I’m kind of obsessed with food. I may be vegan but that doesn’t stop me from loving shows like top chef. I’m fascinated with cooking and the creativity that can come along with it. I’m not too well versed in fine dining- the closest I have made it has been green zebra, and the now defunct horizons ( in Philly), and both have been well prepared, amazing meals. Being vegan, (and kind of on the cheap side!) it’s never really appealed to me, however I’ve always been curious what it would be like.
Well as of last Friday I found out I was going to get my chance. My good friend had a reservation at Alinea and his girlfriend couldn’t go- so he invited me to come along- his treat!! He inquired about preparing my meal vegan and they obliged! I was going to be eating a 12 course vegan meal at one of the top resturants in the country, all courtesty of my very amazing, generous friend!! Somebody pinch me.
Last night was the big night! I debated about bringing my big camera, and in the end opted for just my point and shoot which I now regret. Oh well. I have some visual memory, which is better than nothing – so excuse my poor photographs…Also I’m not a food expert so I’m not really sure how to even talk about the food, but I want to Remember it, so I’m gonna try.
Part of this experience is not knowing what to expect. so if you plan to go in the near future, you might not want to read any further….do know that your mind will be blown and you will eat some of the most innovative, tastiest food of your lifetime!
If you are not familiar with Alinea, its located in Lincoln Park, in chicago. Its head chef and owner, Grant Achatz, is known for his preparations and deconstructions of classic flavors. They do alot of things using molecular gastronamy. It’s one of the top rated resturants in the country, probably the top rated resturant in chicago.
We had a 530 reservation so I met my friend there after work. The building is discreet- all black, no signage. We walk in to a dark hallway with a floor of actual grass. They tell us in honor of summer there is some lemonade for you. It was in a bucket of ice water and somehow spinning and the glasses were clunking together and it sounded like wind chimes. The lemonade was kind of slushy- and it was really good. Already I was intrigued.
We followed the host inside and he seated us. We were in a little room that had maybe 5 other tables and you felt like you were in someone’s dining room. I was a little nervous because it was so quiet. But as dinner progressed, the room filled up and this ended up being way less awkward. It was actually way more comfortable than I would have imagined. I imagined fine dining to be pretty stuffy. And although your dressed a little nicer than you’d dress for work, the food was interactive, playful an the waiters were friendly and had a sense of humor. That helped alot!
Ok, onto the food. I have photos of most of the stuff, but like I said, they aren’t the best…but at Least it will help refresh my memory a bit.
No pic here. The first thing they brought out was an a big ice cube and a long thick metal straw. I’m not quite sure exactly what this was, but they filled my ice cube with some kind of almonds tapioca ball type things and told you to slurp it up in one sip.
This course was supposed to be some kind of oyster/shellfish combo. I ate them similar to how one would shuck and oyster-leaving the “shell” behind. One was hearts of palm, One of them was a lychee, one was daikon and one was a shallot peel with a some kind of salted, crunchy-ish spinach leaf.
Then out came this long stick balancing on its side, with one bite of cucumber, fennel, orange and papaya…..Very refreshing.
The Tomato course was a fun one. It was a play on tomato being a fruit. It was combined with watermelon snow all kinds of different basils, these thin, dried red onions and hot peppers. It all came together nicely and had lots of flavors!
Then there was a corn dish. They told us that this dish was inspired by the artwork on the walls of the room we were in. It had all kinds of unique flavors, (sour cherry!) and those long hairy strings were fried and tasted like corn and were so sweet and yummy. They helped bring all the flavors together.
This dish was so pretty! It was a Thai inspired dish, had Thai banana, jasmine rice and some green foam. I loved the little dish it was served in. Felt like I was eating out of a terrarium.
This dish was one of my favorites. It’s kind of hard to explain- but it was served on a piece of wood and the food was on stones. The presentation alone!!! There were these lovely mushrooms and asparagus, smoked dates and such and it had this smokey, almost BBQ flavor to it. Oh, and it was topped with fried arugula! Was absolutely delicious. I kind of wanted to lick the rocks the flavors were so good. Don’t worry, i didn’t.
