September 3, 2021

I had such high expectations for this 44 course "interactive experience" by Chef Marc Lepine, who spent 8 years at Alinea. Those expectations were misplaced.

44 courses is a lot of food. I've done it once before (at Enigma) and the pace is blistering. Even at 4 hours, it's about 1 dish every 5 minutes. They brought multiple dishes at a time, placing each on a QR code which revealed something about the dish. It helped the pacing a bit, but seemed overwhelming to have up to 10 plates of food on the table at any one time.

The QR codes were thin. "Our daily bread course." "Something fresh from our garden." I'm scanning QR codes for that? We gave up on them about 10 courses in.

Service was not up to par in the least. I'll spare you the details but it felt like the minors pretending to be the majors and hoping everyone bought it.

The real problem was the food. The very best dishes were simply...fine. Maybe good. Not a single course made you respond "Whoa. That's really delicious!" As dish after dish proved the same, it began to feel like a ruse, with the commitment to techniques being everything, the flavor of the dish be damned. "Look at this amazing method to produce this!" OK. But it still needs to be delicious.

Even the execution suffered. The lego dish, for example: "Only two of the legos are edible. The 3rd is not." Two of them which were malformed (or melted) and one was pristine. Their big "trick" was easy to see right through, giving you the feeling that this meal was a 3rd grade magic trick and you were obliged to pretend along with them.

And to finish with the balloon? It's Alinea's signature dish! I asked the waiter if it was identical. "Well, they didn't copyright it.", he replied. For anyone who follows the food scene (or watched the Chef's Table episode on Grant Achatz), Atalier's denouement is pure theft. Plagiarism in literal form.

The ruse was fully complete.

This restaurant was a huge disappointment. They can't all be winners, of course. But you'd think at least 1 in 44 might be. 

The table has QR codes, one for each dish. They place the dish on the related QR code which may pull up a saying or a YouTube video or a description. Descriptions are weak: "Our daily bread course" (said one). Kitchy, but not overly informative. We stopped using them shortly into the meal.
Siracha focaccia. Points for the name. :)
Carrot rings.
Two bags of potato chips, one of each flavor. They asked you to guess the flavors. I did pretty well on both.
The potato chips. I won't spoil the fun by revealing the flavors here.
Nori chips, avacado
Mussels, comes in a bag steamed at 450deg with various herbs and such.
The mussels were good, but kinda like most good mussels you've had. Ended up eating a few peppercorns from the broth, which spoiled my palate for a few courses.
Pickled stuff
Butternut squash soup. It was quite good, but again - not better than any other good butternut squash soup you've had.
The bring nitro to your table and have you drop in your own stuff. Kinda cool idea to let the customer do what chefs have been doing for a while.
The result. You put this into the butternut squash soup.
Lobster bisque (the cracker was the lobster bisque) and butter.
You scan the code and they ask you which of the 3 ceviches you want - meat, fish or plant. You then write your request (in edible ink) on the plate. I of course asked for all three.
The ceviches (tenderloin, cod, carrot) on taro root chips. These were quite good.
This was a common dish that they made into powders - again, try to guess the dish. I was led astray in my thinking from the start so I ended up not being even close. Mostly, the powders tasted like salt.
Soft shell crab
Iberico ham
Rabbit. Super traditional French. Dish was called "Escoffier" after the famed French chef.
His renown balloon technique. Saw him use this on Canada's Top Chef. Roll a liquid around inside a balloon to coat it, then use nitro to freeze it, remove the balloon, you have a hollow sphere.
A pot with their Jerusalem artichoke...
Which were buried under a ton of spices.
The artichoke. This was pretty good.
Another "guess what it was". I tell you this one - they were jellyfish.
Duck wing
Short rib
Cotton candy
Tomato soup cake. Tasted just like it sounds. So success, right? Yep. Other than it wasn't that tasty.
Two legos were the dessert, one was not.
"Misfortune cookies"
Our misfortunes.
Chocolate air. It was substantive on the spoon, but disappeared in your mouth. Neat technique. But the loose cocoa powder in the dish made it difficult to enjoy.
Sugar sticks of some sort
The end with a balloon. The Alinea ballon. Which I found pretty insulting, actually. It's their signature dish. Don't steal it.


What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

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Replying to Steven Smith