However, my boyfriend is into all of that, and while he goes to those places with friends, I felt a little bad that he couldn't enjoy these places with me. I'm fun company. But then we were planning a trip to Chicago, and he wanted to go to Alinea. He wanted to go there BAD. So bad, in fact, that he scoured the internet trying to find something that said they could accommodate a vegan. Luckily, he didn't have to search too long, thanks to the lovely Lagusta, who in 2009 blogged about the vegan menu at Alinea. That's right - anyone can request a vegan menu at a freaking top world restaurant with freaking THREE MICHELIN STARS. I was in! (I mean, I wasn't paying. Of course I was in.)
First, the menu. It's so vague, I'm obsessed. Any other restaurant and I'd be like, could you put another word in there so I have any idea what you're talking about? I mean -- do you see the one about halfway through? It just says 'fennel' and then TWENTY QUESTION MARKS!!! What the what?! But it's cool because it was all as awe inspiring as food can be.
Also, at the end of your meal, they give you a copy of your menu in a black folder. How nice!
When we sat down, this ice block was on our table, on a bed of stones. We thought it was just a weirdly appropriate centerpiece for a molecular gastronomy restaurant, but it came into play with our food! I think...it's hard to remember because of the aforementioned hallucinatory blur of amazingness. So, we're going to mostly rely on pictures.
The fun of molecular gastronomy really came through in this early dish. First, that tall glass arrived with that white vegetable balancing on top. You were to let it marinate while we ate other things, and then drop it onto that black rock (which was 1000 degrees) on the sand in the other glass to cook. Then, you dipped it into the sauce in the coconut shell. I appreciated being allowed to play with my food like an adult.
I don't really remember what was happening here, but I do know that it is ON FIRE. I love this picture, because crazy stuff was happening at every table as meals progressed, yet the other diners seemed business-like. I think they were just trying to act cool and stoic but inside were like Ahh fire!!! Oh except for the two little girls at the table next to us - yes, some family came with two children. To Alinea. And the kids were picky and so ate little of the amazing stuff put in front of them. I just...can't...no.
I'm not really sure what this picture is of, but it was great, I'm sure.
Then, we had a little palate cleanser of pineapple slush.
This bowl at right was so funny because it was eerily reminiscent of puffed wheat cereal, like Sugar Smacks without the sugar. A fancy and delicious soupy version, of course, mixed with herbs and some vegetable.
The next section of our dining experience was my favorite savory part. See my plate, at right? Well, you were to mix each bite with two or three pieces from the below chess board of deliciousness, to create your own insane combinations. It was SO fun and so incredible.
And then it just continued in its amazingness. The next two dishes were like ravioli, already on a spoon. Just one piece (raviolo, then), but it's all you need. These bites, especially the one on the right, exploded with the most perfectly matched flavors I've ever encountered.
Or so we thought. We figured we'd have one or two dessert-y courses, but no. After the above plate, we got FOUR more wonderful things to eat. First, we had this great palate cleanser of five different pieces of ginger. I love ginger, so this wiry thing being placed in front of me made me really happy. Some pieces were sweet, some were really spicy. It was the best thing to have between the savory and dessert courses.
And then even more magic happened, each round more entertaining than the last. Next up were a few dollops of puddings surrounding a fruity liquid that you drank with that silver straw pictured.
The next thing is just hilarious. It's a balloon. A balloon made of green apple taffy filled with helium, so all night we saw waiters carrying actually floating balloons throughout the restaurant, and people got to eat them. It was so much fun. Insanely messy (taffy all over your face, pretty much), but fun. We were instructed to 'kiss' the balloon and then suck the helium out, mainly so the waiters could laugh when we talked and sounded like chipmunks! Then, with the taffy balloon deflated all over our faces (tip: put your hair back), we could eat it. My face automatically puckers at the mere thought of sour fruit candy like Sour Patch Kids and the like, but this had the right levels of sweet and sour. (I mean, obviously it's going to be better than commercial candy.)