Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's Been a Long Time

It sure has been a long time since I put anything on here.  I've been very busy with school, getting a new job, and lots of eating.  Anyway, we are both semi-sick, so I wanted to make some chicken soup to make us better.  I had a chicken carcass laying around the house (don't we all?) from some Tarragon Chicken that I recently made, so I figured I could make it from scratch.  I've never made chicken soup before, let alone from scratch, so I kind of winged it...and it turned out awesome.  I like my chicken soup extra peppery, so if you don't, then cut back the pepper.  Also, tonight we are going to go to the best bar in the world, The Aviary (955 W. Fulton), so I can get the gin Rooibos tea drink to make myself even less sick.  Here is the recipe for the soup.  For the chicken stock portion, you don't have to worry about peeling any of the veggies or finely dicing them since they all get strained out in the end.

Chicken Stock
1 chicken carcass, chopped into 8 pieces
1 onion, halved
3 carrots, larged diced
3 stalks celery, larged diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed, skin on
1 turnip, quartered
1 parsnip, large diced
7 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tspn parsley leaves
1/2 tspn black pepper
olive oil

1.  Film the bottom of a large pot with olive oil and heat it over medium high heat until hot.  Put the chicken carcass pieces in the pot and let them brown, then flip them.  Skip this step if the carcass came from a roasted, as opposed to raw, chicken.

2.  Toss all the other ingredients into the pot and cover with cold water by about an inch and a half .  Bring up to a strong simmer, then lower heat to maintain at a bare simmer.

3.  Let it cook and reduce for 5 hours, skimming the scum that rises to the top.

4.  After 5 hours, it should have reduced by about 1/4 and turned to a deep amber color.  Strain the stock into another pot and heat up again to a simmer.  If it is cloudy, drop 2 egg whites into it and let them rise to the top, then skim them out.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

5.  There will be a layer of fat on the top.  Carefully skim it off and throw it away.  In the end you will have about a quart and a half of stock.

Chicken Soup
1.5 quarts of chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, browned on outside, cubed (can still be uncooked in center)
3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
5 drops Thai fish sauce
2 cups rigatoni, cooked (or whatever other noodle you want)
1/2 tspn white wine vinegar
kosher salt
pepper, lots of pepper

1.  Bring stock to a simmer.  Put the chicken breast in the stock to finish cooking for about 10 minutes.
2.  After 4 minutes of the chicken cooking, add in the carrots, celery, and fish sauce.
3.  After 10 minutes taste the soup.  It will definitely need salt since you have not put in any yet, so salt to taste.  There is also very little acidity, so add the white wine vinegar.  I also love very peppery soup, so I add lots of pepper, you can add less if you want.
4.  Taste again and balance with salt, pepper, and vinegar if necessary.
5.  Put half of the noodles in each bowl.  Pour the soup over the noodles...Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The First Big Dinner Trial Run

I'm back after a long absence that included 3 law school finals, enough caffiene to kill an elephant, a Mad Men party, and a jump into Lake Michigan on New Year's Day.  On Saturday, I'm cooking a 6 course dinner for 14 people in Elmhurst, so I needed to begin practicing.  The first two courses that I tested were 1. Flavors of Frosty the Snowman and 2. Venison (steak in the trial run), charcoal, beets, pomegranate.  Frosty had too much tobacco flavor so next time I will use less of that and probably add in a bit of sugar to round out the harshness of the tobacco.  The charcoal was very sand-like and unpleasant to eat texture-wise, so I'll have to come up with a solution for that.  I've been thinking about fireplace soot or maybe just scrapping it all together and going with cocao powder.  I think I spend an unusual amount of time worrying if I'm going to poison myself with something that I cook.  Is that normal for people?

Here were the recipes for the dishes I practiced:

Flavors of Frosty
Corn Ice Cream
1.5 cups corn kernels
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
1 tbsp sugar
4 egg yolks, beaten and in a separate bowl
1 tbsp butter
kosher salt

1.  In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Once melted and hot, add corn kernels, a pinch of salt and a little pepper
2.  Toss corn around in the butter and saute for 3-4 minutes until corn is hot and cooked through.
3.  Pour in the milk and cream, and add the sugar.  Stir to dissolve sugar.  Lower  heat to low.
4.  Pour about 1/3 of the cream mixture into the egg yolks and whisk for a minute to temper the eggs
5.  Add the egg mixture back to the sauce pan and stir with a wooden spoon until thickened to the point that you can draw a line on the back of the spoon with your finger.  About 3-4 minutes.
6.  Pour cream into a cooled metal bowl, cover and refrigerate for a few hours until the cream is the texture of custard.
7.  Pour custard into an ice cream machine and churn until it looks like ice cream.  Scrape the ice cream into a bowl and put the bowl in the freezer for 8 hours to harden and let the flavors come together.

