Annie and I had the tasting menu at Alinea last night, and it was easily the best meal I've ever had (though not the cheapest). We showed up plenty early, since we forgot about the time zone shift between here and Chicago, so we killed some time in a Boarders nearby. Once we were seated, the fun started, and continued over 14 courses. No menu was provided, though they allowed us to tailor the tasting menu if we had any special requests. At the end of the meal we were handed a copy of the evening's menu, which listed each of the courses and their primary ingredients. Here's what we had:
Trout Roe: coconut, licorice, pineapple
Roe from Michigan trout, harvested just days ago, on a coconut snowman... thing alongside pineapple foam and a dollop of licorice sauce. It was a little intimidating for a first course since it was so delicate, but the flavors worked well together. It was the first time I'd ever had caviar, and it was great; it tasted like the sea smells.
Beans: many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air
Now things got fun. What looked like a burlap pillow was set in front of us, and then a large plate was placed on top. As the plate weighed down on the pillow, it released the scent of nutmeg, which we would taste, even though there was no nutmeg in the dish. The dish was pureed navy beans topped with a pancetta crisp, topped with a Guinness foam. Around the plate were a host of one-bite garnishes; green bean and almond salad, ginger topped with peppers, mango and orange leathers, a basil gel, a crunchy somethingorother, a bit of apple hollowed out and filled with molasses. Very tasty.
Scallop: parsnip, orange, chamomile vapor
This course started with a single bite of an orange gel, which was like a tart, palate-cleansing fruit snack. Two nesting bowls were set down, the outer filled with various herbs and flowers and the inner filled with amazing food. The outer bowl was topped off with hot water, which released a strong smell of chamomile. In the inner bowl sat a perfectly cooked scallop, topped with shaved razor clams, accompanied with a reduced stock and diced parsnips. One of the best dishes I've ever had.
Apple Cider: walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash
A shot glass was set in front of us containing a green orb, dusted with a bit of powder, sitting in walnut milk. The entire shot was knocked back, and once the little orb was in your mouth, it exploded with a splash of apple cider, and then dissolved into a taste of cinnamon. Refreshing.
Salsify: caper, olive oil, smoked salmon
A column of (razor clam? some shellfish, but I think we missed that part of the explanation) coated in a crackley caper-and-crunchiness, suspended between a small stack of wonderful smoked salmon on one end and a salmon puree on the other, with a dollop of a dill sauce between the two and a few drops of a lemon gel around the plate. The smoked salmon was the best few bites of salmon I've ever had.
Sweetbread: cauliflower, burnt bread, toasted hay
A few bits of breaded sweatbreads, surrounded by dollops of gels from roasted cauliflower, vermouth, and burnt bread, along with crunchy roasted cauliflower bits and a cauliflower stalk wrapped in bread. Tasty, and the first time I've enjoyed sweatbreads.
Lamb: in cubism
A slice of lamb tenderloin on one end, and a braised and breaded wheel of lamb-something on the other end. In between, seven or eight overlapping squares of sauces. Our waiter didn't tell us what the sauces were, but noted that the garnishes on the lamb tenderloin offered hints to the sauces (which included mint, pomegranate, sour cream, horseradish, among others). Very playful. The round bite of lamb may be the best bite of food I've ever had.
Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter
We were handed a wax bowl, which had a long pin stuck through it. On the pin were a couple cubes of butter, a small round hot potato, topped with a large shaving of black truffle. This was all suspended over a cold potato soup. To eat, you pulled the pin out, dropping the hot portions of the dish into the cold soup, and then slurped the whole thing down like an oyster on the half shell. Vies with the lamb as the best bite of food I've ever had.
Bison: red cabbage, candy cane, rosemary aroma
Our tables were originally adorned with foot-long stalks of rosemary. When this dish was delivered, it was presented on a 500 degree brick that sizzed under the bites of bison. The bits of bison were adorned with a red cabbage braise, star anise and candy cane, and a mushroom sauce, respectively. The sear on them was amazing, though I'm not quite sure how the mushroom sauce was, since I manage to drop it. Drat.
Transparency: of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt
A big, stained-glass looking piece of transparent raspberry, with rose petals set into it and dusted with yogurt powder. It was tasty, but a little prickly, like a broken Christmas ornament.
Chocolate: passionfruit, lemongrass, soy
A big ribbon of dark chocolate sauce. Above it was a great rice pudding (only without the rice, though the rice flavor was there). Below, a noodle of passionfruit. In the middle of a soy marshmallow was a cube of iced lemongrass. Around were dollops of reduced soy sauce and soy powder. Tasty tasty, though I could have done without the soy. The chocolate, lemongrass, and rice pudding were all amazing.
Carmel Corn: liquified
Another shot, this one was a popcorn foam on top of a carmel cream sauce. It reminded me of a jelly belly, and tasted just like it should have.
Persimmon: carrot, red curry, spice aroma strip
A soft persimmon cake, with cubes of carrot in cognac, pistachios, a honey sauce, and other accompaniments. This dish felt a little disorganized compared to some of the others.
Pumpkin: pie dough, tempura, cinnamon fragrance
Pumpkin pie, frozen, then dipped in a creamy sauce, then tempura fried and dusted with a cinnamon sugar that was evocative of mini doughnuts. This whole things was served on a long cinnamon stick popsicle, the bottom of which was lit before it was served, so a cinnamon aroma permeated the room. An amazing finish to an amazing meal.