Sunday, May 17, 2009

Alinea (Chicago, IL) [2]

1723 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614
Sun 05/17/2009, 09:30p-01:00a

kevinEats probably would not have existed had it not been for Alinea. You see, I'd been interested in food and dining ever since circa 2003 (starting in my undergrad years at Berkeley--think Chez Panisse), but prior to Alinea, I never felt the urge to document any of my experiences. That all changed in August of 2006, when I made my first visit here. The cuisine at Alinea was so creative, so avant garde, so different than anything I'd experienced prior, that I felt positively compelled to document the meal. That sparked the blogging bug for me, and I continued to write, first posting only to MySpace, then expanding to my own domain in April of 2008. I've been wanting to go back for a while, and I felt that a return trip would be especially apropos now, given Alinea's recent capture of the #10 spot on Restaurant magazine's annual "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list.

A bit of history for the uninitiated: Opened in 2005, Alinea is one of the preeminent restaurants in the country (and the world, in fact), serving progressive American cuisine utilizing techniques often associated with the molecular gastronomy movement. Its chef/co-owner is Grant Achatz, the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Chef for 2008. The Michigan native attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and after graduation, landed a position at Charlie Trotter's, and later at Thomas Keller's French Laundry, where he attained the position of sous chef. In 2001, Achatz moved to Illinois to become the Executive Chef at Trio in Evanston.

Achatz struck out on his own in May of 2005, opening up Alinea in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood to much anticipation and fanfare. The Chicago Tribune bestowed a four-star rating to Alinea within months of opening, as did Chicago magazine. Not too long after, the James Beard Foundation nominated Alinea as the "Best New Restaurant in America." Everything seemed to be going swell until the middle of 2007, when Achatz was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (a type of cancer) of the mouth. After undergoing chemotherapy, Achatz announced in December of 2007 that the cancer had gone into full remission. Though some have expressed concern that the disease may have affected Achatz's sense of taste, few have argued that Alinea has suffered.

Alinea 2nd Floor Dining Room Alinea Centerpiece
Alinea seats about five dozen diners over two floors (we were seated in the upper). The decor is sleek, modern, yet comfortable, highlighted by bare ebony-tinged mahogany tables, custom-made chairs and banquettes, and innovative art pieces. Table spacing was prodigious, and my dining companion even commented that it was like "dining in a museum." On the right, we see a photo of the night's table centerpiece, which changes periodically. Previous incarnations have included ginger, honeycomb, and, on my last visit, a sprig of rosemary. Not just for show, the centerpieces are often used as integral parts of the meal. The rosemary, for example, was used as an aromatic element in a lamb dish; I was curious to see how this unique looking vessel would pan out...

Alinea Menu
Diners have the option of two menus: a $145 12-course Tasting or a $225 24-course Tour--guess which one I chose. There is some significance to the unique layout of the menu: larger bubbles mean larger portions; darker bubbles signify more intensely flavored dishes; and the farther the bubbles are from the left edge of the menu, the sweeter the course. Click for a larger version.

Bread and Butter Dinner Roll & Honey Cornbread
Throughout the evening, we were brought a variety of breads. These included: a warm, savory napa cabbage and pear cookie with Old Bay seasoning; shallot-thyme brioche, honey cornbread; and a dinner roll. The duo of butters consisted of a goat's milk butter and a house-made cow's milk butter with Hawaiian black lava salt.

ROES | traditional garnishes
1: ROES | traditional garnishes
Cocktail of Henriot Brut with Chartreuse, Akvavit, and Orange Curaçao
To start, we were presented with steelhead and trout roe, served with "traditional" garnishes of bread foam and a dollop of egg-dill crème fraîche. I ate everything together in one bite, and noted an initial sweetness to the amalgam, followed up with a briny midpalate in which the saltiness of the roes became apparent. The finish, meanwhile, was dominated by the dill and sour crème fraîche. This course was paired with an interesting cocktail; it seemed like standard Champagne at first, but then developed added complexity due to the added ingredients (the caraway-flavored akvavit being especially notable).

