Ok, without further adieu, it’s time to talk about the main event: my dinner at Alinea. I know I am prone to hyperbole when it comes to food, but I don’t hesitate to say that it was the BEST meal of my life. Moreover, it was just one of the neatest things I’ve ever experienced. Period. (Btw, if you’re curious and want to know more about Alinea, this is a great piece from last year’s New Yorker on Achatz, his restaurant, and his battle with tongue cancer.)
Alinea’s interior is wonderfully modern but extremely warm and inviting. A stark contrast from our dinner the night before at L2o, where the interior was a little too sleek and cold. Alinea, despite it’s hefty price tag, is a comfortable place to dine and the excitement (about the food, the experience) is palatable from the moment you walk in. Most of the crowd at the tables around us were much older but a great sense of wonder abounded. People were oohing and ahhing and snapping lots of pictures. I instantly felt like I was in good company. After we were seated and greeted, someone brought these two sprigs of rosemary to the table. We were told that they were both our centerpieces and a component of a dish later in the evening.
Alinea is the backward “P” symbol that proofreaders put at the beginning of a new paragraph. Every time I got up from the table (and there were more than a few trips to the bathroom as the dinner lasted nearly four hours and wine was quite abundant), the napkin was either refolded just like this or it was replaced (if it was too dirty). I seriously wonder how many of these they go through in an average dinner service.
Alinea does not have a bar and does not serve hard liquors. That said, their wine list is unparalleled and a great deal of thought, research, and knowledge has been invested in constructing wine pairings for the meal. The wine pairings are highly recommended by the staff. (The pairings come at an added cost, about 2/3 the cost of the meal itself.) Neither my brother and I are big drinkers so we opted to split a pairing. I’m glad we split the pairing because honestly by the end of the meal I’d probably had a little too much to drink. (I got carried away, as the wines were all spectacular.) The sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and each pairing arrived at our table with a great story. My brother, (though he’s younger than me, he was much wiser that night) ducked out of his share of the pairings about halfway through the meal, feeling that he’d had enough. The price was adjusted accordingly and we were actually (pleasantly) surprised to see how little they ended up charging us for trying so many different wines. I would recommend the wine pairings to people with the caveat that pacing is key. I think if I were ever lucky enough to go back to Alinea, I would skip the wines. They were all fantastic and I’m glad to have experienced it once, but I’m really not a big drinker and I left feeling a bit overwhelmed (i.e. durnk).
All of the utensils for the evening were placed on these slightly elevated pillows and the service was switched out for each course. We went through a lot of utensils in 23+ courses.
Part of what made the evening such a spectacular experience was the service. It is unparalleled. I can’t even imagine how much thought, practice, training, etc. goes into achieving that level of service.
One of the *true* highlights of the evening was getting a tour of the kitchen. My brother thinks Grant Achatz is a true culinary genius so we were completely bowled over when the staff offered us a tour. I don’t think it’s a typical part of the experience there but we had called in advance to ask about purchasing the slip cover edition of the Alinea cookbook and possibly getting it signed. They said that the book would be signed if the chef was around and had the time. We kept our fingers crossed the whole night. Tim, persistent fellow that he is, also asked at the end of the meal about possibly getting a picture with Achatz. Achatz was too busy so we got the kitchen tour instead. Boy am I glad we did. The back of Alinea is just as amazing as the front. It is a serious operation. Check it out:
In the middle two photos you can actual see Achatz from the back hard at work on a dish. (Second photo, he’s on the left; third photo he’s on the right.) The pictures are kind of crummy because we were sorta in the way and I had to move quickly just to get a few shots.
As we left, our server handed us the cookbook in a black bag and another person hailed us a cab. When we got home, we opened the cookbook and found out not only had the chef signed the book but several other people from the kitchen as well. AND inside the bag were copies of the menu from the evening (Alinea gives everyone a menu at the *end* of the meal) also signed by Achatz. Wow. All in all, an *amazing* evening and I haven’t even started talking about the food. That post to follow shortly.