Satan’s chestnut

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What the fuck is this?

My mom picked some of these up at FuBonn last month during her visit. She claimed she ate them as a child in her village in Southern Vietnam. Rest assured, I promise you my mother is a proper Buddhist, and — to the best of my knowledge — does not own any Slayer, Morbid Angel, or Napalm Death albums.

As you can see, they are quite nefarious in appearance, as if somebody commissioned H.R. Giger to reimagine the chestnut. I suppose this is the kind of snack Damien the Omen eats while watching Spongebob Satanpants and channeling Lucifer’s minions to serve the dark lord’s whimsy. When my sister-in-law saw a picture of these in my iPhoto library, she exclaimed that she couldn’t believe I would harbor such evil with a two-year old daughter living under my roof.

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My mom stuck them in a saucepan and boiled these “Dante’s nuggets” for about 5 minutes. Once they were cooled, I tried to improve upon her method of simply cutting them in half with my new Global knife (and dulling the blade), and digging out the “meat” with a fork. I instead used a crab claw cracker, but it basically just spewed devil shards all over my kitchen counter.

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The flavor of the “flesh” is similar to a chestnut. Pure, white, evil, devilishly spawned, demonic, underworldish chestnuts. I wouldn’t go through the trouble of extracting the meat from a few dozen of these to, say, augment a turkey dressing. But if I ever found myself in Satan’s foyer, waiting for my entrance exam, I’d suck on a few out of respect.

I’m too sexy for your fork

Via the newly minted and delicious Megnut, who has switched formats (all food, all the time!), we discover the existence of Alinea, the zenith of haughty-taughty cuisine on this continent.

The kitchen is helmed by one Grant Achatz, whom Megnut credits as “creating the most exciting food in the United States.”

You can find some fine photos and in-depth color commentary of a recent 5+ hour meal at Alinea here.

Now, nobody has ever confused me for practicing gastromique extraordinaire, and my tastes and culinary ethic are a bit plebian to be certain, but I would have to say a big fucking whoop-to-do. What Alinea seems to be doing is injecting an overwrought, effete sense of artifice and pretension into the act of eating. Fetish cuisine.

After all, all we’re talking about is sustenance, the act of sustaining your life though the intake of energy by way of esophageal sphincter. It’s man’s basest instinct, outside of breathing, which, alas, has also been ruined with the introduction of oxygen bars. God I hate people.

What, you say? What about architecture? Isn’t that the same premise – at the end of the day, these are just buildings people live and work in? To me there’s a huge difference between the Bilboa and a peanut butter sandwich wrapped in edible gold bowstrings, molded in semifreddo blood orange brioche, topped with kumquat foam, and served suspended from the ceiling with titanium chicken wire.

Seeing the “granola” suspended in its rosewater enveloped on a thin wire was seeing food transformed not just to art, but to sculpture. Eating off a pillow as it slowly deflated and perfumed the air with the scent of orange blossoms sounds overwrought; it was intoxicating. The interplay between device and delicacy was uplifting and fun, yet in no way detracted from the usability [emphasis added]. In fact it made the experience quite intellectual, as you were confronted not just with the flavors of the meal, but with expectations of how it could be consumed. Why do we need forks again?

Anytime you have to discuss the finer points of usability when it refers to the act of feeding oneself, we have crossed a line. Soon forks will be anachronism and we’ll all feed by osmosis.

Here’s a screen cap of Alinea’s $175 “tour” menu, with 24 items. The tasting menu consists of 12 items for $125 and presumably buys you larger portions, since it is only half the amount courses in the tour menu yet 71% of the price. Not sure if a reacharound from Mr. Achatz is included in the pricing. Considering the aforementioned 5 hour lifespan of a meal, that comes out to less than $25/hr, which is what it costs for someone to mow your lawn, so consider it a bargain!

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So if you have a few hundred bucks to throw down next time you’re in Chicago and still have an appetite despite all that cocaine, bring your model girlfriend and check Alinea. I know I would.