Showing posts with label sweetbread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sweetbread. Show all posts

Alinea (Chicago)

Location: Chicago, USA
Address: 1723 N Halsted St 
Website: http://website.alinearestaurant.com/site/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Simply put Alinea is inventive and strives to provide a unique experience for their guests. Their reservation “ticketing” system is an economist’s dream – the price varies depending on the day and time you book. This means a table at 5pm or 9pm on Tuesday would be less expensive than a table for Saturday at 7pm.

The spaces are sold online ahead of time with patrons paying for food costs up front by purchasing tickets. We were able to secure the second cheapest table (a weeknight at 5:15pm) and with the mandatory 20% gratuity and taxes it totaled $298 per person. You decide on the drinks later - we opted out of the wine pairing and instead ordered glasses of champagne and wine ($24 each) and my husband added a hefty portion of cognac to end the night ($30).


The intrigue begins the moment you walk in the door. After finding the non-descript doorway (look for some valet gentlemen) you enter a dark hallway. Slowly, as your eyes adjust fuchsia pink lights start to shine and guide you along the way. We weren’t sure where to go; luckily, someone slid open the door to the left and welcomed us into the dining room.

As we were brought to our spacious table, we immediately noted the floating rhubarb suspended above us. Having read plenty of reviews about Alinea, I know everything has a purpose. However, not having read a post about their 2014 summer menu, it was unclear what the rhubarb was for and when we’d find out. Alas readers, you must also wait until later on in this post.


We started with osetra caviar, a delicacy second to only beluga, which was simply presented with complimenting ingredients. The briny caviar was paired with a puff of foam tasting like bread with its yeasty baked properties, a tangy gelee and a smooth savoury cream. It set the mood of things to come – each plate containing lots of intricate ingredients that diners can try separately, in combinations or altogether. Through trial and error we soon realize having everything as one was the tastiest choice. 


When a big nest was placed in front of us, I assumed it would be for another dish to come. But, the waiter advised that two pieces of dehydrated salsify were hidden amongst the twigs and we had to use touch to find them. The long thin root vegetable was dried to the point it blended perfectly into the nest and could only be found by its softer texture. The nest was a dish that puts diners at ease - yes it's fine dining but playing and touching your food is not prohibited. After finding the twisted salsify we happily munched on the salty preserved vegetable jerky which reminded me of Chinese dried mustard greens (“mui choy”).


It may be hard to decipher in the picture, but the next dish was served to us in our palms; the platr resembled a napkin and was designed to be held. So, even though we were seated we felt as if we've entered a dinner party and hors d'oeuvres were being passed around. Tender pieces of skate (a fish) was paired with brown butter crumble, floral & herb stems and lemon oil. The skate was so soft it tasted like crab and contrasted well with the crunch from the brown butter and brightness of the lemon and herbs.


The fourth dish was my favourite of the night. It appeared as roasted corn on the cob sitting on a burnt piece of wood. The smoky aroma were incredible and eating by a campfire was the image that entered my mind. Except Chef Achatz wouldn’t just serve an ear of corn! His version consisted of a bottom layer of creamy manchego grits flavoured with truffles and sherry. Then on top were niblets of perfectly reconstructed corn. Anyone who has cut corn off the cob knows how messy it can get; imagine the skill Alinea’s chefs must possess to be able to do it in a way that it can be reassembled so well.


It’s hard to go wrong with truffles and sweet corn, but when there’s also creamy grits with sharp manchego … it’s just so good! This is one of those dishes I’d want to eat on my death bed – with a lobster and fries on the side.


To follow, another deconstructed mix-and-match dish of sweet barely cooked lobster. It’s paired with curry cream, coconut dots, earl grey cream, crunchy puffed rice, cucumber, lobster bisque cream and what looks like fish roe but ends up being grape fruit. I could go on forever about how everything tastes given the plethora of choices. My husband really liked this dish. Personally, I found it delicious, but a bit of a shame, as the lobster became secondary to the other ingredients.