FOIE GRAS | daikon, shiso, yuzu
2: FOIE GRAS | daikon, shiso, yuzu
Max Ferdinand Richter Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese, Mosel 1993
This was easily one of the best preparations of foie gras I've had over the past few years. It was a pâté, but tarted up with a trio of Japanese-inspired ingredients: daikon, shiso, yuzu. They provided a fantastic tartish contrast to the richness of the liver, tempering it at the beginning, but subsequently allowing the foie to come through on the finish. Incredibly, my dining companion, who'd never had foie gras before, really enjoyed this dish. The foie went very well with the wine pairing, an aged German Riesling. Now, I usually drink Rieslings young, so this 1993 era vintage was a change for me. It had a nose of intense apple, followed by a dull acidity and round fruit flavors. It was definitely less bright and less crisp than I'm accustomed to, but this softer version of the varietal paired up nicely with the foie gras.

PORK BELLY | iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation
3: PORK BELLY | iceberg, cucumber, thai distillation
Abbazia de Novacella Kerner, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige 2007
Here, we were instructed to first down the Thai green chili shot, which, though quite mild, gave my mouth a somewhat tingling feeling. The iceberg lettuce cups, placed atop basil seeds, sandwiched a layer of pork belly. The overall effect reminded me of chicken salad! The meat had a distinct sweetness to it, heightened by the use of coconut, and this went well with the cool, crunchy lettuce. In addition, I really liked the use of the basil seeds, which gave the dish a refreshing conclusion.

GREEN ALMOND | juniper, gin, lime
4: GREEN ALMOND | juniper, gin, lime
A green almond is basically a younger, developing version of the familiar almond, eaten when it's still soft and fleshy. Green almonds have a somewhat sour sapor, and that flavor was accented here by juniper berry, lime zest, and salt. The end result was a sweet nuttiness leading to a bitter, medicinal close. My dining companion compared the taste to "orange seeds."

SOFT SHELL CRAB | peas, five spice, duck
5: SOFT SHELL CRAB | peas, five spice, duck
Franz Hirtzberger Grauburgunder Smaragd 'Pluris', Wachau, Austria 2003
We have here soft shell crab with hoisin sauce and English peas. The use of hoisin gave the dish a marked sweetness and Chinese-influenced flair, and I think I even detected rice cracker. This seemed to get better the more and more I ate; the saltiness of the crab was tempered by the hoisin and vegetal tang of the peas, and even had a somewhat spicy finish. This course was actually meant to be compared and contrasted with the next one. Note the similarity in ingredients, and the wines, both Pinot Gris, but one from Austria and one from France. The Franz Hirtzberger was the lighter of the two, showing good minerality, hints of stone fruit, and a firm acidity.

BLUE CRAB | peas, five spice, duck
6: BLUE CRAB | peas, five spice, duck
Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris 'Cuvée Laurence', Alsace 2003
And now for something similar, but completely different: blue crab "salad," frozen pea purée, cinnamon, ginger, rice milk, and clove. The concoction had a nose of cinnamon, with a taste that was refreshingly sweet. Using the various accoutrements to highlight the natural sweetness of the crab was genius--I wanted a bigger glass of this "crab dessert!" My dining companion, meanwhile, thought that the course had a "holiday" flavor to it (due to the rice milk, cloves, and cinnamon I'm sure). The Pinot Gris here had an almost chocolate flavor, and was much heavier, more viscous, and richer than the preceding version.

BLACK TRUFFLE | explosion, romaine, parmesan
7: BLACK TRUFFLE | explosion, romaine, parmesan
Ah, the black truffle explosion, one of Achatz's most recognizable dishes, served in Alinea's signature "anti-plate." He actually developed the dish at Trio, though his first inklings for such a creation stemmed back to his time at French Laundry. A straightforward concept, we have a truffle stock-filled raviolo, topped with a slice of black truffle, lettuce, and cheese. Close your mouth for this one. Upon mastication, an explosion of truffle juice coats your mouth, imbuing your senses with a burst of rich, earthy truffle essence. My thoughts mirrored those of Trio owner Henry Adaniya upon first tasting the dish: "Give me a damn bowl of that thing!"