Tobacco Cream
2 grams tobacco from a cigar
1 cup cream
1 cup milk

1.  Put all ingredients together in a sauce pan
2.  Bring to a boil over medium heat
3.  Remove from heat and cover.  Let tobacco steep for about an hour.
4.  Strain the tobacco out and keep warm

To assemble:  Spoon some ice cream into the bottom of a bowl.  Heat the tobacco cream (I'd use less tobacco next time, but its up to you) until hot.  Top the ice cream with shredded carrots (I'm going to attempt to make a carrot top hat out of caramel when I actually serve it).  Pour the hot tobacco cream over the top of it so the ice cream begins to melt, just like Frosty the Snowman.

Steak, Charcoal, Beets, Pomegranate
2 steaks, fat trimmed
some bamboo charcoal, ground to powder in a spice grinder (I'd use something else since this was sandy)
3 beets, juiced, 1/2 cup of the juice in 2 separate cups
3 beets, quartered
1 cup pomegranate juice
beef stock
red wine vinegar
8 tbsp butter
lemon juice
canola oil

1.  Salt and pepper each steak.  Heat canola oil over high heat.  Add each steak for 1 minute on each side, just to caramelize, then set them aside.
2.  Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup of beet juice over medium heat and reduce until it is 2-3 tbsp.  Add a few drops of red wine vinegar, a few drops of lemon juice, and whisk in 3 tbsp butter.  Keep warm and reserve.
3.  Put the pomegranate juice in another sauce pan and heat over medium heat.  Pour in 1/4 cup of beef stock and about 1/2 tbsp sugar.  Bring to a boil and reduce to medium-low.  Reduce pomegranate juice mixture by 1/2.  Whisk in 5 tbsp butter one piece at a time.  Keep warm and reserved.
4.  For the beet pudding, put the other 1/2 cup of beet juice in a blender.  Turn on low and sprinkle in about a tbsp of sugar.  Turn blender up to high and sprinkle in some Ultra Tex 3 until it is the desired consistency.
5.  While all of this is going on, preheat oven to 450.  Salt and pepper beet quarters, and put them in the oven for 15 minutes until cooked through.
6.  Coat all sides of the beef in the charcoal powder (or whatever you are using).  Remove the beets from the oven and replace with the charcoal beef for about 5 minutes until medium-rare.

To assemble:  Place beef in center of plate.  Place a spoon of beet juice in the front and streak across the plate with a paint brush.  Place a dollop of beet pudding in one of the corners.  Put the roasted beet quarters on one side of the meat.  Spoon a line of pomegranate reduction across the plate.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crepe-y Kind of Night

As the weather begins to turn cold and the leaves fall off the trees, something even more insidious kicks into high gear for me.  That's right, finals studying for law school begins.  Every day essentially ends with me feeling the same way - ike I had been choked at the bottom of a pool.

However, as a reprieve to the seeminly neverending grind of school, was tonight's dinner, which Michelle prepared.  If you have read through previous posts, you would know that I love eating breakfast for dinner, so as a dash of summer and the accompanying happy feelings, she made crepes with strawberries and bananas with a side of bacon.

She had never made it before, but it turned out gloriously.

I have discussed the recipe for crepes before here, and I assume you know how to cook bacon, so I'll focus on the filling.

For the banana portion, she simply sliced up a few bananas and set them to the side.

Strawberry Filling
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt

1.  Melt butter over medium heat.
2.  Once melted, put in brown sugar and stir til bubbly
3.  Add strawberries and lower heat to medium low
4.  Stir slowly until strawberries render their liquid.  Cook for about 10 more minutes to reduce juice a bit
5.  Stir in pinch of salt
6.  Serve

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fish Tuesday 2.0 (a.k.a. Fish Wednesday)

One Sunday afternoon, we were wandering around near the train station when we saw a sign for something called "French Market."  Our interest piqued, and we ventured inside what I was sure was part of the train station (it was) to figure out what exactly the French Market was.  To my never ending delight, what was once a urine-soaked haven for Chicago's denizens of the night, had been transformed into something of a permanent farmer's market.  After gleefully walking up and down the aisles, viewing the vendors' wares, I finally came upon the butcher/fishmonger.  It was here that the idea of Fish Wednesday was born.  If you have been reading this blog for long, you will know that one of my favorite parts, if not my favorite, of being unemployed was Fish Tuesdays at the Fishguy Market, so needless today I was thrilled at the prospect of a weekly fish day returning.  Anyway, the French Market is located between Randolph and Washington with entrances on either Clinton or Canal.  The website is

Since the glorious discovery of the French Market, I have cooked for two Fish Wednesdays.  The first one turned out relatively decent, but as you can see, I tweaked and changed it all a bit to make it even better. 

