In our trip to Chicago, I surprised Diana with a dinner at world-renowned Alinea. It was a place we had always talked about going to, never found ourselves in Chicago at the same time, and now in the height of her upcoming wedding, the stars were finally aligned for us!
|The doors of the kitchen are wide open to the restaurant waiting area.|
The restaurant interior is stark, with violet lighting and immaculate leaves of rhubarb hanging over each table. The wait staff is friendly, often funny, setting a much different tone to the dinner than Per Se or Atera.
Each dish is remarkably playful. The opening "plate" was a basket of woven twigs. The task, the waiter explained, was to find the two pieces of salsify that were hidden inside.
We turned the basket here and there, studied each branch ad nauseum,
until Diana spotted the first one!
A dehydrated piece of salsify with the subtle texture and flavor of beef jerky, seeped in soy and sodium.
We didn't have too much time to think about it, when our Chinese takeout appeared.
to eat General Tso-style sweetbreads. Never having sweetbreads before, I fell in love with them, resembling the fattiest, meltiest chicken nuggets ever.
And then the coals were ignited.
More distractions though: ebi, with broccoli stem and sea grapes, beautiful and earthy.
The coals were finally diffused to uncover a piece of charred sorrel and a wagyu filet. The server slices off most of the charred edges of the sorrel, but leaves some of it on, for a little taste of smokiness.
The plate is a darkened tree stump with inky black sauces. The beef is forever tender, no chew required, and the smokiness from the open flame is apparent with every bite.
A delicate glass bowl of lily bulb petals and tiny rambutan pearls cleanse our palates.
The waiter than grabs our hanging rhubarb to shave 'rhubarb truffles' onto our next dish. Isn't he the cutest thing?
Fresh ricotta, freshly shaved rhubarb, celery root and licorice make up this ridiculously fun little salad.
"Oh, you mean the pig's ear?" He didn't bank on Diana and I knowing just about every pig part there is (you don't get this porky without knowing this stuff!). This plate was by far the most beautiful pig ear plate we've ever had though. Served with wood ear mushrooms, it was one "earie" dish.
Next, a vase filled with dragon's breath poured onto our table and
over duck "dumplings" made of foie gras and
in copper bowls, we were given bites of duck breast and a rare duck heart atop an addictively thick, sweetened sauce.
And then we entered into the forays of dessert with bubble gum noodles, tart blueberries, and tangs of lemon.
Our neighbor did not want to take off his glasses and dove right in.
His glasses were completely covered with candy, but so worth it! The balloons taste just like fruit rollups but a thousand times more fun.
|The best part - sprinkling glittered crumbs over everything.|
The dessert is molecular wizardy, hot chocolate freezing before our eyes into a thin cylindrical disk.
Han's Nonsensical Rating: We avoided any kind of description of Alinea entering this meal, and found ourselves fully surprised at every step. And though some dishes were better than others, you can't help but walk out of this restaurant feeling like you've had the most magical and unique experience, and you can understand why Alinea is consistently ranked among the top restaurants in the world.
1723 N Halsted
Note: Reservations are a little hard to get, but join their Twitter or Facebook to keep in the know!