An experience: Alinea in Chicago; 3M
Everyone has seen Youtube videos of the dramatic dessert presentations at Alinea, Grant Achatz’s Chicago masterpiece. We’ve been dreaming of going here for years, and finally saved up enough of our moonlighting money to make it there.
First, booking it was a feat – we set a timer for the exact time that the reservation website would open, but watched as the two-table seats disappeared before our eyes. Fortunately, we were able to snag a four-person reservation, and we found two foodie friends up for the experience.
Warning – Alinea is more of a show than a meal, and there are spoilers ahead. We tried to go in without doing too much reading beforehand, so as not to ruin the surprise. If you don’t mind, then read onwards!
We started the meal with ‘Communal’ – everyone was at a giant table where you could barely hear the person across from you. It was uncomfortable and there was weird music in the background. Our friend with a seafood allergy was taken to a special seat and after that, everyone knew who to bring the non-fish dish to. Smoked dishes were brought out and then we were taken into the kitchen for a treat! We got to see our cocktails get shaken up in an interesting wheeled contraption, and when we returned to our seats, to our shock the room had been completely rearranged – gone was the giant rectangle table and instead we were at small circle tables for each of our parties. Much better! The painting banners had all been switched as well, from a dark painting to a light painting. What a surprise!
I enjoyed how the courses flowed – one dish came out with a centerpiece that was lit on fire. Next, a juniper branch was placed over the fire to give scent; there were little ‘eggs’ of lamb beignets. After that, a surprise potato was dug out of the fire material, dusted off with a brush, and then mashed into a clam chowder soup! I also loved the oranges that had dry ice poured over them to fill the air with a citrus scent. All our senses were engaged – the dessert was carried out to a smoke machine and music by Childish Gambino.
Some people pay hundreds of dollars to go to the theater, others pay for concert tickets or the opera. For us, Alinea is an experience, where the servers are friendly and playful, yet disciplined and attentive. Definitely my favorite wait staff of the Michelin restaurants we’ve been to. They were knowledgeable, and answered our questions, explaining some of the mysteries. There was humor in the meal – green apple taffy balloons filled with just a little bit of helium – we were encouraged to inhale and talk to our table in hilarious high-pitched voices, giggles filled the room. While the food was fascinating – so much use of the distiller! – I actually wasn’t too huge a fan of the taste. Nothing was bad, exactly, but I didn’t find anything amazingly delicious either.
Was it an amazing experience? Am I glad I had the privilege of going and the joy of sharing such an interesting time with friends? Certainly. But honestly, I was more impressed with the food at Per Se or EMP. Really loved the playfulness of the staff though; had a great time. Photos definitely don’t capture the experience. Check them out on Yelp or at their website!