Highest levels of inventiveness via modern cooking in three, separate dining areas. Upper quadrant of 3 Michelin starred venues providing an immaculate experience
This was frankly on another level and well worth the 7 hours on the train from Kansas to Chicago in order to have the quality of this meal. This is my 19th 3 Michelin starred restaurant to try and based on these so far, this was comfortably in the top quadrant of these based on the purity of some old favourite flavours and the joy of the new at the same time. Things that shouldn’t have been possible were made possible and the fun experienced in the food was backed up and steered by utterly superb service. I shan’t be forgetting this meal in any hurry and I would say there are only a few of these sorts of places in the world. Overall bill worked out as £252.71 all in for food, wine, tax and tip which, in my view, for this kind of experience was a total no brainer.
First up, the menu was handed in the form of a crossword puzzle with the guest needing to try and find the dishes in the jumble. Frankly I lost interest in this as I was getting more concerned about getting the ‘stuff’, but this was a playful way to start the proceedings. Each dish had a name and so I will outline these as I found out their names at the end of the meal.
The amuse bouche came in the form of a hand-carved ice bowl and was called ‘Ice’. This was char roe, pineapple sorbet and passion fruit cream with citric gel on the side which you can probably just make out on the right side of the photo. This was a strong play of salt and sweet with clear thought to texture as well and was ultimately very refreshing. The glass of Montrachet was not as creamy as most I’ve had but it was young and was a very clear cut mouth wash for the sweet langoustine and salty roe.
Next came ‘Crunch’ which was rouille & nori. The black cylinder of nori (Japanese seaweed) was tough but sweet and this was filled with a wonderful gooey interior and spicy concentration of the puree’d rouille (sauce of olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper). This was acoompanied by ‘Paper’ which was a crisp made out of langoustine with bouillabaisse sauce and olive oil. When the bouillabaisse was poured over the langoustine it turned the langoustine crisp in to perfectly made noodles whcih were sweet and refreshing. The bouillabaisse was perhaps the sweetest tomato based consomé I think I’ve ever had and the dish was clever and beautiful at the same time.
Next came a starter trio: ‘Contrast’ which was cider, orange & maple within a chestnut iced soup; ‘España’ was served with sherry vinegar foam, pear, paprika & jamón iberico and finally ‘Swirl’ was yuzu with apple and lemon balm inside. There were such delicate spices with the sweets of sherry vinegar foam and I particulalry loved the chestnut soup served with its chestnut ‘snow’ with jelly spices which was great for the senses. Perhaps this was the most wonderful savoury ice cream I’ve had. The only aspect I didn’t like particulalry was the Swirl, as I found the lemon balm much too sharp and acidic at the same time, but the texture of the yuzu was perfect.
The next dish was the ‘Thai Coconut’ which was brainchilded following a recent trip of the Alinea head chef to Phuket. The actual ingredients included pompano (a subdued form of mackerel), rambutan (sweet, lychee like fruit) and kuzu (vine like vegetable). Overall this was a dish that will remain in the memory banks as a knock out as it was the creamiest and lightest Thai fish curry one can think of, heightened by the Thai plants surrounding the bowl, which increased the senses as the nitrogen crystals allowed the aroma of the lemon grass scent to maximise the freshness of the dish. Essentially this was the most exquisite Thai green curry I have ever had, with Yuzu meringue and cucumber spheres that made it especially wonderful. It was spicier than expected but I forgot this would be utterly authentic at the same time (most western versions of classic Asian dishes are toned down in spice to cater for western Palates) and was frankly wonderful.
Next up was ‘Yellow’ which was pork belly pieces with curried banana. This was the most tender pork on record with spiced banana cream served with a creamy, soft saki. It’s rare to have genuinely new food experiences and this was one such moment and as crazy as it sounds, it was one of the finest combinations with the finest balances I think I have had on record. ‘Glass’ was essentially a mushroom dish with blueberry shards, lapsing souchong and the highly sought after Japanese maitake mushroom. This was vibrant and as clean as they come. ‘Branch’ was a biscuit made with the resin from mastic trees and was a pleasing snack to acoompany.
Next up was essentially a savoury orio called ‘Toast’ made out of gruyère cheese as the cream filling, a gel on top made out of black truffle and a pumpernickel biscuit base. Nothing really to not love about this, with the fragrant, creamy, pleasantness of this dish coming through in spades. The base had an utterly incredible crunch with the soft flavours coming through from each part.
Then came the main ‘Smoke’ of wagyu bone marrow meringue to be torched at the table which was toned to perfection as a creamy spicy soft snack. This was prior to the beef short rib itself which was delectably soft and possibly the most immaculate beef had as well. However, I found the aromats of the sauce difficult to enjoy here as the gel and jus of bitter cocoa and cassis were too agressive and strong to fully enjoy for me. That said, it was still an utterly unique dish. The red that accompanied was a light and a fair pairing with the beef itself.
The pre-dessert of ‘Rock’ looked exactly as if it was made with sweet potato, chocolate and miso. This was sweet, crunchy, salty, gooey, pleasant and nutty all at same time and I loved the perfectly judged chocolate inside the rock shell.
‘Nostalgia’ came in the form of bubbegum ice cream and cake with an edible banana sorbet and sherry shard on top which genuinely was a reminder of childhood done very well and with brilliantly powerful but not sharp banana sorbet. Then came a balloon to the table which was connected to a banana and and apple string. The balloon itself was bouncy sugar which I was instructed to give the balloon a kiss – the result was the sugar stuck to my lips and as I inhaled I realised that the balloon contained helium producing an obviouly fun moment. Although this was superb craftsmanship I actually found the sugar balloon itself a little too sticky as it pretty much clamped my jaws shut and was so so with flavour, but I loved the edible string and ultimately it was definitely one of the most imaginative desserts and dishes I have ever had. Finally a praline with edible gold was a lovely, simple bite to finish on.
All in all this was one of the finest meals I have had and the $274 (approx £220 at time of writing) for the food alone (incl tax and service) is something I would pay in my sleep for a meal of this nature. Some sublime dishes here with a couple of aspects I did not fully agree with, but overall, the quality of this venue was among the best you can get on this planet.
Food Review: 96%
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