Where do I even begin?
Let’s start with some background. Alinea is a restaurant in Lincoln Park in Chicago, Illinois in an unassuming building on a busy street. Any passerby could miss the gray facade and closed curtains on a weekday evening. What most Chicagoans don’t realize as they stroll quickly along Halsted Street towards Armitage Avenue is that this building is home of one of the worlds best restaurants. Alinea has a laundry list of accolades (the most recent being ranked #34 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants). In April of 2016, Elite Traveler named Alinea the best restaurant in the world. It has three Michelin Stars, the highest Michelin rating a restaurant can get. It is one of just twelve restaurants in the United States to have this honor and the only restaurant in Chicago with the accolade.
Executive Chef of Alinea, Grant Achatz, has a list almost as long as his restaurant, including James Beard Awards and being named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. His life story is pretty incredible (and is detailed in the Netflix documentary, Chef’s Table), but the short of it is that Chef Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2008. A chef’s worst nightmare. After intense treatment from the University of Chicago, within a year, his cancer was gone, and he slowly was able to regain his sense of taste again. Through all of this, his restaurant was still in insane success and is still today. An incredible story.
The food is known for being inventive, using ingredients in unexpected ways, creating dishes that people could only dream of– doing things with food that you didn’t even know can be done. And this is exactly what I was able to experience when I went to Alinea on October 9th, 2018.
How did I have the opportunity to go to a restaurant like this at the very young age of 24? My boyfriend took me here as my birthday present. I have to say it’s one of the birthday presents that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If I had to describe our night in one word, it would be Magic.
We arrived early to our reservation at the unassuming gray building on Halsted. Greeted by a very friendly host staff, we were taking upstairs through the beautifully decorated restaurant. The art work is modern and brightly colored, and the decor itself is mostly modern neutrals with different textures like velvet and linen. When we arrived upstairs we were in a room with about three other tables towards the back of the restaurant. Our menu not only was 11 courses (standard at Alinea), but had a wine pairing, which after experiencing it to me could be the only way to do this meal.
Our waiter was a young guy in his late twenties with hipster glasses and a nice gray suit. He was incredibly friendly and wanted us to be surprised the whole way through. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. The element of surprise through our meal at Alinea was one of the best parts. It’s an experience that requires all of your senses, and all of your attention. we were both really happy that we didn’t know what to expect, and that we didn’t have our phones out during the meal.
For this reason, I am not going to describe too much in detail what we ate, just in case any of you have the pleasure of experiencing Alinea. I will say, although the many dishes we tasted we very complex in terms of flavor, our waiter noted to us that are all based in nostalgia and memories. Executive Chef Achatz has the ambitious goal at Alinea of transporting his diners back to another time, to their past, to a time they shared with loved ones, to a place they may have traveled. And he does exactly that with every dish. The sensorial experience of each dish transports you somewhere new.
Like this dish above. The smoking, spooky bowl of fruit in the middle was sitting at our table all meal. Little did we know it was actually filled with dry ice and would become another major part of our meal later on in the night. When it was time for this course, the waiter came over and poured water over the fruit bowl. As the vapor from the dry ice-covered our table, the smell from the bowl was fresh lime and lemon grass, transporting our table to an island in the South Pacific. The red bowl was filled with noodles made from scallops. The glowing bowl held palette cleansers made from cucumber, mint, and jello that you took like a shooter. Like, what? At one point during our meal we were brought down to the kitchen to eat a course standing in front of two of the chefs working that night. For dessert we ate edible balloons filled with real helium that made our voices sound like chipmunks, while the balloon tasted like the best green apple fruit roll up you could imagine.
Although going to a meal like this can be intimidating for people who aren’t “super foodies,” everything was so incredibly approachable and interactive. Our different waiters explained the elements of each dish in detail and how we were supposed to go about eating each dish.
I am going to leave the rest of our meal a mystery because that was the best part of our experience. For those of you who want to go, start putting money in your piggy bank and leaving room in your belly. Reservations open up 2 months prior to your desired date on their own website found here. Maybe it won’t be this month, this year, or this decade, but make room for Alinea in your future. It’s worth it.