For the first recipe, I got the recipe for the bbq sauce out of a magazine that arrived at work (sorry, I forgot which one).  I thought that it would go perfectly with fish since it was light and fruity, but the recipe without my modifications, was awful.  I think there is some promise in it, but I'd definitely cut down on both the tomato juice and tomato paste.  Fortunately, the mustard glaze was so good that I kind of forgot about the awful bbq sauce.

Salmon with Blackberry-Bourbon BBQ Sauce (serves 2)
2 salmon fillets
4 tbsp grain mustard
5 tbsp sugar (I used regular sugar, though next time, I'd use brown)
1 tspn soy sauce
0.5 cups blackberry jam
0.75 cup tomato juice
0.5 cup tomato paste
0.25 cup bourbon (more if you want to drink some, which I'd highly recommend)
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp dijon mustard
0.25 tspn cayenne (adjust if you want it more or less spicy)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
0.5 tbsp chile powder
kosher salt

1.  Mix grain mustard, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl to form a thick paste.  Salt and pepper salmon, then spread the mustard glaze on the salmon liberally.  Let the salmon sit at room temperature for 10-20 minutes so it is no longer chilled.
2.  Mix all other ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Set the pan over medium-low heat and cook for about 20-25 minutes.
3.  While the sauce is cooking, preheat the oven to 450.  When the oven reaches that temperature, put the salmon in the oven on a baking sheet covered with foil.  Let the salmon cook for 10-12 minutes.
4.  Drizzle some sauce (if you like it) on to the salmon and enjoy.  I think I would serve this with green beans or spinach.

Here is my tweaks and upgrades on that recipes, including the scrapping of the bbq sauce entirely.  This very well may be the best fish dish that I've ever cooked.  I got this recipe from the recipe finder on, but it was so poorly written and confusing that I pretty much made up my own method of doing it.  You have to be vigilant when making this since there is a bunch of stuff going on at once.

Part 2
2 mahi mahi filets (though any light fish fillets will be fine).
2 slices of bacon
6-8 red potatoes, sliced into thin discs
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
olive oil
2 beets, peeled and sliced into batons
3 cups baby spinach
0.25 cups white wine
0.5 tspn white wine vinegar
1 tbsp butter
0.5 cups white wine
juice from 0.75 lemon
3 bay leaves
0.25 cups cream
1 tbsp grain mustard
4 tbsp butter, cut into 1 tbsp chunks

1.  Preheat oven to 450.
2.  Put potato discs in a single layer on a foil-covered baking sheet.  Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Put in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes until they turn nicely brown.
3.  Wrap each mahi mahi filet with a piece of bacon, being sure that the bacon does not overlap itself.  Salt and pepper and set to the side.
4.  For the sauce, in a medium sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.  When melted add 1 of the diced shallots and cook until just turning brown (about 3 minutes).  Add bay leaves and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant.  Deglaze with 0.5 cup of white wine.  Sprinkle in the lemon juice and let it reduce until it looks syrupy.
5.  While sauce is reducing, film a large saute pan with olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add in the remaining diced shallot and the garlic and cook until turning brown (about 1 minute).   Add the beets and cook, stirring constantly, until the shallots are nicely browned.  Deglaze with the 0.25 cup of white wine and then add in the vinegar.  Reduce heat to medium-low and stir while it all cooks together and pan is nearly dry.  Add in the spinach and stir it around until the spinach has wilted.
6.  Film a frying pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Put the fish, presentation side down, into the pan and cook for 1 minute until bacon is nicely browned.  Flip fish over and cook for another 1 minute.
7.  While fish is cooking, remove the potatoes from the oven and set aside.  Opening the oven should reduce the oven temperature to about 425.  Set the oven for 425 and put in the pan with the fish for about 6 minutes.  Turn off the oven.  While you are completing everything else, put the potatoes in the warm oven to heat up.
8.  Now that the sauce is reduced to a syrup, add in the cream and mustard and return to a boil, whisking.  Once it is boiling again, whisk in 4 tbsp of butter, 1 tbsp at a time, adding a new one only when the previous one has been incorporated.  Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a cup or bowl.
9.  After that whole marathon, here is how I plated it.  Put a ring of potatoes down around the plate.  Put a large spoonful of spinach and beets in the center.  Top that with the fish and then drizzle with the strained sauce.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Da Bears!

