John and I had our first dinner out (just the two of us) in Chicago since we arrived two months ago. However, I had been waiting for this dinner for years.
Alinea was opened in 2005 and shortly afterwards I read about it and wanted to eat there every time we visited Chicago. Many family plans and two little girls kept it from happening.
The dinner was worth the wait and all expectations.
Alinea chef and owner Grant Achatz is a wizard of molecular gastronomy. What happens at his restaurant is not your traditional dinner experience. You eat food, but it is served in most unexpected ways and portions through many courses. They are little pieces of art, delicately arranged. You can see in the online kitchen photos, everybody has little tweezers like tools to work on little leaves, chopped bits.
My favorite course of the night was the mushroom concoction served on a pine and juniper aroma air filled pillow. The pillow was releasing the air as you were eating your dish, stimulating all your senses…
Another entertaining course was the table décor. It was a big cube of ice with what seemed like two red rods in it. By the fifth course, when we were given two glass straws, we realized that they were two drilled holes filled beet juice, infused with hibiscus and licorice. We drank from our table décor!
We also had the wine pairing for the dinner just to make sure we would make no mistakes. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable. He sometimes entertained us by sprinkling more than a few words from the native country of the wines he was serving that we were not sure what he was telling us!
Of course, with lots of wine paired through many courses, I got tipsy, and unnecessarily grilled a server after overhearing his introduction of the dish “Scallop acting like agedashi tofu.” I, obviously, cannot remember exactly what he was saying but it was degrading to tofu. Everybody has the right to have opinions but I thought that he had to be fair to each ingredient of the dish. In the end, it was tasty but it was one dish that I questioned that night. It was introduced as the scallop acting like tofu as if it had no resemblance to tofu but it had soymilk in it: soymilk that makes tofu!
Well, I could not take a photo of it, as it was served just as the dashi broth that would go in the dish was starting to boil right in front of us in a funny apparatus. I was busy taking photos of that.
The dinner ended with a highlight. The chocolate dessert was served by Grant Achatz, himself (all guests get to enjoy that). Not much chatter but a focused display of chef-in-action.