A centre piece of logs arrived and was lit on fire. As always, there’s no mention of what it’s for and thus our brainstorming begins. 


However, before we could decide, orange “chicken” was served complete with take-out carton and plastic bag. In lieu of chopsticks a split cinnamon stick was given and lit on one end so the essence permeated the air. The meat was actually nuggets of veal sweetbreads which tasted like very tender and juicy chicken. Deep fried and placed on a thick orange sauce with plenty of vegetables on top it was a dish of varying crunchy textures. I loved the fried chive blossoms mixed in to give it a rich grassy taste. Not having had much orange chicken in my life, I would eat it more if it tasted like this.


Our detective skills prevailed when we realized our next dish was likely already in the fire. Our suspicions were confirmed when the server came with a cutting board and picked up the platter of burning “logs”. Inside the fire were hidden pieces of wagyu beef and parsnip.


Served on a charred piece of wood, the smoky essence continued throughout the course. On the side was a squid ink ravioli filed with creamy parsnip puree, some bitter tasting mousse (could be the black trumpet mushrooms) and crunchy pieces of kombu. All the sides were fine but I found really weren’t required. The lightly cooked wagyu was the highlight with its warmed through temperature and delicious marbling. Eating it alone and savouring its rich juices were enough for me.


After such a strong dish, Alinea presented a palate cleanser of lily bulb, flowers, rambutan and tart caviar lime segments. This certainly was a stunning looking dish. The floral and crunchy lily bulb segments were good but became too much after several spoonful. Undeniably, my tastebuds felt amazingly clean afterwards and my breath smelt great. Word to the wise, don't have wine immediately afterwards as it ends up tasting like vinegar.


At last the rhubarb was removed from the ceiling and shaved into the next course. The crunchy tart slices were paired with braised rhubarb, celery root and a celery ribbon (?) flavoured with a creamy mousse on the bottom. A nice lighter dish after all the heavy ones. 


The following two courses became heavier again. First, a crispy fried pig ear accompanied by Asian pear, black garlic puree and black fungus (?).  The condiments, other than the pear, were a bit salty for my taste. But, the pig ear had a delightful chewy texture to it. At other restaurants it often gets fried so long that it’s dried out and resembles pork rind more than anything. 


Our server brought out a vase and added nitrogen so that smoke started billowing out. All this just to add a stir fry aroma while we ate the next dish! The duck sculpture, once opened, contained small steamed foie gras dumplings. They were tender and smooth but due to their richness compounded my already full feeling.


I love duck and this didn't disappoint as the wok contained a thick cube of breast with crispy skin. Again, another dish that could have been toned down a bit in terms of salt but had so many nuggets of delicious elements including a fried croquette. Indeed, this was a very heavy course and personally would have liked the duck to be served earlier so I could enjoy it even more.  


My husband and I were happy to see fruit presented next as by this point we felt we couldn’t eat another bite. Little did we know that this was only the first of four desserts! Luckily, Alinea began with a refreshing pressed watermelon marinated with strawberries so the melon actually tasted of strawberries as you bit into it. Accompanied with strawberry and avocado powder, the avocado added a touch of savouriness - a great transition.


The blueberry dish was whimsical and played on a variety of tastes and textures. Honestly, I found it a bit disjointed and not something I’d want to eat again. The bubble gum flavoured nest in the middle was unique as it was cold and melted in your mouth. But, it had to be eaten quickly as it started turning into a sticky gel otherwise. The violet meringue pieces were also nice on its own but I found didn’t go as well with the other ingredients.


Alinea’s signature dish is their edible balloon. Handed to us by the server, we were advised everything was edible except for the metal pin weighing it down. We followed instructions and pressed our lips against the balloon until the sugar melted and we could suck out the helium. After laughing in a chipmunk voice I ate the sticky green apple balloon and munched on the delicious fruit string.


By this point, we thought our night was over and were pleased with the experience. But, once everything was whisked away our server came back with a rubber mat and covered the table top. Then, various small dishes were brought over and left at the far end of the table. The ingredients were just a jumble of powders and liquids so we had no idea what was going on … when all the sudden Chef Achatz himself walks up to our table!