PIGEONNEAU | à la Saint-Clair
Ornate Silverware Ornate Wine Glass
8: PIGEONNEAU | à la Saint-Clair
Château Lascombes, Margaux, 2004
The instant the wine glass was brought out for this course, I knew something was up. The glass was meant to resemble one that might have been used in the 19th century, during the life of legendary French gourmand Georges Auguste Escoffier. Though Alinea is known for its hypermodern techniques, the point here was contrast--to present a dish using only classical methods available during the 1800's. Escoffier had been an early proponent of squab (young pigeon), and in his magnum opus Le Guide Culinaire, he reportedly offered up 34 variations of the bird--this was number 18. It was a tarte comprised of squab, mushroom, onion, and quenelles of foie gras. The squab was deftly cooked to a tender consistency, complemented by contrasting sweet and savory flavors. The crisp, flaky crust was a pleasure to eat. Though the actual taste of the course was fairly pedestrian (it was like something students would cook in culinary school), I loved the idea, the audacity to serve something like this.

BACON | butterscotch, apple, thyme
9: BACON | butterscotch, apple, thyme
Another dish revisited from my first meal here, another one of Achatz's signature creations. Compared to last time, the bacon seemed crisper this time around, a welcomed change. The key here, though, isn't necessarily the texture, but the delicate balance between the saltiness of the bacon (which hits you first) and the sweetness of the butterscotch (which lingers), moderated by apple and thyme.

SWEET POTATO | bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon
10: SWEET POTATO | bourbon, brown sugar, smoldering cinnamon
Served in the distinctive "Squid" service piece, we have here a fritter of sweet potato flavored with bourbon and brown sugar, impaled on a stick of cinnamon. The nose was intensely cinnamon-y, almost like a churro. The spicy sweetness of the cinnamon linked up nicely with the brown sugar, which is what I tasted first, but also with the woodiness of the bourbon, which lingered on the finish.

MUSTARD | passionfruit, allspice
11: MUSTARD | passionfruit, allspice
Mustard ice cream--this was a first for me. It actually tasted better than it sounds. It was spicy, indeed, but this was tempered somewhat by the cool temperature of the dish, as well as the passion fruit and allspice complex. What I got was a sweet-spicy interplay, with some savory components as well.

HOT POTATO | cold potato, black truffle, butter
12: HOT POTATO | cold potato, black truffle, butter
Bruno Paillard 'Prémiere Cuvée' Brut Rosé, Reims
The Tour menu at Alinea can be thought of almost as two complete tasting menus back to back. With the previous three sweet courses dispensed with, we start anew with another one of Achatz's most well-known creations. The concept here is to have contrasting hot/cold elements, kept apart until ready to be eaten; the paraffin wax bowl and pin were custom designed with this idea in mind. To eat, simply hold the bowl and pull the pin, releasing the truffle-coated hot potato into the cold truffle and potato soup (think vichyssoise), and shoot it in one gulp. Be careful not to splash your sleeves! I was a bit let down by this dish before, but enjoyed it much more this time around. It works not only because of the hot/cold interplay, but also because of the differences in texture, and the juxtaposition of truffle and potato--how the truffle elevates the common potato to such a lofty status. The course was paired with a rosé Champagne, one that I'd actually ordered by the bottle before at Joël Robuchon. I found the sparkler very toasty, but this characteristic went well with the weightiness of the potato and truffle.

YUBA | shrimp, miso, togarashi
13: YUBA | shrimp, miso, togarashi
Yuba refers to tofu skin, and here it was rolled and transformed into a hard, crunchy stick, then surrounded with gulf shrimp, chives, and shichimi, and then placed in a well of miso-mayonnaise emulsion. The contrast between the crispy yuba and shrimp worked for me here, as did the application of togarashi. However, I felt that the miso was overly sweet, dominating the other components of the dish; I thus limited its application.