I promised Mrs. Urgo that I would put this up, so here we go!  Two Sundays ago, the Bears began what we all surely expected to be a middling or even disappointing 2010 season.  However, in the spirit of hope, competitiveness, and drinking, we all crowded around the television for at least the first week of football.  We had the privilege of watching the game at the fabulous Casa de Urgo in Elmhurst (and using the awesome kitchen).

Since football pairs best with red meat for some reason, we decided to grill some steaks.  Also, since no one would stand for me spending 3 hours cooking in the morning and making a giant mess, I wanted to keep it simple.  After much conversing, we settled on steaks with a shallot and port butter with a side of secret potatoes.  I'm not sure how she got the secret recipe, but since they were delicious, I imagine it was probably something pretty wild, which I would love to do not want to hear about.

I made the butter the night before just because it was not feasible to do in the morning of the game.  I told Jessica that we should get ribeye, filet, or NY Strip.  I figured ribeye would be the best option since it is the least expensive, however; apparently the world went crazy when she went to buy the meat and the ribeyes were over $150, so we ended up with some even better porterhouse steaks.  Great success!

Our goal was to eat at halftime, and the way the Bears were barely keeping up with the hapless Lions, we figured a disappointing end could be in store for us.  The fact that it was against Detroit made it even more disheartening since you all know, or should know, about my deep animosity for Detroit.

As for my steak cooking showing that day, I would give myself a B-.  Some of the steaks were cooked correctly, while others were kind of overcooked.  I purposefully added time from how I usually cook steaks since the last steaks I cooked were woefully undercooked, but that was more likely caused by the steaks being exceptionally thick instead rather than the usual timing being off.  Next time it is 4 minutes per side, and no more, E. Coli be damned. 

The one thing that I made that surely shined through was the delicious shallot and port butter, which Mrs. Urgo kept and was apparently spreading on lots of other things in the following week(s).  As we all know the Bears ended up winning because God hates Detroit.  Here is the recipe for the butter, so you too can revel in the Lions losing the next time.

1 stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 shallot, diced
0.5 cups ruby port
0.5 cups cabernet sauvignon
pinch of cardamom
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
kosher salt

1.  Take stick of butter out of the fridge or freezer and let it sit out for an hour or two to soften.
2.  Melt the other 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
3.  Put the garlic and the shallot in the melted butter and cook until just starting to turn brown about 4-5 minutes.
4.  Add in the cardamom and pepper and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5.  Pour in the port and cabernet.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook for about 20 minutes until wine is thick and syrupy and reduced to about 1/4 cup.  Remove from heat and let it cool for a while until close to room temperature (you can put it in the fridge if you want).
6.  Mash up the softened butter in a bowl with the red wine vinegar and a little salt.
7.  Pour the reduced port and shallot mixture into the butter and stir together with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
8.  Spread out some plastic wrap on the counter.  Spread the butter mixture across one end of the plastic and roll it up in the plastic wrap so it looks like a burrito.  Twist the ends to make it tight.  Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight. 
9.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


A few weeks ago I went to Gilt Bar, which is probably my current favorite regular restaurant in the city.  They do really simple food, but they do it very well.  I had a dish there called "The Purist," which was simply pasta, parmesan, and black pepper.  For having so few ingredients that we eat all the time, it was mindblowing.

