I had to wake up to deal with my chicken stock, and now it's dealt with. Strained and defatted and cooled...and now resting in the freezer. Just over a gallon of finished product, tho I started with nearly 12 quarts of water. The house smells like a really, REALLY good deli. So I'm not climbing back into bed, instead, I figured I should catch up on the blog.
October was a very twisted month. *sigh* Evidenced by the fact that I had TWO saturdays off. Dos, Due, Deux. Saturdays! OFF! I can still barely wrap my head around it.
Calm before the storm, you can be assured of that... I'm already booked for 2 weekends in november and three dates in december.So, let me give you a play-by-play. (but, since this is a diary, it's more like giving ME a play-by-play and you can read it if you want, or click on the Next Blog button up on the right.)
So you read about the Chicago food orgy. The first night of three was at Topolobampo. It was very interesting, and we were very pleased with the menu in general. Kelly surprised me by ALSO going with the tasting menu, and surprised me again by going with the wine pairings as well. Without dissecting it course-by-course, I'll say that much of it was imaginitive for the fact that it's a restaurant on par with Border Grill here in Santa Monica. My favorite was the "roasted soup" topped with fried beet chiffonade, that had those lovely little smoked scallops in it. Many of the pairings were good, but a couple were just off. I paid close attention to the platings, and took photos of every course. Thing is, I haven't figured out how to get the pix off my new camera-phone yet... so that will have to wait. One of those pics shows Chef Rick Bayless sampling the tasting wines! hee hee. but it's not like he came over and did the celebrity chef thing. He snuck in and snuck back out. He dashed through the dining room and dashed back out in street clothes.
A funny realization: I asked for a menu at all three places, and the presentation of the menu was directly related to the finesse of the restaurant. Topolobampo gave me one folded up, in a business envelope. Initially it turned out to be the wrong one! I pointed it out, and they replaced it, but it was simply that lack of focus and attention that seemed to permeate the whole experience. They ignored the details.
Day 2 was at Alinea. To eat at Alinea is to experience a touch, a hint, a whisper of what it must be like at El Bulli. It was a great experience. The room was understated and sophisticated. The chairs were really comfy. And good thing: we were in them for nearly five hours! I was really nervous, and when I'm that freaked out I make jokes. I had the waiters stifling laughs, and even Kelly cracked up a couple of times. I didn't opt for pairings this time, because of the sheer cost of it, but even the slightest buzz would have detracted from the experience. Everything was weird and cool and fantastic. The service was on par with Charlie Trotters, but they were younger, hipper, and were far more personable. (Speaking of which: if I had a dime for every time we heard the name Charlie Trotter uttered in that place, I could have afforded the wine pairings... ) I think a good way to describe the vibe is that Trotters' servers were more like docents at a museum: a little too severe, and a little over the top in formality. Alinea's servers were more like guides at a zoo, and I swear that is a compliment: They were more lighthearted about the task, even seeming to enjoy themselves a bit, and that made for a more relaxed vibe. After all, who's got the better job, the guy who's supposed to watch that you don't stick your finger into the oils of a Seurat, or the guy who's in charge of minding the hands-on exhibit of crested basilisks? I pick the lizard guy.
Oh, yeah, the food! Alinea is everything I'd hoped it would be. We wound up with a really early reservation, which is fine, because we knew we were opting for the 25 course menu. OK, yes, it's really 25 courses, but most of them were single bites to be savored. Many times, we weren't even given a fork, things came to us on long sticks wrapped in a napkin, and we just took the morsel off of that. I didn't get the PBJ I'd read about, and that made me a bit sad, but there were some really interesting things. Again, I took photos of everything, and now I've just got to wait until I find time (HA!) to put them up somewhere. Let's see. My favorites were the Duck Skin, the Bison, the frozen mango with sesame oil and bonito flakes. OH god, and there was a pheasant dish that blew my mind. The presentations were spectacular, and most everything was delicious (yes some things were just wierd, like the apple and foie gras thing, it was something that really seemed as though someone was thinking, "hey, we've got this antenna thing that we used before, what are we going to stick on it this season?" Overall, though, a lovely experience, and if you've got 5 hours and a few hundred bucks to blow, you should totally go for it. I would love to go back there in the spring. In fact, it's so interesting and fascinating, I would totally consider doing a stage there... but if I thought about it, I would have to shut down the business for a few months. It's far more likely that I'd fly to Chicago simply to experience the spring menu. (yeah, because I'm made of money...) Oh, I forgot to mention: Kelly dropped that I'm a chef, and one of the host-guys offered us a "tour" of the kitchen. It looked more like a science lab than a kitchen. It was all open, nothing was higher than waist level away from the walls. Also, there was no walk-in. Everything was in refrigerated storage under the counters. Most of the cooking was done on induction. Then there was the freezer thingy that froze stuff solid in a matter of seconds. I want one of those! The Alinea menu was a version made especially for giving away. It presented unfolded, printed on cool translucent paper, and inserted in a black envelope. Each line has a circle icon next to it to indicate the size of the course. See? Attention. Down to the last detail.
OK, more later, I have to go cook for someone, and I scheduled an 11am start time, since it's halloween. I wanna get out of there and off the streets before dark!
Last thing I ate or drank: Please tell me I' m not the only one who picks at the bones from her chicken stock...
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