A shaving brush.
Sable bristled, set on a white plate. Four white china bowls arrayed nearby. Plus a big wooden bowl of hot salt with tongs stuck in it, and a fancy seltzer bottle.
We were at Alinea, Sunday night, the world-renowned 3-Michelin star Chicago restaurant. If you read Wednesday's column, you know the chain of circumstance that led my family there.
If I had to encapsulate the experience in one word, I'd say "surprise." That, or "mystery." Alinea is food as puzzle and delight.
What is the shaving brush for? I assumed it would be put its usual purpose, to whip up a lather, some froth having to do with the clam chowder. Molecular gastronomy restaurants—though Alinea prefers the term "progressive American"—are known for bursts of flavor, wafts of aroma, spoonfuls of tasty foam.
That wasn't what the shaving brush was for, though ...
We're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start at the beginning. A black non-descript building on Halsted Street. No name; it's not like they're expecting walk-ins. The web site warns you that if you aren't there at the appointed time--ours was 5 p.m.—you'll cut into your own dining experience. At 4:50 we reported to the front desk 10 minutes early, as requested.
|Grant Achatz, center, chef at Alinea.|
There's no menu. You eat what you are given. They dangled a wine course before us, and then brought excellent sparkling cider. We toasted the boys and talked for a while—if I had to say the best thing about the staff at Alinea, they never cut off a conversation. They excelled at absence, part of what I began to realize is a conscience effort to keep the spotlight on the food.
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