One night after eating this delightful pasta, I was craving it at home, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I had no idea how they actually prepared it, so I went to improvise.  I was about halfway through the sauce (and thinking about cheesecake for some reason) when I realized that the sauce was way too thin.  I didnt want to put flour in it because I don't like thickening sauces with flour.  Looking through my fridge, I pushed aside the milk and eggs, and sitting there, like the hidden grail, was the answer!  Cream cheese!  I sliced off about an ounce of it and put it in the sauce to add some body, and it turned out just like I hoped.  I also started thawing some chicken, but it wasn't thawed in time, so I didn't use it.  That was a fortuitous turn of events, since I ended up liking the dish way better than I would have if the chicken ended up in it.  I'm pretty sure it was the best pasta I've ever cooked, and I'm glad Gilt Bar inspired me.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

1 box penne pasta
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 oz. cream cheese
kosher salt
3 cups loosely packed baby spinach
2 tbsp butter
4 cloves of garlic, diced
black truffle oil (optional)

1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the garlic.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until just starting to brown.
2.  Add in chicken stock and cream and cook until simmering.
3.  Add cream cheese and whisk until it is melted and incorporated.
4.  Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes until reduced slightly.
5.  Meanwhile, start a large pot of water boiling, salt it, and add the pasta to begin cooking for about 8 minutes or until pasta is al dente.
6.  Put spinach in the bottom of the service bowl.
7.  When the sauce has reduced a little, add in a pinch of parmesan and whisk until combined.  Continue this process until only about 1/4 of a cup of cheese remains.  Reserve the cheese on the side to finish the dish.
8.  Add salt and pepper to the sauce to taste.
9.  When pasta is done, drain it and put it over the spinach and toss to combine.  Pour the sauce over the top and toss again.  Cover with foil to hold the heat in and cook the spinach.
10.  Remove the foil and lightly drizzle with black truffle oil, if using.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I realized that I will never catch up on the two month absence that I took surrounding finals and the ensuing winding down period, so I'm just going to do one (major) highlight and then move on to present day.

You might be thinking something like, "Brian, you eat a whole bunch of awesome food all the time, what one thing could you have possibly eaten in the last two months that could possibly warrant the only retroactive post?"  Ponder not, for the highlight was the fine dining Mecca of America (I say the world), Alinea.  As if it needed an introduction, Alinea is located at 1723 N. Halsted and its website is  Obviously I had us opt for the longer and more opulent of the two menus.  Were we up for the challenge of 26 courses over 5.5 hours?  Only time would tell.

We were seated in the upstairs dining room on the far left.  The very first thing they brought out were centerpieces that looked like flags.  They informed us, cryptically, that they would come into play later.

The first real course after the mystery centerpiece was described as English Pea, Iberico ham, sherry, and honeydew.  It was served in a drinking glass and basically consisted of peas of different textures and temperatures (ranging from deeply frozen (like in liquid nitrogen) to room temperature).  The peas were served whole, in a puree, and frozen so they shattered when you took a bite.  The ham, honeydew, and basil were made into a gelee and served atop the whole dish, and the sherry was spherified, so it popped in your mouth.  I thought this dish was a brilliant opening course.  I really enjoy cold things to start meals, so this was already starting pretty highly.  The saltiness of the ham gel brought out the natural sweetness of the peas and the honeydew added a different type of sweetness.  If I was coming up with the dish, I probably would have stopped there, but the Alinea people threw one extra twist in there with the sherry which added some nuttiness and acid to the dish.  Overall, I loved it and was primed for the remaining 25 courses.  As always, the opening "wine" was a champagne cocktail consisting of Szigeti "Cuvee Prestige" with elderflower, Peychaud's, and some chili pepper.  I thought the sparkling-ness of the cocktail cut through the thickness and sweetness of the pea puree.  The next four dishes used this same cocktail.  I also don't have pictures of them since I remembered that Chef Achatz isn't a particularly huge fan of people taking pictures in the restaurant, so we tried to do it as quickly and discreetly as possible.

The next course was described as Lobster, lychee, gruyere cheese, and vanilla fragrance.  This dish had butter poached lobster that was rolled in gruyere and lychee and impaled on a vanilla bean.  They then dipped the lobster mixture in tempura batter and deep fried it onto the vanilla bean.  When served, you pick up the vanilla bean and eat the fried puff off of the end of the bean.  I thought there must have been some mistake since it was only the second course and already my mind was blown, but apparently that was the order they meant to serve it in.  The sweetness and sea flavor of the lobster was curious (in a good way) with the vanilla.  The cheese added some saltiness and creaminess that I never would have thought of and the lychee added just a hit of acidity to round the whole thing out.  Mike asked the waiter if he could just bring 24 more of these since he was sure that it couldn't be topped.

The next two courses were served at the same time.  The first one I had enjoyed before the last time I was at Alinea.  It was Yuba, shrimp, miso, togarashi.  Basically, they roll up some yuba, which is the skin that renders ontop when you boil soy milk and deep fry it so it ends up looking like a cinnamon stick.  Then they twist a shrimp around it and cook it onto it so it stays on.  They garnish it with seseame seeds and orange and serve it in an inkwell full of miso mayonaisse.  You will probably get tired of hearing this, but it is an amazing dish and I am definitely glad they kept this one on the menu.