WHITE ASPARAGUS | sorrel, white pepper, honey WHITE ASPARAGUS | sorrel, white pepper, honey
14: WHITE ASPARAGUS | sorrel, white pepper, honey
Takasago 'Ginja Shizuki (Divine Droplets)' Junmai Daiginjo Sake, Hokkaido, Japan
All the elements of this dish seem so nicely arranged in the "glass," but alas, your server lifts it up before you know it, spilling the contents haphazardly on your plate. The white asparagus was presented here in a soup-like form, and though not visually apparent, the vegetable's crisp bitterness was clearly present. However, its power was tempered, first by the tangy sorrel purée, then by the fruity tapioca balls. An interesting study in taste, texture, and temperature, as well as presentation.

LILAC | scallop, shellfish, honeydew
15: LILAC | scallop, shellfish, honeydew
Albert Mann 'Vieilles Vignes' Auxerrois, Alsace 2006
Razor and littleneck clams, scallops, celery, honeydew foam, lilac pillow. The shellfish were what really made this dish for me; they were done to a fantastic texture and their briny flavor went perfectly with the sharp, tangy celery. The honeydew, surprisingly, wasn't a huge factor in this course for me. The dish had a lingering lilac close, which really went well with the floral, fruity wine.

GRAPE | lamb, ash, frisée
16: GRAPE | lamb, ash, frisée
A hands-free dish, consisting of an olive oil-poached grape, vine ash, lamb loin, almond cheese, and frisée, all speared on a metal "antenna." To eat, just lean in, and take a bite. The grape, with all of its juicy tartness, was a great complement to the cheese, while the lamb, unfortunately, wasn't particularly apparent.

Aromatics Aromatics
WAGYU BEEF | powdered A-1, potato, chips WAGYU BEEF | powdered A-1, potato, chips
17: WAGYU BEEF | powdered A-1, potato, chips
K Vintners 'Milbrandt' Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Washington 2006
What we have here is Alinea's fanciful take on the classic combo of steak and potatoes. The steak itself was quintessential Wagyu--rich, fatty, decadent; it would've been great just by itself. Now, I'm of the belief that a good steak can stand alone sans sauce, but I'd make an exception here. I haven't had A1 too many times, but from what I recall, the powdered version here was a fairly good representation flavor wise, with elements of anchovy, raisin, tamarind, and clove. Sprinkled over the beef, it was a superb accoutrement, easily better than the salt and pepper also provided. Remember that centerpiece? Well, our server proceeded to lament that the smell of cooking meat was lacking here. To correct that deficiency, he proceeded to pour hot water into the centerpiece, which was filled with dry ice and aromatics. The resultant mist was to be inhaled while consuming the beef, simulating the smell of the grill--trés cool.

LEMON SODA | one bite
18: LEMON SODA | one bite
This was some sort of "lemon soda" powder, encased in an edible potato starch wrapper. It was tart, as expected, but also a bit salty--a bracing transition from the savories to dessert. It reminded me of those lemon soda packets I used to eat in my childhood!

YOGURT | pomegranate, cassia
19: YOGURT | pomegranate, cassia
We have here a hard-shelled yogurt sphere filled with yogurt juice; it exploded in my mouth upon mastication, and its tangy contents went nicely with the sweet pomegranate juice. My dining companion compared this dish's flavor to that of the Indian dessert ras malai.

BUBBLE GUM | long pepper, hibiscus, crème fraîche
20: BUBBLE GUM | long pepper, hibiscus, crème fraîche
Our server told us to put our mouths on this cigar-like contraption, and suck, purple end first. It was interesting to first experience the tangy hibiscus, then the creamy crème fraîche, and finally the "bubble gum." I had trouble fitting it all in my mouth. The bubble gum was actually comprised of tapioca pearls cooked in Bubble Yum stock! As a result, it really did taste like bubble gum--a very fun dessert.

TRANSPARENCY | of raspberry, yogurt
21: TRANSPARENCY | of raspberry, yogurt
Think of a thin, hard, brittle raspberry-flavored Fruit Roll-Up, and you have the idea here! Very tart, yet tempered somewhat by the yogurt and rose petal. Note the cool metal clip holder.

