What's on your bucket list?

Last weekend, my husband and I checked off our bucket list and flew out to Chicago for an evening at Alinea. This is my attempt at capturing our amazing culinary art experience. We have visited some of the best restaurants in the world like Blue Hill at Stone BarnsLe Cirque, Babbo, and Gabriel Kreuther, but this is our absolute favorite thus far.

Food is definitely my love language. Some people eat to live and others, live to eat. We live to eat.

Alinea has been on my list for years, and after watching "Chef's Table" on Netflix featuring Chef Grant Achatz, we wanted to experience this culinary genius and his super-talented team for ourselves. Our meal was a mind game from start to finish and stimulated every single one of our senses. If you have always been a meat and potatoes kind of eater, this place would leave you mind-blown.

Thank goodness we watched the show, otherwise, we would have missed the obscure entrance into the restaurant! Once seated we were given this as our menu. If you are a control freak, this may just put you over the edge. We basically had no idea what to expect, but that was part of the intrigue and fun! We had to leave all of our preconceived ideas and expectations outside of those doors. They would not have done us any good anyway!

A huge shoutout to the customer service team at Alinea for providing some more detailed information for each course. There's no way I could have possibly done these dishes justice with my simple descriptions. Besides, I loved putting this post together because it helped me relive the magic that is, Alinea.

Spoiler Alert! Here is the rundown of our experience:


ICE: 

When have you ever gone out to dinner and been encouraged to use all of your senses? Our first course did not disappoint. We needed to hold the "ice" bowl while we were eating or it would have toppled over!

 Roe, passion fruit sorbet, macadamia distillation, pineapple and kombu foam served in a hand-carved ice bowl. 

Roe, passion fruit sorbet, macadamia distillation, pineapple and kombu foam served in a hand-carved ice bowl. 

PAPER & CRUNCH:

The "paper" is that tan sheet that is sticking out of the top of the bowl. Our server then poured the bouillabaisse over it and we stirred it all together and drank it right from the bowl. It's a high-end restaurant, but slurping from the bowl was not only acceptable, but encouraged. The "crunch" in the background was nori with a filling. Finger food! Oh, the horror (sarcasm implied)!

 Langoustine paper, scallop, layered into sheets, olive oil with coriander, saffron, tarragon, bay leaf, peppercorn, garlic. Bouillabaisse. Nori rolled into cylinder, rouille filling, shio kombu.

Langoustine paper, scallop, layered into sheets, olive oil with coriander, saffron, tarragon, bay leaf, peppercorn, garlic. Bouillabaisse. Nori rolled into cylinder, rouille filling, shio kombu.

CONTRAST:

This was definitely the tastiest foam I've ever had!

 Cider, orange, maple.

Cider, orange, maple.

ESPAÑA:

This dish was a grown-up version Dippin' Dots. There was a pear "egg" hiding down in the bowl. It was sort of like a game of seek and find. The reward: a burst of flavor!

 Pear, paprika, jamon ibérico.

Pear, paprika, jamon ibérico.

SWIRL:

Such a cool presentation! Our server poured liquid nitrogen into the center of the dish that this "swirl" was resting on and out came a citrus aroma to accompany the course. Whoa! It was almost too pretty to eat...almost.

 Apple, Lemon Balm, Yuzu roll.

Apple, Lemon Balm, Yuzu roll.

THAI COCONUT:

This course was one of my favorite presentations of our meal. Only the content within the bowl, which was placed in the center of the dish, was the edible part of the dish. It rested on a bed of salt, wrapped with the leaves sprayed with aroma. Those white shards pointing out of the bowl were meringue! Apparently meringue is not just for dessert. This place truly has no rule book.

 South Florida Pompano poached sous vide in clarified butter. Little neck/surf clams, mussel sauce cooked in celery, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, red chili flake, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, ginger, coriander seed, and cilantro. Rambutan, finger limes, white sesame and white pepper dumpling thickened with kuzu, yuzu meringue, young coconut, curry leaves for aroma, micro lemongrass. 

South Florida Pompano poached sous vide in clarified butter. Little neck/surf clams, mussel sauce cooked in celery, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, red chili flake, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, ginger, coriander seed, and cilantro. Rambutan, finger limes, white sesame and white pepper dumpling thickened with kuzu, yuzu meringue, young coconut, curry leaves for aroma, micro lemongrass. 