The other course was called Chao Tom, sugar cane, shrimp, mint.  Apparently Chao Tom is a Thai dish involving sugar cane and shrimp.  In typical Alinea fashion, they pushed it to the extreme.  Here they took some compressed sugar cane and infused it with a heavily reduced shrimp stock and garnished it with some mint.  I described it as shrimp gum since you cannot swallow the sugar can, you merely chew it until it loses the flavor.  It wasn't the best course of the night, but it was surely interesting.  I never imagined it could be food (maybe because it really isn't), but that is part of the magic of Alinea.

The fifth course was a shot called Distillation of Thai flavors.  I believe it was lemongrass, fish sauce, and tamarind.  They evaporated much of the water out of each of the elements so they were left with a powerfully flavored shot.  They told us that it was to prepare our palates for the following course.  The shot was essentially like drinking pad thai, and I love pad thai.  I was curious what we were preparing ourselves for, but I was excited nonetheless.

Finally on the sixth course, we found out what the centerpieces were for.  They brought out a wooden plank that had two metal stands that they assembled at the table.  The waiter took the flag portion of the centerpiece and draped it over the metal stand.  He then spooned some braised pork belly onto the centerpiece.  Another waiter brought each of us a tray with various accoutrements to assemble our own dish.  Apparently this was Alinea's take on a Thai spring roll and the accompanying tray was full of things that would go with the pork belly such as limes, garlic, radishes, etc.  This was Mike and Michelle's favorite savory course of the evening.  I have to admit that it was a bold move to have people eating with their hands at such an amazing place, but I loved it and it was very fun.  It was served with a 2008 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige.

The seventh course was described as King Crab, rhubarb,  lilac, fennel.  It was probably the most surprising course of the night as it was actually three different preparations.  It moved from a cold preparation to a hot one and it was served in an "apple bowl" whereby it was a layered bowl and each layer contained a different preparation.  I'm just going to copy the description from the Alinea Mosaic forum since it had way too much going on to remember.  As the course progresses, we move from cold to hot and increase richness from top to bottom. Each level contains different combinations of crab and rhubarb. In the top section, we mix the crab meat with minced shallots and make a dressing with sour cream and lime juice. We make a rhubarb pudding by pureeing rhubarb cooked in its own juice, red wine vinegar and sugar. While the dressing is rich, acid from the sour cream and lime juice give it a cleansing quality. Chervil juice, lightly set with gelatin adds a clean herbaceous note. Ginger candy adds sharpness. Additional acidity comes from lemon that we aerate with a siphon canister. We top it with a quenelle of buttermilk-jasmine sorbet to add a light spring-floral note.  In the middle is the crab salad. We introduce the rich element of avocado coated with crushed fried almonds. It is placed in between two pieces of crab meat dressed in lemon-ginger vinaigrette. We garnish with braised mustard seeds dressed in mustard vinaigrette, compressed rhubarb slices, shaved fennel salad, fennel fronds, slices of green fennel top, a square of red pepper, chervil pluches and mung bean sprouts.  The bottom section is the richest, served hot. It is crab, rhubarb and cippolini onion glacage. Inside is glazed fennel, sweet and sour onion, and rhubarb braised in red wine, red wine vinegar and sugar. We make the glacage by slowly cooking fennel, shallot, garlic, and leek in butter and deglaze with vermouth. We add a heavy cream flavored with fennel, star anise and black peppercorns. We reduce the mixture until its thick and add a little whipped cream. We coat the components and brown it lightly under the salamander. Over the top we sprinkle pink peppercorn skin, diced preserved lemon and star anise powder.  As you can plainly see, this dish is out of control.  My favorite was the bottom course, but it all mixed so well together that it is hard to imagine them out of context.  The King Crab was served with my favorite wine of the night, a Josmeyer Pinot Gris "Brand" Grand Cru, Alsace 2005.  It was like drinking cantaloupe and candy.

The eighth course was Octopus, red wine, lavender, fava bean.  This was served in the "palm bowl."  In this service piece, the solid part of the course is assembled on a spoon which fits into a notch on the bowl, and in the bowl is a soup of some sort.  Here, the octopus was marinated in red wine and served with lavender (on the fork), and in the bowl was a fava bean soup.  I did not particularly care for how chewy the octopus was, but the grilled flavor on it was nice and the fava bean soup was tasty.

