Alinea had been on my bucket list for quite a long time – years, in fact. After recently watching a documentary called “Spinning Plates“, it shot up my list at top speed and I convinced B (without much effort, it must be said) to book a trip to Chicago with the sole purpose of eating at Alinea. Basically, I had to go, and it had to be NOW!
With our reservation made and flights booked, I prepared for our trip by reading Chef Grant Achatz’s bio “Life, on the Line“. It was a fascinating read about a man with incredible drive, focus, a passion for perfection, and a desire for innovation. Reading his book only fuelled my excitement so when we walked through the inconspicuous doors to Alinea on Sunday evening and I saw him standing in the kitchen, I was starstruck! There he was! Working in the kitchen and creating tabletop desserts for some lucky diners (not us). I was thrilled! It was a great start to an evening that would end up being this foodie’s dream come true!
Geeking out! Chef Achatz in the kitchen!
Dish 1: Caviar, brioche (foam), capers and onions (gel), egg (custard).
Dish 2: A bit of fun…find the edible branch!
A bit blurry…but this is the edible branch. Salsify (a root vegetable) that has been sous-vide for 13 hours and marinated in soy. Delicious!
Dish 3: One of the most memorable flavours of the night – skate with brown butter sauce and toasted bread. The plate is meant to resemble a paper napkin.
Dish 4: Our server called this “A Day at The Beach” – pebbles of sous-vide beans, ebi, ogo, clam shells.
Dish 5: Beautifully presented trout with broccoli, prepared different ways.
Dish 6: All night we had been sitting under a bouquet of lemongrass, chilli, ginger, and coriander suspended on an almost-invisible wire. We didn’t know its purpose until this dish arrived: the bouquet was used to flavour the curry broth that was poured into the eggplant and cocoa nibs.
Dish 7: Lily bulb, rambutan, distillation of caviar lime (also known as finger limes). The bursts from the lime provided an interesting texture.
Dish 8: Tabletop campfire! Hamachi with shishito, bean, cooked with pine branches.
Dish 10: Pork belly with charred parsnip, black trumpet, kombu. Unbeknownst to us, these sneaky guys (the parsnip and the pork) had been cooking inside the fire. For this dish, they were removed from the fire and sliced tableside. The pork was incredibly delicate and fell apart under the fork.
Dish 11: Not enough time to photograph the signature dish of hot potato cold potato. You pull the pin to release hot potato with black truffle shavings into a cold potato soup, and then you shoot it all. Incredible!
Dish 12: Squab, squab liver “truffle”, beet, orange.
Dish13: “Graffiti”: hazelnut, perigord, balsamic “spraypaint”.
Dish 14: Blueberry with bubblegum, lilac, sorrel. This was the only dish that I didn’t enjoy all that much as it was too sweet for me. B thought I was crazy.
Dish 15: Edible balloon with green apple. We even had some fun with the helium. This was sticky and messy and I loved it!
Dish 16: Tropical Fruit with rum, vanilla, kaffir lime. This dish was created by one of the chefs at the table and my photos don’t do it justice – it was beautiful. Every bite popped with tropical flavours, including the candy (complete with edible wrapping).
I’m finding it difficult to convey the experience and the level of detail in the dishes, therefore, I am hoping that the photos can help illustrate the words that I am struggling to find. I had high expectations of Alinea – it has had a lot of hype and I had certainly built up high expectations. When I walked out of Alinea on Sunday night, all of my expectations had been surpassed. I had been expecting that the food would be an experience – that I was sure of – but I had doubts about the taste of the food. I knew the food would look like pieces of art and I knew they would be impressive and innovative, but I had thought that it would come at the cost of the taste. I was wrong. Grant Achatz is a genius. Let the haters hate on molecular gastronomy – Alinea should be left to those who want something else from food than just sustenance. I am grateful to have had the experience of dining at Alinea and hope that I get the chance to return.
*I must make a special note about Alinea’s booking system because it was, by far, the easiest booking experience that I’ve had at a restaurant of this calibre. Their website is very user-friendly and the process was very straight forward.*