From Phil Vettel's original four-star review, published August 18, 2005: The "PB & J" is gone. The tiny nibble that served as Grant Achatz's culinary manifesto--a peeled grape coated in peanut butter and wrapped in micro-thin toasted brioche, perfectly embodying the chef's playful, technically precise and flavor-focused approach--has been banished, along with most of the other items on Alinea's inaugural menu.In their place are new and equally breathtaking creations, jaw-dropping feats of design and weird science that deliver an even bigger flavor payoff than did their predecessors. And, in the process, they demonstrate that Achatz's roundly praised opening menu was no fluke. If anything, the new Alinea menu is better. Barely 10 weeks after opening Alinea in Lincoln Park in May (to more press attention than most places receive in two lifetimes), Achatz began revamping the menu, gradually replacing dishes until waving goodbye to the PB & J. "It was one of those things where it felt like a year-old dish, even though in reality it's only been 2 1/2 months," Achatz says. "It just was time to move on." Now kicking off Achatz's menu is a two-toned spiral of paper-thin cucumber bonded to an equally thin layer of dehydrated mango, perched on a spoon. It's essentially a gourmet fruit roll-up, albeit one seasoned aggressively with clove, ginger and juniper. The wonder is in its creation, but it also delivers pleasant, lightly acidic flavors and powerful aromatics, an invigorating jump-start to the meal. (First PB & J, now fruit roll-ups. Apparently Achatz is working his way through an elementary-school lunchbox.) Another newcomer is called snap peas (pictured above), a dish that quite literally floats on air. It arrives to the table on an Irish linen pillow filled with lavender-scented air--the weight of the shallow bowl gently forces out the vaporized lavender so it wafts around and above the plate. "Eat your peas," says the waiter with mock severity, and indeed you will gobble up these sweet shelled peas, along with sharp-tasting grilled ham ("I wanted the ham almost burnt," Achatz says), crispy yuba (tofu skin), and bits of lemon puree and fresh tofu that add citrusy and creamy notes.
Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune