From the red hallway entrance and the open kitchen where you can watch chef Grant Achatz in his kitchen, its cooks operating with quiet precision, to the course after course of playfulness and delight, the tasting menu at Alinea in Chicago is all that you've heard, all that you're hoping for, and more. It's hard to choose one dish to represent a whole meal, so following are four of the 18 served.
The dish that offered most in terms of both flavor and texture was English Pea (olive oil, chamomile, and green apple) — three layers in an orb with two removable parts. On top was a pea purée, with skinned peas and pea shoots dressed with lemon. Smooth, fresh, and garden beautiful. Underneath was a layer of freeze-dried peas, pea meringue, grape jelly, and olive oil jelly. Cool, smooth, sweet, and savory. Then under that there's Parmesan cream, apple sorbet, and a cold pea soup. Tangy, salty, sweet, and creamy. A central ingredient, three ways, all delicious. And for these reasons this dish made my list of most memorable meals of 2011.