Tasty Hobby

Because food matters

Alinea Review

I’ve been thinking about what should be on my bucket list and haven’t made much progress, but I am able to add (and cross off) dining at North America’s top restaurant.  It was a confusing experience, though.  I really enjoyed myself, but I was also disappointed, and not just because I left hungry.

Maybe my expectations were too high.  I expected to be absolutely wowed with every bite and I certainly was wowed with some of the bites.  However, there usually wasn’t enough in the course to have a second taste.  I believe the chef’s philosophy is that after a few bites of something, your taste buds adjust and you don’t experience the rest of the dish the same way as the beginning.  Regardless, I would have been happier with fewer courses and larger dishes.

Many people have a hard time getting reservations at Alinea.  I’ve read stories about people using four phone lines and spending an hour hitting redial to get through.  Since I was going to Chicago for business, Alinea reservations were a nice-to-have, but not the reason for my trip.  I decided to leave a voicemail on a Sunday afternoon, three weeks before my trip.  Two days later, I got a call back saying that they had a table for me, but needed to talk to me to confirm it.  I didn’t feel the phone buzz, so it went to voicemail and I spent the next 10 minutes hitting redial until I got through.  I didn’t hesitate when she mentioned the table for two would be at 9:30 on Thursday night.  I just hoped my computer class on Friday would be an easy one.

I had done enough research to know the restaurant doesn’t have a sign out front, just the building number (1723).  Thanks to Google street view, I knew exactly where we were going.

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Alinea Menu

Here’s a teaser…Alinea Menu.  The size of the circle represents the relative size of the dish.  For reference, the Oyster Leaf through Woolly Pig were each one bite.  The direction left/right indicates the level of savory or sweet in the dish.

More details to come.

Dinner at The Ranch

Wednesday dinner: Smoked Fried Chicken, Herb Whipped Potatoes, Corn Grits, Shiner Bock

When I eat out, I try to go to places that get their food from local farms or producers and places where they make the food, as opposed to having it delivered to them in a box and just warm it up when I order.  Since I was in the Dallas area last week, I did some research to find places to eat.  I checked www.localharvest.org, but didn’t really find anything besides the farm markets.  I didn’t have high hopes for eating ‘real food’ until my class instructor let me borrow a D magazine and I saw an ad for The Ranch, which mentioned that they’re a ‘farm to fork’ restaurant.

I went for dinner Wednesday night, lunch on Thursday (with a group of 7), and again for dinner on Thursday.  Obviously I enjoyed my food.  I only wish I had not spent 3 nights this week not eating there.  Both nights at The Ranch, I sat where I could see the open kitchen, which I found to be fascinating.  I have a lot of respect for line cooks; there’s no way I could do what they do.  I can barely get an entree and a side done at the same time.

Wednesday night, the kitchen was hopping, but I only saw one frantic moment when the chef realized no one was on the salad station.  Still, from what I’ve read about working in a restaurant kitchen, this seemed like a better than average atmosphere.  I saw smiling and joking around and didn’t hear screaming or swearing.  It looked like the people liked each other, which is always a good sign.

Despite the fast pace, the chef took a minute to chat with me and passed along a tip for low fat ice cream.  It involves pureeing yogurt and overcooked rice to make the ice cream base.  I look forward to trying it out, once I figure out the details.


One of my friends is working his way through restaurant menus in Grand Rapids,MI, one item at a time.  I would have been happy to eat my way through the menu at The Ranch, but unfortunately I was only there for three meals.

Wednesday:

Sticky Toffee Cake with a bowl of very tasty whipped cream.

Sticky Toffee Cake with a bowl of very tasty whipped cream.

  • Shiner Bock beer – There’s a reason this is Texas’ most popular microbrew.
  • Smoked Fried Chicken – I would have called it Fried Smoked Chicken, but that wouldn’t have made it any tastier.
  • Goat Cheese Grits– Much coarser grits than I’m used to, but very tasty; saved these for lunch on Friday.
  • Herbed Whipped Potatoes– Saved these for lunch on Friday.
  • Sticky Toffee Cake – Made in-house, huge portion, excellent candied pecans, and crème anglaise (which I mistook for melted vanilla ice cream)

Thursday Lunch:

  • Smoked prime rib sandwich – Plenty of meat, but not overflowing; just the right amount of horseradish sauce.
  • Mini Caesar salad – Shaved and grated cheese; I almost asked for more croutons (not quite as good as my favorite croutons of all time at Webster’s, but that’s a 4-diamond restaurant).

Thursday Dinner:

  • House margarita – After four days of intense training classes, I was extremely grateful for happy hour, and the hotel shuttle bus.
  • Herb brick roasted chicken – I was so excited when I got this and saw the chicken was fairly small, which I took to mean that it came from a real farm, not a factory farm.  No mutated Franken-chicken here.  Most supermarket chickens are intentionally bred to be oversized and out of proportion, hence the term Franken-chicken.
  • Cadi-mac’n chz – Definitely one of the best I’ve had.  I love the bacon pieces.
  • Fried peach pies with ice cream – three turnover style desserts with a super light, flaky crust.
  • Complimentary coffee – This won them some bonus points, not that they needed them, though.  It drives me crazy when you spend a chunk of money on dinner and dessert, only to have a place offer you coffee to squeeze another $2 out of you.

    Herb Chicken with Mac 'n Cheese

If you’re flying in to Dallas, it’s well worth the small detour to eat at The Ranch.