Immediately, he pulls out a ring and places it in the middle. One by one he announces the ingredients and makes the base. Then adds nitrogen infused liquid chocolate on top so that it bubbles away and solidifies.

 

It was such a treat to see something being made in front of us and was like watching an artist paint. Except, instead of paint, Chef Achatz used cold ice cream crystals, brown butter brittle, hazelnut meringue clusters, crème fraiche and finished everything off with a sprinkling of fairy dust (a.k.a. shimmering sugar). By the end, it looked almost too beautiful to eat.


We were truly marveled by how he got the violet syrup to form perfect squares without using a cookie cutter!


The milk chocolate cake was really good – this is coming from someone who normally stays away from chocolaty desserts. A cross between an ice cream cake, mud pie and brownie it was warm and cold all at once. This last dish truly pushed our experience to a whole other level and left us in awe.

  
Alinea is not for everyone. If you prefer simply prepared ingredients left in their natural essence this isn’t the place for you. The flavours are intense with some elements being very sour, sweet, salty or bitter. Indeed, almost every dish had a mixture of textures and some ingredients meticulously prepared to change its normal structure. Certainly, if you’re not up for “playing” with your food and creating your own combinations from the deconstructed dishes you may leave frustrated.

But if you want to eat with all five senses and be entertained with every course along the way than go to Alinea. Their website describes it beautifully, “It’s not a restaurant … at least, not in the conventional sense”. It’s a dinner theatre with the servers, Chef Achatz and the dishes themselves being the actors. It’s an art gallery with each dish painstakingly crafted to please the eyes before the palate. And finally, it’s an experience that forces patrons to pay attention and talk about what’s happening in front of them. In an age where children play with electronic devices and adults are watching mounted tv screens while eating, perhaps it’s this togetherness and being in the present that makes Alinea truly special.

If you want to find out more about Chef Achatz amazing story, read his book 'Life, On the Line'. To try your hand at recreating some of these dishes (or just to look at the pictures), pick up the Alinea cookbook.


Overall mark - 9 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Alinea on Urbanspoon

CLOSED: Cava (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1560 Yonge Street
Type of Meal: Dinner




Situated in a street level corridor of the St. Clair Centre, it’s not a location you’d expect to find a restaurant with Cava’s Spanish and Latin American flair. But, individuals certainly known about it given its busy dinner service on our week night visit. Their dining room is a stark contrast from the dimly lit corridor outside, as upon entering you’re greeted with clean blonde wood and tons of lighting.

With a fairly extensive tapas menu, there are a large number of choices and a particularly good vegetarian selection. We relied on the advice of Theran, our server, to narrow down our choices. His favourite dish is the pincho of Gamay-poached foie gras ($9), so we ordered one each given the small portion.

Generally, I’m not a big fan of foie gras (based on taste and ethical reasons), but decided to try it anyways given the hyped up dish. Thick slices of cool foie gras sit on a crisp crostini and is topped with a dollop of pear mostarda (similar to a chutney). The poached foie gras is one of the smoothest I’ve ever had with a consistency similar to a flourless chocolate torte.  As it melts in your mouth, your tongue is coated with rich flavour; but, before it becomes too overpowering the sweet mostarda cuts through and mellows everything out. If you like foie gras than this is a dish you need to try.


My friends really enjoyed the Spanish mackerel ceviche verde ($14) which is less tart than typical ceviches. Instead, the cilantro, fish and tomatillos (?) shine through, with the mixture tasting good on its own or with the fried tortillas accompanying it. For me, I found it a bit bland and would have liked more heat and citrus to counteract the oiliness from the tortilla chips.


The warm salad ($10) had some great vegetables in it - artichoke, piquillo pepper and oyster mushrooms. They are all grilled and dressed with a simple caper vinaigrette and sprinkled with cilantro. This is a hearty salad and good for the cold weather.


