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Alinea in January

When the wind is howling off lake Michigan, Chicago is a very cold place and especially so this year. Freezing temperatures far below normal arrived with a polar vortex. Who in their right mind planned an excursion there in the dead of winter? I did and great salesman that I am, persuaded three friends to go with me. The lure was an opportunity to dine at Alinea. The three Michelin star flagship of chef Grant Achatz was ranked best in the world 2016. With amazing, imaginative food and theater in equal measure, it’s a highly sought ticket.

Reservations

Six months earlier while vacationing in Chicago I tried to snag tickets. Despite herculean efforts it was like chasing the end of a rainbow. I couldn’t manage it then, but that strengthened my resolve to dine there. I set upon a mission and last January it came to fruition.  Two months earlier I sat in front of my computer counting down the seconds until tickets were on sale. Every few seconds I would click to test if the site where reservations were sold was live. Finally, the reservation calendar popped up and I selected our seats. Then we began the wait.

The Venue

The nondescript exterior belies the wonderland within and when we entered the restaurant, it was immediately apparent this was going to be special. Our communal table was elaborately decorated under red lighting. A pair of stuffed fighting pheasants were the centerpiece and a silver cloche awaited each of us.

Alinea Communal Table Alinea Cloche

Opening Act – Communal

Oyster, Beet, Caviar, Snail and Leek

Francis Rousset-Martin Clos De Trus Sauvignon, Cote De Jure, France 2015

Our first taste was hidden in plain sight. Disguised as a holly leaf it was right in front of me, a hint of things to come. The waitstaff pressed the top of the cloche, the interior lit and you could see the first course atop our plates.

Alinea Cloche Lit Communal Oyster

Act II – Kitchen

Sweet Potato, Bell Pepper and Pocket Pepperoni Puff with Fennel and Basil

Tequila was dispensed from the dry ice fountain in the kitchen. We were amazed by how quietly and efficiently the kitchen staff worked. No frantic hustle and bustle, no noise or shouting, just determined execution of each station’s duties.

Act III – White Room

Arctic Char, Roe, Coconut, Lychee with White Pepper

Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec Champagne, Reims, France

As the name implies, while we were in the kitchen, the main dining area was transformed into a modern, brighter room with white decor. The ceiling lighting was accented with original artwork that would play a role later in the evening.

Alinea Ceiling Alinea Arctic Char

Act IV – Kaeng

Scallop, Mustard and Chili Skin

Albert Boxler Reserve Pinot Gris Alsace, France 2015

A conceptually stunning presentation of crunchy noodles made of scallop with yellow curry

Alinea Scallop

Act V – Lemongrass Makrut Lime Glow

Makrut Lime Glow

Act VI – Crunch and Paper

Rouille, Nori : Langoustine, Bouillabaisse with Olive Oil

Bernard Moreau Chassagne-Montrachet Burgundy, France 2016

Alinea Crunch

Act VII – Ink

Octopus, Scallion and Black Lime

Turley “Dusi” Zinfandel, Paso Robles, California 2016

Alinea Octopus Flames 1

Act VIII -Tail and Juniper Tea

Pork, Trumpet Royale, Huckleberry Branch, Maitake, Acorn

Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot, Mt. Veeder, Napa, California 2014

Alinea Pork and Shroom Alinea Pork and Tea

Act IX – Bubbles

Yuzu, Shiso and Myoga

Japanese fruit and herb garnished with Japanese ginger and the texture of a rice krispie treat.

Alinea Bubbles

Act X – Rossini

Wagyu Beef, Frites, Mayonnaise

Chateau Musar Cabernet Sauvignon, Bekaa valley, Lebanon 1999

The course is named after the famous composer and accompanied by his music. Fittingly regal for the expertly prepared beef.

Alinea Wagyu

Act XI – Ear

Woodear, Foie Gras and Truffle

Alinea Foie Gras Truffle Alinea Truffles

Act XII – Transition

Yam, Delice and Apricot

Massinez Golden 8 Williams Pear Liqueur, Alsace, France

Alinea Yam Resurrection Yam Delice and Apricot

Act XIII – Wood

Hoja Santa and Tamarind Flavored Chocolate

Cruz de Fuego, “Tepexate” Santiago Matatlan, Oaxaca, Mexico Distilled 2017

Hoja Santa Chocolate

Act XIV – Nostalgia

Popped Caramel. Not your everyday popcorn.

Alinea Popcorn

Act XV – Liquid Balloon

Helium and Green Apple

We bit and inhaled the helium, then spoke like Daffy Duck. Business as usual for my friend Charley.

Alinea Balloon Charley

Final Act – Paint

Carrot, Cider, Cranberry and Maple

Cantina Buglioni, “Il Recioto” Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto Italy 2011

The staff reteieved our “plates” from the light fixtures, then as a fire-breathing monster spewed flames and smoke into the room with music from hip-hop artist Childish Gambino, the servers painted our dessert.

Alinea Paint 1 Paint begin Alinea Smoke and Flame 2

Alinea Paint Final Paint Mess

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