I don’t have a photo of the potato course because this one happened pretty fast. It was a combination of potato and truffle and it came out in a little wax bowl with a metal stick in it. They told us to pick it up, pull out the stick and take it down like a shot. Delicious!
This course was so fun! My friend had three small pieces of lamb. I had fennel and two other vegetables. They put this lovely sauce over it and brought out this beautifully plated variety of fruits, vegetables, seasonings, spices, nuts, herbs, etc. They idea here is to make your own flavor combinations. I discovered some form of smoked salt that was unreal. Also the tiniest bite of Broccolli was out of this world. Seriously. This was so much fun and I could have gone at this all night combining stuff, but I ran out of fennel.
We also introduced a glass of wine with this course. The wine pairings were probably going to be a little much for me, since im a light weight and not much of a drinker as it is and since my friend was driving he also declined. We did try a ginger soda though and really enjoyed it! But we figured since it was my first time fine dining I’ll at least try one glass so I can experience what more than a $10 bottle of wine might taste like. It was really nice and smooth. I really liked it!
This was a raviolli course…but since mine was vegan, it was a fried romaine leaf wrapped around a truffle like explosion. And suprisingly, this really did tast like a raviolli somehow.
Next up: we started to transition into dessert. What?! More than one dessert? Yes please.
This was another one of my favorites. It’s supposed to be the cheese course, so my friend had Brie in his. This tasted like the most amazing upscale version of fair food. Ha. It was a long cinnamon stick, lit on fire to infuse the flavor (so it was still burning when it arrived). At the end of the stick was a tempura battered Anjou pear, onion and parsnip (instead of cheese). You pick it up by the cinnamon stick and eat it in one bite. Divine!!
Time for a pallate cleanser. Five types of ginger. This one was a little rough – as some of the gingers were spicy! But overall, I like ginger, so it wasnt too bad. Also, I had no idea there were this many types of ginger.
Now for the most fun course….they brought out what looked like a balloon. It was a green apple taffy, filled with helium! You take a bite to break it, suck in the helium, talk in a really high voice and it deflated into taffy! Then go wash your hands because they are super sticky.
The deserts just kept getting more interesting. This one was a blueberry, sorrel and macadamia dessert. He came and pored a some liquid nitrogen and citrus tea into the bottom of our dish and created some kind of declicous drink that was so clean and fruity tasting. We used a straw to slurp it up. On top Was a mixture of blueberries, and some form of nom dairy Ice cream. My friend had a brownie and sponge cake with his- they left this off of mine to make it vegan which I was totally fine with because at this point I was getting so full!
The last course…OH MY! They came out and brought a big dark choclate egg. Then he started smearing vanilla cream on the table, Sprinkled some freeze dried (or something to this effect) english peas and strawberries all over the table. Then sprinkled english pea dust and strawberry dust everywhere. He dropped pansies all over the table. Poured liquid nitrogen into the chocolate shell and then busted it and an explosion of chocolate, peas and strawberries were everywhere! This was so much fun to eat, and the flavors were really good. There were bites of lemon that were so so delicious and the english peas were so sweet. Unfortuantely this was ALOT of food, so we only ate MAYBE half of it.
So I’ve already been getting the question: “is it worth the money?” And that’s hard to answer for a few reasons, the biggest being I didn’t have to pay for it. BUT, after experiencing it, would I have paid for it?! Absolutely. Some people drop this money on getting their hair done, or a day at the spa. I would take this over any of those anytime! This lasted three hours, and is an experience I will never forget!
This was alot ot take in and process, but overall it was a really amazing experience that I’m truly grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of. Im so impressed that they were able to make me a vegan meal, truly as outstanding as my friend’s traditional fare. Thanks again to Brian for letting me experience this with you! I sure do have some of the best friends a girl can ask for!