This dinner was the first time I’ve tried jamón Serrano ($16.50) and must admit that after having Ibérico is a bit of a disappointment, but you get what you pay for. The slices were too thick making them difficult to cut or chew. Overall, it was sort of tough – perhaps because the ham wasn’t well marbled – and doesn’t have that melt-in-your-mouth quality I enjoy with charcuterie.


Hands down my favourite dish of the night was the eggplant ($9.75). Wedges of eggplant are coated, deep fried and then cooked in a dish with tons of gooey queso fresco (cheese) and a tangy tomatillo sauce. Drizzles of honey and tons of bonito flakes top everything and just brings the dish together so well. It had a great combination of flavours and I could easily eat a whole plate of the eggplant with some crusty bread. You definitely have to try out this dish when you visit.


The roasted brussel sprouts ($8.95) were nice but pretty plain. Sure they were cooked well and had a nice caramelized crust to bring out its natural sweetness but they lacked a complementary flavour – the black garlic just didn’t really stand out.


To end we had a series of the more substantial small plates. The first was the grilled squid and zucchini ($15.75) in a romesco sauce (a hazelnut and red pepper blended puree). There was a fair amount of squid accompanying the dish, but could have benefited from a bit more time on the grill to give it a smokier crust. Although quite colourful, the romesco sauce wasn’t very strong; overall, it’s decent but lacked anything exciting.

                                                      
The grilled sea scallops ($23) were perfectly cooked so they were just cooked through and remained sweet and tender. The cauliflower puree was creamy and certainly had some butter in it. I love the addition of lentils to contrast the smooth puree, but wish they were softer.


Lastly, my friends wanted to try the veal sweetbreads ($23). Having only had a small piece of it once in my life, I knew it wasn’t horrible but was always under the impression it was calf brains. Turns out I was completely misinformed and sweetbreads is actually the thymus (throat) and pancreas of the animal. At Cava, Chef McDonald uses the thymus of the veal.  As with my first experience, it actually tastes pretty good (akin to a very tender piece of chicken with a denser pâté texture) but not something I’d order on a regular basis. Hats off to the chef for pairing it with a radicchio-poblano chile salad, which went so well adding a freshness against the heavy sweetbread.


To end, we shared a plate of churros con chocolate ($8). You really can’t go wrong with freshly fried pieces of dough dusted with sugar and served with hot melted dark chocolate. If the star anise was left out of the batter it would be even better; the licorice taste of the spice just isn’t something I like. But, once the luscious chocolate covers it, the flavour is thoroughly masked so not a deal breaker.


All in all, the food was good; our meal had some really great dishes and none were overly disappointing. But, the true highlight was the great service we received from Theran – friendly and approachable, attentive to our needs and so knowledgeable about Cava’s menu. However, I’d caution you to order a few dishes at a time and then order more if required. We ended up ordering too much and were stuffed by the time the scallops and sweetbread arrived. But, just make sure you order the eggplants, you’ll thank me for it later.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Cava on Urbanspoon


Actinolite (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 971 Ossington Avenue
Website: http://actinoliterestaurant.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner



Actinolite is what I'd imagine Noma to be like - except with a focus on Canadian ingredients and much friendlier on the wallet. Like many restaurants they use local suppliers but gone one step further by starting their own garden. Controlling their food source allows them to strive for peak freshness by picking ingredients right before serving. What they don't grow and buy, they forage from the town of Actinolite (as noted on their website). Somehow knowing that their forging happens outside of the city was a relief as the thought of eating vegetation out of the Don River (which may be perfectly safe) was a bit alarming. 

There are two menus available, the 7-course Chef ($85) or a 4-course summary ($55). The summary menu offers larger plate sizes, so you won’t be starving afterwards, but does mean you’ll miss three of the dishes. During our dinner summary diners would have missed out on the radish, squid and egg ones - the biggest loss being the egg dish which was a favourite of my husband and I. Wine pairings are an additional $65 and $40, for the Chef and summary menus, respectively.