RHUBARB | goat milk, onion, lavender air RHUBARB | goat milk, onion, lavender air
22: RHUBARB | goat milk, onion, lavender air
Elio Perrone 'Bigaro', Piedmont, Italy 2008
This was a fascinating play on tastes and textures--the sweet onion cotton candy, goat milk cheesecake, marmalade, ice cream--all the elements seemed so disparate on their own, but together, it worked. I especially appreciated the slight savory component of the onion. The whole amalgamation sat atop a pillow filled with lavender air; the weight of the plate slowly forced out plumes of the lavender aromatics as we continued to devour the dish, adding a nice floral touch to the course. The floral, fruity flavors of the dessert were also present in the paired rosé wine, which was a nice touch.

CHOCOLATE | blueberry, tobacco, maple CHOCOLATE | blueberry, tobacco, maple
23: CHOCOLATE | blueberry, tobacco, maple
Smith-Woodhouse 1994 Vintage Port
Here, Alinea takes chocolate to new heights. The blueberries weren't really blueberries, but rather orbs of blueberry gelée imbued with their tangy flavor; the maple syrup was done "spherification" style, encased in a thin membrane and bursting upon being pierced by my fork; the ice cream was incredibly rich and dense, infused with just a bit of tobacco flavor--the highlight of the dish for me. This was a case of dissonant ingredients forming a whole greater than the sum of their parts. The Port was a perfect pairing, showing heady, smoky, raisin-y notes that bound everything together.

POUND CAKE | strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean
24: POUND CAKE | strawberry, lemon, vanilla bean
Having been raised on Sara Lee pound cakes, I felt that this dessert captured the essence of the cake, both in taste and texture. The "cake" was served impaled on a vanilla bean, which imparted its flavor in spades, balanced by a fruity strawberry contrast.

Alinea Bill
The bill for a party of two. Note the whopping 11.5% sales tax!

In 2006, I prognosticated a Michelin star or two for Achatz and Alinea. Sadly, Michelin has yet to make its way to Chicago, but based on this experience, I'd expect no less than a double when and if the guide arrives in the Windy City. This time around, I found the food sharper, cleaner, more focused, more intentional, and most importantly, tastier. Achatz has certainly grown as a chef, but have I grown as a diner? I think so. The cuisine, the concepts, they make more sense now, though there's still plenty that goes over my head I'm sure. That's not to say that things are old hat now. Hardly in fact. Alinea continues to surprise, to enchant, to incite and to excite, to inspire, and to expand the very notion of what constitutes food--I'd expect nothing less from Achatz and company.


Blogger MyLastBite said...

"To eat, just lean in, and take a bite." (olive oil-poached grape, vine ash, lamb loin, almond cheese, and frisée)


Photos, WOW!
Descriptions, WOW!
I want to go NOW!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 6:40:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

You're up early! Yes, Alinea should be near the top of your list of places to try. ;)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 6:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so excited to read this review and see the gorgeous photos of all these delicious Alinea dishes! We are going in less than two weeks! I am sooo looking forward to it! I hope we get a chance to do the full tour - when we booked a reservation (a bit late) we were told that we could only do the short tour but there is a possibility of a long tour being available too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 7:33:00 AM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

Thank you for doing the Tour, so I may live vicariously! That is some bill!

This is definitely on my list of restaurants to try. I am jealous that you've been there twice now. Beautiful stuff!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 9:37:00 AM  
Blogger Evan said...

Kevin, I have read everyone of your reviews. I have to say this restaurant knocked my socks off, (lets take Urasawa & the French Laundry out of the equation) would you say this is Top 3 in the US for an overall blow my socks off gourmand experience?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 9:51:00 AM  
Blogger dhkm said...

Kevin, nice post. Compair to your last visit, do u believe Chef Achatz's cancer has hurt him at all. Do u perfer his Grand tasting style here or when he's back at Trio -- the one with almost twice the couse, u got dessert half way and start over again.
Trio and Charlie Trotters are our Food & Wine club top location choice during my undergard year at northwestern.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice pics.

But that tart is not something a culinary student would be able to make. The flavors are much less stodgy than they sound.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger FoodDigger said...

I'll never forgive the wife for this one. Can't believe I missed this meal!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Kevin, be honest, is 'mastication' your favorite word?

