My brother and I have gone a few times to a dental course in Phoenix, Arizona run by Frank Spear. He is a hero of ours as he knows so much about advanced dentistry and conveys very complex subjects in ways that make them easier to understand than every other presenter we've seen do for the subjects. In one of his lectures he discussed how to separate yourself from every other dentist doing the same type of treatment as you. He said it boils down to creating an experience for your patients. He compared it to going to his favorite restaurant in the world (he lectures all over the globe), Alinea. He went into some detail about this restaurant and how amazing the experience is. So much so, in fact, that it was voted best restaurant in America the previous year.
Marisa and I love to cook, watch the Food Network, look up new recipes to try out, and learn about the science behind food composition and construction. I even wanted to be a chef when I grew up for several years as a kid. With all that love for food, the story Frank told never left me and telling it to Marisa had both of us wanting to go some day. It just so happens that the restaurant is in Chicago and Marisa and I planned a trip there for the BYU vs Notre Dame game. The restaurant isn't cheap, but we wanted so badly to participate in the experience, especially after we learned more about it. We kicked the idea around for a couple of months and eventually decided that we couldn't miss the opportunity, since eating local foods or at special restaurants is one of our favorite things to do when we visit a new place!
Getting there was fairly stressful as we ran into three separate problems on our flight there from broken planes, to missed connections from delays. We landed about 13 hours behind schedule, picked up our rental car and were starving at 2pm! Our reservations were for 5:30 so we didn't want to eat a ton at that time, but we did want to get in a trip to a Chicago-style pizza restaurant so we dropped by The Original Gino's East right by the airport and our hotel to grab a small deep dish pizza.
That was a pleasant surprise because we've had "Chicago Deep Dish" pizza various times from Seattle to Baltimore, but it was always a thick, soft crust. What we had at Gino's was a crusty, thick crust. Totally different, and good. We each ate one piece to not over fill ourselves the quickly headed to the hotel to shower and get dressed. Dress code required that I wear a jacket. Gino's was slow so by the time we left and got checked into our hotel it was about 4pm. After we showered I decided to check on the drive time using Google Maps since it pulls traffic data to give fairly accurate times. We were a little surprised to see that it would take about an hour and a half to get there. Marisa couldn't believe that she was going to go to the nicest restaurant of our lives with wet hair! :-( She did a slight Boho/wavy look that I liked, but bugged her a little. She obviously had plenty of time to do her makeup on the drive.
When we arrived it was a little hard to find as the restaurant was very nondescript.
We parked and went inside almost exactly at our reservation time! The picture below is of our table. We were given the option to add on an extra course before our regular 13 course meal of a white truffle risotto for an extra $125. The only food item I say I don't like (considering I have eaten sea cucumber, caviar, blood sausage and catfish) is fungi. So, there was no way I was going to pay that much for an item I don't like, no matter how awesome the presentation and preparation was.
They graciously accepted that and our request for sparkling cider instead of any of the wines and moved directly into the first course. We had a waiter constantly waiting near our table for anything we needed. I should add that the entire meal (other than alcohol for those who get it) and the gratuity is paid for in advance so they aren't working for a tip, it's already been given. They work to earn what we've already paid. That was cool because I've had waiters (although I wouldn't expect that here) who immediately looked down their nose at me when I said I wasn't ordering any alcohol.
Here is the copy of the menu that they gave us at the end. For some reason we didn't get the menu that was shown on the website. They said that tonight's menu was going to be a surprise and they would give us a copy after eating. I think it was to add a surprise element to the evening. The more to the right the circle is the more sweet the dish was. The large the circle, the larger the portion was. The darker the circle the more intense the flavor was. I thought that was a cool way of showing what we ate with just the text and one icon.
Course 1 was called Burning Oak, not our picture above. We couldn't use flash and I had left our nice camera in the car so we had to take pix with our phones in the dark restaurant. I'll post which pix weren't ours. The edible part was a pumpkin tempura. It was pretty awesome in that the tempura coating was very thin and super crispy. The pumpkin inside was tart, but sweet and almost fizzed. We really liked it and got excited for what was to come.
Course 3 was pretty amazing. They had a ton of strong smelling herbs in the bowl with dry ice that was making the whole room smell amazing. There was a sea shell with a lot of food inside that we can't remember what it was exactly. It was really good. Part of it was dried in liquid nitrogen and that texture was pretty cool. Some of the flavors were super strong. Here are a couple of videos we took.
