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Alinea Tantalizes All the Senses

When my husband came home one day talking about an interview he heard on NPR, I was immediately interested in the topic: Alinea.  An award-winning restaurant in Chicago and its Chef: Grant Achatz,

The avant-garde restaurant and the chef have won accolades galore for innovative cuisine. Atchatz and a few chefs around the globe have been experimenting with the art of dining, elevating it to a new level.  Some might call it gimmicky, but I found it fascinating.  It’s been described as the kitchen-as-laboratory trend.  Food is manipulated and combined in totally unexpected ways using unusual preparation techniques.

It’s been called molecular gastronomy, whatever that means.

I got so excited about my husband’s description of the restaurant I suggested we might go there to celebrate my upcoming birthday.

Dining die-hards have been raving about Alinea and its chef, so I’ll leave complexities of the food preparation to the professionals and simply record my impressions.

First of all, you don’t go to Alinea for dinner.  You go there for a “Dining Experience.”  And that it is. Everything is carefully orchestrated, no, make that “choreographed” for a total immersion.  Multiple servers quietly glide about presenting each of the 12 dishes on the fixed menu, explaining the complexities while the sommelier shares tidbits of wisdom on how to appreciate the wines that were served.

While this doesn’t sound all that different from the typical fine dining experience, it is.  Very different.

The experience began when we entered  unremarkable gray metal doors, finding ourselves  a long fuchsia lit tunnel-like foyer with undulating walls.  Unexpectedly half way down to our left, sliding doors automatically opened.  We were warmly greeted and ushered upstairs to one of a series of small rooms each spaciously arranged with only a few tables.

As I made my way up the glass stairwell, noticing the glowing and glimmering lights, I knew I was in for a visual and tasty treat.

We elected to try the 12-course option and accompanying wine pairings.  No menu was presented.  This was on purpose: everything was planned to be a surprise and each course was its own “special experience.”

While the idea of 12 courses sounds daunting many were only one bite.

For example, we were served one bite of goose meat skewered  on a heated juniper branch. The aroma evoked  in me memories of Christmas holidays.  The meat was infused with  prune puree  and prepared tempura style.

Another one-bite course was The Truffle Explosion: a piece of ravioli with a burst of intense black truffle liquid inside.  The server advised us to put the whole thing in the mouth and keep the “lips closed.”  Good advice.

One course consisted of a small spoon of peanut butter that turned into powder in the mouth.  Not sure how it did that!

I loved the hot potato, cold potato course. This consisted of a ball of potato, simmered in clarified butter and covered by black truffles that was skewered on a steel pin along with cubes of Parmesan, butter and chives.  We were instructed to slide these items off the needle allowing them to fall into a cold potato soup and then savor the mouthful of soup while tasting two temperatures at once.  Amazing.

Get the idea?

Not only were the tastes, combinations and preparations surprises, but also the presentation evoked a series of “Wows.”

A deconstructed Crème Brule arrived on a linen pillow filled with nutmeg infused steam.  As the weight of the plate caused the pillow to deflate, an aromatic steam filled the air space around us added immensely to the experience.

We were served chocolate mousse frozen with liquid nitrogen and various other sweet confections on the table with no plates at all.  First servers removed everything from the table and then rolled out a velvety silicone covering over the entire table.  Then Chef Grant Achatz himself arranged the dessert directly on the silicone, applying dollops of goodies in artistic profusion.  I had a hard time eating delicious rubble off the table, thinking of years of drilling table manners into my children, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

I loved the ambiance of the restaurant—low key and tasteful—a perfect backdrop for the “food as art” meal.  Nothing overpowered the focus of attention, the Birthday feast we enjoyed and will always remember.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

7 Comments
  1. posted by
    n kokonas
    Feb 27, 2010 Reply

    Thank you for the kind write up.

    On behalf of chef Achatz and the Alinea team, we are pleased that you enjoyed your experience and look forward to welcoming you again.

    — Nick Kokonas

  2. posted by
    Ann Stevenson
    Mar 1, 2010 Reply

    I feel transported just reading about your experience!

  3. posted by
    Melanie Rogers
    Mar 2, 2010 Reply

    What a WONDERFUL description of one of my favorite restaurants! Just reading it made me experience it all over again, although I wonder if he ever creates the same dish twice? Since I have tried but failed to ever dine at El Bulli, this has been what I believe to be closest to it, Thanks for taking me back!

  4. posted by
    Margaux Drake
    Mar 6, 2010 Reply

    Alinea has been on my list for a while. Have not been yet, but hopefully soon. Chef Achatz’s creativity is so inspirational. Thanks for the taste!

  5. posted by
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    Dec 17, 2010 Reply

    […] Alinea: Amazing restaurant in Chicago […]

  6. posted by
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    Oct 27, 2011 Reply

    […] also checked out the exterior of Grant Achatz’s much ballyhooed new restaurant, NEXT.  Again.  Hard to […]

  7. posted by
    Checking out the Fulton Market Street area in Chicago | DesignDestinations
    Feb 1, 2017 Reply

    […] also checked out the exterior of Grant Achatz’s much ballyhooed new restaurant, NEXT.  Again.  Hard to […]

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