Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review: Tru

This is the last in a trio of Chicago reviews from the spring, and after consecutive nights at Topolobampo and Alinea, it’s hard to imagine a third restaurant being able to compete for a place in memory in such lofty company. Tru, however, was more than up to the task on this, a second visit in three months. In fact, the Chef’s Collection menu was the perfect way to cap off a weekend in a perfectly classic, creative manner.

Tru hasn’t lost its edge since opening a decade ago. The space is modern, with gorgeously tall ceilings, long black drapes, attractive art, comfortable chairs, and large tables. It is a dining room that evokes, in a twenty-first century sense, a grand feasting hall from the days of Beowulf. The décor provides a striking contrast to the cuisine but only if you fail to contemplate the menu’s larger design. The food at Tru, the brainchild of Rick Tramanto and now showing strong influence from hard-working executive chef Tim Graham, is classically French in orientation. For the most part. This is classicism reinvented in the best way, but there’s also a flash of Asian influence and a pinch of Tramanto’s skillfully executed Italian food.

Two amuse bouche started the evening. The first, a dollop of red wine gelée with duck confit on a raw leaf of a Brussels sprout. After that, a delightful tête de cochon complemented with a lentil salad and white truffle powder.

As usual, the meal started on an Asian note, with a trio of sashimi-grade fish served with both regular and a white soy sauce, which provides a more mellow edge and allows the fish — as fresh as it gets — shine through. The breadth shown in these first three small courses showed the care of each creation. And it set the stage for the stunning array to come.

Next came a frog leg, crusted and fried, balanced on a cube of finely cubed carrot. Inside the bowl were dollops of roasted garlic puree in which the servers poured a watercress soup. It would be easy to miss the whimsical presentation of this dish: with the roasted garlic “eyes” poking out of the green soup, it simultaneously evokes a frog staring back at you and a lily pad. It is a light dish that drives home the creativity of the kitchen.

From Tru

A second soup follows, and it is one of the most inspired, pure dishes you’ll find anywhere. Fundamentally, it is French onion soup, but it is reinvented here in the best tradition of culinary imagination. In the middle of the bowl, a scoop of gruyere custard that rests on top of a puree of caramelized onions. Jutting out is a translucent slice of toasted bread. This is bathed in a sea of beef bouillon that has a subtle gruyere flavor to it. A common, always-comforting dish takes on a refined quality with deeply concentrated flavors.

From Tru

Tramanto’s Italian side shows in the third course, a potato gnocchi with the texture of pillows, complemented by sautéed spinach, a hint of caraway, and a mustard crème. The supporting ingredients are relatively subtle, allowing the triumph that is gnocchi perfection shine through.

From Tru

The next three courses were remarkable for an interesting reason: the one that stood out, on paper, was the most pedestrian. First, a diver scallop topped with a slice of seared foie gras. Foie gras needs a sweet complement, which the scallop provides naturally. It’s a marvelous combination, given earthy undercurrent from white bean puree and bubble of smoke gel.

From Tru

Second was the standout: poached salmon. That’s right. Salmon. The fish was cooked in olive oil and displayed none of the dull flavor and pasty texture of farm-raised salmon. It came with long shavings of daikon radish and a star-shaped piece of granny smith apple. It sat in a refreshing, light broth flavored with granny smith apple and a touch of coconut milk. It was a delightfully uplifting dish, perfectly prepared, that cut the richness of this trio of courses. Smoked trout roe added a salty touch, giving a final confirmation that this preparation was one of the most delicious and creative ways to present fish in recent memory.

From Tru

Third came an easy crowd pleaser, executed beautifully. It was a piece of rib cap — the fatty, marvelous outer edge of the ribeye — wrapped in prosciutto, served on top of a finely cubed Yukon gold potatoes prepared in a risotto style. The sauce was a simple reduction, enhancing the more delicate flavor of the rib cap, that provided a smoky edge (common on this meal) from paprika. On the side, a bit of whipped raclette that, when eaten with the potatoes gave the impression of a terrific gratin.

From Tru

The remainder of the meal was a bit of a winding down, trying to balance the intensely rich main courses. But that soft landing commenced only after the cheese course, which arguably is unmatched at any restaurant in the country. Each person gets to choose a handful from a selection of about a dozen cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk cheeses. They’re marvelous examples of craftsmanship, each delicious and refined. It is a course to be savored and celebrated. Tru’s generosity in presentation and service is laudable.

