Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creative cocktails in Chicago at Alinea

Ow!  What a hangover from last night.  If you looked up hangover in the dictionary, could you please bring that dictionary and knock me in the head so I can get a few more hours' sleep?  Zzzzz....

Anyway, Grant Achatz is a mad man.  If not a mad man, at least a mad scientist.  If not a mad scientist, he's at least the Beethoven of his field.

"Jesus Can't Hit a
Curveball":  Chareau,
chartreuse, gin,
serrano and poblano
ice.  Had to order it
for the name, alone.
(And if you get the
reference, we should
be friends!)
"Ain't Nobody Got Lime
for That":  lavender,
vermouth, mango
brandy, green apple
ice cubes.
(Someone should turn
those words into a
hip-hop remix!)
No joke on that last one.  Beethoven lost all of his hearing and was one of the inventors of the Romantic period of classical music.  The owner of one of the best restaurants in the world -- Alinea -- Grant Achatz is a chef at the pinnacle of his career, and at the forefront of molecular gastronomy.  And ten years ago, tongue cancer caused him to lose all of his sense of taste.  (Thankfully, his cancer is in remission and he got his taste back.)

Unfortunately, this isn't a blog post about Alinea.  Haven't gotten into that restaurant, yet!  (I did do Next -- his other restaurant -- once, though. Good stuff, although the particular dinner I went to didn't really showcase his talents because it wasn't a typical dinner.)

But this blog post is about something equally creative: His restaurant group (not-so-creatively titled the Alinea Restaurant Group) owns a cocktail joint adjacent to (and sharing a bathroom with) Next. The concept in their words:
Where cocktails and service are given the same attention to detail as a four-star restaurant; where bartenders are trained as chefs; where the produce and herbs are carefully sourced and procured fresh daily; where the name and branding of the spirit mixed is less important than its actual flavor; where drinks are made quickly and consistently in a state-of-the-art drink kitchen; where innovation and tradition are both honored. -
"Jungle Bird": pineapple,
Campari, layered rums.
(I'm starting to feel a
little funny!)
"Cawberrry strobbler":
Fig, black pepper,

cantaloupe, strawberry,

various sherries.

I brought my cousin on a trip to Chicago to show her around town, and ever since learning about this place's existence, I've wanted to come here, but never had an excuse.  Surely with her 92 lbs of stature and my drinking experience, we could tackle a tasting menu of cocktails together.

Here's the deal:  You decide when you make the reservation how boozy you're going to get.  Depending on your selection, they slot you in certain time slots.  (Presumably, the more drinks you get, you're gonna slow down in a non-linear fashion.  Options include the 3-course cocktail progression, 5-course cocktail tasting menu with prepared food (you can also order food with 3 if you want but it's not built into the cost), and 7-course kitchen table experience, presented inside the Aviary's kitchen.  May God have mercy on your soul if you bring your 92-lb anyone to a 5- or 7-cocktail tasting.  At the 3-cocktail progression, my head might stop throbbing by next Tuesday.)

"Crispy Pork Skin":  Salt and vinegar.  (Had to eat something!)
The cocktails are not yo mama's cocktails.  All of them have been derived by the mad scientist's staff:  Some feature smoke, others gelatins, others still ices made from various things.  In some cases, the ices are designed to break and cause two ingredients to mix.  Or, they rely on the specific gravities of certain fluids so they don't mix (as in "Jungle Bird", above).

Tempura shrimp: Togarashi-spiced
aioli, yuzu-pickled nashi pear.
(If I had thought this post through
better, I should have taken this
photo in landscape.)
"Feather Knows Best":
Barrel smoke, sherry,
cognac, scotch.
(¿Dónde están mis
Sherry, bourbon,
(I can't feel my
skull, anymore.)
The cocktail list is long and ever-changing, so one trip is not enough.  (Although with my throbbing head, it'll be a few until I put my liver to work again!)

Things also progress, throughout the night.  The top two cocktails, "Jesus Can't Hit a Curveball" and "Ain't Nobody Got Lime for That", feature fruit-forward flavors (and apparently a lot of alliteration).  You can choose from a long list of fruit-forward cocktails; these were mainly chosen for their names.  The second ones got a little stronger and more predominantly feature alcohol.  The third category, heavier, smokier drinks usually featuring whiskies.

Well, my lightweight cousin was out for this round, so I had her whole glass.  Having had half of each of her previous two drinks, this put me at five double-shot drinks by this point in the night, so I was definitely doing pretty good by this point last night.

A5 wagyu: tofu misozuke, yuzu kosho mustard.
(¡Muy delicioso!  Why am I speaking Spanish now?)

"Carrot cake Ramos
rum fizz":  rooibos,
cream cheese, black
walnut, spices. AKA
"carrot cake in a glass".
Before we went, I had to order some A5 wagyu.  Because it's A5 wagyu, that's why!  Also, I had to get one more drink on the menu:  the carrot cake Ramos rum fizz.  My favorite cocktail of all time is the Ramos gin fizz.  So if someone's doing a spin on it -- however far from the original it is, I want to know about it.

Turned out, this was a pretty far departure from the original:  first, it's a rum fizz, rather than a gin fizz, so it's pretty much an international flight from the original.  The original has half-and-half in it, this one, cream cheese.  Whoa.  Quite frankly, this was basically carrot cake in a glass.  Use your own sense of right and wrong in the world to decide for yourself if you'd like it.

All in all, a terrific evening.  There's nothing stuffy about this place, save for the amount of money you pay to do this.  And I'm really glad I came.

Now, where are my pantalones?

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