Alinea – or a trip down the rabbit hole.

Chicago is a delicious city. We planned our short trip to Chicago with two things in mind, architecture and food. And…secretly I thought of Oprah (a lot). The overwhelming choice of delicious food options was terrifying. Do we go to Alinea? Charlie Trotters? L20? Graham Elliot? Avenues? Where do we choose for the classic deep dish pizza? or the Chicago dog? And is the Garrett’s popcorn really worth the hype?

After much humming and hawwing (more hawwing then humming, really), I called Alinea. I bit the bullet and decided that if we were going to Chicago we had better try to get into Grant Achatz’s molecular gastronomy temple of eating, and the 7th best restaurant in the world, AlineaSo I call…..and there is no availability. I am crestfallen. My husband calls again the following week and gets us on the waiting list. Two weeks go by. Two nights before we are set to leave, Alinea calls. We have a seating for the 5:30 (early bird special) on Sunday. Victory! 

I had heard about the entrance to Alinea. How strange the dark hallway was, and disorienting the seemingly wavy pink-lit walls are. And then, a metal door opens and you are welcomed into the restaurant. 

We are down the rabbit hole. 

The serene, and empty, dining room and army of servers make me feel slightly uncomfortable. We have no menu, there is only one per evening, a 22 dish tasting menu. We opt for the wine pairings, as well. 

And we’re off. The cavalcade of playful, witty, strange and delicious food begins. Thank goodness they gave us a commemorative menu at the end, because I could have never remembered all of the courses. 

A welcome champagne and elderflower cocktail. Notice the “flags” on our table, to be eaten later, but used as table decoration for now. (but, of course)

Our 1st – 3rd course. 

Three cocktails synthesized into three bites. 
“Lemon – don cesar pisco, cane juice, frozen and chewy’  
Cucumber – plymouth gin, rose, mint” 
 “Cherry – buffalo trace, carpano antica, maraschino”

This course is exactly what I expected of Alinea, playful bites, masterfully thought out renditions of the originals. What we were actually thinking at this point was…. Are we going to be hungry at the end?

Our 4th course.
“English Pea – iberico, sherry, honeydew”

I think this was one of the most beautiful dishes we ate during the meal. It looked like an english  garden, with flower petals, liquid nitrogen cold peas on burrata with iberico ham, sherry and honeydew jellies. This course had me worried, was the whole meal going to be like this?  It looked beautiful but the flavour was so intense and rich I did not want to finish it. In truth, I didn’t like this course. 

Shhhh, let us never speak of this again.

Our 5th – 8th course. 

“Shrimp – fermented black bean, cinnamon aroma” (Do not eat the cinnamon stick)
“Yuba – shrimp, miso, togarashi” (Eat the entire thing)
“Chao Tom – sugar cane, shrimp, mint” (Only chew the sugar cane – do not swallow)

Oh no. On the heels of the last worrisome course comes Yuba, or tofu skin. I am not a picky eater, but I do not, do not, do not, like tofu products. Guess what? Delicious, at Alinea, not at the local thai restaurant, though. I will only eat tofu when Grant Achatz deems it necessary. 

This course was a bit strange, but fun. The cinnamon stick held a high class deep fried shrimp ball. The Yuba was gorgeous. The sugar cane, which was vacuum sealed with shrimp stock was shrimpy. Overpoweringly shrimpy and sweet. But interesting. 

Our 9th course.
“Tomatoes – pillow of fresh cut grass aroma”

This course excited me to no end. I had heard of the aroma pillow and now I got to experience it. A pillow filled with grass aroma was put down in front of us. The plate of tomato heaven was placed on top, releasing the fresh cut grass aroma slowly as we ate. I wondered where they got the grass. Was it organic? Is it synthetic grass smell? How do they do that? 

The tomato course was one of my favourites. The heirloom tomatoes were perfectly ripe and surrounded with the most amazing powders and crumbs and greens. Balsamic powder, italian bread crumbs, olive oil powder, parmesan cheese. Micro greens I had never seen before. Sublime and gorgeous. 