We decided to go with the Chef’s menu which true to form was seven courses. There are no amuse dishes at Actinolite, just a slice of sourdough bread with olive oil. At least it's really good sourdough; crunchy exterior, soft interior and enough salt within the dough that you could eat it plain. 

The first radish and carrots course was supposed to resemble a garden with halved vegetables served with soil butter, crunchy grass salt and other crunchy bits. Soil appears to be the up and coming ingredient that's growing in popularity worldwide and noted for its mineral properties. Luckily, at Actinolite the soil is incorporated with whipped butter and light tasting, so much so that it's unclear if real soil is actually used as there was no grittiness at all. 



Next came four spears of the most scrumptiously grilled asparagus. We were advised it was cooked on a Big Green Egg, which my husband proceeded to explain is one of the best grills for temperature precision and its smoking properties. The asparagus was cooked through and hot yet still crunchy with a light smoky flavour. Served with a nettle puree (a relatively neutral flavour), cold thick sour cream and spruce flowers this was a wonderful dish.


Our waitress warned us the squid was chewy, and she certainly wasn’t wrong as I gnawed on it for a while. Undeniably, the squid’s texture wasn’t my favourite and personally would have preferred the addition of shrimp and fish so that it’d be more of a seafood salad and less rubbery. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a total miss as having been marinated in a tart vinaigrette and served cold the dish was refreshing. With juniper berries, olive oil and a flavourful wild ginger gelee we found it almost acted as a palette cleanser.


Eggs are a staple ingredient but when prepared well can also be luxurious. For this dish, Actinolite poached the egg slowly so that it arrives gooey and hot in the middle. Topped with light shavings of summer truffle (a very delicate flavour) and pops of onion from the chive blossoms it was a lovely egg. Simple wilted spinach surrounded it and helped mop up every drop of warm yolk that leaked out.


The halibut was perfectly cooked with a beautiful golden crust and tender meaty interior. I did find the watercress puree on the bottom overwhelming bitter and was taken aback at first. Luckily, it was served to the side so I could lift the fish off and enjoy the halibut by itself. An ingredient I’m starting to get tired of is foam; yes, it’s decorative but in most cases adds little to the dish itself. At Actinolite their foam was made with fish stock and what a genius idea as it actually complimented the fish quite well. Various sprigs of minty herbs accompanied the fish and although I appreciate the naturalness would have preferred a hot cooked vegetable (more of the delicious wilted spinach would have been better).


Our last savoury dish of the night was sweetbread or the sheep’s thymus (neck/throat gland). Lightly floured and pan fried the sweetbread was fairly good and really just tastes like tender dark chicken meat. Sitting on a bed of wilted greens and topped with these tart berries the dish was an interesting mix of sour and salty flavours, with the berries cutting the fattiness of the sweetbread.


To end, a dish of fresh strawberries with cheese curds – a seemingly healthier version of strawberries and cream. With sweet drizzles of elderflower syrup and a delicious hay dust, despite its simple presentation, this was a satisfying dessert. Every speck of dust, drop of syrup and crumble of curd was wiped up with the plump sweet strawberries by the end!


Actinolite’s menu is so different from what you’ll find elsewhere in the city. Dishes are simply presented allowing the ingredients themselves to be showcased and patrons to enjoy their natural tastes. Throughout the meal so many different flavour were presented; sour, bitter, sweet and salty all represented at different times. But, what struck me most was how perfectly Chef Cournoyer seasons everything; each element was salted (for my taste) to the right strength to compliment the other ingredients.

In addition, you still feel good after all seven courses – the dishes felt healthy and light so I didn’t get a gluttonous feeling afterwards. It’s also a good choices for vegetarians as so many dishes featured non-meat ingredients prominently already.

With its small dining room and friendly dressed down staff the restaurant has a laid back atmosphere. It was comfortable and made me feel like I was eating in the countryside despite the busy Ossington street just outside the window. Do yourself a favour and try it once, you may just fall in love with all the tastes fresh produce has to offer.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10

Like the blog? You can now follow me on twitter for notifications - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog

____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Actinolite on Urbanspoon