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Could I interest you in dessert?
November 26, 2012 5:57 PM   Subscribe

Chef Grant Achatz plates the final dessert course at Alinea. Or perhaps you'd prefer the chocolate pumpkin pie or the edible balloon? Bon appetit!
posted by madamjujujive (51 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
How I yearn for the lost world where people had experiences that were unmediated by their ever-present cameras. What a fishbowl we've created for ourselves.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:07 PM on November 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Eating at Alinea is far more entertaining than it is actually tasty.
posted by eugenen at 6:10 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: What a fishbowl we've created for ourselves
posted by lalochezia at 6:11 PM on November 26, 2012


I'll take the edible balloon, that's pretty cool. But that big mess spread out on the table in the first video is not particularly appetizing. Do they have something against serving food on plates?
posted by beagle at 6:12 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not much for fine dining let alone experimental dining but I love how uncompromising they seem to be about their passion and craft. Inspiring stuff for any creative and entrepreneurial person.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was pretty amazed by how dull the "plating" of the dessert was. If you're going to have a 7+ minute shtick, the least you could do is have some patter to go with your lack of platters.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:18 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


the edible balloon is a formal masterpiece, and genuinely beautiful.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:19 PM on November 26, 2012


How I yearn for the lost world where people had experiences that were unmediated by their ever-present cameras.

There's a case to be made for that, but dessert at Alinea is not it. This is far, far more about the performance art than it is about what you're actually tasting.

This is stunt food.
posted by mhoye at 6:21 PM on November 26, 2012


I thought stunt food was all those idiots who tried to eat, very quickly, pure cinnamon in large amounts?
posted by sendai sleep master at 6:23 PM on November 26, 2012


This is far, far more about the performance art than it is about what you're actually tasting.

I also think plays, concerts, and performance pieces are best enjoyed unmediated by cameraphones.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:24 PM on November 26, 2012


I bet he was really pissed about the blueberry that dropped into the puddle of chocolate about 4 minutes in.
posted by cromagnon at 6:36 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought the show aspect was pretty cool, though so terribly shot. Makes me want to go there and offer to shoot the thing with a three camera setup, one of them overhead on a jib arm the whole time. As long as I get to eat at that stuff on the table afterwards...
and all the other tables around me.
posted by matt_od at 6:41 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Something I've never quite grasped, is why people reject this style of cuisine so vehemently. Very few are on the fence about this kind of thing; either one is intrigued or repelled.

I'm on the intrigued side. I feel making an art out of cooking, pushing boundaries and privileging creativity can make for an excellent dinner.
posted by elwoodwiles at 6:44 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]




Having eaten at Alinea, and Next, I can assure you that the food is out of this world delicious.
posted by gsh at 6:48 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


So much fun. I'd totally save up for a meal like that. I'm usually with the anti-camera folks (can't imagine anything more tacky at a fancy restaurant than pulling out your phone to take snapshots) but at $210 a person, I can see wanting photographic evidence.

Probably not of the ramps, though.

Grant Achatz has no sense of taste.

The article says his sense of taste came back slowly after the radiation and chemotherapy.
posted by mediareport at 6:49 PM on November 26, 2012


The silicone table mat in the first video has a sub-millimeter square grid imprinted into it. The various sauces form different shapes according to their viscosity. I didn't notice the first couple of times, but the orange sauce drops off the spoon and forms a square. That's pretty awesome.
posted by cromagnon at 6:54 PM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Eating at Alinea is far more entertaining than it is actually tasty.

eugenen, is this based on recent experience? The one time I dined at Alinea was right after they opened in 2005, but at least at that time, my experience was that the food (and wine pairings) were equal parts delicious and impressively/creatively presented; the circuses did not overwhelm the bread during that meal at all. They might have changed in the past seven years of course, and I don't have the $300 or so per head (with wine, tax, and tip) find that out right now.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 6:54 PM on November 26, 2012


I've had a handful of super-expensive dinners. I would probably rank a ridiculous 12-course holiday meal with wine pairing at Daniel as the best among them. I really wanted to enjoy these videos, and I did, but I also found them ridiculous.