From Tru

To cleanse the palate came a “kir royale” in the form of a champagne granite and cassis gelée. It set the tone for a refreshing end to the meal. The dessert, not the expected chocolate decadence of Gale Gand, was a marvelous ode to passion fruit, featured in a sorbet and sponge cake and complemented by white chocolate, two small slices of naval orange, and a touch of vanilla. As an added bonus, the kitchen sent out a root beer float. No gimmick, no interpretation. Just a plain old root beer float that was terrific, sending you into the mignardises refreshed and surprisingly not feeling heavy.

From Tru

From Tru

To close, a special note on the wine. Chad Ellegood, the wine director, has a gift when it comes to the most difficult job of a sommelier. He can translate descriptions of wines the customer likes into a bottle on his list that matches both personal preference and the menu. It’s no easy feat. On this night, Chad outdid himself, pairing a subtle, stony white Burgundy with the first half of the meal and a stunning, remarkable red Burgundy with the second.

From Tru

The Maison Leroy Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 1999 steamrolled across the palate but maintained a distinct elegance about it. This enabled the wine to complement the lightness of dishes like the frog leg and watercress while providing enough power to stand up to the strong flavors. It was a white wine with balance, class, and strength. A masculine sensibility in a feminine profile.

The other wine was Domaine Leroy Clos Vougeot 1999. From the very first whiff in the glass, it was a treat and one of the best wines I’ve ever drunk. The elegance, balance, and stunningly velvety texture rode a wave of immense power. The red cherry fruit, sometimes veering toward cherry pie, lit up the palate, carving a boulevard down your tongue that allowed a world of complexity to follow. The long finish left a wake of fruit from the wine that twirled again into the sea of complex flavors. There was nothing simple about this wine, yet it was so eminently drinkable.

Both these bottles served as a stark reminder of the remarkable compatibility of food and wine. They are indispensible table mates, as at ease with one another as Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion turning a double play. The entire experience at Tru is one of practiced ease. Eating there allows you to be in the presence of people who are good at what they do, know it, have practiced it, and retain their passion for it.

From Tru

Monday, May 25, 2009

Amuse bouche: When good restaurants go bad

A couple friends have had negative experiences at favorite restaurants recently. This brings up an important question: What should a restaurant do when it screws up? Regardless of whether the establishment is somewhere you frequent, any proprietor should see to it that mistakes are swiftly corrected. Give you complementary dessert; comp the entree; toss you a gift certificate for your next visit. No matter what the restaurant and no matter what its price level, it ought to do something when they mess up. Sadly, it is all too common that when dining out mistakes beget little more than a grudging apology. The worst example I've experienced was at t'afia in Houston. A lamb entree ordered medium rare came out medium well or well done three times. Barely an apology. Nothing comped. When that happens, you have to wonder if it's so common the staff is numb to it. My response is taking my business elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wine of the moment: Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Reserve 2008

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc provides some of the most delicious, refreshing, tropical-tasting wines, usually at a bargain price. There's nothing better for summer, especially in Houston, where summer feels like being deep-fried in humidity. The Brancott Reserve 2008 is a textbook example of everything that's right about New Zealand SBs: citrus and tropical fruit, with a juicy edge to it, bright acidity that cuts even the most searing summer heat, and a finish that is clean and sails on. That's all for the bargain price of $14.49 at the Spec's downtown. This wine is reminiscent of Cloudy Bay in its heyday (although the 2008 Cloudy Bay sure is rocking, too). The ideal wine for summer -- and for anyone who is just starting to get into wine and wants something pleasing and easy to drink.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eating well at home

Guilty pleasures are not something to be ashamed of. The new 90210, for example. Real Housewives of Orange County. Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, or, how I learned to love a stripper. For the food-oriented among us, guilty pleasures probably include Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. While the BBC version qualifies as legitimate entertainment, the U.S. version, on Fox, is pure guilty pleasure. There is nothing wrong with occasional indulgence. Leave it to Fox to reduce a technically proficient chef to a caricature of his already colorful self. This tarted-up yet entertaining hour is like watching Mark McGwire on double the steroids.

No, there is a point here. Regardless of the cartoonish version of Gordon Ramsay shown in Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares, one of his core messages given to the restaurants on the program that is something home cooks should take to heart. This will be our starting point.