The ninth course was probably my favorite savory course.  It was called Lamb, reflections of Elysian Fields Farm.  Alinea gets some of the best lamb in the world from Elysian Fields Farm in Pennsylvania and this was their tribute to the farm.  The lamb was cooked to a perfect medium-rare and skewered on a rosemary sprig.  It was joined by fried lamb fat, polenta, a meaty lamb flavored puff of some sort.  In short, it was simple (as far as Alinea goes), but spectacular.  The flavors came together perfectly.  If I was a lamb and was going to be eaten, this is how I would want to be served.  This was served with a 2005 Araujo Estate "Altagracia" Cabernet Sauvignon.  I'm pretty sure this was my favorite red wine of the evening.

The tenth course (yes, we are only a third of the way done) was my favorite "repeat" course as this is always on the menu.  If you go back to my Valentine's Day post, you can see my attempt at this dish.  It is a cold potato and black truffle soup in a wax bowl with a hot fried potato hanging above it on a pin draped with a shaved black truffle.  To eat, you remove the pin and drink the whole thing down like an oyster.  It is difficult to imagine a better single bite on earth.

The next three courses were served at the same time, sort of like an intermission (except you were still eating, so I guess it wasn't really an intermission).  They were 1.  Malt, english toffee, bourbon county stout, blueberry; 2. Bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme; and 3.  Nutella, bread, banana, chocolate.  Of these, my favorite was the malt course.  It was ice cream, but it had some interesting salty and savory elements to it.  I have had the bacon dish before, which is served hanging on what looks like a bow.  I had pretty high hopes for the nutella course, which looked like a rock dusted in chocolate; however, when you would bring it to your mouth, you would inhale the chocolate and it would make you cough, which was unpleasant (even though the flavor was nice).  These were served with a Vinhos Barbeito/Rare Wine Co. sherry.

The next course was a play on clam chowder entitled Surf Clam, celery, tabasco, oyster, cracker.  The chowder portion was turned into a gel and it was topped with a perfect balance of all the other flavors, served inside of a large clam shell.  It was pretty much the best clam chowder I've ever had (and that is with all due respect to the now-defunct Seafood Shack in Florida).  It was served with a Krug "Grand Cuvee" Brut Champagne.  The toasty flavors of the champagne really went quite nicely with the creaminess of the "soup."

The next two courses were my least favorite of the night.  The first of these two was Green Almond, yuzu, wasabi, rice milk.  This course was a single green almond partially encased in gelled rice milk with dots of yuzu and wasabi on each corner.  I've had many one bite courses at Alinea that blew me away, but this one failed to evoke any particular response.  It wasn't like it was bad, but I expect pretty high things from Alinea.

The next course was definitely my least favorite of the night.  Whereas the above Green Almond course was one bite and just not particularly mind-blowing, I openly disliked this one.  It was called Salad, ranch dressing, soup, powdered.  The waiter told us that the chef gets the vegetables from a lady farmer up in Michigan and she drives them down each night before turning back to her farm.  It is a pretty cool story, but I just didn't like anything about the dish.  It was a variety of raw vegetables (carrot, radish, etc.) dusted with a powdered ranch dressing that you ate with your fingers (sort of like eating a healthy version of Cool Ranch Doritos, only if the Doritos tasted a little like mud).  After you finished eating the salad part, they lifted up the top half of the bowl to reveal a ranch dressing soup.  I'm unclear how this was any different from eating pure ranch dressing, but apparently it was.  Perhaps it's because I don't like salads generally, but this course was not good.  It was served with a Radikon 'Oslavje' Venezia-Giulia 2004.  I can't particularly remember this wine, but I think I liked it on its own, but not with the course itself.

I also wasn't a huge fan of the next course (Sardine, horseradish, arugula flower, tomato), but I can definitely appreciate what was being done with it.  As with most Americans, I have rarely, if ever, consumed a sardine, so the flavor is completely foreign to me (pun completely intended).  As such, Alinea serves a one bite portion of sardine skewered atop an antenna.  While you may not enjoy sardines, it is only one bite, so you do not really have a choice of whether you want to eat it or not.  I don't know if this turned me around on sardines, which are a very very strong flavor, but I'm glad I tried it.