Then I remembered, it's easy to find something ridiculous if you're not actually there. I think part of what makes fine dining so amazing is how much information your mouth can give you, how personal this individual experience can be, and yet you share it with others sitting at your table. You can record none of this other than with your mind.

Having said that, I have to admit that presentation always counts for something. How far you are willing to take this I guess, is a matter of taste. Whether presentation is primary or secondary to the fine dining experience I suppose is at the crux of this debate.

What I do know is I'm not into long, masturbatory monologues from the waiter. If you're going to serve my dessert as a balloon and then tell me how I should eat it, don't say things like "the tag thing is edible." And leave the ridiculous zoot suit at home.
posted by phaedon at 6:55 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The edible balloon was charming and delicious: green apple ...air held aloft by an edible apple-flavored string. The dessert was served, as were many previous courses, off an acupuncture needle.

That white chocolate globe miasma thing got tired fast. After a meal of relatively small, essence-packed courses, this final one spread out before us like an unfordable river. It exploded the compactness and pacing of the rest of the meal.
And tastewise, slightly eew: aside from SO being philosophically against white chocolate, we were both skeptical about powdered green peas holding up their end of a dessert. They don't quite reconcile with the similarly chalky astronaut strawberries. And its tricky (less fun than previous courses) to eat-the liquid nitrogen ends up ice-burning your fingertips. But, the aesthetic qualms i laid out make for quite the artistic statement to round off a fantastic (not gonna say once in a lifetime yet) meal.
N.B. Alex Stupak, Alinea's original pastry chef who laid a lot of this crazy dessert groundwork, left abruptly a few years ago.
posted by obscurator at 6:57 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alex Stupak is another great Chef working in the Modernist mode. I think his food is much more down to earth, even with all the techniques. This video is one of my favorite bits of food porn. (Warning: Link Contains no Porn.)
posted by elwoodwiles at 7:10 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]




As a Chicagoan, I've always been a bit bothered by Alinea. I mean, it's cool to know that there's a place where you can get top-grade food performance art, but the $300 price tag just reminds me that I could probably eat 25 top-grade meals at Chicago's ethnic restaurants and come out with a significantly better appreciation of artisan food.

And, let me tell you, there's absolutely NOTHING like eating a $5 Indian meal off a metal tray. The experience is absolutely delightful. Even if Alinea were just as delicious, I would come out of the meal unsatisfied, knowing that it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer sincerity with which ethnic food can be prepared.
posted by LSK at 8:06 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I admit that in the first video as soon as I glimpsed the server's lank hair flopping all over the place as they flung those ingredients around and leaned out over the table I couldn't think of anything but hair dessert.
posted by carsonb at 8:12 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The chocolate pumpkin pie was really dramatic and fun. I agree that the first video seemed to lack pace and theatricality - as performance. I'm glad someone mentioned the "silicone table mat," because I was trying to figure out what the heck this table surface was that was clean enough to eat from at the end of a meal. I've been reading about Achatz for years. Great to see some of his dishes.

The balloon is beautiful, a work of art.

Thanks mjj!
posted by Miko at 8:49 PM on November 26, 2012


I took my wife out for the whole at Alinea - a 17 course tasting menu with wine pairing. Yes, it was food porn. Yes, it was equal parts dinner and performance art. And yes, we were both fairly shitfaced by the time that Grant Achatz came out and schmeard all sorts of goop on our silicone tablecloth (including menthol, for some odd reason). Achatz didn't really say anything or even look us in they eye. He rang my clinical instinct as slightly "on the spectrum" in that savant kind of way. He accepted our thanks quietly and with barely a hint of a smile (or maybe a grimace) and was gone.

