All… I received several emails asking why I didn’t update my blog for a while. I was in my long vacation back in Indonesia. Due to limited and slow internet access and the fact that I did not bring my own laptop with me, I wasn’t in the mood for writing new blogging entries. I understand that I still owe you some of my stories and pictures of our last trip to Europe and Vietnam. I will post them on my blog once I’m back to US. For now, I include some pictures of Halong Bay, Vietnam below.
Alinea Restaurant was named as one of the best restaurants in America by Gourmet Magazine in 2006. Grant Achatz, the chef and the owner of Alinea, spent four years at French Laundry until he was promoted to a position as sous chef before he moved to Chicago area and worked as an Executive Chef at Trio Restaurant, Evanston, Chicago. According to the Alinea book, a gentleman who admired Grant Anchatz’s creations (while he was at Trio Restaurant) offered a partnership to Anchatz for opening a new restaurant. And in 2005, Anchatz accepted the offer and opened Alinea Restaurant, located at Lincoln Park neighborhood, Chicago.
In mid 2007, Anchatz was diagnosed with an advanced stage of squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth. This fact indeed made many foodies worry about his ability to taste food. He was continuously receiving an aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy during period 2007. And at the end of 2007, he announced that he was cancer free.
As soon as I knew that A had a plan to go to Chicago in early April, I immediately made a reservation to get a table in Alinea. Initially, I preferred having a nice dinner over there on either Friday or Saturday, but the only reservation left was on Thursday. I was unsure if we could go there on Thursday, since A had to prepare his talk scheduled on Friday. So, I asked A, “Do you mind going to Alinea on Thursday?” He thought about it for a while and then told me, “It should be okay.” Yay! Alinea, here we come. I was so happy and excited afterward.
The restaurant location was hard to be found because there was no apparent sign at the building. We finally found it from the building number after passing by the street for the third time. Once entering the front door, we walked down a hallway highlighted with red and purple light. A couple steps away from the front door, there was a pair of hidden automatic double doors leading to the first-level dining area and the kitchen. The dining area was nicely decorated with minimalist design. The ambiance was relaxing. It is a perfect place for celebrating a special occasion.
The restaurant has three dining areas; one is on the first level and the other two are on the second floor. We were seated on the first level on which the kitchen is also located. We asked the server if we could take pictures of our dining experience, and she said “Absolutely, but with no flash.” With the restaurant’s dimmed lighting, we did our best to capture each food served without a flash.
We took the twelve-course tasting menu with the wine pairing which, I think, is very worthwhile. The server set down two vast squares with some other elements such as a vase, a spoon and a fork. Then the dinner began.
First, two kinds of fish roe was served with dill, egg, butter and thyme. For the wine, they gave us two options: very strong ‘linie’ aquavit which was potato based (originally from Norway) or champagne for something lighter. We opted for the first one, and it was indeed very strong. Good for starter. *wink*
Second, five cubes of cauliflower custard were coated with different kinds of flavor like peanut, chocolate and cheese. The meal came with three gels and apple cider soup. The server poured the soup into our plate before we could start eating. Actually, I don’t like cauliflower. But believe me, this one is the best cauliflower I’ve ever eaten. It was paired with a 2004 Austrian white wine from Emmerich Knoll vineyard.
Third, wild striped bass was served with chamomile tea and shell fish gel with celery. The wild striped bass was hidden below a yellow clear sheet made from chamomile tea. Interesting, isn’t it? The celery tasted very fresh and crunchy. It was well paired with French Michel Chapoutier white wine.
Fourth, we had an egg yolk covered with soy, wasabi and yuzu. This dish was inspired by the chef’s recent trip to Japan. The outside appearance looks like a little brown cube of soy gel topped with basil leaves and shaved yuzu. The egg yolk should be consumed entirely in one bite. Very well executed by the chef!
Fifth was lobster with liquidized popcorn, mango, cheese and curry served with a ball of butter. Using the fork, poke the membrane of butter and let the liquid butter flow to the lobster meat. What a taste of incredible edible art! The wine was a 2003 French Chereau-Carre Muscadet from the Loire Valley. Muscadet is a type of a sur lie wine, bottled directly from the lees without a process for filtering the wine. It gives an added freshness and a unique flavor of the wine.