Course 4 was Dungeness Crab with squash blossom, cardamom and saffron. Since the food was so involved and the preparation and presentation was such a big part of the meal we had one or two chefs explain each course. This one was one of the more crazy courses. The fluffy white stuff was a saffron flavored cotton candy. The squash blossom was candied. The crab had some sort of transparent yellow gel over it that I can't remember what it was. There were so many parts, prepared in such amazing ways that it was impossible to remember all of it.
We really enjoyed this course (Binchotan, Tokyo inspiration) for several reasons. Binchotan is a traditional charcoal of Japan. Having recently gone to Japan and loving Japanese food this was an amazing interpretation. There were four different parts. The first, closet to the flame, was a Grade 1 (or whatever they call the highest classification of tuna in Japan) tuna sashimi. I'm not a huge sashimi fan over regular sushi, but this was pretty awesome. I understand the popularity of that grade now. Definite difference from any tuna I'd ever had previously. The next two were seared pork and beef, amazingly tender and flavored with little toppings. The last of the four was crazy. It was an entire shrimp head, turned super crusty by dipping it in liquid nitrogen. It was a little squeamish for Marisa, but I loved it. It was like a crispy, slightly browned nut to me.
Course 6 was Veal Cheeks with lapsang souchong, pine and blackberry. To be honest, I don't know what any of that is other than veal, pine and blackberry. The bowl was placed over some singed pine needles in a plate. That made the table smell like we were in an evergreen forest (just like home). The blackberry was a very strong and condensed flavor of one of Marisa's favorite foods. The foam was kind of weird. Not bad or great, but interesting to eat.
Course 7 was Hot Potato with a cold potato, black truffle and butter over a hot potato soup. The first picture is one I found online since we had to eat it very fast while the waiter was explaining it or it would lose its effect he said. The cold potato was suspended over the warm soup. We had to pull the pin out, let the potato fall into the warm liquid and quickly shoot the whole thing at once. It was a little crazy to get both hot and cold at the same time. The food items were all good and I actually didn't mind the truffle at all.
Course 8 had three plates. We each had the plate at the top, but we shared the very large plate below that. For size perspective, see our water glass on the right side. This was various preparations of duck meat on the white plate that we had to eat with the 60 different, unexplained samples on the dark plate. It was fun to try them all. Everything from sweet, candy-like samples to fried onion and savory sauces.
Course 9 was Black Truffle "explosion" with romaine and Parmesan. This was interesting. There was some kind of black truffle sauce inside the ravioli. You were to insert the entire thing into your mouth and bite down with your lips closed so you wouldn't squirt all over yourself or your dinner partner. It really did feel like it slightly exploded in my mouth. The bottomless plate was interesting too. It had a shape that kept the spoon suspended off the table.
Course 10 was a palate cleanser before starting the desserts. It was 5 different preparations of ginger. One was candied and it was super powerfully strong ginger. Each one was different and very flavorful. You were to pull the metal wire out from the holder, eat the ginger and then discard that wire onto the plate you see in the picture.
Course 11 was CRAZY for so many reasons. It was a balloon made from green apple taffy. The string was also made from green apply taffy and the balloon was filled with apple infused helium. The waiter told us to kiss the balloon, suck in the helium and then tell him and your dinner partner how it tasted. That was so bizarre to do in such a nice restaurant, but as you can see from the video above, we did it as asked. The taffy was soooo sweet and good. It was a fun dessert for sure.
Course 12 was Corn with white chocolate, honey and mango. The brown stuff on top is a candied corn silk. It was better than expected for sure. The basket is a hard white chocolate. The bottom is a sweet cornbread that was freeze dried with white chocolate and mango added. It was very good.
This was the grand finale! I'm not sure if the head chef is the one that famously started the restaurant or not because he didn't look like any of the pictures we saw, but he famously battled cancer and looked super skinny (especially for a chef) in all his pictures. The head chef for us didn't look like that, but was slightly similar so it could be the post cancer version. Anyway, he seemed a little pissed off as he served us the dessert, literally at/on our table. They removed our water and cider glasses and laid down the grey rubber top you see. Then he proceeded to make the dessert right in front of us, first by placing a ring on the table like the outside of a spring form pan, dumping a loose cookie crust in the bottom and then pouring a hot mixture over top, some kind of chocolate gelatin. As he added each part to the main dish in the middle, he would also place pieces of that ingredient on the table in a decorative fashion. We were to eat off the table and dip our main dish into the stuff scattered around the table. The white is a sweet cream, the blue is a violet infusion and the red was blackberry. It was all super awesome. It was crazy to see him intensely lay down the red and blue drips that you see in the second photo.
In the end it was a great experience and we are glad we did it. So many things so very different from anything we've ever seen or had before. It was awesome on so many levels!