1. Simplify

On Kitchen Nightmares, simplification means cutting down the size of menus. At home, simplification essentially equates to cutting down the number of ingredients. That is, there is a tendency to add to a dish in order to fix it. Everyone has been guilty of this. I remember, years ago, tasting tomato sauce I had made, not quite liking it, and adding a litany of spices, chili powders, and the like. What the sauce needed, most likely, was just a little bit of salt. No, we are Americans, our reflex is for more. Bigger portions. Pushing the limit. We want five-pound burgers with twenty slices of cheese, a two-pound bun, a whole onion, dozens of pickles . . . no, in this country, we don’t have a concept of “enough.”

But when cooking at home, it is simplicity that acts as an essential guiding light. Subtraction is the road to flavor. Food Network has been a culprit of addition. Have you ever seen Guy’s Big Bite with Guy Fieri? A recent episode showed him make a frittata, which included, well, everything that might be considered Spanish or Mexican. Then, he popped it out of the baking pan, covered it in about a pound of cheese on each side, and sandwiched it between two large tortillas, creating a frittata quesadilla. Disgusting. Why not just let quality ingredients speak for themselves? Why create a mess of conflicting flavors — peppers, chorizo, onions, garlic, cheese — and top it off with the rich, overbearing flavor of cheddar cheese and crunch of tortillas. Instead, it would be better (and less confusing to the palate) to take away the gooey, crunchy mass of quesadilla coating the outside and let the flavors speak for themselves. It sounds counterintuitive to conventional wisdom, but subtraction in cooking actually is addition.

Jacques Pepin, in his terrific cookbook Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of Cook, discusses the “perfect meal.” He writes, “The meal is roast chicken served with a salad and boiled potato. It is straightforward, simple, and good when done properly . . . .” This meal incorporates a total of only ten ingredients: chicken, salt, pepper, white wine, chicken stock, lettuce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, potatoes, and butter. Eating this, you cannot help but be stunned by the depth and purity of the flavors. Watching friends have it for the first time, you can see them rediscovering the pleasure of simple food with each bite.

The basic point is this: you can add all the ingredients you want, but you aren’t going to develop compelling flavors unless you take the time to develop those flavors. It is better — and so much easier — to take a few flavors and truly develop them. Reduce cooking liquid enough to concentrate it. Buy a better quality chicken, cook it with care, and coax out the natural flavors. This might be asking too much of a society that goes for quick fixes like breast implants and the microwave. Dare to dream. Embrace simplicity, and it might help you with the second key for home cooks.

2. Comfort equals confidence

A dear friend recently said she thought cooking well at home was about confidence. The more comfort you gain with dishes, the more comfortable you got, and the better you can cook. This is profoundly true. Mastering basic techniques, simple combinations of ingredients, and executing them as skillfully as possible is a logical progression if you think about it. Platitudes provide reasonable support here: Run before you walk. Failure is not an option. Always give 110%. This merely is a controlled burn.

In other words, maximize your chances of success. You’re not going to dive into cooking and crank out homemade croissants or sweetbreads without building up to it. Unless you’re Julie Powell. Or insane. The basic point is that cooking, like anything else, is about starting with simplicity (see No. 1 above) and building up to more complex levels. For some reason, people often decide, “I want to cook,” so they begin by inviting over six or eight of their closest friends and try something new ambitious. Yes, do that . . . except the exact opposite.

3. So where do I start?

When you eat at home, you spend less on food and you eat more healthfully. You don’t get the added salt and fat from restaurants that are trying to impress you and put their best foot forward. That’s great sometimes but not feasible for an everyday existence to maintain something resembling average weight. So here’s an easy recipe that you can try one weekend to have a healthy, home-cooked meal that will build up your confidence. The chicken roasting method is that of Jacques Pepin. It is masterful. The salad is adapted from his recipe.

From Roast Chicken

Roasted chicken with green salad
1 chicken, whole, 3.5 pounds

1 head of Boston lettuce (or, really, any lettuce)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup white wine or dry vermouth
½ cup chicken stock
1 shallot, minced

From Roast Chicken

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Dust the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper. Put the chicken in, ideally, a large iron skillet (with a touch of oil in the bottom to keep the skin from sticking) or a low-sided baking or roasting pan. Place the chicken on its side. Roast for 20 minutes. Take it out of the oven, baste lightly with its own fat and juices, and turn over the chicken to its other side. Roast again for 20 minutes. Take it out, baste, and put the chicken breast-side up (the usual roasting position). Roast for a final 20 minutes. There. You have a perfectly roasted chicken. Take it out of the skillet and put it aside on a cutting board and let it rest while you make the sauce.