Sixth, pork belly with iceberg was served with English cucumber processed with Thai distillation way. The pork belly was laced with lemongrass and fish sauce. The experience of consuming the distilled English cucumber with green chili was beyond my expectation. I could smell the flavor of the green chili, but when I ate it, there was no hot or burning tasting at all. The server indicated that the distillation process was used to capture only the essence of the green chili, creating a complex combination flavor in the cucumber. One bite, and a world of complexity. The wine pairing was Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2007.
Seventh, cold potato and black truffle soup were placed in a tiny wax bowl and served with a pin of hot potato, a piece of black truffle and butter. The server told us to eat the potato immediately to savor a distinctly hot and cold element together in our mouth in the same time. Keeping two temperatures separate until right before eating is challenging. First pull the pin until all three ingredients drop to the soup then quickly begin to eat. I could still taste the three distinct flavors of the ingredients, although they’re already blended together in the earthy cold potato soup. It’s fantastic.
Eighth, Wagyu beef was served with A-1 powder and potato. At the beginning of our dinner, our server placed a black vase on our table which we thought that it’s simply used as a decoration. We finally knew the purpose of the vase. The server poured a scent into the black vase already filled with dried ice, thus creating clouds of pleasure and a fragrant smell around our table. The chef found the ingredient of A-1 sauce and turned those into powder. For wine, we had a 2004 Syrah from Barrett Vineyard, Napa Valley. This was the only red wine we had during our tasting menu.
Ninth, Bacon was presented swinging from a wire with butterscotch, apple and thyme. I occasionally read this website, dedicated only for Alinea cooking at home.
Tenth, we had yogurt, pomegranate and cassia served in a small glass with one bite of grape soda wrapped in edible plastic. The server told us to sip the glass and to savor the entire ball in one bite to get a popping sensation in our mouth. The grape soda looked like a candy form similar to what I liked when I was still a little girl.
Eleventh, we had bubble gum, long pepper, hibiscus and crème fraiche in a glass tube. This was my most favorite dessert among all. We’re told to suck everything out to get all the flavors in our mouth.
Twelfth was rhubarb with goat milk and onion, all placed above a pillow puffed with lavender perfumed vapor that deflated under the plate. The lavender aroma associated with the food but in fact, not from the food in front of us but from the inflated perfumed pillow. Obviously a fine idea! It came with a dessert wine, 2008 Elio Perrone from Piedmont, Italy which was my favorite dessert wine.
Thirteenth, Varlhona Chocolate was served with prune, olive and pine. The dessert wine was a 2004 Olivares Duice Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain.
Fourteenth, a bite of ice sorbet consisted of mustard, passion fruit, allspice and soy. Simply a beautiful presentation!
Fifteenth, sweet potato was prepared with bourbon and brown sugar, served with smoldering cinnamon. It was like a mini-deconstruction of candied yam. The cinnamon added the scent intensity, like a vaporous condiment on the table.
Throughout the dinner, the chef constantly surprised me with his brilliant ideas. No doubt that Anchatz is a genius chef. Dining at Alinea is a participatory theater. Anchatz asks us to think. He entertains with his creations and serves pieces that force you to interact with the food and the person serving the meal. You won’t come to Alinea to satisfy your hunger. When you eat at Alinea, you are ready to be removed from your daily life and surrender yourself to an experience that is managed down to the smallest detail. It’s like a theater that you can eat. Every dish is remarkable, creative and complex. The presentation itself is a pleasure of eating a beautiful food made from the finest ingredients. No words can suitably describe my unforgettable dinner at Alinea. You have to come and experience it yourself when you get a chance to visit Chicago.
Lombok, located east to Bali, is a friendly place with its warm and relaxed people. Contrastingly to Bali whose inhabitants are generally Hindu, Lombok is a Muslim predominant island. Despite lacking the cultural splendor of Bali, Lombok is a great getaway for those seeking to escape the crowds. It has uncongested lovely beaches (better than Bali), big surf breaks, excellent diving spots, green rice terraces, handicraft villages and the third largest volcanic mountain. With pristine beaches and tourism not being as developed as Bali, Lombok has become increasingly popular nowadays. A new project for building a new international airport is currently taking place on the southern coast. Constructions of luxury hotels, golf course and marina are also part of the plan to promote Lombok as one of world-class tourist destinations. Completion of the project is expected in 2010.
