Alinea Experience

Her:  It all started when he surprised me with tickets to Alinea for my birthday. We had been learning more and more about Grant Achatz - his struggles and accomplishments. Alinea seemed to us, to be outside the realm of anything we experienced before, and knew we wanted to try it together.

As good as we are in the kitchen, and as wide as we thought our gastronomic vocabulary was, nothing could really prepare us for this. I mean, sure...there are pics all over the interwebs of the different courses. But - they change often, and we really didn't want to spoil it by knowing too much.

Months later...with flights booked, dress clothes packed, and Airbnb rental reserved, we were on our way to Chicago. Our friends and family were nothing more than confused when they learned our main reason for travel was a restaurant. But we live at Ten. Not half way, not almost. We go for it. In everything we do.

And we went for it. We flew to Chicago to eat at Alinea. And we will never forget it. (We probably won't ever do it again!), but it was really unforgettable.

The Experience

This would be a 16 course meal. We had a wine pairing with almost every course, but the champagne was our absolute favorite.

We ordered this when we got home, and it did not disappoint. It was approx. $35/bottle.


Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blanc Brut
(Non-Vintage)

Amuse Bouche: Osetra

Toasted brioche foam with onion gelee, egg yolk emulsion and caviar.
Salsify

Did you know what salsify was? We did not. So when the server chucked this wooden wreath on our table, and told us to forage for our food, we were stupefied. Lost. He said he'd come back to check on us.

We spun the thing around, searching for something - anything - edible. No dice. The server took pity on our hungry souls and helped us find the first piece. It was dried, and camouflaged by the wreath.
Clever you, Grant.

Okay, a good ice breaker. No more frou-frou impressions, and we could relax. The servers were mischievous yet instructional.  We were having fun now.



We now know that salsify is actually a root vegetable related to the parsnip, and can be prepared the same ways.

Skate

Skate with brown butter, lemon, herbs

Pebble (The Beach)

This course was beautiful and delicious. Every texture and taste of the sea. Brilliant.
Ebi, ogo, clam shells, white bean puree, white mushroom cap

Corn

The cadence at Alinea plays mostly with anticipation and suspense. The servers drop things off and walk away. And we were just a little bit wiser from our salsify experience. (Or were we?)

An empty can of "Alinea Achatz Style Corn" sat in front of us, with just some ash at the bottom. Again, we wondered what was happening.

Next was a hollowed out log cradling a charred, smoky ear of corn, not appearing much different from something you'd pull off your own grill. The top of the husk is removed and placed in the can. The can! It's just meant to hold your smoking husks, silly. No smoke and mirrors this round (okay, maybe a little smoke).

The course was a perfect reassembly of grilled corn kernels, atop a corn pudding like your mama never made. The whole thing was infused with truffle, manchego cheese and sherry. My favorite course, this one.

Goodness.

Trout

This course was served on a bourbon barrel plank, giving a cool presentation for two. The barrel had been home to bourbon, maple syrup and most recently, fish sauce. On each side of the plank were identical displays of trout, Vietnamese coriander, broccoli, roe - with a surprise in the plank's center: fish bones! The trout carcus. We didn't eat the bones at first, but the server assured they'd be delicious - and he was right. The bones crunched with the texture of a potato chip, but drizzled with a sweet spicy fish sauce. Lovely bones.



Lily Bulb


Palate cleansing. Very floral in taste.

Rambutan, distillation of caviar lime, edible flower petals



Campfire

How romantic! They just placed our own little personal campfire between us. Are we roasting our next course ourselves?


No, we wouldn't be roasting our own next course. But while we were enjoying our warm ambience, we would be presented with...

Matsutake

Pine, huckleberry foam, tapioca

Interesting blend of flavors and textures. But I'm starting to get full. I'm feeling a wine haze. I'm really enjoying this personal campfire. And then...

Pork Belly

Our server put out the flames, and said our next course had been cooking in front of us the whole time.  Jaw drop. What looked like charred wood, was actually pork belly wrapped in a protective seaweed, along with a charred parsnip, and a mushroom. Playful and delicious.

Pork belly, parsnip, black trumpet, kombu

Hot Potato/Cold Potato

We were looking forward to this next course. All the hype had us hyped, and for good reason. This little dish packed a punch. A cold truffle-infused potato soup is sitting in a small wax bowl. The pin is holding a warm potato ball, a black truffle, a cube of parmesan cheese and a cube of cold butter. Pull the pin, everything drops into the cold potato soup, and knock it back like a shooter. 

Note: This was really tasty. But at this point, there had been more than one appearance of truffle, and I am beginning to get a little overstimulated by the strong taste. If you're a truffle/mushroom lover, you'll love Alinea. I am still learning to love fungi, so I found the truffle a little overwhelming. Still, I pressed on!

 

White Truffle Risotto


What's that you say? More truffle? When the server hovers over your truffle-y bowl of risotto to grate even more white truffle on top, one might hear singing of angels. But as I said above, my belly was already doing flip flops. All the wine and different tastes in a short period is like training for an olympic sport. I was slowing down. He was ready for more.

White truffle risotto, parmesan, truffle beurre monte

Squab

Our first time trying squab. Deep, dark flavors on this plate. Blackened squab, squab offal truffle, roasted carrot, beet, and orange for contrast.
Squab, beet, orange, carrot

Squash

Transitioning to the dessert stage, here. Probably the least appetizing in appearance. The brain has a keen way of convincing you that because something looks grey and unappealing, it probably will be. Here was squash, draped in ashen goat cheese, served on a chunk of asphalt, and "tagged" with licorice spray paint by the server. Gimmicky. Fun. Not our favorite.



Blueberry

Bubblegum noodle frozen with liquid nitrogen? Yes, please. So many things went POW on this plate, and it was a very welcome change in palate and texture. Even though I was beyond my limit at this point (in capacity, and in the legal sense), I was happy to eat this dish.

Bubblegum noodle, lilac, sorrel, blueberries

Green Apple Balloon

Gigglefits! By the time this course makes its way to the table, you can already hear the mood change in the room. Everyone is animated and having a blast. What you thought would be a quiet, formal atmosphere has caught you by surprise and before you know it, you're joining in the fun. Helium-filled green apple taffy balloons. We were kids again. And I had the gigglefits. I even went home with taffy in my hair. (Pull your hair back, ladies!)

Photo by Alinea


Tropical Fruit

A rubber table cloth is rolled out, and your table is artfully designed. The chef narrates as he "plates":

"Dark rum reduction, spiced creme, mango, passion fruit, carmelized banana, sour cherry, jackfruit, watermelon, lime candy in edible wrapper, bitter chocolate, lychee sugar (sprinkled down from above like fairydust), frozen coconut".

The coconut ball was smashed to bits for the finale. Very fun interplay of tastes and texture. 
Rum, vanilla, kaffir lime

The Menu


My love. He is always surprising me. And he knows how to push the comfort levels right to the edge. Alinea did just that. Unforgettable, unrepeatable.

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