The nineteenth course (yes, nineteen) was one that almost forced me to come here by myself about three weeks prior (Squab, charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log), so I'm glad it stayed on the menu for our meal.  Apparently the development of this dish came during the winter when they wanted to do something with a burnt log.  Along those same lines, they wanted to add a bunch of black elements to blend in with the log.  After having this, I was inspired to try to char my own strawberries, and I can tell you that it was certainly not an easy feat.  Anyway, the squab was perfectly cooked and slightly gamey, but the charred strawberries added a really interesting taste (I mean, who has had charred strawberries before?) that cut through the gaminess.  It was served with a 2004 Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie fromt he Northern Rhone.

The next course was one that I have had a couple times before, but it never fails to amaze me, the Black Truffle Explosion.  It is a single bite ravioli that is filled with an exploding black truffle ball.  As with my adventure to Tru with my brother and sister, you have to be 100% sure your mouth is fully closed when you bite into this or there will be black truffle juice everywhere (and not in your mouth, where you would want it).  It's one of the more perfect one bite courses of all time with its beautiful black truffle taste.

The final savory course was a "time travel" course meant to be reminiscent of early 1900s Paris.  It was called Tournedo a la persane.  It was a piece of wagyu beef that was cooked sous vide to a perfect medium rare, surrounded by tomatoes, peppers stuffed with rice, and bananas.  It may not have been my favorite savory course (which likely goes to the lamb), but it had some amazing flavors and I would love to eat it everyday.  It was served with a 2005 Anima Negra from Mallorca Spain.

Onto dessert!  The first "dessert" was Lemon Soda, one bite.  It was some lemon powder mixed with something to make it fizzy sealed inside of some rice paper.  Once it hit your tongue and the paper dissolved, you got an interesting fizzy sensation on your tongue with a nice hit of lemon.  It was probably more of a palate cleanser than anything, but it was fun, sort of like eating grown up Pop-Rocks.

The next palate cleanser was Transparency of raspberry and yogurt.  This is like a hardened raspberry fruit roll up (very glass-like) dusted with rose petals and yogurt powder.  You have to be extremely careful with this dish because if you pull on it too hard, raspberry powder will explode everywhere (I know from experience).  Once you get it in your mouth though, it has a sweet raspberry flavor that is heightened by the florality of the roses and then finally restrained by the slight tanginess of the yogurt.

The first of the real desserts was Bubble Gum, long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche.  The waiter brought a long test tube out and would not tell you what was in it (like they did for all the other courses).  Rather, they told you to suck it all down at once and try to discern the flavors from there.  Being a test tube shot expert thanks to my college days, this was no problem.  The first flavor was definitely bubble gum, but after that it was difficult to figure out.  However, what I did figure out was that it was a nearly perfect flavor combination.  They could have brought  me four of those for dessert and I would have been happy.

The next dessert was a play on a cup of tea (Earl Grey, lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate).  I don't particularly remember this dessert (because of what came next), but I remember I did like the caramelized white chocolate with the tea flavor.

Finally, at long last, we are at the end!  For the final course, they took all of our glasses off the table and spread a large grey mat across the table before reassembling our place settings and glasses.  The waiters brought in a dizzying array of bowls, pourers, glasses, and spoons and placed them on one end of the table.  Once they had completed this arrangement, they departed (like the calm before the storm).  Into the room walks the legendary Chef Grant Achatz.  Time stopped (possibly my heart too) as he approached the table to "perform" the final dessert.  His hands moved at blurring speed taking liquids and various gels out of their holders on the table he began spreading pools of sauce all over the mat (no plates for this course).  When he was nearly done, one of the waiters approached with what looked like a smoking loaf of stale bread and put it in the middle of the table.  Chef Achatz smashed it with a hammer and explained to us that it was chocolate mousse frozen in liquid nitrogen.  He then placed some menthol crystals in it and departed.  I was already pretty happy with this whole experience, but this took it to a whole new level.  Once I broke out of my shocked state I began eating the dish (Chocolate, coconut, menthol, hyssop).  There was too much going on for me to fully remember.  Besides the mousse, there were pools of hot mint chocolate gel, menthol sauce, coconut sauce, chewy coconut, piles of chocolate powder, and all other varieties of menthol and coconut in different temperatures and textures.  It was the singular best dessert I've ever eaten even discounting the fact that we were nearly touched by culinary God.  It's not an incredibly difficult flavor combination (chocolate, mint, coconut), but the variety of temperatures and textures is what made this dish as amazing as it was.  Every bite was something totally different, and it was a perfect way to end this amazing dinner.