Recent dessert trolling (I don’t actually consider being contrary or even intentionally rabble-rousing to be trolling, but you know) got me thinking about my never-posted visit to Alinea last fall. I favor traditional desserts, by which I mean sweet, gooey and substantial. I’ll eat your spruce-and-stone soup, but how about a towering layer cake bulging with veins of frosting afterward? Accompanied with a quenelle of nasturtium sorbet and crumbles of “soil,” if you must.
Alinea, despite the pageantry and production, produced a real dessert. One that pushed me over the precipice from sated to stuffed while raising my impression of 13 creations I’d been presented with. At the end of the meal, you’re presented with a menu to remind you of everything you just ate, the procession sort of being a surprise if you ignore diners who arrived earlier. Each course represented by a circle with a circumference in proportion to the amount of food. The server even commented that the dessert circle, deceptively medium-large, didn’t seem drawn to scale.
First, an institutional gray waterproof cloth is laid down. And because I was on my tenth and final wine pairing at this point (never mind the pre-dinner pints at the only restaurant open before 5pm in the immediate vicinity, a seafood joint with an adorable crab with a toupee logo where I was preemptively warned against using Groupons during happy hour) I said, “Oh, a rubber sheet” aloud instead of keeping my bed-wetting thoughts to myself.
A stubby glass of what appeared to be Creme de Violette and turned out to be exactly that was set down. Everyone secretly knows that the liqueur tastes like Sweet Tarts, but the color is so crystalline and pretty that you want to assign more sophistication to it.
I did not take a video because I don’t do such things (or even bring my SLR–half-way through I did start taking iPhone pics, despite a promise to myself to focus on the food and company, because the tables were so well spaced that the act was extremely unobtrusive) but if there was a dish crying out for such treatment, this would be it. Crumbles are set up in the round, bolstered by a metal mold, and topped with a layer of brown liquid. Then the purple liqueur is joined by a fuchsia partner and a white cream to be dotted and swooped across the table in a seemingly spontaneous, but clearly orchestrated manner. In the meantime, the centerpiece has gelled into a cake. Meringue moon rocks are strategically placed and the edible tableau is dusted with silver and purple glitter. Ok, and a leaf.
Now you can dig into what the menu calls milk chocolate pate sucree, violet, hazelnut.
No one forces you to eat the whole thing.
Up until this point, the duck only described as ……..?????…………!!!!!!!!!!!!! and accompanied by a board of condiments ranging from single leaves to a yolky blob topped with saffron to a white powdery cylinder, had been the most wowing. The duck is probably still my favorite, and just as fun, but I have to give props to a tasting menu dessert that over-delivers.
Alinea * 1723 N. Halstead, Chicago, IL