📍Chicago, Il (USA)
Alinea was a nonnegotiable for me when planning my Chicago trip.
First off, I'm really disappointed that I didn't get to sit in the main dining room. After comparing notes with other friends who have been, I think the fact that I was in the Salon instead of the Gallery actually made a difference. But this difference didn't discredit my experience because Nicole was a great server. For anyone who is planning to go, it's best to sit at a four top because reservations for a two top books up faster. And I'll definitely enable your decision to book the Kitchen for a party of 6 if you ask me what you should do.
Alinea is a minimalist and modern restaurant that puts a lot of emphasis on the experience. Founded by Chef Grant Achatz in 2005 and is the most iconic fine dine restaurant in Chicago. It ranks No. 34 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants and the only restaurant in Chicago with 3 Michelin stars. Chef Grant Achatz also has an episode on Chef's Table.
The meal was well-orchestrated and filled with surprises. It was what I had expected it to be -- prim and proper with ribbons of whimsical layered throughout. So, here I present to you a part of my Alinea experience.
The smell of orange and citrus swirled in the air around me whilst I walked up the stairs, starting the journey before anything even touched my mouth. Something that I really appreciated about the meal was that everything was so purposeful and taken into consideration.
In the background, there was a fresh and springy bite to start the meal. Terrarium was avocado and herbs on a piece of iceberg. In the front was probably one of my favorite bites of the entire meal: Smoke. Quite predictably, the caviar presented like a flower ranked high for me. It was osetra caviar, petals of a sunflower with onion and lemon.
The orange and citrus continued to loop itself throughout the meal. A note on the next course, I loved how they were served in two matching vessels, one red and one blue. Ranina ranina sat in the red bowl and was served warm, a spanner crab with coconut and curry. In contrast, Glow sat in the blue bowl and was served cold. It was eaten in one bite because the pop of spiced orange liquid bursted right away. The detail of the colors and temperature for the dish was duly noted and greatly appreciated.
Perfume was a dumpling of scallop, XO sauce, and lavender. I loved these flavors because XO sauce was something that my grand godmother used to make to accompany plain egg noodles. However, I'm a huge texture girl and the texture on this one was a miss on my end. It was like whipped fish cake, foamy like a soufflé. There definitely admiration in being able to get that texture; I just didn't personally agree with it.
This one was an absolute show. Obviously, I loved the potato. The Cape was Alinea's take on the clam chowder, prepared table side from a potato that was hiding in plain sight! There were also Old Bay, which is their "oyster cracker!" It's a homemade, puffy cracker coated with the likes of an old bay seasoning.
This was served during the kitchen tour, which is arguably the most disappointing part of the meal for me. Every diner is taken to the kitchen for a tour, the Salon is timed for everyone to be paraded downstairs for a presentation and a bite. It felt so industrialized and really detracted from my experience because I'm used to having ample time in the kitchen to absorb the energy, ask questions, and take pictures. Though I understand that it makes more sense for the restaurant to interweave the experience because of the volume of requests, it simply felt cold and removed.
On a more positive note, this tasted like a pizza pocket and that's always a plus.
Ink is the squid with black garlic and calendula. The squid was seasoned thoroughly and paired well with the richness of the sauce. Vibrant was the morel mushroom with ramp which is in the onion or a leek family and parmesan. This was one of the dishes I liked more and stood out to me. There was a slight sweetness from the pea sauce that complimented the saltiness of the parm and the depth of the morel. On a related note, I love mushrooms. Coal was the squab, forbidden rice, and binchōntan. I really like game birds, and this was no exception. It was prepared well and the show of the burning binchōntan, or white charcoal, elevated the experience.
Most known for their Balloon, this taffy is filled with helium and served with the intention for play! The dining room was graced with some Whitney Houston snippets by yours truly 😂 I'm happy I got the green apple flavor. They rotate around a couple of flavors including banana.
Still Life was the main part of their dessert program of the evening. It included a very realistic chocolate banana, filled with yumminess of vanilla, and paired with a cherry distillation. So even though the glass is filled with clear liquid, it tasted like concentrated cherry. These are very much the flavors of an American childhood. This dessert definitely reminded me of Jungsik and Andy Warhol.
I can appreciate everything that Alinea is: creative, consistent, and considerate. I don't feel the need to go again, but it was an extremely fun dinner and I'm glad that I went.