do they even taste what they eat?  Can they appreciate how many hours/days went into one bite?  Are they honestly getting their money's worth?  Are they cheating all five of their senses out of one of life's truly pleasurable experiences for the sole purpose of maybe, possibly having someone say, "Hey, that's a neat picture"??  Does someone else's "hey, that's a neat picture" matter more to us than whether or not we loved something ourselves?

If anything, for me Grant's post was a gentle reminder and reaffirmation that I don't want to be the kind of person who sacrifices being present in everyday experiences AND special occasions for the sake of/at the risk of being a distracted or distracting documentarian.

What say you?

June 01, 2009

Alinea at Home Extra: My dinner at Alinea, part one

So, where were we?  Ah, yes.... I landed in Chicago just before 5 o'clock, hopped in a cab (yes, I know I should've taken the train; my brain was elsewhere, as I'm sure you can imagine), and got to the hotel at 6:30.  Showered, changed, and ready to go by 6:50 (yes, I can be that fast when I need to), I met my friends, Jane, Maddy, and Megan downstairs in the lobby, and piled into the car to go to the restaurant.  Upon being dropped off, we walked through the door down the hallway and inside where we were greeted and taken into the kitchen to say hello to Grant (I could've stayed in that kitchen all night watching service and been a happy camper), then went upstairs to our table where the fun began.

Without further delay, here's the menu:

Don't kill me, but I didn't take photographs of the food because I just can't bring myself to do that in restaurants.  I find it distracting, not just to me, but to the people I'm with.  I would rather pay attention to what's being served, and eat it while it's still hot, cold, or whatever, and stay present in the whole dining experience. For me, no photo can capture those defining smells, tastes, and surprises that come with the pleasures of being fed.  That said, you'll notice most of the courses below have photo links embedded; I've found other diners' photos to link to so you can satisfy your visual curiosity, if you'd like.  A big part of eating at Alinea is the visual aspect of it, I know.  I'm just old-fashioned about not wanting to take photos of my food in public.

In looking at the menu above, you'll see we did a nice round of wine pairings.  They did a very small pour, maybe 1.5 oz. of each, with more if we wanted it.  It was just the right amount and everything was so perfectly paired, I was glad we decided to do it.

Here we go:

We started with a champagne cocktail, which was a glass of Henriot Brut with Chartreuse, Akavit, and Orange Curaçao.  I never would've thought to add aquavit to champagne, but this combination was really lovely.  My neighbors and I get together on Friday afternoons to have drinks and watch the dogs and kids run around, and I think I'll have to make this for them very soon.  And, I generally don't buy or keep champagne at home because you can't recork the bottle and none of my friends are big champage drinkers, but I have a feeling we'd have no problem getting through a whole bottle in one go in a cocktail like this.  It was summer in a glass.

Jane, Maddy, Megan, and I cheersed each other over the center of the table, and as we pulled our glasses back to take that first sip, I noticed the black, tilted vase in the center of the table.  Having eaten at Alinea before and having strips of frozen wagyu as table decor, I was curious about what was in the vase.  We took turns sniffing it, and I could smell dry ice among other things, so I knew we were in for some sort of aromatic treat later on in the meal.

Our first course was a small dish with a little cluster of roe from Blis.  It was served with the traditional garnishes one is often served with roe, but these were presented in a non-traditional format -- a delightful foam, egg-dill crème fraîche, and a hint of lemon all played beautifully on the tongue with the silky, not-too-salty bursts of roe.

The plates were cleared and another wine pairing prepared -- this time, a Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese, Mosel 1993.  I'm not usually a fan of Riesling because I find it to be too cloying and sharp, lingering longer than I would like.  But this was cleaner and softer (if that makes sense) than I expected it to be.  It went perfectly with our next course, the foie gras with daikon, shiso and yuzu.  The servers handed us each a small white bowl, designed to fit in the palm of your hand, instructed us not to set it on the table, but instead hold it in one hand while eating the foie off the fork.  Then, we drank the shiso soup out of the bowl.  I don't think it's a secret that I love foie gras.  I love its silky richness, and I love it in every preparation I've ever had, whether hot, cold, or room temperature.  This course presented it as two small cubs on a fork, served at just below room temperature with daikon and shiso flavors and the scent of the yuzu foam below.  It was the first time in my life I ever had a foie course that was light and airy and fragrant in this way.  I could've eaten three of these.  Or four.  Or eleventy hundred kabillion frillion.

