Alinea (Chicago, IL)
It was a warm day in April when I sent over the email to Alinea in hopes of getting a reply back saying I have my intended reservation. At Alinea, you can make a reservation up to two months head to the *MONTH*, not the *DAY*. My July 15th, 6 person reservation required about 200 or so calls to the Alinea office to attempt to get a reservation while concurrently emailing them in an attempt to do the same. You read that right, 200 calls to the Alinea offices in Chicago and this procedure is only less ridiculous than getting my table at Next. During call ~230, I had a reply via email from the wonderful people at Alinea confirming that I have a reservation for 6 people at 7pm on Friday, 7/15. That was about as perfect as it could get. Two friends, Dimitri and Kim were coming up from Houston and their flight landed at 4pm. Two other friends Ali and Naomi planned to leave Indianapolis around 1pm for a 4pm arrival as well.
As Annie and I ventured to the Navy Pier to do the Shoreline Skyline Boat Tour and eventually move on to the Water Tower Place area to take over H&M, my friends started to text me saying they were in town and ready to take on Chicago with me. Alinea was the perfect “first spot” to adequately start the “Texas” takeover of Chicago. My excitement and preparation had finally culminated with this night of fun, food and more importantly friends. Great food is nothing with no one to share it with. We hopped into the car and off we went, 6 of us in Ali’s durango, we almost passed the restaurant if not for my keen eyes. The dark grey exterior masks it from the surroundings. With no names on the outside and just the address on the exterior, we walked up, opened the door and hoped for the best. A sliding door greeted the ladies and we were taken upstairs and brought to our table. A quick glance at the kitchen and I knew we were destined for greatness.
As if you didn’t already know, Alinea is the #1 restaurant in the US, #6 in the world. Basically I was expecting this restaurant to take my notions of food and mind fuck them until I was inside a restaurant eating a plate of food that I was seemingly already digesting. Inception style eating, mind fuck me with the presentation and service and mouth fuck me with the flavors and layers of food.
We sat down, were told about the philosophy of the restaurant and Chef Achatz and then we were presented with a wine list and given some options. Annie and I chose to go with water, with everyone else going for a glass of wine. I’ll be the first one to admit that I know jack shit about wine, I don’t attempt to discern between this year and that year and this label or that label. Its all the same to me.
Our July 15th Menu Progression..
- Steelhead Roe (Watermelon, Kaffir Lime)
- Hamachi (West Indies Spices, Banana, Ginger)
- Oyster Leaf (Mignonette)
- Scallop (Hitachino, Weizen, Old Bay)
- Razor Clam (Carrot, Soy, Daikon)
- Yuba (Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi)
- English Pea (Olive Oil, Chamomile, Green Apple)
- Garden Salad (Tomato, Goat Cheese, Red Bell Pepper)
- Mackerel (Mango, Jicama, Juniper)
- Wild Mushrooms (Pine, Sumac, Ramp)
- Hot Potato (Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter)
- Agneau (Sauce Choron, Pomme De Terre Noisette)
- Black Truffle (Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan)
- Short Rib (Olive, Fermented Garlic, Blackberry)
- Octopus (Eggplant, Coriander, Red Wine)
- Snow (Yuzu)
- Strawberry (Jasmine, Basil, Balsamic)
- Most Memorable? Black Truffle Raviolo
- Most Involved? Short Rib
- Most Interesting? Lemongrass Straw
That was our meal, 18 course of some of the best food I’ve eaten in a single meal. The changing of servers to service-ware to presentation of the courses left me in awe. Not only was this food visually amazing, the flavors matched beautifully. My other favorite meals to date include my other epic 3 Michelin star meal at per se (current #2 in the US) and Lazy Summer Repast from the culinary teams of Bootsie’s, Just8 and Chez Roux. I’d like to declare a unanimous winner in terms of food, but the styles were so vastly different and presentations so different that it would be stupid on my part to choose one and declare it better than another.
Mind Fuck? There was a leaf in an oyster shell that tasted like an oyster.
Mouth Fuck? Lemongrass Shooter with Dragon Fruit and Jelly inside.
Wallet Fuck? $210 a person plus tax and 18% gratuity meant it was $550 for the two of us.
$550 for a couple is certainly no small amount. I could feed 50 people at my family restaurant and still have some left over for extras. Was it worth the money? You will hear a resounding hell yes from me every time. People ask me all the time why I spend the money to eat like this, and in moments like this, the money becomes secondary to the experience with friends and the food that we all got to share together. There have been times when I spend $200 on a multi-course meal and its a waste of money (read: l’atelier de joel robuchon). This wasn’t one of those times.
I’m just happy I remembered the meal, especially after we visited Violet Hour afterwards complete with after drink tacos. Yes, I followed Alinea with some tacos from Flash Taco. Gotta love how life works that way.
1723 North Halsted
Chicago Illinois 60614
5/5: 3 Michelin Star Rated and an amazing meal with creativity and flavors that backed up the hype.