YELLOW:

We started off the meal with an ice bowl. This dish was the opposite. We were given a warm bowl of food we held in our hand that gave a feeling of instant comfort.

And look at those chopstick rests! Thanks to Joe (and Noel) for spending hours gluing glass tiles together. {Joe, your tie was amazing too.}

 Pork belly, pickled mango, banana and tomato curry sauce, banana pepper curls, saffron threads, mustard, marigold, or snapdragon petals. 

Pork belly, pickled mango, banana and tomato curry sauce, banana pepper curls, saffron threads, mustard, marigold, or snapdragon petals. 

GLASS:

Art on a plate. I loved that this experience forced us to slow down and appreciate what was put in front of us.

 Maitake mushrooms panroasted in butter, thyme, cracked pepper, garlic. Glazed with roasting sauce. Emulsified sauce made from reduction of lapsang souchong tea, foie, black pepper. Pickled pearl onions. Agridoux of red wine vinegar, blueberry, sugar. Kale "kimchee", blueberry chip. 

Maitake mushrooms panroasted in butter, thyme, cracked pepper, garlic. Glazed with roasting sauce. Emulsified sauce made from reduction of lapsang souchong tea, foie, black pepper. Pickled pearl onions. Agridoux of red wine vinegar, blueberry, sugar. Kale "kimchee", blueberry chip. 

BRANCH:

I'm a sucker for creative presentation if you couldn't already tell. Being served tiny, little cookies on a "branch" made those cookies that much more delicious.

 Mastic, concord.

Mastic, concord.

TOAST:

Grilled cheese was comfort food for me when I was growing up. This was an adult version. About the size of a half dollar, but so rich we had to eat it in a couple bites.

 Black truffle, gruyere, pumpernickel, evoo, blix elixer, murray river salt. 

Black truffle, gruyere, pumpernickel, evoo, blix elixer, murray river salt. 

BONE:

This course was a definite mind-play. Looking at it, I expected sweet. It looked like cheesecake. But no...savory.

 Rendered bone marrow, puffed rice, togarashi, malt vinegar powder, soy powder, tapioca maltodextrin, bone marrow emulsion, nigiri. 

Rendered bone marrow, puffed rice, togarashi, malt vinegar powder, soy powder, tapioca maltodextrin, bone marrow emulsion, nigiri. 

SMOKE:

The most fall-apart rib you would ever want to be served.

 Shortrib, smoke, and cocoa. Cassis spice reduction. 38 hour braised Australian wagyu. Cassis gel, cranberry puree, pickled beets, smoked with sassafras and licorice. 

Shortrib, smoke, and cocoa. Cassis spice reduction. 38 hour braised Australian wagyu. Cassis gel, cranberry puree, pickled beets, smoked with sassafras and licorice. 

ROCK:

Almost too beautiful a dessert to eat. That "rock" on the lower right- we cracked it open and chocolate spilled out.

 Sweet potato, chocolate, and miso.

Sweet potato, chocolate, and miso.

NOSTALGIA:

If you or your little brother played T-ball, this dish would bring you back...way back. Nostalgia was an appropriate name. It tasted like Big League Chew, but better.

 Bubblegum snow, strawberry meringue, banana sorbet, cherry glass, vanilla cake puree.

Bubblegum snow, strawberry meringue, banana sorbet, cherry glass, vanilla cake puree.

And I can't leave out the balloon! Made of sugar and filled with helium, this was the funniest food experience I have ever had. 


Honorable mention for other restaurants we tried goes out to:

  • One of my favorite Chi-town spots and James Beard Award Winning Chef, Jimmy Bannos Jr. at The Purple Pig. Food Network was filming while we ate lunch, so be on the lookout for us!
  • And another James Beard Chef (Stephanie Izard) creation, Little Goat Diner, with the best comfort food we have ever had. And those Kimchi Bloody Mary's! Yum!
Thank you Paul & Polina for hosting us in your home for the weekend. We love you and your kiddos! Much love to Jenny, Otto, and kids- it was great to see you all too! I love that no matter the distance, these friendships stand the test of time.