Out came yet another wine glass, into which went another white -- Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2007.  It's a beautiful wine, full without being heavy, citrusy without being tart or acidic, hints of apple and (maybe) pear, and one I'll certainly have my wine guy track down for me for summer dinner parties.  You know, that's one thing I really love about being able to eat at a place like Alinea (Per Se is also a great resource this way, too) -- the staff is so good at what they do, you can take away so many great ideas and recommendations for things you might otherwise never have learned about.  Some of my most favorite wines are wines I had first at a restaurant, and I'm so glad to have this one to add to the list.

Our next course was pork belly served in a cucumber juice-infused lettuce cup with a variety of Thai spices and flavors, and a shot glass off to the side with a really clean and lovely (and not overpoweringly spicy-hot) distillation of Thai green chili and lemongrass.  Now, I'm of the school of thought that it's really hard to screw up pork belly, but it also takes someone special to make it sing and make you go from, "oh cool, pork belly" to "HOLY MOTHER OF CHARLES NELSON REILLY THIS IS AMAZING!!!!"  This course was a perfect balance of cool, heat, salt, kick, and crisp.  Again, I could've eaten three or eleventy kabillion of these, too.

The one thing Jane noticed as the plates were put before each of us was that the lettuce cup was resting in a small pool of gel with basil seeds... and the basil seeds were arranged in absolutely perfect concentric circles.  We HAD to ask whose job it was to do that -- was there really someone in the kitchen whose sole job it was to perfectly align the seeds in every plate?  Was there a tool?  A method?  HOW DID THIS HAPPEN, because it was just so damn precise and gorgeous.  Our server maintained that there was no one was hovering over each plate with a pair of tweezers or toothpick (or duct tape or a probe) arranging all the seeds -- there must've been over a hundred in there -- in concentric circles.  I didn't buy it.  I'm pretty sure there's someone whose job it is (which is awesome, and I job I would totally want), or else Grant can make those basil seeds snap into place with just his thoughts... OOOOO, or I know, maybe he's secretly patented some sort of Basil Seed Force-Field Gun™ and if that's the case, I MUST HAVE ONE.  My birthday's in August.  It would be a perfect gift.  I'm just sayin'...

Our next course was of special interest to me because I knew I was going to be making it upon my return home -- Green Almond.  I've been learning about green almonds over the past few months, and speaking weekly with Suzanne at Stewart & Jasper to find out when they were going to be at exactly the right point to be picked and sent.  I love the preparation in the Alinea cookbook -- a rectangle of cucumber gel with the almond nestled in it, and tastes of salt, heat, sour, and sweet in each of the four corners.  I was curious to see how the version we were being served -- with juniper, gin, and lime -- would taste.  Oh my... It was smooth and light, but so flavorful.  It opened up into my nose and practically cracked open my tear ducts with freshness and citrus. It was lovely.


I was a wee bit scared of our next course: soft shell crab, peas, five spice, duck.  For those of you who followed French Laundry at Home, you may remember my aversion to this beast.  While I enjoyed the taste of soft-shell crab meat, I haven't touched them since.  When I see them at the fish market, I look the other way and try not to vomit.  When Jane told me earlier she'd been working on an article about soft-shell crabs, I tried not to cry and pass out.  They freak me out, and just thinking about what it was like to eat textures of shell with meat together makes my shoulder blades twitch.  Again, the meat on its own is great, but eating external body parts I can identify is not my idea of an awesome Friday night. So imagine my delight when a plate with three little soft-shell crab legs sticking up is put down in front of me.  Granted, the plate was beautiful -- so colorful and fresh -- but knowing a sea cockroach was lurking therein was most unsettling.  The girls dug into theirs with great gusto, while I downed all the wine left in front of me before taking the most ginger, dainty bite.  I thought, if there's one dish I won't finish, it'll be this one -- I'll claim I'm "saving room" or I'll excuse myself to the ladies room for ten minutes while everyone else finishes theirs.  Something.  Anything.  Just don't make me eat this, because I know it's gonna suck, and I've already had a stressful day and was just beginning to unwind and really begin to enjoy myself when THIS abomination shows up on my plate, and just know it's gonna make me vom... :::: takes bite ::::   hey.... that's right, I like the taste of soft-shell crab, it's just the prepping and cooking of it that makes me wanna stab someone.  I'm such a pain in my own ass sometimes.  I don't think I ever would have thought to put soft-shell crab and duck on the same plate with hoisin sauce and peas, but man, this was GOOD.  Texture-wise, I didn't necessarily love the bit of crunch in the crab's legs, but it didn't make me gag or cry, so that's a homerun in my book, for sure.  This course was paired with a fantastic Alsatian wine, a 2006 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris "Altenbourg."  Another one I want to buy for here at home.