People can pooh-pooh it, it was a remarkable way to spend an evening - a full sensory experience. And if I have a spare kidney to sell, maybe we can afford it again sometime.
posted by scblackman at 8:54 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


(That is to say ... "the whole Megillah ...")
posted by scblackman at 9:03 PM on November 26, 2012


I hate the people who eat at these places because half of them don't know anything about the blood/sweat/tears that goes into creating these works.

I hate the people who cook these because all they make is variations on comfort food, chocolate chocolate chocolate, in order to please aforementioned clientele.

Haute cuisine will never be a free art, if it is in bed with its patrons. For all his bombast, William Deresiewicz was right.
posted by polymodus at 9:05 PM on November 26, 2012


I eat a lot of food and I go to a lot of restaurants and I still count my dinner at Alinea as one of the best meals I've ever had. I had this dessert course (or at least one incarnation of it) and yeah you really have to be there to understand the appeal. They roll out the mat and start placing sauces and pieces in artful arrangements and then that mousse brick comes out and they smash it...it's a performance and not something you'll experience at any other restaurant. And then the act of actually eating the course, which was very much a communal act with your friends (telling each other what was good, how to pair what with which sauce, etc). It was sorta like playing with your own food and there's a kind of joyful, childlike feel to eating it.
posted by rq at 9:11 PM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


And, let me tell you, there's absolutely NOTHING like eating a $5 Indian meal off a metal tray. The experience is absolutely delightful. Even if Alinea were just as delicious, I would come out of the meal unsatisfied, knowing that it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer sincerity with which ethnic food can be prepared.

I don't understand this urge people have to denigrate expensive tasting menus like the one served at Alinea. I don't understand how Achatz is being less sincere than the chef of your $5 meal. Both of them, I assume, care about improving their craft and providing the best possible meal to the diner. The only real difference is that Achatz has chosen to explore new techniques to preparing and presenting food. He's chosen to hire the best possible chefs and servers, and he chooses to constantly innovate and update his menu instead of settling on four or five fixed dishes that are good but could potentially be surpassed. This is why you're paying $400 instead of $5. Are the meals at Alinea 80 times better? No. But if you're interested in good food (or you're rich enough that $400 isn't much to you), then Alinea represents a unique and memorable experience. It's the same reason people go skydiving even though there are probably more cost-effective ways of getting thrills.
posted by rq at 9:42 PM on November 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


The experience is absolutely delightful. Even if Alinea were just as delicious, I would come out of the meal unsatisfied, knowing that it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer sincerity with which ethnic food can be prepared.

How many truly top shelf tasting menus have you experienced? Because I've had some and, while they are expensive, I gotta tell you the $5 worth of sincerity does not compare flavor and beauty wise.
posted by Justinian at 12:36 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And, let me tell you, there's absolutely NOTHING like eating a $5 Indian meal off a metal tray. The experience is absolutely delightful. Even if Alinea were just as delicious, I would come out of the meal unsatisfied, knowing that it couldn't hold a candle to the sheer sincerity with which ethnic food can be prepared.

This is just reverse snobbery. As a person who grew up on "ethnic" food because it was part of my culture and was lucky enough to dine in Alinea, I find this statement as condescending as Mitt Romney.
posted by peripathetic at 12:48 AM on November 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I waited nearly eight minutes for the moment when the guys in the suits and dicky-bows and their classy women in their expensive gowns got down on all fours and started licking the table cloth like hogs.

Now I just feel robbed!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:57 AM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


For a foodie like me, I find this quite amusing and actually wanna try it. If ever I am in Chicago, I'd definitely consider Alinea.
posted by LittleMissItneg at 1:59 AM on November 27, 2012


Sometimes, it seems creative people get to a place where they try too hard, and originality becomes an end to itself. I think this desert all over the table is a fine example. If I had been sitting there, I'd have been rather inpatient. Presentation is fine and dandy, but I'm suspicious when it becomes the main ingredient. I guess smearing chocolate on the table is lots easier than coming up with a new and exciting dish that stands on its own merit.
posted by Goofyy at 2:38 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been to Alinea once, and I can say that the presentation was excellent and indeed something of a spectacle, but the taste of the food was less spectacular. Some courses really hit it out of the park, while others were either just very good or underwhelming. The salt levels were especially irregular, I found, with some courses hitting the tongue like a bouillon cube. To be honest, I'd much rather eat at Schwa or L20 any day (if I still lived in Chicago).