Our 10th & 11th course. 
“Distillation – of thai flavours” 
“Pork belly – curry, cucumber, lime”

This course was fun. Our decorative flags would finally become food. We were asked to assemble our serving dish and place our rice paper flag on top. Berkshire pork belly was added to our rice paper and we were told to assemble our own spring roll with all the gorgeous ingredients they laid out for us. Delicious, “simple” and fun. Easily, the best spring roll I’ve ever had. 

Our 12th course. 
“King Crab – plum, lilac, fennel”

This was an interesting course. One serving dish, like a matryoshka doll, with a crab mousse on top, cold crab in the middle and a warmed crab in a fennel custard on the bottom. Each dish had the same ingredients used in a different way. The crab mousse was again, too rich for me, but beautiful. The middle course was my favourite, the sensation was crisp and fresh, the antithesis to the richness of the first layer. 

Our 13th course. 
“Hot Potato – cold potato, black truffle, butter”

also known as: The course that made me gag at Alinea. 

This tiny course packed a huge punch. I actually gagged at Alinea. The waiter came over and said “Is everything okay?” Luckily I had drank enough of the delicious wine offerings to not feel as mortified as I might have otherwise. I have a bit of an aversion to truffles. This is not the first time I have done a “shot” of black truffle and gagged. This course was tiny, a small amount of potato soup, a hot potato, a  black truffle and butter released when you pull the pin, pop it into your mouth. And swallow. Or not, in my case. 

Let us never speak of this again. 

Our 14th course. 
“Lamb – reflection of elysian fields farm”

Please excuse the blurry photo, after the embarrassment of the previous course, I was trying to be inconspicuous. This course involved delicious lamb and foam and sweet corn soup and one of the best bites of my life – a crispy piece of lamb fat. Doesn’t sound appealing?  It was. 

Our 15th course. 
“Black Truffle – explosion, romaine, parmesan”

uh oh. truffle explosion? I did it, it was okay. I swallowed. 

Our 16th course. 
“Tournedo – a la Persane”

This course blew me away. It was perfection on a plate. The setting of heavy silverware and an antique crystal glass with the gold rimmed plate was perfect for this homage to Escoffier’s classic dish. Australian wagyu sat atop banana and tomato. Banana! Amazing. This was one of my favourite dishes. The sauce was crystal clear and gorgeous. 

Our 17th course. 
“Bacon – butterscotch, apple, thyme”

A bacon swing. Childhood dreams come true. 

Our 18th course. 
“Lemon Soda – one bite”

It all happened so quickly I didn’t take a photo. They brought over two tiny little pill-like squares. We ate them. Fizz. Lemon. Yum. 

Our 19th & 20th course. 
“Transparency – of raspberry, yogurt”
“Bubble gum – long pepper, hibiscus, creme fraiche”

The raspberry transparency was fun. It tasted like crunchy raspberry. It complemented the tube of “bubble gum” we were instructed to slurp back in one shot. It tasted like bubble gum, very fancy bubblegum. 

Our 21st course. 
“Earl Grey – lemon, pine nut, caramelized white chocolate”

A terrible photo of a delightful course. The base was a creme earl grey crumb with lemon “yolks”, pine nuts and white chocolate. 

Our 22nd course. 
“Chocolate – coconut, menthol, hyssop”

This was the show stopper, a last course I never dreamed possible. As we ordered coffee and drank our tawny port from 1968 (!!!), our table was covered in a silicone tablecloth. One of the chefs came over and began painting our table with coconut sauces, menthol sauce, micro-mint and perfect circles of chocolate pudding. In the centre of all this craziness, a block of nitrogen frozen chocolate mousse was placed, and cracked open, cold air streaming out of it. We ate and ate and laughed and ate. Until we could not eat any longer. 

What a trippy meal. 

We were happy to have taken the trip down the rabbit hole, until the bill sent us reeling back to reality. 
Wonderland ain’t cheap. 


  1. stephanie

    Thank you for sharing this!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's amazing that you wrote such a long and detailed post to make us feel like we were there with you!Question… how does one eat the 17th course? I wouldn't know where to begin…

  2. Leslie-Anne

    We were instructed to rip the bacon off the wire and eat. I swung it a bit first, I couldn't help it. That was Chris's favourite bite at Alinea. How could you not love bacon with caramel?

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