Kidding, great review. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 1:17:00 PM  
Blogger Secular Gastronomy said...

5 Star Foodie, why wouldn't you be able to do the long tour?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:24:00 PM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Wow! I swear Alinea is pretty much a dinner and an art show rolled into one. If the Chicago trip comes to fruitation, I must eat here! Glad your trip went well and I look forward to reading your next 3 stops!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:37:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

5 Star: Nice. I'll look out for your review, and I hope you'll be able to do the Tour! Where else are you going in Chicago?

Sharon: Some bill indeed--and I had to pay for everything! But seriously, this should be on your to-eat list.

evan: Taking Urasawa and TFL out of the picture, Alinea would definitely be in my top 3. Those three, along with Robuchon, are probably my top 4.

dhkm: I much preferred this visit, so I can only assume that any detriment caused by cancer has been overcome by increased skill and experience on Achatz's part. Trio was before my time unfortunately, so I can't comment on the place. I do, however, like the "two menus in one" style of the Tour at Alinea. As for Charlie Trotter's, I was there not too long after this meal, so look out for that post soon.

Anonymous: I suppose it depends on the student. However, our server did mention that the course provided an opportunity for some of the young chefs to use techniques that they learned in culinary school. Now, I don't know how serious he was though.

Will: We missed you Will. But don't worry, there will be other times.

sygyzy: In fact, it is one of my favorites. ;)

Secular: The Tour is 3.5-4 hours, so perhaps with the way reservations are structured, there simply won't be enough time?

Danny: Edible art wouldn't be a bad description. If you do make it out to Chicago, I'd put Alinea at the top of your list.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:58:00 PM  
Blogger Secular Gastronomy said...

By the way, that's a lot of excellent wine for $90/pairing. Unless you guys got only one pairing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 3:35:00 PM  
Blogger said...

Thank you for the lovely description. I enjoyed nearly the same tour, just a few days after your visit, and was equally thrilled.

I'll be writing more about the pigeonneaux a la Saint-Clair. I think everything at Alinea is very carefully thought out, and this course is no exception; Achatz says it's just to show they can do tradition, too, but I think there's another layer of meaning hidden in there.

Those two crab/pea/duck courses were absolutely amazing -- and so were both the pinots gris (though I missed the chocolate notes you saw in the second)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 5:16:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Secular: We didn't want to drink too much, so we asked for smaller pours, hence the $90pp. My party had the full ~$150pp pairing last time, and one of my dining companions ended up throwing up mid meal!

Mark: It looks like you had a great time as well, and I agree with the points you made in your blog.

As for the pigeonneaux, I believe the idea was to provoke the diner into thinking about the progression that has been made in cookery over the past century or so. The stark contrast of the squab in relation to the other courses was inspired.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 2:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

Another great review. I can't wait to read your reviews of L20, Trotter, and Moto. Based on your dining experiences (including both haute cuisine and casual dining) how would you rank Chicago vs. New York vs. San Francisco vs. Los Angeles?

BTW, as a fellow Berkeley grad, I'm surprised you didn't eat and document Chez Panisse on your last Bay Area visit. I know in terms of food, it may be a bit overrated, but its still an institution and I'd love to see a writeup at some point.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Jai. I haven't done much casual dining in Chicago/NY/SF, so I'll focus on fine dining. I'd probably say that NY is better on average, but that Chicago is more exciting. SF I'd put below those two, but if you add in restaurants in wine country, then it'd be comparable; the style of food is a bit different however. LA, sadly, would be on the bottom of this list; we are getting better though!

I'd been to Chez Panisse a couple times already (in my pre-blogging era), so on my last Bay Area trip, I wanted to try some places I hadn't visited before. I will make it a point to return on my next excursion though (same thing with Gary Danko). Go bears!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 4:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're only there overnight to eat at Alinea and that's it this time. We've already been to Charlie Trotter's and also Everest (not a 5 star anymore but it was excellent).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 5:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you ever laugh at the size of the portions served? i know its a tasting menu and there are 15-30 courses...but one small half oz bite seems a little ridiculous. does it ever feel too much like art and not enough like gourmet food?


