annotations: retrospective…

1st Courses:

Lemon: The first in a triptych of “edible cocktails,” this one wasn’t really my kind of cocktail.  It was cold and frozen (with some kind of a “mastic” on top – I think grapefruit).  Bitter, sour, fruity.  It was refreshing. Again, not my kind of cocktail.

Apple: Essentially, a Jack Rose. There was a ring of apple in this, which gave the bite some structure. This was actually quite boozy, rich, and thick, and intense – as if you condensed a Jack Rose into a syrup. I really, really liked this.

Squash:The butternut squash had been completely rendered confit-soft – almost melted away in the mouth. With it was the most amazing storm of intense flavor. Extremely boozy – with bitter giving way to a warm, dark, caramel sweetness. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

2nd Course

Golden Trout Roe: A wonderful assortment of flavors and textures that together, was a balance of sweet and salty. There were flavors of coconut curry, though there was no curry (we think it was the licorice), and pina colada. But as far as showcasing golden trout roe, it failed. The golden trout roe only contributed its silky saltiness to the dish, which took a surprisingly back seat role.

3rd Course

Yuba: The shrimp wound its way up and around the fried yuba stick, along with a coil of sticky orange gelatin (not quite gelatin, not quite syrup – in between – gel, perhaps?). The whole was sprinked with togarashi.  The yuba quill sits in a ink well of miso paste – salty.  Together, it is like eating a crunchy orange beef and sweet sour pork, but with shrimp instead. The orange gel was surprisingly powerful – very sweet, very fragrant. The togarashi’s heat was mild – just faint enough to give you a little kick, but not so much as to overwhelm the rest.

Chao Tom: Ne comprend pas. This was a baton of fibrous sugar cane that had been glazed withi shrimp paste and decorated with mint. You chew, and chew, and chew. And then you spit it out on a napkin provided for you on the side.  Other then a mild, mellow, round sweetness (from the cane), there really wasn’t much going on here.

4th Course

Maitake: This dish was fantastic. In the bowl was a meaty fan of maitake mushroom, along with a variety of autumnal vegetation – Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, turnips – all wonderfully cooked. At the bottom was a bed of bacon-infused lentils, which were wonderfully cooked and full of smoky pork flavor. The lentis, however, were quite salty, though little else had salt, so it kind of balanced out if you ate the lentils with the vegetables. By themselves, the lentils were just a smidge too salty.

Together, the lentils and a chestnut puree gave this dish some body, and helped to tie the vegetables together (i.e. a thick sauce).

Hot water was poured around the bowl into the bed of hay, apples, and squash slices, to bringt out flavors of a fall hayride. If you didn’t lean into the dish, you really didn’t get much of that flavor.

5th Course

Apple: Celery juice, apple and horseradish juice encapsilated in a cocoa butter shell.  I shot it back just like the server instructed.  The celery juice came out, the ball remained in the glass, suctioned to the bottom.   I had to shake it hard and stick my tongue in the glass to dislodge the ball. The waxy shell gave way to a apple juice – very little to no horseradsih flavor. Not bad flavors, but not a great experience.  The first time I had a “ball” presentation at alinea, I nearly choked on the thing.  An example of how alinea’s gimmickry is distracting and silly – and potentially dangerous.  Function following form here.

6th Course

Halibut: A composition entirely in white. There’s halibut – so soft and tender, you wouldn’t believe it was halibut. There were parsnip ribbons and parsnip chips, coated in white sesame. That’s all our server told us.  We were left to discover the rest of the ingredients, not all of which were white.  We tasted coffee, lemon, and vanilla.  Overall, it was a tasty dish, wich corners of very different flavor tucked here and there and about. Loved the textural contrast.

7th Course

Pheasant: They set these oak leaves afire just singe the edges and it produced the most uncanny approximation of marijuana smoke. GROSS. I could smell it throughout the night and I found it really unpleasant.

The pheasant, skewered with the oak branch, along with a chunk of walnut and a green grape, was excellent. The tempura shell was impossibly light and flaky, well peppered and salted (white pepper?) – almost a little too salty at first, until you get the gush of sweet from the grape.  Very well balanced. One did not know where the grape started and the pheasant ended, nor where the walnut came from. But it’s all there – in that tiny little nugget.

8th Course

Short Rib: From left to right on a tray: smoked salt, blackberry, roasted pearl onion, black garlic, sweet potato, black olive, and cherry with lemon zest. In the spoon was tobacco gel. In the fore were parsnip ribbons. In the monacle to the left: tomato seed vinaigrette.

We were told to remove the top glass pane holding the condiments and set it in the center of the table.  Then, we were to pull out the two metal pieces in the center divot and construct a stand, upon which was draped a pasta dough made from tomato and roasted garlic. A spoonful of braised shortrib meat was placed in the center and we were to add the condiments as we liked.

Okay, so the short rib meat was comforting and delicious – warm, etc. And the condiments helped round out the flavors (interestingly, most of them sort of disappeared into the short ribs, only adding a slight modification to the overall flavor). The blackberry and cherry sweetness were the best parts, along with the CRUNCHY smoked salt, whose smokiness was very strong by itself, but disappeared into the shortrib.

