One of my friends at the 28-course from-the-cookbook-of-El-Bulli/molecular-gastronomy dinner at Next put this excellent summary image together (you can click through and then click again to zoom in to the full-size image).
This is all but one of our courses (it’s missing the liquid-nitrogen-frozen caipirinha):
It was a fascinating dining experience and tour through the history of experimental food– with each dish, they told us what year it had been served in El Bulli (for example, the red mullet gaudi was in one of the earlier years– conceptual in terms of its mosaic-like appearance, but without the “magic powders” of later foams and smokes).
Some of my favorites were the the cuttlefish-coconut “ravioli” (thin sheets of cuttlefish serving the role of the pasta), the “golden egg” (an egg yolk encrusted in a crispy gold-covered sugar shell, somehow without overcooking the yolk, leaving it in a delicious soft-cooked state), spherical olives (olive juice encapsulated in a thin flexible gel-like coating, so that as you put it in our mouth it bursts and releases the juice), cauliflower “couscous” (shredded and formed into the texture of couscous, with an intensely rich lamb sauce and many interesting surrounding tart and savory and sweet garnishes and gelatinous cubes, each of which I know might have been its own several-hour-or-more preparation. I also loved the eel with bone marrow, paired with a Half Acre beer brewed with beets.
I’m fortunate to have had this experience… and at the same time, I only needed to do it once. If I were to spend that amount of money in Chicago again some day, I’d go back to Alinea instead.
While visiting Chicago, I was usually getting dinner with other people who are into craft beer, making it easy to try a wide variety. It was a busy few evenings so I don’t remember all the details, but I jotted down a few notes of my favorites that I’m going to keep an eye out for in the future:
- Vichtenaar, a slightly sour Flemish Red
- Avery Maharajah, a very distinctively-flavored IPA (and one of a small number of IPAs I’m excited about these days– I’d had it before)
- Half Acre Over Ale (a brown ale, a bit nutty, a bit like toast, quite good — sadly I don’t think they distribute outside of Chicago)
- Half Acre Sanguis brewed with oranges and beets, and really excellent with strong food (smoked eel)
- Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (Sorachi Ace is a particular unusual hop that I think smells a bit like dill– I only knew it from the Mikkeller Single Hop series tasting I did with some friends last year)
- Revolution Coup d’Etat (from a local brewery, in the slightly funky belgian farmhouse/blonde/yeasty style)
As a side note– I liked the design of the Half Acre Sanguis label quite a bit– my photo of it is a bit blurry but I found a blog post from the designer
with the image:
Other good beers:
- Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
- Ivanhoe from Ridgeway Brewing in the UK (light caramel and malt flavors, round, smooth)
- Vitus (unfortunately I don’t remember details about it, but I jotted down that I liked it)
- Weihenstephaner (their Lagerbier? Or perhaps it was their wheat beer– I just tasted a friend’s)
- Belhaven (pretty good in general)
I was less interested in:
- Biere de Garde from Brasserie Castellion (though friends I was with liked it)
- Goose Island Green Line (a pale ale, and I believe only sold on tap and only sold within Chicago– mild and reasonable but nothing special)
- Three Floyds Zombie Dust (a pale ale, a distinctive hop flavor, good and something I’d drink again but not something I’d go out of my way for)
- Two Brothers Cane and Ebel (rye and palm sugar– sort of fruity/sweet– complex, but I didn’t like it– fortunately I was just tasting a friend’s)
Half Acre has a nice little tasting room at their brewery (which was near where I was staying with a friend). I sneaked a peek in back at their small canning operation as well– ever since friends started The Can Van, I’ve been especially curious which craft beers come in cans and at what scale that happens. From chatting with people at the brewery, one of the barriers to canning more beers is the printed cans themselves– they have to get huge pallets/stacks of cans printed at any given time, making it unreasonable to can their smaller-run beers even after making the investment in a canning line.
Taking it down a notch the next day (no pun intended), an excellent beef sandwich (with hot peppers, dipped in beef broth) from Al’s Beef:
This is what we ate (and drank). Click through for a higher-res version.