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Veg Out: Chicago (Including Alinea!)

November 2, 2012

After I got back from Chicago, I had a dream that a single balloon picked me up on the shores of Lake Michigan and pulled me into the clouds. I’m not sure what the clouds were made of, but my conscious mind has decided that they were extremely fluffy cheese pizzas.

I have been trying to analyze the dream. I figure it probably has something to do with my love of Pixar’s “Up.” When I try to identify the feelings associated with the dream (something my Hyperanalytical Lawyer Brain finds very difficult), I feel “expansion.” O.K. I don’t feel it. But I get an inkling, which, I have discovered, is often all I can muster. Music usually helps the process along.

Side Note: Spotify is messing with the song title–You are listening to Say Yes! To M!Ch!Gan!, not The Upper Peninsula, although The Upper Peninsula is also a good song.

Side Note Upon Side Note: This is one of my favorite albums to listen to while working.

I lived in Chicago briefly after I graduated from college, a time I associate with great excitement, outfoxed by greater fear. And I realize that I have a thing for cities where the skyline drops off abruptly into a long stretch of water. Constrain to expand to constrain. I have enough and then I don’t and then I do.

GUILLAUME: O.K. Dr. Freud. Incomplete Sentence Alert. Perhaps you had le dream due to L’EDIBLE BALLOON?

Oh yeah. Good point. Also while I was in Chicago, I went to Alinea and ate a balloon.

Picture this: You are sitting in a fancy restaurant. You are waiting for dessert. A server brings everyone at your table a transparent balloon, its skin thin and glossy as a soap bubble’s.

He instructs you to remove your glasses, push your hair behind your ears, and take a bite.

You do this. The balloon pops into a cotton candy/cobweb hybrid that tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher. You exclaim, “Holy crap!” You stop. You realize that you sound like Mickey Mouse because of the helium. And so does everyone else at your table. And then you all burst out laughing, and the laughter sounds like the chorus of mice from “Babe.”

Is this not the coolest thing ever? You can see a video of one being made and eaten here.

Also cool: Everything was vegetarian. My understanding is that they will do their best to accommodate any dietary restriction. Someone from their staff called the week before to confirm our preferences. At our table we had two vegetarians (Jules and I), a pescetarian, and an everythingtarian.

“Accommodate” isn’t the right word, really. Removing meat from the equation must be childsplay for the chefs at Alinea. They check that box, and then move on to making you a plate of 60 mini-garnishes meant to change the flavor of each bite of fennel;

and pairing heart of palm with white chocolate, yuzu, and wasabi in a glass bowl that looks like it was commissioned by a James Bond villain;

and skewering a tasting of fresh ginger with “five other flavors” on a Seussian Spindlything;

and putting together a slew of dishes that beg you to smell as you taste, like matsutake mushrooms served with huckleberry and pine. When they say pine, they MEAN PINE.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of meal, and not just because it wiped out a considerable portion of my lifetime dining-out budget. It made me think a lot about what is possible for my own creative work.

You may have noticed that I really like making up silly characters and songs and doing funny voices. I’ve been doing it since I was a child. It makes me feel like me. I am trying to find a way to do this … stuff that is in my heart.

Did you know that Grant Achatz started Alinea, and then he got tongue cancer, and he was told that he would need to have his tongue removed and replaced with a muscle from another part of his body, and he said absolutely not, cooking is my life, and he had chemotherapy and radiation and the University of Chicago, and then he lost his sense of taste, and then he regained it, one taste at a time, starting with sweet, just like we all do as children? And then he made edible balloons and 60 mini-garnishes and this dessert:

Tablecloth rolled up and replaced with a giant shammy. Shammy spattered with sauces. Two dark chocolate piñata-orbs cracked in half. Out spills liquid nitrogen ice cream and other goodies. Amazing.

I look from the city to the water. I feel still. But only for while.

After that, I need some warm, comforting breakfasty food. Can somebody please bring me some whole wheat carrot pancakes with maple cream cheese?

Why thank you, Kingsbury Street Café!

P.S.: Delicious food at the airport is now firmly in the realm of Things I Believe Are Possible. If you are at O’Hare, do not fly away without trying the vegetarian torta (mushrooms, roasted poblanos, chipotle garlic mayo, goat cheese, black beans, and arugula on a perfectly crispy roll) at Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera.

Since you’ll be standing in line already, you might as well get some chips and guacamole to take on the plane. You know. To hold you over. Until you come back down to earth.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 5:02 am

    You went to Alinea! So lucky. I love the way you visualized your dream – that collage is awesome!

    • November 14, 2012 5:04 pm

      I definitely got lucky! The only night we could go was the night after the Chicago Marathon, so I figured we never would get a table. I finally got tickets the week before, after stalking them on Facebook for a month like the friggin’ Alinea Eye of Sauron.

      Thank you for your kind words about my collage. They mean a lot coming from a real artist! Glad to know that you are well.

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