I don’t get the tobacco cream, which I had at alinea on my first visit in 2005. It’s still as tongue-bitingly gross as I remember it.

The pasta was fine – not much tomato and roasted garlic flavor, really. It was slippery and delicate – a bit wet too (how they kept it wet throughout the service was a mystery to me). And it tore, which made eating this shortrib burrito raviolo really an inelegant fare. We were given warm, wet towels afterward for clean-up.

It was comforting and good. But a whole lot of trouble for something that didn’t taste extraordinarily different from what one might get from a plate of pasta with short rib ragu.

9th Course

Hot Potato: Eat quickly, the guy said. Pull the pin out of the cup, dropping all of the skewered elements into the bowl of cold black truffle potato cream: a hot potato draped with a slice of black truffle and cubes of butter. This is truly truffletastic. VERY BUTTERY. VERY TRUFFLE. And, indeed, a hot and cold potato experience.

10th Course

Pigeonneau a la Saint-Claire: From Escoffier, this little puff pastry tartlet contained a buttery and creamy roasted onion puree, a tender sliver of pigeon breast, caramelized onions, two quenelles of foie gras forcemeat, and sliver of meaty royal trumpet mushroom. The tartlet is ringed with a sauce Perigord.

The pigeon meat was incredibly tender – I hardly needed my knife to cut it.  The pastry shell was simply brilliant – buttery, crisp, flaky, LIGHT. GREAT.

The onion cream was spot on – clean, sweet, onion flavor. The quenelles of foie gras and forcemeat were soft, delicate, and wonderfully flavorful. The caramelized onions (behind the caramelized pearl onion) was equally melted and flavorful. The sauce Perigord – with truffles – was also delicious.  Brilliant.

11th Course

Black Truffle Explosion: The xiao long bao of Perigord on a the “anti plate.” It exploded with a warm soup intense with black truffle flavor. It was quite salty, which was intensified by the shaving of Parmesan. The parsley helped give it a bit of contrast in flavor with a hit of grassiness. The pasta was excellent – delicate, soft, and thin.  Overall, a rather cheap thrill with luxury ingredients.

12th Course

Lamb: BE VERY CAREFUL, stressed the server. It’s very, very, very, very hot, he said. This sizzling stone was 700F.  We were told that the stone had to be that hot in order to activate the rosemary scent.

The three rounds of well-seasoned lamb sizzled away. These were okay. Not great. Kind of nonsequiter. And sort of plain. My favorite of the three was the red cabbage topping, which was sweet. The rosemary smell was the best part. But even I can enjoy rosemary scent without paying $200+.

13th Courses

Pineapple: Essentially a sugar pane with dehydrated ham powder and freeze-dried cherry powder. Honesly, I didn’t get much ham (only the bit of saltiness) and the cherry only provided a tartness.  Pretty.

Bacon: I’ve had this before. You can tell my photography has improved since 2005. :)

The bacon was super thin, super crispy. The butterscotch this time wasn’t crispy, instead just a sauce. There was very thin apple shavings and a sprig of thyme. Very subtle – not sure I got much of the apple flavor.  Still, delicious.  Still don’t understand the swing.

Caramel Popcorn: Intense flavor. Sweet, warm, and toasty. Very good.  Served warmish.

14th Course

Earl Grey: This dish was set on a pillow filled with Earl Grey-scented air. The overriding scent wasn’t tea, as much as it was vanilla. In fact, this whole dish had a very vanilla flavor/smell to it. Vanilla makes everything better. The moss-looking stuff was Earl Grey sablee, which wasn’t crispy, but firm and sandy (in a good way).

The egg yolk-looking rounds was lemon curd.  The caramel-colored wire structure atop is caramelized white chocolate. I’m not sure where and how the pine nut took shape – perhaps candied and crumbled on the bottom of the plate?

For once, eating on the bag didn’t bother me so much, because this dish required no cutting. Further, the bag seemed more stable than before – not as puffy. And the air seemed to deflate at a quicker pace. By the time I was done eating, the bag was nearly empty.

15th Course

Bubble Gum: Left to right: hibiscus gelatin; vanilla-spiked creme fraiche, and a gelatin with pearls infused with bubble gum.  I was afraid the bubble gum would be overwhelming, and make it taste too artificial candy-like. Instead, it was quite delicious, with just a bit of bubble gum flavor on the end to lend a bit of a nostalgic aftertaste. The creme fraiche provided body and heft, as well as a wonderful wallop of vanilla. The fragrant hibiscus gelatin seemed to help round out the bubblegum flavor.

16th Course

Chocolate: In addition to the ingredients listed on the menu, this dessert included peanut nougat (squares of chalky white), dried apricots, honey white cream, apricot puree with Thai basil, milk chocolate sate, and nitro chocolate ice cream. There were two brulee honey panna cottas that were poured and set on the table before our eyes in the tubes. Brown sugar was sprinked into the tubes, the tubes were lifted up leaving a set panna cotta, and then they were torched with a brulee.

To return to the review, CLICK HERE.


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