I was also disappointed with the sommelier at the time (this was about 2 years ago), who seemed to be stoned and talked to us like we were his high school buddies. When you've been saving up to blow more than 200$ per person not including the drinks, you expect a sommelier whose vocabulary extends beyond "awesome."
posted by LMGM at 4:36 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm with LMGM. I went to Alinea a couple of years ago, and I was underwhelmed. To be fair; I grew up with a master chef who trained in Paris, so I'm perhaps a bit more of a food snob than many, and I visited the restaurant with a friend who no longer drinks, so we didn't do the wine pairing, which may have made a difference. Also, I have a problem with pretentious and twee; both of which we got in spades from our server.

If I had to choose only one Molecular Chef; I think Willy Dufresne has a much better restaurant; because I think the focus at WD50 is food rather than show.

That said; I'm fascinated by molecular gastronomy, and I'm really happy that restaurants like Alinea exist to give people a glimpse into the strange brains behind some of these creations. But I am unlikely to ever give up 6 hours and $300 to do it again, especially in a town like Chicago which has world class restaurants on every corner. (Now, if I could just find the tiny little Polish place I accidentally wandered into; best Polish food I've ever had; and my grandfather's family were from Poland. They had a potato sausage that was the most amazing creation of crispy outside and tender creamy inside...2 years later, and I have a much better memory of the food at that tiny 4 table neighborhood bistro.)
posted by dejah420 at 6:04 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alinea doesn't sell meals, they sell experiences, and in many cases, long forgotten childhood memories. If that sounds twee or silly to you, then don't go.
posted by felix at 6:39 AM on November 27, 2012


felix: " If that sounds twee or silly to you, then don't go."

I fail to understand why you are so defensive. I gave my impression. If yours is different, so be it. (Long forgotten childhood memories? What; edible balloons just like grammy used to inflate?)
posted by dejah420 at 6:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine ever spending the money to eat at Alinea, but I did go to Achatz's bar, Aviary, which does this sort of thing with cocktails. Some were better than others, and, like most fancy cocktail places I've tried, almost everything was much too sweet. But it was worth it for the old fashioned in the rocks, where the drink is served inside a globe of ice that you get to smash. It was a fun gimmick and also very tasty.

I definitely could have done without the pretension, though, which was thick enough in that place that you could have cut it with a knife. And I'm not talking about nerdy foodie pretension or hipster obscure cocktail ingredient pretension, but plain old-fashioned rich people's are-you-sure-you-have-enough-money-to-be-here? pretension. Very offputting, although I suppose I should have expected it.
posted by enn at 6:53 AM on November 27, 2012


eugenen, is this based on recent experience? The one time I dined at Alinea was right after they opened in 2005, but at least at that time, my experience was that the food (and wine pairings) were equal parts delicious and impressively/creatively presented; the circuses did not overwhelm the bread during that meal at all. They might have changed in the past seven years of course, and I don't have the $300 or so per head (with wine, tax, and tip) find that out right now.

I ate there a little more than a year ago. People's mileage varies, of course; it may just be that my fine dining tastes run more traditional than others'.
posted by eugenen at 6:59 AM on November 27, 2012


don't say things like "the tag thing is edible."

