Dining in Chicago: Alinea***

Being jetlagged has its advantages. I’ve just had a fantastic dinner at Alinea and am eager to blog about it, but I wasn’t sure when I would get around to that as I will be travelling in areas where wifi is not something to count on. We went to Alinea with friends from Chicago where we are also staying the night. I’ve slept really well after the dinner at Alinea for about 6 hours, but now it’s 5am (i.e. noon in the timezone I left yesterday) and I am wide awake. So what better thing to do then to do the post?!

When you enter the restaurant, the first course of the menu is served in near darkess while you are walking on actual grass. It is a lemonade sorbet, served in glasses floating around as a wind chime.

Alinea serves only one 19-course menu that is prepaid when you buy the ticket (including tax and tip about $300). There are two wine pairing options as well as a wine list. We chose the more exclusive reserve pairing.

Steelhead roe, served in a straw with peach, St. Germain and kinome in a rock of ice and paired with a champagne cocktail (Gimonnet Brut with Lillet Blanc and Pineau des Charentes). 8/10

Serving seafood on rocks and seaweed seems to be in vogue at the best restaurants. This is four courses served at once. The oyster leaf; king crab with passion fruit, heart of palm and allspice;  lobster with carrot and chamomile; and razor clam with shiso, soy, and daikon all tasted amazing. Each bite had multiple layers of flavors. Great pairing with Georg Breuer Terra Montosa Riesling, Rheingau 2009. 10/10

Grant Achatz must have a thing for straws and a thing for needles, because many courses had to sucked through a straw or were served on a flexible needle. This woolly pig with fennel, orange and squid was served on such a needle and had to be eaten ‘hands free’. 8/10

Tomato with watermelon, chili and basil paired well with Ginga Shizuku Divine Droplets sake. Very strong fresh flavors. 10/10.

A painting of different textures of corn with huitlacoche and sour cherry. Good pairing with a dry Zibbibo (moscato) from Donnafugata (Sicily). Very interesting textures, one of them seemed like ashes. 9/10

Otoro tuna sashimi with thai banana and kaffir lime, paired well with an Oregon pinot gris. Again great flavor and textures, but I thought the otoro was slightly on the cold side to taste it properly, 9/10

Chanterelle and other mushrooms served on warm rocks on a charred piece of wood. After all the fresh flavors something very earthy. More great flavors, great texture and great presentation. I thought the Chateau Haut Bailly Pessac-Leognan 2006 was too strong for a good pairing and would have preferred something from Burgundy, but that may in part be due to my preference for burgundy over left-bank bordeaux. 8/10

Another dish served on a needle: hot potato, cold potato with black truffle. The potato was indeed hot and cold at the same time, giving a very nice effect. 9/10

Three cuts of lamb cooked sous-vide: neck, rolled up flap meat, and fillet. Served with flavorful lamb jus and 60 different garnishes, to be shared with the table. The lamb was cooked to perfection and very tasty. All the garnishes were great. Good pairing with a Barossa valley shiraz-cabernet from Ben Glaetzer. 10/10

The 60 garnishes in close up. Just think of how much work goes into making this. For instance, the white cilinder is made from rosemary oil and tapioca.

Black truffle explosion. We were warned to eat it all at once so the explosion happens in your mouth and not outside. It tasted great but wasn’t as explosive as I expected after that warning. Great taste though. 9/10

Tempura of anjou pear, onion and brie, served on a smoking stick of cinnamon. Paired with a 1977 boal madeira. More of the flexible needles, this time as a holder for the tempura. 9/10

Ginger with five different flavors, again served on flexible needles. Very interesting flavors. 8/10

Blueberry with buttermilk, sorrel and macadamia. We had to suck up the cold smoking ‘tea’ in the middle with a straw. Great blueberry flavors and wonderful presentation. Good pairing with red Eiswein from Nittnaus, Austria. 10/10

An edible balloon made from green apple and filled with helium. You could suck on the balloon and talk funny. This is the only dish where the fun and humour was clearly more important than the taste (which was fine, but nothing special). 8/10


There was no table cloth on the table, except for the final dessert. A rubber table cloth was put on the table, and chef Achatz himself, assisted by three others, made a big mess on the table from white chocolate, strawberry, English peas, lemon and liquid nitrogen. It was fun to watch (and interesting to see how ‘ intense’  chef Achatz is, he didn’t really interact with us) and we had a lot of fun eating it. There is a lot. Even though the pairing with a barolo chinato was only okay, I’m still giving this 10/10 because it was so much fun.

Overall score for food 10/10 without a doubt. Everything technically perfect and great multi-layered flavor combinations.

The wines of the reserve pairing were great with most pairings at least adequate and the riesling pairing outstanding. It does come with a hefty price tag of $250 excluding tax and tip, so I’m scoring 8/10 for the wine.

The service is professional and friendly, but we prefer a more informal style. 8.5/10 for the service.

Eating at Alinea is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I can recommend everyone to try at least once. It is without a doubt one of the best restaurants we’ve ever eaten at, with a great balance between spectacle and taste. It is definitely worth the trouble to get the tickets and the hefty price tag.

15 thoughts on “Dining in Chicago: Alinea***

  1. Though I’ve never been, Alinea is always spoken of with high regard. Reading your account of that fantastic meal, it’s easy to see why. I’m glad you enjoyed your time here, however brief it was.


  2. I was looking forward to this review. I was pretty sure you would have liked. As you said, once in a lifetime experience. I am going through a bit of a low – am getting tired of gimmicky (or technical) restaurants and I am finding it increasingly hard to justify huge amounts of money on meals that are excellent but that I can’t bring myself to call outstanding. Maybe I am food’ed out??


    1. Thanks Claudia 🙂 I was afraid it would be gimmicky or technical at Alinea, but we really had a great time and the meal was in fact outstanding. I think I do understand what you mean though — it is why I seldom go to restaurants that are past their prime but still expensive, or just gimmicky. The taste to gimmick ratio at Noma (Copenhagen) was not as good as Alinea, although it was still enjoyable.


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