Here's What a $600 Alinea Dinner Tastes Like
Sep 27, 2012 - by Samantha Lim
This article is about food. Being a fashion site, we don't claim to know anything about food, but the transformative power of the Alinea + Eleven Madison Park 21st Century Limited experience has officially shot our definition of fine dining into another stratosphere.
Notably lacking the sense of intimidation that often comes with multi-Michelin-star level restaurants, the mood of the transformed Eleven Madison Park room was refreshingly inviting. Filled with hay bales, corn husks, and a mini pumpkin patch, the Manhattan landmark had been injected with Alinea's midwestern spirit, including a tub of water where we "bobbed" for warm apple cider. Delightfully nostalgic, the dining tables were covered in dried fall colored leaves, freshly fallen from theoretical trees. At one point we were instructed by Alinea owner Nick Kokonas to throw all of the leaves into the air, clearing the way for our meal to begin.
Over the next 5 hours we were served 24 courses of Alinea's latest forward-thinking recipes. Impossible to pick favorites, some highlights included crispy woodcock served on wires, a 60 ingredient do-it-yourself lamb plate, and their signature foodgasmic morsel: the black truffle explosion. There was a course that tasted like fresh snow, served inside a glass ball, set on top of a bed of sand. There was an apple taffy edible helium balloon, that after bursting made you sound like a chipmunk while you peeled sticky confections off of your face. There was a chocolate pinata filled with sweets that Chef Achatz and Chef Humm smashed onto the table of hand painted sauces, meant to be spooned right off the surface. Wanting to really recreate Alinea, they had even made custom trays of the exact mahogany wood that top the tables in Chicago. A sensory overload, every course was a visual feast of color, texture, and hypersophisticated presentation. It was the type of meal for those who can share the important things in life together -- like the conviction that 5 types of explosively flavored ginger served on pin needles are a divine gift.
And it wasn't just about the food. The service team seemed to have super powers-- including the ability to detect our every move like a heat seeking missile. When I dropped my ring under the table, someone was immediately there with a flashlight. When someone in our party forgot to previously mention she was allergic to shellfish and the kitchen would have to adapt her courses, no one batted an eye. And when I left the tiniest slurp of butternut muscovado soup (well, I'll call it soup) in a glass tube surrounded by a block of melting ice, someone made sure to check and see if everything was ok with the course (it was). Polished and precise, the staff's timing and ability to seamlessly adapt to everyone's needs was as impressive as the gastronomic concoctions laid out in front of us.
A notably definitive moment of the evening came when Alinea Chef Grant Achatz and Eleven Madison Park Chef Daniel Humm made the rounds and said hello to nearly every table in the restaurant. Iconic players at their respective establishments, there is no question of their influence in the oftentimes ego-centric food world. Seeing them walk the floor and laugh with diners took away any pretense one might feel comes with a $600 per person price tag.
If you were one of the lucky few who scored a coveted ticket, do not sell them on Craig's List like these dudes. An evening filled with unconventional thinking and uncompromising creativity, Alinea at Eleven Madison Park was more than just a meal, it was pure magic.