The following critique of Restaurant Alinea is done at the request of a previous thread and poster. Rather than have my words and my time lost into a thousand different threads I opted to put this as a new post. Please read the initial posting (under the name JDog) to understand a few important notes of who I am and where I am coming from on this review before you start the lynching. This is my opinion only!!! I dined w/ 6 other companions and each thoroughly enjoyed the meal. two said it was the best meal of their respective lives. I was very disappointed. That should tell you that food is very subjective as is the dining experience I dined on OPM but had I paid I think I would have been even more disappointed.
Here it is
1. Hot Potato this was an exciting way to start our meal. My initial thoughts of molecular gastronomy were summated in this dish. Well balanced flavors and temperature combinations. Cold cream and a warm potato w/ a sliver of Black Truffle to boot. Well presented. This was one of my favorites.
2. Lamb in Eucalyptus veil Eucalyputs could be perceived before dishes were on the table. Although presentation was nothing to brag about here the idea was interesting. This dish fell very short of any fine dining menu as the lamb was tough and cooked to about medium well it turned out to be chewy, and grainy. I did not taste any sauce so I cannot comment on the rest of the dish. (in reviewing pictures from the Alinea website it looks like my dish was not presented as it was expected from the chef) Of course this lamb dish was only one bites worth thats one of the difficulties in achieving stardom w/ a menu like this is that you only have one shot at getting it right right it was not. Also, Eucalyptus reminded me of a Japanese massage/bath house. I really wanted a massage and a salt rub rather than a meal.
3. Salsify here is where things started getting complicated (I mean w/ flavors and textures and etc ). Salsify was underwhelming but Im not sure how I was supposed to enjoy the whole dish. Each of the components were separate and what I would call de-constructed. I would imagine that a mouthful of everything would be nice but I could never put all flavors into one spoon. I thought mustard seed had a nice texture and looked very interesting but it didnt taste like anything but mustard seed. Smoked salmon (if I recall) was more like a mousse consistency ( I may be wrong here as this was about the time that the sommelier informed me that I could only take pictures if I didnt use the flash). Parsley leaves tasted like parsley leaves and salmon roe tasted like salmon roe. This dish, as well as several others, was so perfectly deconstructed that I could not understand the dish as a whole. I didnt know if there were any other way to enjoy the dish and I did not enjoy the dish. I finished here scratching my head and could not even describe a dish. It was well presented but seemed to be more sustenance than art. technical skill and science prevailed here.
4. Crab and other stuff here was another deconstructed dish that seemed to get on that borderline of weird. There was a cool looking pea pasta on top of some of the components when one dug into this pasta it disintegrated like a sauce (actually pretty cool). I thought that all individual components were well executed and presentation was nice (lets just assume that I was impressed w/ all of the presentations) but, again, there was no overall dish. This was another deconstructed dish that did not speak highly of flavor and the lavender was a little overwhelming for the other delicate flavors. This was my second least favorite dish.
5. asparagus and egg yolk drops I thought this dish was the perfect example of science over flavor everyone at our table of 7 commented on texture and appearances and we spent most of the 5 bites trying to figure out how they did it after asking our waiter the intrigue was gone. The eggs were dropped into clarified butter at a low temp and the resulting drops of yolk were lightly poached (for lack of better terms). What an interesting texture and cool looking dish but I thought that flavors lacked and one top of asparagus did nothing but taste like an asparagus top with bland edible rubber BBs.
6. Black cod with vanilla and Pillows of orange air by this time in the meal my memory kept bringing me to a scene out of the Judge Dredd movie where Sandra Bullock takes Sylvester Stalone to a fine dining meal at Taco Bell (you have to see it to appreciate it I highly recommend the movie just for this one scene). Black cod was well prepared and delicate. I got totally lost with the Picholine olive foam combination paired w/ the orange. This combination of Acid w/ another acid was not only an odd combination but it became another overwhelming flavor to make this dish almost offensive to the palate. Nonetheless my six other companions were beginning to get tipsy from the wine and all had loosened up enough to become more and more vocal. Each felt that the meal was getting better and better.
7. Kobe beef I thought this was the train wreck of the meal and I best describe it as pink peppercorns with some overcooked, expensive beef, and cucumber with some other stuff on top oh, and some salty lime rocks on top. Enough said? Well, if you like sucking on pick peppercorns while trying to enjoy the most expensive (overcooked) beef in the world than this is the dish for you. Cucumbers? What did they contribute?
8. Squab this was a highlight for me. Squab meat was delicious, tender, perfectly cooked medium rare, and so full of great flavors. This is what fine dining is about which is a delicate balance of complimentary flavors with well executed, high quality food. YUM! This was my favorite dish and most memorable. The strawberry addition was subtle, yet surprising.
9. Verjus this chilled intermezzo (???) was described as having a surprise ball that we would all know what it was when we ate it. Oh yea! I was the only one at the table that called it beets. Beets are a difficult ingredient to pair w/ and to balance. Because they are sweet with a bit of bitter note of root the vegetable is tough to work with and more importantly to get right. Im sorry to say that the verjus granita was nicely paired with the thyme and lemon but after I bit into the intensely flavored beet ball that is all I tasted. Beet notes all over the palate. Was this dish suppose to cleanse the palate? was it a dessert? Another head scratcher.
10. Cream Cheese, Guava and black sesame seed sauce. Nicely prepared dish which tasted like panna cotta with a guava inside was spoiled with the earthy black sesame sauce - you could have put some beet on this and it would have been a better combination.
11. Chocolate Hmmm where do I start here another deftly and perfectly deconstructed dish that made absolutely no sense. It included drops of some kind of fruit, and green tea powder which did nothing to lend to the overall flavor profile. Although the chocolate was surprisingly soft in texture I say that because the chocolate was dished in a tube type shape with a hump in the middle the presentation led me to believe that the chocolate was going to be hard (nicely done). I didnt feel much love from the elderflower or the umeboshi neither seemed to contribute to the flavor of the chocolate let alone to the palate.
12. Peanut this dish was the fall from grace for the entire meal- it was not a long fall though. 5 flavors of peanut on tiny skewers were so disappointing it was a fitting way to end the meal. Although I did have a taste of the peanut butter and jelly each of the other tastes were so tiny that I couldnt even chew. I bit and then the nibblet of ingredients dissentegrated into my mouth. Huh? Where do I get a skewar holder like that? I'll show him how to skewar!
Again, I will admit to great service, a nice pairing of wines (although I did not drink I did taste), and an interesting ambiance I cannot say that I felt this was an enjoyable gastronomic experience. Only a couple of dishes seemed to have some focus on flavor most of the dishes did not deliver as creatively (flavor-wise) as it should have for this kind of price tag. A world class restaurant (which is what I expected) should deliver at every course not at 10% of the courses. Food is of the utmost importance in a restaurant since that is what a restaurant sells. And while the creative forces behind the restaurant are bending every culinary rule I didnt understand why I had to wear a jacket, why I had to make a reservation 6 months ago, why they needed 12 chefs, why, why, why? Why wasnt I offered anything else beyond the wine list and water when I informed that staff that I could have no alcohol. Why do they have a different coffe for black coffee lovers and cream and sugar coffee lovers? Why couldn't I buy a t-shirt ("I ate at Alinea and all I got was this lousy t-shirt"). One never knows.
Let the lynching begin....