Having only a half day to explore Lombok, we decided to rent a car that came with a driver. The first stop from Oberoi was the Senggigi beach, the most developed tourist area in Lombok with various hotels, restaurants and bars. Finished taking pictures in Senggigi, we travelled to Banyumulek, a well-known traditional pottery handicraft village, located 10km south of Mataram. It is the center of pottery making. Even with primitive tools and traditional arts, many tourists have been so impressed by the beauty of Banyumulek’s potteries. Lombok has many handicraft villages, each making its unique kind of craft, basket-making, weaving or pottery.
Our original plan for lunch was the oxtail soup at Istana Rasa. Unfortunately, it was already sold out. So we went to Rumah Makan Manalagi for their home-made noodle soup. The noodle was served with meatball, vegetable and extra crunchy pork. Although being our second choice, the noodle soup was very delicious.
Another must-visit place is Tanjung Aan, a hidden treasure located on the southern coast of Lombok. It is remarkable for its wide sand beach and turquoise seawater. The very white sands with big grains resembling white peppercorns stretch along the Kuta beach. Simply beautiful! However, one obvious problem in Tanjung Aan is the nuisance caused by the presence of hawkers that often push tourists to buy something from them. I visited Kuta beach back in 2005 and the location was still under-developed and uncrowded. I believe that once the new airport (very close to Tanjung Aan) begins to operate, Kuta beach will become more popular than Senggigi beach.
Sadly, not enough time for us to revisit Tanjung Aan. We had to rush to the airport to catch our return flight. One item in my wish list is still unchecked. To go hiking to Mt. Rinjani will be another reason for us to revisit Lombok in the future.
In early 2005, A and I went to Lombok – Bali’s kid sister – and stayed in two different places: Sheraton and Oberoi. Sheraton is located in Senggigi beach, a much more touristy area compared to Oberoi, which is on an isolated area but an utterly gorgeous, a very peaceful and tranquil property. I instantly fell in love with Oberoi the first time A and I stayed there.
By good luck, in late 2008, we had the chance to revisit Lombok after our Gili Trawangan trip. Without a doubt, we chose to stay at Oberoi again. Reservation and a boat transfer from Gili Trawangan to Medana Beach (i.e., Oberoi’s private beach) was already confirmed a month in advance. The speed boat ride from Gili Trawangan to Medana Beach only took twenty minutes. Upon on arrival we were greeted with refreshing ginger lime ice cocktails, slices of cake and Frangipani Leis. Then we checked into our pavilion. The pavilion’s terrace has a great view of beautiful lush gardens and endless blue sea. The high-ceiling room is expansive and comes with various amenities. Its separate shower and sunken bath overlooking a private garden patio makes our stay even more enjoyable. The only downside is the bulky outdated tube television at the corner of the room. I expected to have a nice LCD TV when it comes to a five-star hotel like Oberoi.
After resting for a while, we directly went to the hotel’s beach. The beach is not spectacular but very private and secluded. We then went snorkeling around the hotel’s jetty. Within only one minute of snorkeling, I sensed something very wrong. I felt very itchy around my arms and legs, then we realized that there were many jellyfish around us. Ahhh… We abruptly ended our snorkeling. We then took advantage of the hotel’s jellyfish-free pool. We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and lying down by the infinity pool.
The hotel offered afternoon tea for the guests in the hotel’s bale bengong. They served banana, raisin, walnut cake and a traditional local finger food called surabi (made from rice flour, palm sugar, and shredded coconut). Regular black tea and traditional home-made ginger tea with honey were also provided. We enjoyed our tea and finger food with a view of an endless sea and a fantastic sunset over Mount Agung. It was a perfect afternoon!
As for the night, candlelight dinner tables were neatly arranged around the pool. Each of the four gazebos at the corners of the pool was also used for a private dinner. The hotel guests can also have a private romantic dinner on the beach or by the cliff overlooking the ocean. The food was remarkable, but it was a bit pricey. During dinner, an old man who had been lingering around the pool for some time suddenly approached us and casually asked a question in Chinese. He thought that we came from China. After revealing our Indonesian nationality, he was so surprised. He said that, in September, not many Indonesians usually stayed at the hotel. Maybe September is not a holiday season for most Indonesians. Well, it’s true! At that time, we were the only Indonesian guests. Hehehe… After dinner, we returned to our pavilion for a good night sleep.
