Alinea 2nd Visit — Chicago (8/2019)


My first visit to Alinea was about 5 years ago.  Then it was the original version.  I thought the food overall was fine, but I had found the experience okay.  I wanted to like the restaurant a lot more because I thought what the chef was trying to do was very much in line with what I was looking for in a food experience.  Since that visit, Alinea has had a makeover with a remodeling of the interior and reformatting of the menu options.  It still holds a 3-star Michelin rating.  The upstairs Salon rooms offer a multicourse menu to parties of 1 and higher with somewhat staggered reservations throughout the evening.  The Gallery Room downstairs offers a longer menu for parties of 2 and higher with a single seating time. In the past, the restaurant did not take reservations for solo diners.  They now will take one solo diner per evening in a Salon Room at 8 pm.  It turns out that the table is a normal 2-top, but they only will seat one person  at that time because they change the room around for the later seatings to accommodate a larger party.  Doing so changes the configuration and the service flow through that room such that a 2nd diner at that table would be in the way of the serving staff.

There is no printed wine list.  If you do not choose a wine pairings option (they had a non-alcoholic option for only a week), you can order a glass of wine.  What is offered changes from evening to evening, so diners have to speak to the sommelier about what they like or want to have, and the sommelier suggests a selection for you. They selected a 2016 Russian River Chardonnay for me.

They opened with caviar suspended in white sesame yogurt inside a cocoa butter shell flavored with spring onions.

The next course was jumbo white asparagus made into an ice cream.  This was served with flecks of basil, manuka honey, and pieces of chiffon cake.  There was also a piece of cassava-based Parmesan cheese bread. This was a pleasant blend of cold and hot, and sweet and salty with a combination of different textures.

The next several dishes were served simultaneously.  There was squid salad with a little green papaya salad.

The light green presentation was young coconut with horseradish cream, bits of cucumber, and succulent leaves (soft and juicy in texture).

This was a lobster parfait with carrot and passion fruit sorbet, topped with anise.  In the background was octopus served Korean BBQ style (at room temperature).

The warm soup was shrimp and coconut with red curry.

On the crystal crab dish was Dungeness crab with coconut pudding and mustard seed.

Finally, on the glowing bowl with ice was compressed chilled Japanese melon.  This was compressed in its own juice.

For the full write-up, click here.

alo 16th Visit — Toronto (8/2019)


I haven’t written up every visit that I’ve made to alo only because having been so many times, I don’t want to keep listing the same restaurants over and over.  However, whenever I visit Toronto,  a dinner here is a requirement for me.  I will always want to sit at the Chef’s Counter, if only because it allows me to sample more of the seasonal creations that appear on the menu ( and are generally not served at a table.

The small bites start to appear as soon as you make your opening drink selection.  I chose to start with one of their non-alcoholic cocktails (they do not have a non-alcoholic pairing option).  It was a blend of passion fruit and green tea – perfect for a mid-summer evening.

The first snack presentation was:  a pomme soufflé puff filled with yuzu crème fraiche with chives and topped with ossestra sturgeon caviar; and a pastry roll filled with a foie gras parfait and a maple bourbon gel, with ends dipped in a peanut crumble that was slightly sweet with a touch of Anaheim chilis.

The next quick bite was a Prince Edward Island oyster served raw with their own mignonette of fresh cucumbers, sea buckthorn vinegar, tarragon oil and a bit of wild peppercorns for some spiciness.

This was soon followed by Hokkaido baby white shrimp with a dashi gel and some celery.  On top were dashi-poached potatoes with kombu, Sancho pepper leaves and, and pickled myoga (Japanese ginger).

Fresh Hokkaido sea scallops were featured in the next presentation.  These were served with lemon verbena and corn.  The wafer provided a nice crunchy texture for contrast, and the salt and sweet flavor blend was a nice touch.

The next dish was lightly grilled kanpachi (amberjack) with black truffle dashi with butter.  The warm dish was garnished with some samphire (salt-tolerant plant) and watercress. The crunchy skin was a nice texture to have.

I opted at this point to go with a Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley (kind of an unusual find on a by-the-glass list).

The next course was Alaskan King crab with crab and butter emulsion, courgettes, chanterelles, horseradish whipped cream and nasturtium leaves.  This was served very warm, with nice flavors from the courgettes and the crab.

The pasta dish was tortellini with Idiazabal cheese (a smoky cheese from the Basque region of Spain, crispy and poached artichokes, and a Marcona almond/red pepper purée. This was very tasty.

The next course was lightly crisped Quebec pork belly, served with black bean sauce, pork fat emulsion, tempura of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and a Chinese chive purée.

For the full write-up, click here.

The Clove Club 9th Visit — London (7/2019)


It had only been a couple of months since my last visit, but I was now back to lunch with this visit.  Being in the heart of summer, I was looking to see some great summer ingredients with some nice flavors.

They post the short menu outside.  I don’t always get a look at the menus, so I wanted to document when I can their full offerings.  The wine list changes regularly.

