NOTE: I wrote this review over three years ago but never posted it. That’s not a typo, I’m just that slow. I’m pretty sure a visit to Alinea today is nothing like the experience I had three years ago, so take this review with a grain of salt. Or maybe a bag of it, because I’m going to assume absolutely none of the following is accurate anymore.
If you haven’t heard of Alinea in Chicago or its head chef Grant Achatz*, you probably don’t follow the food scene at all and are missing out on one of the most innovative restaurants and chefs of this generation. You’re probably also very pale, because you’ve been living in a cave of some sort for the past decade. Grant Achatz was the only chef to be mentioned in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2011** and actually battled through mouth cancer to create what is arguably the best restaurant in the United States. Mouth cancer. That’s cancer. Of the mouth. On a chef. That’d be like Kim Kardashian getting butt cancer only to come back and win some sort of butt award for, uh, best butt? Or something? I don’t know. That was a pretty bad analogy.
When I called to make a reservation the hostess who took my call told me they were completely booked for the dates I was shooting for. My date called back less than an hour after I tried and miraculously found an opening.*** Apparently the fine folks at Alinea don’t like the sound of my voice. I’d hold it against them, except for the fact that their food is so good they could hit me in the face with a hammer and I still wouldn’t care.
* I believe Grant Achatz has passed on day-to-day responsibilities to his chef de cuisine Mike Bagale.
** 2011. Topical, I know.
*** I believe they use a new ticketing system now, instead of the antiquated reservation system I went through. Again, three years old. This review is three years old.
Grant Achatz. Genius at work.
Stellhead Roe (dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit)
Yuba (shrimp, miso, togarashi)
Oyster Leaf (mignotte)
This was basically an oyster-flavored leaf. There wasn’t actually an oyster in there. Just a leaf.
Scallop (hitachino weizen, old bay)
Razor Clam (carrot, soy, daikon)
Foie Gras (green garlic, vanilla, mint)
Have you ever seen foie gras served like this? Of course not, you liar.
Rabbit (parfait, rillette, consomme)
This thing opened up like a Russian nesting doll, with each layer a different exploration of rabbit.
Venison (cherry, cocoa nib, eucalyptus)
A single piece of venison enveloped in eucalyptus. I’m pretty sure this is what it would taste like if you ate a forest.
Wild Mushrooms (pine, sumac, ramp)
Hot Potato (cold potato, black truffle, butter)
Pull the pin and the hot potato falls into the cold potato, creating a hot/cold potato soup. It’s delicious.
Short Rib (olive, red wine, blackberry)
You built the thing yourself. It was very reminiscent of Vietnamese cuisine.
These were placed on the table at the beginning of the meal and sat there the entire time until this dish was served. We thought they were weird orange napkins, but turns out they were the wrap for the short rib dish.
Hamachi (west indies spices, banana, ginger)
Agneau (sauce choron, pomme de terre noisette)
Black Truffle (explosion, romaine, parmesan)
One of Grant Achatz’ signature dishes, and the thing that really put him on the map. Saying this is delicious is an understatement. You take a bite and truffle explodes into your mouth in a way more obscene and more pleasurable than you can imagine.
Sweet Potato (cedar, bourbon, pecan)
Lemongrass (dragonfruit, finger lime, cucumber)
The thing was sealed in such a way that when you gave one end a little suck, the entire thing would shoot into your mouth.
Chocolate (blueberry, honey, peanut)
They built this thing at the table. Well, more literally, they build this thing on the table. As in there were no plates, they just laid out a mat and built the thing for you to eat off the table. Like pigs.
It’s hard to judge restaurants once you get to a certain level, but I’m going to do it anyway and say that Alinea was the finest meal I’ve ever had. The presentation was playful, the flavors were amazing, and the overall experience was better than other restaurants in just about every possible way. Some chefs dabble in molecular gastronomy because it’s gimmicky or novel. Grant Achatz does it because he’s pushing the limits of what food is and what food can be. And I love him for that. In ways way more intimate and creepy than is appropriate towards a chef.
1723 N Halsted St
(between Concord Pl & Willow St)
Chicago, IL 60614