One of the most renowned restaurants in the world is a gastronomic adventure unlike any other.
Alinea, a three Michelin starred restaurant, has been around for decades and is known for its innovative and modernist cuisine where molecular gastronomy is at the forefront. Chef Grant Achatz, seen on season 2 of Chef’s Table, opened Alinea in 2005 and since its opening the restaurant has become a culinary destination. With limited availability every night, scoring a reservation can be quite difficult. They offer two different reservation options: the gallery (the full multi-sensory tasting menu) or the salon (an abbreviated tasting menu). Dining here is a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wanted to snag a reservation for the gallery experience. While I logged on their reservation system right on time in order to get the gallery menu, I took too long to decide what time I wanted and it sold out within minutes! I did get a reservation at the salon but was disappointed as I wanted the full experience. They do offer a wait list in case anyone cancels so I put my name down just in case and also emailed the restaurant. Luckily just days before my reservation they had a cancellation so they upgraded me to the gallery experience! I guess it was meant to be!
Finding Alinea was actually a little challenging as the restaurant exterior is completely unassuming.
Once arriving we were seated downstairs where all the diners had the gallery experience. No wonder it’s difficult to get a reservation as there were only a few tables. I believe upstairs is a larger dining area where guests enjoy the salon experience.
We weren’t given a menu (they gave us a copy at the end of the meal as a token) so we had no expectations on what the night was going to hold.
The first dish was a play on a traditional caviar course with brioche bread. As you can see, there’s no bread but the foam was basically the essence of buttery toasty notes that you’d find in traditional brioche bread. The jelly was made from capers and lemon which added some acidity and the egg yolk cream added luxuriousness. An overall fun and whimsical dish. Of course the caviar didn’t hurt either!
This was easily my favorite dish of the night where the “charred” Arctic char is meant to be eaten with your hands. The Arctic char is soaked in a maple syrup and sherry mixture for 5 weeks which almost preserves the fish. By charring the exterior of the fish, it creates a toasted marshmallow texture (the skin was so incredibly crispy). The sweet notes from the maple syrup and the technique of cooking the fish made for an intense but delicious bite.
Once finishing the Arctic char we were instructed to flip over the glass where the next dish was on the bottom of the glass. Here you’ll find a carrot pudding with smoked Arctic char roe with pearls made of lemon, lime, ginger, and Thai chili all suspended in a gelatin. Very cool.
The next dishes were inspired by Southern France. On the left was a modern interpretation of a classic French fish stew, bouillabaisse, where the waiter dropped an egg yolk shaped sphere made out of rouille (saffron mayonnaise) onto the potato starch veil which melted into the soup. We were instructed to garnish our own scallop dish with the various herbs before enjoying.
The soup itself was reminiscent of bouillabaisse with the creamy rouille sphere and the flaky tender pieces of turbot fish.
For the next dish, we were escorted into the kitchen where they did a short cocktail demo.
Another finger food where we took the shrimp and smeared it in the cocktail sauce that had flavors of crème fraîche, garlic, tomato, and parsley.
By the time we returned to the dining room, they had reset the table with an intricate array of dishes. The ambience with the fire and various background sounds set the scene as if we were having dinner in the rainforest.
Nestled on the beautiful glass crab plate was a piece of confit Alaskan king crab topped with finger lime. Not much was done to the crab as they expressed they wanted its true form to shine. On the black plate was a hor mok talay custard made from king crab (basically a seafood curry) and nam prik (chili sauce) that was meant to be mixed together. The middle dish was a Thai coconut curry dish with coconut ash and arrowhead squid. Only the body of the squid was actually squid and the tentacles were made out of coconut and tapioca. Next to the squid was thinly shaved celery root. The last dish, on the right, was a refreshing som tum green papaya salad.
I loved the uni rice in the sea urchin bowl with satsuma, yuzu, and sake lees. Very creamy and rich but the rest of the dishes fell flat. The tsukemono had no variation in flavor, only acidity without complexity. The eggplant and razor clams were average, nothing revolutionary.
While the presentation for this dish was pretty spectacular, I wasn’t crazy about the taste. The bottom dish was supposed to resemble elote, Mexican street corn, and the appearance was spot on. Flavors were reminiscent of that with the Cojita cheese and lime nuances. However, the rainbow spiraled rolled vegetables in the skull were aesthetically stunning but had absolutely no taste so I was confused as to what the purpose was.
While I’m not a mole expert, I could tell this mole didn’t have the depth and intense rich flavor that it should have. The Berkshire pork belly was also not as tender as I would have liked.
I wasn’t able to get a picture of the next dish, a signature, as it’s very time sensitive due to the temperatures of the various ingredients.
Chef Grant Achatz was making coffee before rushing into the kitchen one day and he added an ice cube into his coffee to cool it down. When he took a sip, the ice cube along with the hot coffee went into his mouth where he experienced dual temperatures which ignited this idea of a possible dish. They developed this iconic dish in 2006 which represents the creative spirit and collaboration of Alinea. With the help of Crucial Detail, they developed a wax bowl where a piece of piping hot food could be suspended above a chilled liquid on the bottom. After brainstorming, hot potato, cold potato was created. The hot potato ball is cooked in clarified butter served with black truffle and a cold potato vichyssoise. We were instructed to take the pin and pull it out and the ingredients fell into the vichyssoise where everything was meant to be slurped like an oyster. A really fun and quirky dish that was not only clever but very tasty.
Unfortunately the last savory course was my least favorite as it was perplexing. The wagyu beef, which didn’t have that beautiful fatty marbling, was covered in black truffles and topped with dried bresaola. Why serve béchamel, an already rich and decadent sauce, with wagyu beef? The dried bresaola was also an odd ingredient to add. Overall not a fan.
Moving onto dessert…the ultimate show! When you think of Alinea, the Jackson Pollock inspired dish first comes to mind.
An edible piece of artwork made right in front of your eyes with various flavors and textures of red and black fruits, white chocolate, and streusel.
Once the dessert was plated, we were given edible balloons made from taffy flavored with green apple! It was super sticky but a really fun dish.
Alinea is more than just a restaurant, it’s an experience. It’s a night of entertainment where you’re interacting with food and seeing boundaries pushed. While all the dishes weren’t to my liking, I know how much time, effort, and attention to detail goes into every aspect of the dining experience that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s not a restaurant for everyone but as a foodie, it’s a bucket list destination that I couldn’t miss so my rating is a 7.5-8/10.