A friend was coming into town, and since we had never met in person (welcome to the future), might as well make our first meeting as impressive as it could possibly be, right?
GRAFFITI - matsutake, maitake, parsley
We had a seating at 8:45, and we were originally planning to meet up at a nearby restaurant at 7:45 for drinks, having been warned by stephen_poon
that the wine pairings were excellent but simply too much food
, but said friend's boyfriend had apparently decided to wear jeans. Since Alinea had sent out an email with a dress code advisory that included jackets for men, he went off to buy some emergency pants and they didn't arrive at the pre-Alinea restaurant until ~8:30, much too late to get drinks. We did at least get in a round of hand-shaking and some chatting before we headed over, though.
We arrived right on time, walked into an unmarked grey building down an incredibly dim hallway lit by faint purple lights, then turned left into Alinea, which wasn't nearly as menacing as the preliminaries led me to expect. The hostess let us look into the kitchen, which was bigger than the rest of the restaurant (unless there were tables upstairs, which is possible), and then let us to our seats and the meal began.
TORORO KOMBU - hamachi, ice fish cracker; UNAGI - pickled plum, white sesame; CORN - miso, nori, togarashi
The first thing they asked us is whether we wanted to add an additional course--apparently the white truffles had come in, so they were offering a white truffle risotto shaved table-side for interested parties. For $125 a person, everyone at the table had to agree on it. The boyfriend and schoolpsychnerd
both delegated the decision to their respective SOs, and after a moment's consultation we decided that we would be fine with the regular menu. The waiter assured us that we would not be disappointed, and, well, he was right.
I say "the waiter," but there were actually four. Five if you count the guy who came in at the very end to dish out the final course, but he barely said anything and only showed up for a couple minutes. Otherwise, it was the best service I've ever had anywhere. New utensils with every course. People who went to the bathroom had their napkins taken and replaced. Water never ran below the halfway line. Every single course had an explanation of what was in it, a suggested way to eat it--especially imporant with the first course, which was a thin shell of satsuma filled with star anise liqueur, and the waiter was very adamant that we shouldn't try to eat half of it at a time--and explaining what they had changed for schoolpsychnerd
and I, since we requested no pork and no shellfish for probably obvious reasons.
I mean, unagi isn't kosher either, but there was a lot of pork they used (pork dashi, at one point), so we managed to avoid that, at least.
FOIE - duck, quince, borage; LEG - duck, persimmon, burning oak; BREAST - duck, grapefruit, cinnamon
Thirteen courses is a lot, even spread over three hours, and by the end of the night we were incredibly stuffed. It's a good thing we didn't get that white truffle risotto because I don't think that I would have been able to eat the desserts. Plural. There were three of them.
There was some concern that there wouldn't be enough food, since high-end restaurants have an occasionally-undeserved reputation for offering tiny plates for inflated prices. I know it's a bit hard to tell scale from those pictures, but each course was probably the size of a hipster restaurant's appetizers. Imagine ordering thirteen of those. I'm pretty sure that's enough food for anyone.
And it was amazing
. It's really hard for me to pick which course was my favorite, and if you asked I'd probably have to specify a different answer based on what category of favorite it is. For example, my favorite conceptually was the second dessert, which was green apple taffy that had been inflated with helium into a balloon. You ate it by removing your glasses and sticking your face onto the balloon, puncturing it, and eating it as it deflated.
My favorite in terms of taste was probably the duck trio pictured above. I really like duck.
TROPICAL FRUIT - rum, vanilla, kaffir lime
There was a menu at Alinea a year and a half or so ago that was explicitly Japan inspired, but schoolpsychnerd
and I didn't have (or felt that we didn't have) enough money at the time to go. Fortunately, it turned out that the tickets we got were pretty heavy on the Japanese influences anyway even if that wasn't the basis of the meal.
tl;dr: It was amazing
and I'd gladly go again. I'm not sure if it's the best meal I've ever eaten--schoolpsychnerd
and my wedding anniversary dinner at Hotel Miyarikyu
was up there--but it's definitely in the top three.
If you want a good idea of what goes on, including the mood, here's what's effectively a trailer for Alinea. It includes the green apple balloons and the last dessert that's pictured above.