Thursday, May 28, 2009 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

5 Star: Why such a short trip? Are you heading somewhere afterwards?

Paul: I actual prefer the smaller portions. I think it's effectively gourmet food and art at the same time. My thoughts mirror those of Thomas Keller, who's a big proponent of the diminishing returns of more bites. Some of those courses are really best served in one go; for example, multiple servings of those lemon soda packets would be ridiculous!

Thursday, May 28, 2009 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger mattatouille said...

11.5% sales tax! sheesh..maybe i shouldn't complain anymore about LA's 9.25%

Thursday, May 28, 2009 1:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

So how would you rank Alinea in comparison to The French Laundry/Per Se, Robuchon, Urasawa, etc? I know this is almost an impossible question to answer, but do you think Alinea warrants its lofty ranking as #1 restaurant in America?

Friday, May 29, 2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous D said...

Another great review...Hopefully, one day I too can experience such exquisite cuisine on a weekly basis! As a fellow Cal bear..I'd like to ask you a question. What did you major in? EECS? I'm going to guess something in the Engineering school, which led you to getting a quick(but good paying) job out of school or pushed you to going to a grad school somewhere in Cali.

I'm a Rhetoric major btw.

Friday, May 29, 2009 1:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Matt: Yeah I know. Makes the LA tax seem a bit more palatable in comparison!

Jai: Using the Restaurant magazine ranking, Per Se is actually still ranked higher than Alinea (at #6). Here's the full list for the US:

Per Se, Alinea, French Laundry, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Masa, Momofuku Ssam, Daniel, Chez Panisse, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Babbo, Manresa, Del Posto

My ranking (subject to change at my whim):

Urasawa, Alinea, Joel Robuchon, French Laundry, Per Se, Manresa, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Chez Panisse

Danny: This is certainly not something I do on a weekly basis! Your intuition is strong though. I graduated in EECS with a Geography minor, worked a bit, and followed up with a MS and MBA, both from USC.

Friday, May 29, 2009 5:08:00 PM  
Blogger ila said...

:swoon: thanks for the review. while i doubt that i will ever make it to alinea any time soon, i enjoyed living vicariously through this post.
p.s. i've been harboring a fat crush on chef achatz since watching the sous vide videos on youtube. he's so nerdy about his food, it's cute.

Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

So do you prefer Grant clean shaven or with the facial hair he's been sporting as of late?

Sunday, May 31, 2009 6:03:00 AM  
Blogger uhockey said...

I just made reservations for August 1st today and went looking for recent experiences - per always, excellent.

Monday, June 01, 2009 4:10:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Be sure to let us know how it turns out.

Where else are you going in Chicago?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009 4:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a short weekend getaway without our daughter but have to be back by Sunday night - back to regular duties on Monday. Will try to post the review Monday morning.

Friday, June 05, 2009 5:58:00 PM  
Blogger Pink Foodie said...

Alinea is going going to be at the top of my list the next time I am in Chicago. The food looks and sounds incredible.

Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Joce {Foodie Finder} said...

Great photos. I was curious to know what kind of camera did you bring into the restaurant? dSLR or Point & Shoot?

I had my first visit last week and didn't get to take as many photos as I wanted since I forgot to charge my point & shoot camera after my trip from Madison, WI the night before. I guess it gives me another reason to take another trip to Chicago.

Do you think it would be wrong to bring in a dSLR?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks Joce. Interestingly, I was also in Madison the night before Alinea, at L'Etoile of course.

I had my DSLR with me here. The lighting's pretty good though, so a decent P&S should suffice. There should be no problem with a DSLR. People take photos all the time at Alinea, so they're used to it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 12:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Joce {Foodie Finder} said...

Interesting indeed! Since my company had offices in Madison, I also made reservations at L'Etoile the night before Alinea.

Another question:
Since I have a reservation at Gordon Ramsay at The London next Monday, do they take offense with picture taking (esp. with a dSLR)? Ever since I saw the commentary by Anthony Bourdain with David Chang of Momofuku, I've been scarred since. I shoot with a D90 and sometimes get that "paparazzi" stare.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I went to Ramsay on opening night last year, and encountered no problem taking photos with my P&S; I don't think it'll be any different with a DSLR. Given that business hasn't been great there, they need all the positive publicity they can get.

