Thursday, August 30, 2012

On the road again: Chicon, day 3

Another Worldcon day, another day spent almost entirely in a hotel room in front of a laptop doing email.  Ah, well; it comes with the job.  I did manage to get out for almost two hours during the day, during which I picked up my program participant packet, checked out a bit of the con's layout, and watched most of the opening ceremonies.  A pleasant time.  I hope to do more con stuff tomorrow.

Lunch was half of a small pretzel roll and a little bit of Coke Zero.  Partly, that was because I was so full from dinner last night.  Partly, it was due to tonight's dinner...

...which was at Alinea, Chef Grant Achatz's main restaurant, and was utterly wonderful. 

I could write a novel about my two meals there, but seeing as how I'm actually under contract for two other novels, I won't do that.  I will hit a few high points, though, to try to explain a bit of the Alinea magic.

When they opened the restaurant doors tonight--we were in the first seating and actually seated first--the two attendants said, "Have fun!"  All night long, servers and other staffers said, "Have a great time!" and "Have fun!"  They also asked if we were having fun.  Never did anyone question whether the food tasted good, as servers at other restaurants often do.

That difference is due to two reasons:  They know their food is delicious--and, man, is it!--and the emphasis is on the complete experience you have.  They want you to have fun, and you most certainly do.

When we stepped through the open doors, we found ourselves on slightly wet grass, as if we were walking outside on morning dew.  To our left, a small aluminum washtub filled with cold water sat atop a small stone wall.  In it, bumping into each other gently as they circulated in the moving water, were glasses of lemonade.  The lemonade was just the right blend of sweet and tart, the whole entrance a nod to summer. 

The meal contained many courses, most of which took advantage of various modernist cuisine techniques to intrigue your imagination visually and fool yet please your taste buds.  A course of mushrooms sat atop four rocks.  A single piece of pasta stuffed with the most delicious black truffles and black truffle water perched in the center of a spoon sitting in a circular container built for just that purpose.

The penultimate course was a balloon on a string weighted down with a shiny nail.  The balloon and the string were made of fruit leather, and the balloon was filled with helium.  If you didn't want to sound silly, you poked the balloon with the nail.  We bit into it, sucked out the helium, and talked in squeaky voices as we ate the delicious balloon and string. 

The final course was amazing.  First, they covered the table with a light gray neoprene tablecloth that matched the color of the building's exterior.  Then, they put down a set of small bowls full of brightly colored powders and gels.  A translucent white egg the size of an ostrich egg came next and occupied the center of the table. 

A chef appeared from the kitchen.  With a set of spoons and very careful motions, he spread the contents of the bowls in broad strokes across the table, literally painting it with food--strawberry powder, Chantilly cream, sweet English pea powder, and much more.  He poured liquid nitrogen into the egg, held it up before our eyes for a few moments as it steamed, and then dropped it hard onto the table. 

It shattered and revealed a world of small, colorful dessert objects inside.  Here's a look at part of the table. 

We ate as they instructed us, by dragging our spoons across the table and into the contents of the white chocolate egg, mixing various flavors and trying out all the many different items inside.

It was glorious.  We couldn't help but laugh the entire time, permanent smiles stuck on our faces as we ate like kids, the very act of our eating further changing the art that was the tablecloth. 

Getting into Alinea is tough, and the meal is expensive.  It's worth every bit of that trouble, and more.  It's worth a flight to Chicago.  It's an amazing experience I wish everyone could have. 

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