To start off, they offered a 2009 English sparkling Chardonnay that they were going to open for by-the-glass pourings.  It was very nice, with the age providing a mellowness to the flavor.

The opening snack was trout Nigiri.  This was served deconstructed, with nori on the bottom with some crème fraiche and rice kernels and a rice and rye cake.  Smoked trout belly topped it all off.

Next up were three regularly seen snacks:  Crab and elderflower tart, buttermilk fried chicken with pine salt, and warm mushroom haggis bun

The next snack was the melon gazpacho granita with charcoal cream and Ibérico ham gelée.

This last snack was almond blancmange (mousse) with Ossetra caviar and scallop roe dashi jelly.  This was a nice cool temperature dish to finish the opening bites.

For this meal, they offered to do a blend of soft/hard pairings, picking the alcoholic beverages when best matched with a dish.  I start with a sake dashi.

The main part of the menu started with flamed bonito, lightly cured in soy and served with green onion purée, lemon mayonnaise and lemon bits and crushed cherry tomatoes.

The next beverage was Fujian white peony tea.

The next dish continued with fish.  It was a Cornish sea bass sashimi with English peas, gooseberry Aguachile, and cucumber.  The fish was salted and brined for a little bit before slicing.  There was a little spice heat, along with tartness and salt flavor.

The next beverage was roasted buckwheat (brewed slowly and long) and chervil tea, served chilled.

The next course featured Hen of the Woods mushrooms (maitake), served with a Spenwood cheese cream (British hard cheese similar to a Pecorino).  This was a very tasty dish, with lots of flavor and mushrooms with a very pleasantly juicy texture.

For the full write-up, click here.

Kitchen Table 25th Visit — London (7/2019)


I was looking forward to this visit because they had closed for a month (was supposed to be two) for remodeling.  Turned out they only remodeled the front part (the Bubbledogs part).  So, my visit was overdue in a sense.  Plus, it was the middle of summer, which is prime season for many local ingredients.

They first presented some pure tomato water from Isle of Wight tomatoes garnished with house-made fig leaf oil.  This was served as each guest was seated (i.e., not all at the same time).  This was a nice way to start with something refreshing (other than a drink).

The opening dish was Cornish brown crab, steamed and the brown and white meat separated.  At the bottom was some of the brown meat with crème fraiche.  On top was the white meat mixed with pineapple weed, a salad of dill and lemon verbena, and a garnish of salted gooseberries and cucumber marinated in dill.  At the counter, they finished the dish with a chilled light lemon verbena sauce.

The next bite was lightly smoked quail egg, topped with a shallot filled with black vinegar infused with winter black truffles along with some chervil.  Underneath the egg was black garlic purée, with all of this sitting on a spiral of crispy potatoes.

After starting off with the house-labeled English pink sparkling wine, I switched to a glass of the 2007 Paul Pillot Chardonnay.

The next snack was the chicken skin wafers with rosemary mascarpone and bacon jam.  While this has always been on the menu, this is the first time I’ve seen it served as a “sandwich”.

The Parker House rolls were next, first shown just out of the oven.  These were served with whipped butter mixed with aged lamb fat and tomatoes barbequed in lamb fat.  The butter was topped with pickled wild garlic buds and onion oil made from green onion tops.

For the full write-up, click here.

Eden Hill 5th Visit — Seattle (7/2019)


The Grand Tasting menu is normally 12-15 courses.  After I sat down, they said they were planning on about 20 courses, one of the longest menus they have done to date.  I was the only one doing the big menu for the 5pm seating.  The restaurant will be changing soon, when the new, more casual, sister restaurant opens a block away.  At that point, Eden Hill will no longer offer an a la carte menu. 

I started out with a Celery Blossom Spritz, followed by a glass of the Columbia Valley 2010 Riesling (which I had tried before).

The first snack was Willapa Bay, Washington oyster, served cold with pickled foie gras, herbs and an apple cider mignonette.

The next snack was a savory mini doughnut with a tomato jelly filling (there was some sweetness from the jelly).

The next snack was a smoked cucumber mousse with herbs, watermelon radish, lemon, and pickles.

This “tea” was a slightly sweet warm nori broth served with a King salmon saumon fumé and ginger cookie.

The next dish was a King crab salad topped with pickled kohlrabi, herbs, olive oil and shallots.

The bread course was a toasted slice served with chicken liver mousse and compressed cherries.

Next course was a play on Salade Niçoise.  The salad had green beans, dehydrated niçoise olives, raw radishes, pickled celery, brioche crouton, confit turnips, and a smoked halibut dressing.  It was accompanied by a very tender braised brisket.

The Eden Hill Waldorf salad was next with three forms of a smoked blue cheese from Portland: fresh pieces, cookie crumbles and foam.  Candied walnuts, pickled celery, dehydrated brioche, and dried grapes were also included as always.

The next course was added to the menu that evening – Duck egg chawanmushi.  The custard was topped with seared foie gras, pickled mushrooms, a balsamic glaze, and white truffles.

I switched to an “old vines” 2016 French Cabernet Franc.

For the full write-up, click here.