During the final 20 minutes of roasting, prepare your salad. Pull the leaves of the lettuce off whole, discarding any that are wilted or brown or otherwise undesirable. Fill your sink with plenty of cold water. Rinse the lettuce in the sink; this allows the dirt to sink to the bottom and not stick to the leaves. Dry lettuce in a salad spinner. Put the leaves in a large bowl, tearing them into smaller pieces if you prefer. In a small bowl, add the vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust the season accordingly. Add more vinegar or more oil for the desired tartness. Don’t dress the salad just yet.

With the skillet you roasted the chicken in, pour off all but a film of the rendered fat. Set this extra fat aside. Over medium-high heat, briefly sweat down the shallot. Add the wine, scraping up the browned bits of juice from the skillet. When the wine is almost all gone, add the chicken stock, salt, and pepper, as well as a tablespoon or two of the reserved chicken fat. Taste. Always taste! Adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes, while you cut up the chicken.

After the chicken is cut and put on a platter, pour over the sauce. Then, immediately, toss the salad with the dressing. Drizzle over a tablespoon or two of the chicken fat, allowing the flavors of the salad to marry with those of the chicken. Serve.

With about 20 minutes of active preparation time and perhaps 90 minutes of attention, you have a terrific, easy, healthful meal. This is the perfect roast chicken.

A note on cooking time: The recipe calls for a 3.5-pound chicken. What if you can’t find one? What if it’s 4 pounds? No matter. The cooking time is proportional. If it’s 60 minutes for 3.5 pounds, then 4 pounds requires one-seventh more cooking time, or roughly 8.5 minutes. Adjust each segment of cooking according – so, roughly 23 minutes before each turn.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Amuse bouche: A pet peeve on restaurant wine prices

You could go on for thousands of words about how much restaurants have let down their customers with their wine programs: high prices, limited selection (particularly in Texas), lists that bear no relationship to the food on the menu, etc. One complaint, however, jumps to the forefront. It's the price of wine by glass. Recently a friend went to Textile, which will be reviewed here later, and found a glass of Becker Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon for $12. Something didn't sound right about that, and it wasn't. Spec's here in Houston sells it for $8.29 a bottle. The winery sells it for $10.95 a bottle. So $12 for a glass? When the restaurant gets to purchase at wholesale prices? The only applicable word is outrageous. Making back the wholesale cost of the full bottle on the first glass alone? This has become, sadly, a common phenomenon -- restaurants charging the price of a bottle (or more) for a glass of wine. There's no reason for that. When there are prices like that on a wine list, go with water or iced tea instead. They don't deserve your business.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: Alinea

It’s hard to believe Alinea has been open in Chicago’s Lincoln Park for almost four years. Since months before its public debut, buzz followed chef Grant Achatz, who worked under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry from 1997 to 2001. After an acclaimed stint at Trio, Achatz spread his wings with Alinea. No number of superlatives can be added to those already floating out in cyberspace about this chef, who has risen to the ranks of the world’s elite all while battling and overcoming tongue cancer.

What can be added to the Alinea lexicon that already hasn’t been said? Consistent greatness over the long term, certainly, but only time allows for that. All I can add is this: Since I first heard of Alinea, I was skeptical. I had no deep-seated desire to go there. From reading reviews, looking at pictures, the thoughts that came to mind were “What the hell is this?” and “Molecular gastronomy is stupid.” Many early assessments of the restaurant, in particular, emphasized the gimmicks: scent-filled pillows, uses of aromas on the table to complement dishes, and seemingly eccentric or bizarre presentations of food.

Over time, however, as more opinions on Alinea came out, including those of some trusted friends, I began to wonder if maybe there wasn’t something more to it. Maybe the food was good. A couple years ago, my favorite comment about Alinea was, “I should go there every day for a month to see if it’s possible to pay $300 a night for dinner and still starve to death.” Then Food & Wine magazine published a charming profile of Achatz, where, for the first time, I got to see his philosophy illuminated in an honest form, not through the lens of a reviewer. And it’s then I realized that the reviewers maybe weren’t doing Alinea justice.

