Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chicago! The Most Fun Restaurant Ever: Alinea

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.

The next whimsical plate featured lobster with colorful plops and delicate squares of gelees and creams.  Mush them all together, they encouraged - mix and match to your heart's delight - and we were delighted to find that everything was wonderfully synchronous, a marvelous medley of Indian flavors in our mouths.

The waiter then set down a mysterious pile of coals upon our table without explanation.

We didn't have too much time to think about it, when our Chinese takeout appeared.

Unbelievably playful, with charred cinnamon sticks (for necessary aromatics) as chopsticks

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.

The waiter excitedly presented the next dish, and said, "I bet you can't guess what the crispy thing is."

"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.

A raviolo filled with black truffle, asparagus and the most pristine sliver of parmesan was entirely explosive with rich flavor.

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.

Followed by the best treat ever, and worth the meal alone, candy balloons inflated with helium with a green apple candy rope string.  The balloons are handed with careful instructions: put your mouth on the balloon, inhale, chat for fun, and eat.  Also, please take off your glasses.

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.

And then the act of resistance, chefs come to the table and perform a work of art atop the rubber-matted table.

The tools.

The best part - sprinkling glittered crumbs over everything.
The dessert is molecular wizardy, hot chocolate freezing before our eyes into a thin cylindrical disk.

My favorite part was of course the candied basil (have you ever dreamed of such a thing?), and of course, everything else.  The chocolate was so creamy, the hazelnut crumbles a crunchy delight, and though we did not feel full coming into this dessert, this is what ended up rounding our bellies so.

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
Chicago, IL
Note: Reservations are a little hard to get, but join their Twitter or Facebook to keep in the know!
Alinea on Urbanspoon


  1. the most unforgettable amazing surprise meal ever!!! you are the BEST!!! (also, i shall await our next trip there... hahahahah... <3)

  2. Yeah I also admired that these fun Chicago restaurants are good for arranging parties or having dinner with guests. We really enjoyed good food with great fun activities, even kid’s enjoyed a lot there. Thanks for offering this great opportunity to read your blog.