Tiny Bites

Where do I go from here? On Friday night we dined at America's Best Restaurant, Alinea, so designated by Gourmet Magazine. After the fact, it's odd to reflect that we have had the best. According to the most refined palates in America, it does not get any better. And they only do this list every five years.
Dining at Alinea was a once in a lifetime experience. Not only for how tasty the food was, but for how uniquely it was prepared and presented. I did not dare bring my camera in (wishing to pull off the impression that this was just a hum-drum, run-of-the-mill dinner for moi), but I did find photos online that document the full experience.
We had a 14 course tasting menu, meaning that each round was literally just a biteful of food. But in each bite were more pointed and distinct flavors than you could ever get in a whole night at the Olive Garden. Gourmet Magazine described our first course of hot potato, cold potato, black truffle and parmesan as follows, "This is dining as performance art, and each tiny interactive dish teases, astonishes, delights. You pull out a pin and watch a little puff of cheesy hot potato drop into a tiny curved cuplet of soup that you slurp as if it were an oyster." (See photo above.)
There was one course of bacon, butterscotch, apple and thyme where the ingredients were wrapped delicately up in the bacon, which hung suspended by a thin wire over the plate.
For another course we received what appeared to be a tall narrow shot glass, with a bright orange gobstopper balancing above clear liquid. This was a dish of carrot, smoked paprika and orange, which we were encouraged to just open wide and knock back down our throats. (There were quite a few courses where we started to feel like we were doing shots, just of solid food and not liquid. After each curiously arranged plate arrived we had to look up at our servers begging for instructions as to how we were supposed to attack this round. Lick-it, slam-it, suck-it?)
Another plate placed before us had a upside down glass covering the food, which the waiters then lifted up releasing a gentle smoky cloud smelling like burnt oak or tobacco; the smoke cleared revealing rabbit prepared with cider and roasted garlic. All of our senses were ordered to attention and engagement for this evening.
The New York Times has called Alinea's kind of cooking "molecular gastronomy" where your chicken in sauce may arrive with the sauce being a solid and the chicken a liquid. Along these lines, we had one course of Concord Grape where a purple rectangle was placed before us, with a slight frosty fog covering its surface. A frozen and chewy grape, but with a walloping concentrated flavor. I compared it to the nearest similar experience I had before, which would be, as a kid, taking a spoonful of the ACME frozen grape juice before you mix it up with the required three cans of water. (Gourmet Magazine could probably describe it better.)
For a girl who was just proud to have managed her first mashed potatoes for this year's Thanksgiving dinner Alinea is far, far out of reach of what I might ever hope to replicate at home. (Compared to what I make at home, Alinea does not serve food, it serves sorcery.) However I think I can walk away with an appreciation of the flavors that lie within each ingredient, and how with the proper conjuring they can be called forth with a saturated kick. YUM.


Jason said...

Impressive indeed. Your sentiment summed it up:

"Alinea does not serve food, it serves sorcery."

abby said...

Glad to see that you've still got those journalistic chops... you give Rory a run for the money.

And VERY glad that you enjoyed it. Hubby's parents didn't get it when we tried to explain the experience. I might show them this post!

David said...

Thanks so much for agreeing to experinece this place with us. I had a blast. Too bad these sorts of thing can only happen once-in-a-lifetime - maybe in the next life it can be on someone else's tab.


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