Fast forward. The opportunity presented itself to go to Alinea recently. It was the right time, the proper occasion. We decided to go, a party of three on a March Friday. I entered the doors an avowed skeptic, but one open to accepting the food on its own merits. Five hours and twenty-four courses later, I left realizing that my preconceptions of Alinea were the fault of inarticulate reviewers who choose to emphasize the glitz over the sheer classical structure and impressiveness of the menu. They tended to go for terms like “magic” and “the experience,” while letting the food seem a sideshow.

One thing is clear at Alinea: it is all about the food. Sure, there is plenty of whimsical presentation and fun had by Achatz and his brigade in the kitchen, but this food is firmly rooted in the classic methods; the menu is constructed in a faithful way that honors the tradition from which it springs forth.

From Alinea

The space is delightful, contemporary, warm, comfortable, and relaxing. The chairs live up to their reputation. The tables are large, allowing plenty of room to spread out, and are spaced far enough apart to create separation from other diners without feeling isolated. The service is impeccable, fully formal but with a casual friendliness that exists hardly anywhere. The level of knowledge and passion among the staff, who genuinely appear to enjoy what they’re doing, complements the passion that comes through on each plate.

Indeed, the experience is about the food, and this night’s Tour menu started out at the highest level and moved from strength to strength. (You don’t see a menu before the meal; you leave with a copy of it.) At each step, the wine stood with the food, enhancing it (no small feat given the breadth of flavors covered in the many courses). The first of twenty-four courses was hot potato-cold potato. It comes out on a wax oyster shell. In the shell is a cold potato soup, flecked with black truffle. On a pin sticking out of the shell, above the soup, is a ball of warm potato with a cube of cheese and large slice of black truffle. By removing the pin, the warm potato, cheese, and truffle falls into the soup, and you eat the entire thing in one bite, like an oyster. And it is at this moment you realize Alinea is not form over substance. The purity of the potato, the earthiness of the truffle, richness of the cream-laden soup, and temperature contrast put your focus precisely where it should be: on the food.

From Alinea

From that point, you just give yourself up to this intensely passionate, five-hour journey of classic execution taken to different creative heights. The highlights kept coming, too numerous to go in-depth, but worthy of at least noting. It is also impossible to do justice to these dishes with mere words or even photos:

From Alinea

Yuba, the solid film that forms on top of tofu, took on the texture and flavor of cracklings. It created a textural and flavor marvel wrapped with shrimp, miso, and togarashi.

One true standout was the cauliflower dish. Five cubes of cauliflower mousse, each with a different coating, ranging from cheese to bacon to nuts. It came with gels of nutmeg, vanilla, and almond. A pure, defined, and cool sauce of cider rounded out the dish, adding acidity and cutting through the richness. This marvelous preparation redefined a usually boring main ingredient.

From Alinea

The wild striped bass was one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of fish you can imagine, covered in a chamomile film that actually added little to the overall dish but gave a compelling visual touch. At this point, without a menu as a guide, a genuine feeling of anticipation and wonder preceded each course. What possibly could top what just appeared?

The wagyu beef was gorgeous for, quite surprisingly, its freshly made A-1 “powder.” Achatz researched the original A-1 recipe, dating to the 19th century, and created a powdered version of it in, presented in a packet with the plate. It worked remarkably well with the beef, overshadowing even the potato-chip crusted piece of fine pureed, almost cheese-like (because of its rich texture) potato.

From Alinea

To this point, the meal had followed a fairly traditional tasting menu layout. The eighth course featured chestnuts, and this was one of the forays into a common ingredient from traditional menus that usually plays a supporting role. Instead, Achatz takes a frolic and features it on its own, to brilliant effect. Here, a whole chestnut comes with chocolate and a baked potato ice cream that in taste and texture tasted so like a baked potato, it made you think you were eating in Willy Wonka’s Factory.

From Alinea

Perhaps the bite of the night, however, came as course eleven: a frozen combination of Dijon mustard and passion fruit. Initially, a pure flavor of passion fruit hit your tongue, like a perfect sorbet. Then, cutting off the finish of the fruit, came a sharp surprise of mustard. It’s difficult to explain how this works and why it works so well. More than any other flavor of the evening, it demonstrated how Alinea can force you to rethink food and appreciate it in new ways.