Up next was Black Truffle Explosion -- or, BTE as they call it "on the inside."  See how cool you are now, knowing some Alinea insider jargon?  (Meanwhile, they probably made that up just to see if I'll put it on the blog and make myself look like some kind of fartknocker calling it BTE but I DON'T CARE.  I mean, we all know I'm not referring to Better Than Ezra.  Duh.)  Black Truffle Explosion is what would be considered one of Alinea's signature dishes.  I don't think it's ever not on the menu, and I had it the last time I ate there with my friend, Claudia, and it nearly made me weep.  This time, though, it was a different preparation for me, and here's why: I have celiac disease.  I was diagnosed with celiac back in September/October of 2008, so I can't have BTE in its traditional preparation anymore (and yes, my whole dinner this night was gluten-free).  So instead, they did my serving of it in a truffle sphere (sodium alginate, etc.) instead of the ravioli-looking traditional preparation, which made it feel like it packed 900 times the truffle power, and thus, 900 times the pleasure for me.

Our dishes were cleared, and the staff brought out the most beautiful wine goblets with etchings of birds and trees and vines (reminded me of my grandmother, even though I'm pretty sure she didn't have these glasses at her house), and poured a Château Lascombes, Margaux, 2004 (which I instantly fell in love with).  On the table just above where our plates would go lay a folded napkin upon which they placed elegant, heavy silver -- a fork and knife.  Soon after came traditional china (with a gilded, patterned maroon band around the outside) carrying Pigeonneau à la Saint-Clair.  I knew Grant had been working on introducing a traditional course into the tasting menu, and when he asked me earlier that week about my inability to eat gluten and what substitutions they might have to make throughout the evening, he mentioned this course, and I was so so so glad and grateful they made my crust with rice flour because to not have been able to eat this squab would've been unfathomable.  It was the most tender piece of bird I've ever had.  This tarte, done in the Escoffier tradition, was comprised of the aforementioned squab breast (I just now closed my eyes and took a slow deep breath, and can totally remember what it tasted like, oh my) with mushroom and onion, and it was so flavorful and gorgeous.  I just now went back and re-read Grant's post on The Atlantic's Food Channel about this notion of making something old/traditional new/modern, and wondered what other diners thought/think about this course.  For me, good food is good food.  Great flavors are great flavors.  Exceptional cooking is exceptional cooking.  I'll take it any way I can get it.

Our next three courses were presented at the same time -- Mustard, Bacon, and Sweet Potato.

Mustard was this beautiful little frozen disk of mustard ice cream with passionfruit and allspice, and this registered both a wow and a whoa, and it was definitely one of my most favorite things to eat during the entire evening.  It was so powerful and flavorful, and just opened up into my nose, my eyes, and my brain.  More than a week later, I'm still thinking about it and how fantastic it was, and how I can make something like it here at home.  Mustard ice cream is just so counterintuitive (and certainly not something I could devour a whole bowl of), but with this one bite, I couldn't stop smiling and wanted more.

Instead, I moved on to the next course, Sweet Potato.  We'd smelled the smoldering cinnamon a few courses earlier when another table had this, and it was all I could do to stifle the giggles because of how craptastic my attempt at this dish went.  Remember?


Hoooo boy, that's sad.

I was super-excited to have this course to see what it REALLY was supposed to taste like, and was promptly humbled, shamed, inspired, and ass-kicked.  It was soooo good.  It actually makes me want to do this one over again in the fall because I have to do it right.  I HAVE TO.  It's too good not to.  The sweet potato with the bourbon, and the brown sugar, and the melty goodness, and the cinnamon.... seriously.  WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE????

The last element in this course was my old friend, Bacon (on a sex swing).  It's fun to see people eat this who haven't had it before -- to see their reaction to a strip of bacon, drizzled in butterscotch, twirled in apple, dangling from a wire.  It was just as good as I remembered it, and am thinking about making my version again this weekend as a little hors d'oeuvre before dinner.


Alright, we've nearly reached the halfway point.  Just 13 more courses to go, so it's time for a break.  Be back in a day or two with the rest of the menu... Stretch your legs, have a glass of water, hit the bathroom, and meet me back here.  We've got more eating to do.

Up Next: My dinner at Alinea, part two

Read My Previous Post: Alinea at Home Extra -- So, That Happened; or, Junsai, bonito, soy, mirin.

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