I think he said "the entire thing is edible." Which, when you've served someone a balloon for dessert, is probably useful information.
posted by ook at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


ook makes an important point ... in the handful of meals of this type I have eaten, there has always been at least one item presented about which it is not clear whether you can eat it, should eat it, or -- if so -- how you are intended to eat it. For example, at this epic meal at Moto, which is another Chicago entry in the field of experimental dining, our first course consisted of what looked like -- and were described as -- Styrofoam packing peanuts. The waitstaff offered no hints, and stood there like Willie Wonka, daring us to eat them, or not. It was not your typical restaurant experience. (As it turned out, the "packing peanuts" were very much edible and tasted fine with a glass of champagne.) At that dinner, we also got the chef to create a lovely new dish, Raccoon Road Kill, using an ingredient one of our party brought along in a Tupperware bowl; this actually got press in Time magazine, and I think Moto was serving a variation of that lovely creation for several years, although perhaps now they've moved on (it was definitely one of those dishes where the presentation outshone the flavor, although not because of the raccoon, which is actually a pretty tasty critter.)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that fun link, JimInLoganSquare - the photos of the meal are fascinating, particularly the raccoon dish, which is is a hoot. That looks like a great site overall, a keeper and a good reference for whenever I next make it to Chicago.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:21 AM on November 27, 2012


I have eaten at both Alinea and Moto. I found the food to be amazing in both cases, and the show was memorable.

There are a lot of people saying its not worth it. But a meal at a steakhouse, claim jumper or olive garden is going to run you $30-40 a person. $60 with two drinks. Was the experience 4x as good as a steakhouse, definitely.

But it wasn't even an incremental improvement over the steakhouse, it was a lifetime experience. This is a five to 6 hour evening out with drinks, food and a playful show presented by the 2nd best chef and 3rd highest rated restaurant in the the US. And it cost less than a broadway ticket.

If anything it's cheap.
posted by darkfred at 3:57 PM on November 27, 2012


The length of the presentation reminded me of the scene in Amadeus where Mozart is like "Guess, Your Majesty. lmagine the longest it could be sustained... then double it."
posted by lubujackson at 7:30 PM on November 27, 2012


The really telling thing here: This is Metafilter. 46 comments, yet not one person has used the word "decadent". 6 hours for a meal? That's the time between two meals. I hate spending half that time sitting in a restaurant. I got quite irate last time I had a set-menu on New Year's Eve, and it became clear they intended the meal to last to midnight. Haven't been back to that place since, mores the pity (one of the finest places in an upscale location, with atmosphere that requires a building hundreds of years old).
posted by Goofyy at 11:13 PM on November 27, 2012


Telling of what, exactly?
There is nothing inherently wrong with decadence. For some having a six hour meal is a terribly enjoyable experience.
posted by flaterik at 2:30 AM on November 28, 2012


If it were a six hour straight play by a leading director and playwright in a widely respected theater, would you say the same?

This is a form of cultural entertainment, not a utilitarian hunger satisfaction exercise.
posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on November 28, 2012


For me, something like this isn't just about "a meal." It's the whole package - the overall sensory experience, which encompasses the ambiance, the food, the presentation, the creativity, the company, the self-indulgence. I wouldn't mind watching someone create a dessert like that at the table over seven minutes any more than I might mind watching a musician or a painter ply their art for that amount of time. It sort of reminded me of a sand painting - so ephemeral.

Is six hours too long for a totally sensuous immersion? It wouldn't be for me, on occasion. I can totally get why it wouldn't be to everyone's taste.

What Foci for Analysis said about the passion rang true for me, and I liked elwoodwiles phrase about "privileging creativity." I watched some of Alinea's videos on their YT channel and the amount of imagination, thought, work, dedication, and preparation involved is pretty astonishing.

Believe me, I would also love the $5 Indian meal off a metal tray. But that's apples and oranges. There's nothing I love more than the downhome blues, it doesn't get any more real than that -- but that doesn't man I can't love a classical concert too, and I don't doubt the sincerity of the performers for the difference they bring to the art.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would just be disappointed that I the diner couldn't smash the things.
Let ME drop my chocolate thing! Let ME smash the mousse bricks!
The waiters get to do the fun parts most of the time, it seems.
posted by rmless at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2012


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