This foodie has eaten in many restaurants all over the world, but none has compared to one in Chicago, IL.
Alinea opened in May of 2005 and became the must eat at restaurant not only in Chicago, but in the world. The mind of Chef Grant Achatz is brilliant. His nuanced approach to food, extracting the essence of each ingredients' flavors is nearly unmatched. Combined with his creativity and presentation, this restaurant is one that must be experienced by any and all foodies. While this restaurant is a must-go-to, it is also very expensive. You do not buy per item, you purchase tickets for the entire tasting menu. We bought the food with the wine pairing which came to: $1,043.64 for the pair of us. Once we had made our reservations (months in advance mind you) we also were able to let the restaurant know any food allergies or aversions so they can customize any items they need to, to fit your palate. In my case, I cannot eat cilantro (sorry guys!) so we had to let them know in advance since 1-2 of their dishes incorporated that particular herb.
We did not know what exactly we'd be eating when we got there which was also quite an exciting experience. My husband and I are very adventurous eaters, so the less we know the more we can simply experience what is before us. There were approximately 10 courses total, all tasting portions but still an abundant amount of food. All that was on the table was the normal set up, a bowl that had coconut, limes and lemongrass in it, and a word search.
Within this search were many items we ate that evening, though we did not search for them prior to our meal beginning. The air was filled with the aroma of the lemongrass, coconut, lime bowl on our table. We knew this had to be part of the experience but we didn't know exactly what role it would play....
The moment we sat down, after we had a second to take in our surroundings, we were greeted very warmly by both our waiter and sommelier. His knowledge of wines was brilliant, and he explained how our first pairing would work with our first course. We were served a 2017 Sauvignon Blanc wine from Germany called Sauvignon Blanc 1. This wine was a beautiful start, light and high in acidity making it a great pairing with our dreamy and creamy first course.
Our first dish of the evening was White Asparagus, Jamon and Basil. You might think these ingredients simple, but remember what I said about extracting the roots of flavors? This course started that path to understanding. From the moment the plate was set down, we were astonished. It did not look like any of the ingredients that we were told were in the dish, but yet tasted more purely like those flavors than I have ever experienced.
It was powder, but smooth and creamy. It was absolutely the best start to a meal I had ever had. One scoop of all the ingredients sang in a harmonious way that chefs strive to achieve in their work.
Once we demolished this course, we were within moments greeted again by our sommelier to give us the wine for the next course. The next wine was a 2017 Abstberg Superior, a Riesling from Mosel, Germany. This one had a little more bitterness to it which went well with the seafood and sea flavors of our next course.
The waiter came to the table and poured water into the Lime, Lemongrass and Coconut bowl....what we didn't realize is that it was sitting on a bed of dry-ice. The smoke was pure aroma filled with those incredible ingredients that sat before us. Once that smoke covered the table, the next course arrived: Kaeng, Scallop, Mustard and Chili Glow.
Again, we see the creativity from the mind of Chef Grant Achatz. This course had to be modified for me. The one aspect that needed modification was inside the glowstick...yes we ate that! That was a beautiful rose and chili jelly inside a glass vile. They took particular care to warn us not to bite down on that as it was in fact glass and could cause serious damage. Normally they add cilantro to this, but for me they added basil. In the bowl were scallops 3 ways: Scallop cream that encompassed scallop noodles beneath a scallop crisp. The wine, the aroma and the chili made this pairing unreal. There was nothing lost from the sweetness of the scallop nor from the brine of sea water. It was heavenly and seemed to be eaten way too fast! The wine only enhanced this incredible dish, again that seemed to be gone too fast as well. I want to emphasize, that this dining experience is just that, an experience. At no point were we rushed or pushed
Once the food had been demolished, they cleared everything including the lemongrass, coconut and lime bowl. Our table felt almost empty, especially when the aroma had gone. Again, our sommelier came to our table, seeing that our previous wine had not been finished. He gave us another 5-10 min before he returned with the next wine which was 2013 Hartford "Dina's Vineyard" Old Vine Zinfandel from California. This wine was more full bodied than the previous two and went with the depth of the next course.
Third course was Octopus in squid ink with scallions an black lime. Honestly, I have no idea how they came up with this, but it was as mysterious as it was incredible. The glaze seemed to glisten and the octopus tasted more like the sea than any seafood dish I had ever had before. I feel like these three courses were the bait to catch the fish. They were enticing, alluring, and divinely delicious. I cannot imagine a better start to an evening...but then the next course came. First, they laid down a bowl in the center of the table which contained a salt mixture of some kind. We had no idea what this was for, but it had nothing to do with the next course.
Fourth course was Morel mushrooms and flower stems in a goat butter. This was paired with a 2014 "Clos Solon" Morey-Saint-Denis, Burgundy from France. This pairing was one of both simplicity and complexity altogether. The eathiness of the mushrooms with the goat butter, paired wonderfully with the crispness of the stems and the beauty of this bold wine. Definitely a course I have had subsequent dreams about!
While we ate this, the waiter lit the salt bowl on fire. There was no aroma that truly came from this, but it did heighten our curiosity tenfold. On top of that was placed a mini Le Creuset. We did not dare open it prior to being told. It simply was on the table as we ate this luxurious dish from the woods.
Stay tuned for what was in that pot, and for the remainder of our dining experience at Alinea!