Which "commentary" are you referring to? I know Momofuku has a no photos policy, hence my decision not to dine there.

Thursday, June 25, 2009 1:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Joce {Foodie Finder} said...

Here's a link to the podcast from the Travel Channel site:

Thursday, June 25, 2009 9:43:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks for the link Joce. I don't buy the "It's just food" argument, but it is Chang's prerogative to implement a ban. As a result however, I will not be visiting his restaurants, nor recommending them to others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 6:21:00 PM  
Blogger uhockey said...

Hey there Kevin - given the quality of your post I figured I'd share with you my 2 cents - truly a magical meal....and if you think Urasawa is better I do believe I'll have to make the reservation on my next trip west for a Kings game. Cheers.

Friday, August 07, 2009 2:46:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I just finished reading your post. It looks like we had very similar meals, and I'm glad to hear that you had a fantastic time at Alinea.

Urasawa's a completely different type of experience, and I'm not sure the two are really comparable. It's unabashedly traditional, while Alinea is brazenly ultramodern. Urasawa's also very personal, with only one seating per night and the chef working right in front of you. Do check it out sometime though.

Sunday, August 09, 2009 3:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Joce at Foodie Finder said...

Hi Kevin,

I got word today that I'm going to Chicago for work. Unfortunately, when I called Alinea, they were booked on the days that I'm there (bummer!)

What's your suggestion for a back up dinner rezzy? Charlie Trotter's, L20 or Moto?

Friday, October 23, 2009 4:00:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Joce, since you haven't been, I'd say Trotter's.

Saturday, October 24, 2009 4:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

Oh, what I would do with a long weekend in Chicago and a few 1000 dollars to burn!

It certainly seems that Chicago's star has been rising in the culinary world. How many cities can boast as many tp notch restaurants as Chicago?

Monday, November 02, 2009 6:44:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Keith, what would you do? ;)

You're absolutely right that Chicago's culinary mettle has been on the rise. In terms of cutting-edge, avant garde fare, I'm not sure that Chicago can be matched in the US.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009 6:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had to have another read before I go to Alinea on Thursday evening. The new menu looks great! Thanks for the blogs Kevin!

Gord from Canada

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 6:32:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Gord, let us know how it turns out. I'm interested to see how the new menu structure is.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 1:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Atsuko said...

Hi Kevin, enjoyed both of your postings on Alinea. As always, great review. I am planning on my Chicago trip for next month. Thanks for the inspiration! Atsuko

Thursday, September 02, 2010 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Atsuko, so did you make your reservation here yet? Where else are you going in Chicago?

Sunday, September 26, 2010 6:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Jorge said...


Great fan of your posts. I'm planning a visit to Alinea at the end of the month and already have everything in place. In order to plan my budget properly I was wondering if you remember what Alinea's gratuity policy is? And if you remember what the wine pairing options are?

Regards and Thanks

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jorge, gratuity was not automatically tacked on to my bill, so it's up to your discretion, but figure at least 15%. Wine pairings are in the $150 range if I recall. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 8:21:00 PM  
Anonymous CPN said...


I always read your posts and plan on becoming a blogger inspired by your blog. I'm in Chicago and dined last night at Trotter's, and today I will be dining at Alinea, I hope I have an amazing experience as you did.


Sunday, October 31, 2010 6:34:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

CPN, how did those restaurants turn out for you? Have you started your blog yet?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 5:19:00 PM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

trying to get a reservation there for my chicago trip in june. do they have a specific reservation policy like the french laundry or momofukuko?

any tips?

Friday, April 01, 2011 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

never mind. got it.

Friday, April 01, 2011 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this review, Kevin! Having finally eaten at Alinea a little over a week ago-- found it interesting to see how the restaurant has evolved over the past three years.

Sunday, April 22, 2012 6:09:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks for that Andrew. Great to see that Alinea still manages to be ahead of the curve after all these years!

Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:55:00 AM  

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