The least successful course was an oyster perched on a stalk of lemongrass, garnished with sesame and yuzu. It was interesting to see how the lemongrass imparted a subtle, meaningful flavor on the finishing flavor of the course, but overall it didn’t come together like the others.

From Alinea

On the heels of the lemongrass, though, were three courses that more deeply impressed the meal to memory. First, lobster tail, showing no signs of chewiness, served on an undulating plate with small bowls at either end. One bowl contained clarified butter suspended in a gel capsule, exploding when pierced with a fork. The other showcased a touch of curry. Across the bottom of the plate, liquefied popcorn, a whimsical take on the lobster-butter combination. Second, a slice of Iberico ham served over sticks of salsify fried and texturally perfect, giving them the feel of French fries, hazelnut, and smoked paprika. This legendary Spanish ham is fed on acorns, giving it a rich, beef-like sensibility; a slice had been presented as a table decoration at the start of the meal. Initially frozen, it looked like a flower petal before transforming slowly into the deep red of this marvelous cured meat. Third, the famous “truffle explosion.” It is a small ravioli filled with black truffle tea. It is the concentrated archetype of truffle flavor. So simple in its profile yet so inventive in its conception.

From Alinea

From Alinea

Moving into the dessert courses, there was a constant interplay of sweet and savory that refocused the meaning and scope of a meal’s sweet finish. But this isn’t experimentation for its own sake; it is a dramatic rethinking and expansion of flavor combinations that work. The care and thought that has gone into the creation of these dishes is transcendent.

Prior to the parade of desserts and at the end of the meal, there were two powdered courses. First, “grape soda.” It came in a clear packet, looking more like drugs than a bite of food. But pop it into your mouth, and what explodes is the perfect expression of grade soda, complete with effervescence. The closing bite? A shot of powdered caramel, mixed with a bit of sea salt. It’s all the pleasure of the finest caramel, without anything sticking to your teeth.

From Alinea

Throughout the meal, the service was impeccable, if slightly different than at most restaurants of this stature. The waiters have fun with the food. Their joy in explaining the presentation and, when necessary, telling you how to eat a dish, comes with genuine passion that matches the lovingly created food. The staff was invisible yet omnipresent. Their moves choreographed in a practiced dance that enhances the experience while simultaneously putting diners at ease.

In addition, the wine selections deserve special applause. Pairing eleven different wines to complement such a diverse menu takes a major feat of knowledge and imagination. All the wines went admirably well with the food. The non-vintage H. Billiot Brut Rosé made for a refreshing start, while also cutting through the richness of the hot potato, cold potato and the fried yuba. The same contrast of richness and freshness showed in the Rudi Pichler Grüner Veltliner, paired with the cauliflower, and the standout white Crozes-Hermitage Les Meysonniers 2007 from Michel Chapoutier.

From Alinea

There wasn’t a discernable progression from white to red wines over the course of the meal, another indication that Alinea refuses to follow conventions. Instead, everything is dictated by what is best for the food, and it shows the desire to have wines that complement each course. A somewhat rich yet mineral-laden Muscadet from the Loire (Chereau-Carré’s Comte Leloup de Chasseloir, Ceps Centenaires 2003) simultaneously masqueraded as a rich White Burgundy with the lobster while also undercutting the buttery dish with acidity. A rare thirty-year-old Amontillado Sherry from Bodegas Tradicion, served with the Iberico ham, demonstrated that traditional pairings are sometimes the best.

The pours were sensible, giving you the equivalent of a bottle of wine over the course of a five-hour meal, but the service was generous in refilling your glass further if you like. All wines are charged by the ounce, so you’re given complete control over how much you consume, and they are accommodating to those who wish to drink smaller amounts. Like everything else, there is great attention to detail and thought put into the wine program at Alinea. There’s really no reason to order off the list, though it is substantial, because the pairings shine so admirably.

From Alinea

Alinea leaves you with a different impression than its popular reputation. This is food that is firmly within the classical tradition; the progression of Achatz from his French Laundry days to Alinea is easy to see once you eat there. The presentation and use of molecular gastronomy all is subservient to the food and the purity of the ingredients. It is a tour de force of culinary delight that, while perhaps too much for weekly enjoyment, is the ultimate celebration.