Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kejserens nye klæder (Emperor's new clothes)


1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-0110

The restaurant remind me of Kejserens nye klder (Emperor's new clothes)I was very excited to dine at Alinea but I was extremely disappointed...It was one of the worst dining experience I ever had. I cannot express how awful it was in words but I'll try...

1. The restaurant suggests formal attire (Jacket / no jeans) however their atmosphere did not match the dress requirements. It was very casual in a bad way. When the hostess took us to our table, I asked her if we were at a waiting room / cocktail room before getting moved to the main dining room, but it was our actual table to experience our Tour - 24 courses. I also noticed that because of the way the tables were set up and bad ventilation, I could smell everyone else's food in the dining room.

2. The chef added emphasized elements of scents to some of the dishes which were overpowering and not well composed. For example, he put a full branch of mint in an outer bowl of a dish and the server poured hot water on top of it at the table side.

The mint scent was so strong and overwhelming that it not only destroyed the great soup but also lingered through the next 3 courses served. I could also smell the mint every time someone else in the room received the dish. I could smell the mint before the hot water was poured, I do not understand why he wanted such a strong sent with a dish. I saw the chef Grant Achatz speaking about importance of scent on video. (http://videos.howstuff/)

3. The chef put more effort to create a dish which is "different" than "great tasting". Yes some of the dishes such as Ice Fish were beautifully presented, but flavor composition and balance did not follow the beauty.

I believe importance of proportion and balance of ingredients comes before plate presentation. In this dish a lot of mayonnaise was used as glue to make the dried fish stand up.

The Mayonnaise's rich taste was so overpowering that it killed other taste components of the dish.

Also for the wagyu dish, a thinly sliced (shabushabu thickness) beef was frozen by liquid nitrogen then hung on a wire until defrosted and cooked on top of the warm black truffle / potato.

I asked our server that other than the appearance, what does freezing the beef add to this dish. He said it was just a presentation for us to enjoy watching the beautiful beef melt and change appearance... Freezing meat usually let moisture out of the cells thus make beef dehydrated. I cannot see any good reason to freeze wonderful wagyu beef for just appearance...

4. Some dishes such as Bacon which was hanging on a wire were inedible. I understand why the chef coated bacon by butterscotch for this dish. Fattiness and saltiness DO go with sweetness (same idea as fois gras with fruit compote, duck confit with balsamic reduction, or honey baked ham...) but the balance is the key.. This dish was overly sweet and fatty, it was inedible.

5. Some of the guests were unacceptably loud and obnoxious. They were talking to us and other guests over other tables. We were minding our own business, but few other guests were drunk and yelled at us inappropriately several times. For example, our server presented a skewered dish served on a freestanding wire and told us to eat it without using hands. The male guests on the next table shouted "I wanna see you eat it" (eating it with our mouth wide open without using hands / resembling a sexual act).

The dining environment was extremely uncomfortable so I asked our server if it was always same at the restaurant where the entire guests talk to each other. His answer was "our guest enjoy lively atmosphere and even Wolfgang Pack is eating with us tonight." The guests kept talking to each other over our table during whole dinner. I enjoyed neither the food nor the atmosphere. We told our servers to stop bringing last few courses. We left the restaurant without eating last 3 courses, paid for the entire "Tour", left over 15% tip and went out of the restaurant.
To be objective,
  • Visual presentation: 4.3 / 5 points
  • Innovativeness of dishes 5 / 5 points
  • Quality of ingredients 4.2 / 5 points
  • Scent 1 / 5 points
  • Taste of each component in a dish 2.8 / 5 points
  • Composition of flavor for the each dish 1.5 / 5 points
  • Flow of the courses 2 / 5 points
  • Wine (independently from food) 5 / 5 points
  • Wine choices (paired with each dishes) 3.2 / 5 points
  • Server's knowledge of food and wine) 3.9 / 5 points
  • Service (servers' customer service skills) 1.8 / 5 points
  • Atmosphere 1.4 / 5 points

Bottom line, I will not dine at Alinea even though they were at $40 per person (at 1/10 of the price point).

No comments: