Because the meal was lengthy, I'm going to split this account into two posts. Thus, without further ado, here's my night in pictures and brief descriptions of our first nine courses:
The first course was called "Steelhead Roe," and is a little soup filled with steelhead roe, described on the menu simply as "dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit." All of those flavors are present and the course is beautiful, balanced and delicious. The dish was accompanied by the evening's first wine pairing, a champagne cocktail, constructed from Pieere Gimonnet Brut with chrysanthemum liqueur and bitters. Even Jeff, who hates champagne, liked this champagne cocktail.
The second course was called "Yuba" and is described simply as "shrimp, miso, togarashi." Yuba refers to the top layer of soy milk when it's been boiled, which they skim and in this case, fry. Then, naturally, they wrap shrimp and delicious spices around it and serve it in a "mayonnaise" for dipping that even I liked. Don't think fried bean curd skin sounds amazing? Alinea will make you think again. The dish was flawless.
Pictured above are courses three, four and five.
Course three was defined simply as "Oyster Leaf" and was described simply as "mignonette." Mignonette describes a sauce that accompanies oysters, typically made from vinegar, pepper and an assortment of herbs. What you see above is an oyster leaf (far right), dressed in mignonette sauce. The leaf was so interesting; it really did have the briney flavor typically associated with oysters -- and it was hard to believe you were actually eating a leaf.
Course four, pictured at center, was aptly called "Scallop" because that's exactly what was hiding in the oyster shell under a froth presumably constructed from "hitachino weizen, old bay." Hitachino Weizen is a Japanese beer that's a Belgian-style white ale and old bay is a classic seafood accompaniment. The scallop was fabulous: fresh and reminiscent of the flavors of the sea. Exactly as seafood should be.
Course five, pictured at far left, was entitled "Razor Clam" and described as "carrot, soy, daikon." You eat a razor clam by opening up the shell and sliding the contents down your throat. In this case, the contents were a perfect razor clam and flavorings from carrot, soy and the Japanese white radish known as daikon. Again, the flavors played perfectly together and the result was remarkably creative and tasty.
Course five is "Urchin" and is described as "green garlic, vanilla, mint." As you may be able to decipher from the image, the urchin itself is in a gel and is served with some flavor friends (including vanilla and a little mint leaf) on a fork. The fork rests on part of a little white orb, which is filled with green garlic soup. As you might have guessed, the dish is like a flavor explosion in your mouth and that's a very good thing.
Course six is "Rabbit" and it's described as "parfait, rillette, consommé." The description is perfect, as is the way that our waiter talked about the dish, which was "rabbit three ways." The image above depicts the first of these three ways: the parfait. It's a rabbit mousse, accompanied by flavors of sage and butternut squash (that'd be the dried orange strip you see), among other flavors and textures. It tastes like a little Thanksgiving parfait, which is unexpected because you'd never think to pair those flavors with a construct -- parfait -- typically associated with dessert. But it works. (At this point, Jeff noted that the food he'd eaten thus far already made Alinea the best meal of his life. This was also the point at which the server removed part of the dish you see above, to reveal why the dish is, in fact, rabbit three ways.)
The next part of this dish was the "rillette." Typically, I'm not a huge fan of rillettes, but as with mayonnaise, this wasn't the case at Alinea. In fact, this may have been my favorite of all of the dishes served that evening. The same flavors are repeated in this phase of the course: savory rabbit, sweet butternut squash and the freshness of sage. However, in this phase, they're accompanied by the depth of the fennel-infused flavor of sausage and the texture is completely different. This really tastes like Thanksgiving, because the sausage adds in the element of something like stuffing. It was delicious. Classic flavors in ways you'd never expect for a result that is beyond anything you'd imagine.
The waiter returned again to remove yet another piece of this dish, revealing a simple, but intensely flavorful rabbit consommé and a large rock used to keep the later two phases of the course warm. The entire construct was so cool, but the flavors let you know that the food itself is the star of the show.
Course seven was "Venison," described as "cherry, cocoa nib and eucalyptus." As you can see above, it's a bit of venison, served on a little metal skewer, and hidden in a pile of eucalyptus leaves. The leaves are coolly fragrant, which nicely offsets the gamey flavor of the venison paired with the sweet cherry and depth of the cocoa nib in the sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
Course eight was "Wild Mushrooms," comprised of "pine, sumac and ramp" according to the menu. Our server said that the goal of this dish was to achieve something akin to the "forest floor." And if the forest floor tasted like this, I'd be eating a lot more of it. The dish had an earthy flavor, but as in all of the courses we'd had so far, each of the elements were perfectly balanced and the overall result was outstanding.
Course nine was a dish that I had been eagerly anticipating ever since I'd seen it featured on The Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It's called "Hot Potato" but it's described as "cold potato, black truffle, butter." And that's because it's both hot potato and cold potato. The hot potato portion is a little ball of well, hot potato, accompanied by a small piece of parmesan cheese, something I believe was a chive and a tiny cube of butter. All of this is on a pin, suspended above a paraffin bowl that contains creamy, truffle-infused cold potato soup. When you pull out the pin, the contents fall into the little bowl and the hot potato mixes with the cold. It's a fabulous mixture of classic flavors paired with unexpected textures and temperatures.
That's it for now, Mega Biters. We're half way through the meal! But there's still lots more creative deliciousness to come! I'll be back with the next nine courses, including one of the best things I ever ate -- dessert at Alinea!