The next morning we had a la carte breakfast served in the beachfront cafe with a beautiful scenery of the blue sea. The breakfast was delicious. A selection of continental breakfast included assorted croissants and breads combined with homemade jam and tropical fruits. The pancakes and omelets that we ordered were presented beautifully by the chef. We all treasured our time with a long leisure chat at the gorgeous beachside cafe. What a memorable moment…
Noticing us taking pictures, the old man with whom we had a conversation before during dinner greeted us and posed himself next to my sister. We then took a picture of him together with my sister. After that, we had a little chat with one of the waitresses. She indicated that the old man was actually the owner of the Oberoi Lombok. Wow! By looking at his outer appearance, we really couldn’t guess that he was the hotel owner. Unlike many other business owners, he dressed too casually and relaxedly, wearing only flip flops, a worn-out looking t-shirt, and “sarung” (a traditional local cloth). The waitress even told us that some of the hotel employees had even advised the owner several times to dress up more appropriately, but he simply didn’t care. Hahaha… funny. Just like an old saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
We took a complimentary “cidomo” ride to a traditional market and a local village nearby. At first glance, the traditional market appeared to be a bewildering and disorganized mess, with no clear arrangement of the stalls. Many traders simply placed their goods on the ground and sold them in the middle of the sidewalks, causing traffic congestion. And yes, like many other traditional Indonesian markets, the market was dirty with garbage and rats in plain sight. Hygienic efforts were minimal, yet care was taken to keep food items clean. The items sold at the market are in numerous kinds, such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, spices, clothes and household items. We have been to many traditional markets in Java, but we thought the market at Lombok was the most traditional among all. From the time we arrived to the time we left, we were the center of attention. Many of the sellers and the buyers kept staring at us and sometimes they talked about us (in a good way), not knowing that we actually understood what they were talking about. It made me feel very uncomfortable.
Before heading back to the hotel, the cidomo driver took us to see a nearby village. The villagers nicely greeted us with enthusiastic shouts of “Hello Mister!” and friendly waves. The small village carry on life as they have for centuries – simple life styles centered around farming, communal living and traditional handycrafts. Regardless what we felt about the market, the “cidomo” ride was worth a trip. To be there meeting local people and seeing how their daily simple life looked like gave us a unique cultural experience.
If you want to see how Bali looked like twenty years ago, go to Lombok and explore its countryside. You’ll understand why Lombok has been promoted as an “unspoiled Bali”. Lombok is a lot less crowded than Bali, and its nature is still in pristine condition. The beaches are far better than those in Bali. The people and culture of Lombok differ from Bali. Some of my American friends who have been to both islands like Lombok better than Bali. They think that Bali is too dense and touristy, not offering the true feeling of a tropical island.
The Oberoi Lombok is an ideal place for those seeking a romantic getaway or a peaceful seclusion. It was indeed a perfect place for us to end our vacation.
Returning from Qamea, we had a half day to explore Nadi before our flight back to Los Angeles. Our minds were still into the beach. Sadly, there was no beautiful beach around Nadi area. Not sure where to go, we looked around the airport and stopped by at Jack’s handicraft, the biggest souvenir’s shop in Nadi. Due to the small size of Jack’s store in the airport, I asked the shop assistant how big the downtown’s store was, compared to the one in the airport. And surprisingly, she offered us a round-trip shuttle service to the downtown’s store. Wow, what a coincidence… Ahh, I was thankful! Why?…First, to go to downtown Nadi without paying taxi fare. Second, to enable us to buy some souvenirs for my families with a lot of different choices. Third, to visit Saffron for a dinner, which is located next to Jack’s and belongs to the same owner of Jack’s (we visited Saffron before).
On the way to Jack’s, we stopped by at local market to buy fresh mangoes. The market was very small and unorganized. Fresh fruits, vegetables and also kava root could be found at the market. After buying mangoes, we were directly headed to downtown Nadi. Arriving at Jack’s we found that so many handy crafts were originally from Papua or Indonesia, not only their wood carvings but also the t-shirts and sulu.
Finished with shopping, we walked around the neighborhood for killing time while waiting Saffron’s Tandori Restaurant to open.
The second biggest population in Fiji after the Native Fijian is Indian. So it’s not surprising that there are plenty Indian restaurants in Fiji. According to the local people, one of the best Indian restaurants is Saffron Tandori Restaurant. Indeed, Saffron is lovely. We left Saffron pleased and full. Heading off to the airport with a complimentary taxi provided by Jack’s, we concluded our holiday. With no choice, we had to fly back to Los Angeles and back to the real world. So sad… hiks…