So, what did you have for dinner Tuesday? Here's what Kristen and I ate:
The occasion was the final in a series of three dinners that Grant Achatz of Alinea and Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se, held to celebrate the publication of their new books, Alinea and Under Pressure.
Now, you might have seen me mention about a jillion times that I helped write Alinea (which makes a great holiday gift!). One of the perks of working on the book is that Kristen and I were invited to attend the dinner, which is one of those moments where your work provides you with opportunities and experiences that you'd never imagine.
It was a pretty magical evening, one that the Mrs. has captured nicely over at her blog. (Of course, there's what happened after dinner with the kids, which you can also read about there.) There was such a buzz in the air, people just completely over the moon to be at TFL for the dinner, and all the front of the house staff and chefs just as excited as we were.
Some of the individual dishes were knockouts. Grant's new chestnut dish, with quince, chocolate, and a bacon doughnut, was spectacular, a perfect distillation of his ability to balance the savory and sweet in a way that very few chefs in the world can. Keller's beef dish, cooked sous vide of course, showed the power of the technique, resulting in a perfect medium-rare throughout, powerfully flavored and perfectly textured.
But in the midst of the meal, I started to realize that there's something lost when you combine the vision of two chefs like this. A meal at Alinea or French Laundry is a completely considered experience -- not just the food is meticulously prepared, but so is the room itself, the attitude of the wait staff, the lighting, the music, everything.
Alinea is about challenging you, throwing you off balance and then righting you. The French Laundry is much more comfortable, suavely sophisticated and welcoming.
So when you put food from one context into another, it felt a little weird. Maybe it's that I'm too inside the world of Alinea after all the time spent working with Grant on the book, but his food, coming to the table without the wit and snap of Alinea's servers, felt ever so slightly out of place to me. Delicious, but not quite the same as it is where it's created to be.
This certainly isn't a complaint, and the sense didn't diminish my appreciation of what will be one of the meals of my lifetime. But it was an interesting realization; I had never really thought about it quite that way before.
After dinner, we went back to the kitchen to hang out with the chefs, and with Alinea owner Nick Kokonas and his wife Dagmara. As we sat there sipping champagne, talking to these people who I've come to consider my friends over the past several years, I reflected on just how amazingly lucky I am to be part of this world, and to have these chances.
Kristen asked if I'd be embarrassed to ask Grant and Thomas to take a photo with us. Of course I wouldn't be -- I wanted to capture this moment as much as anyone: