“Best Restaurant in Chicago” – Alinea (Chef Grant Achatz) Act 5/6

Restaurant: Alinea – Act 5/6
Cuisine: Modern American/International
Last visited: June 16, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Lincoln Park)
Address: 1723 N Halsted Street
Transit: Halsted & Willow
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Taxi recommended)
Price Range: $50+ ($210 Tasting Menu + $150 optional wine pairing)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 6
Service: 6
Ambiance: 5
Overall: 6
Additional comments:

  • Chef/Owner Grant Achatz
  • 3 Michelin Star
  • Mobil Five Star Award
  • AAA Five Diamond Award
  • #7 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012
  • #6 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011
  • “2nd Best Restaurant in US” (World’s 50 Best)
  • #1 on 40 Top Chicago Restaurants Ever (Chicago Mag)
  • Best Chef (James Beard 2008 & 2012)
  • Multiple award winning
  • “Best” fine dining in Chicago
  • Opened 2005
  • 64 seats
  • Reservations required (2 months in advance)
  • Standard 18 course tasting menu only ($210)
  • Optional wine pairings (+$150)
  • 18% auto gratuity
  • 3-4+ hours dining experience
  • Other restaurants: Next, Aviary (bar)
  • Sun, Sat 5-9:30pm
  • Mon-Tue Closed
  • Wed-Fri 5:30-9:30pm
  • Alinea – Act 1 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 2 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 3 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 4 of 5
  • Alinea – Act 6 of 6
  • Alinea – Grand Finale/Encore

**Recommendations: Tasting menu (only option) with wine pairings. Wine pairings are optional… but do it. If you have his recipe book, the things I would say you should really consider making is the famous “Hot Potato” and “Black Truffle Explosion”. They really are as good as you’ve heard or seen.

It’s arguably an alpha world city famous for its arts.

From performing arts (The Lookingglass Theatre Company – Photo by Sean Williams)…

… to architectural art.

From comedians… (The Second City – Photo by Kristen Barker)

to classics. (Chicago at Broadway in Chicago – Photo by sdparadatemporal.blogspot.ca)

From “no-name” street performers…

… to world renowned chefs.

This is a city full of influential artists of every type.

And this is the Mother post of Follow Me Foodie to Chicago. Welcome to Alinea.

If this picture makes your knees weak, or gives you butterflies, or simply makes you feel like you are floating on clouds… then picture perfect. These are just some of the feelings I had before and after my dinner at Alinea. It was an unforgettable 6 hours (dinner here usually takes 3-4 hours, but I took 6) that I captured, savoured and documented every minute of.

You know those moments in life you can’t stop thinking about? The ones that make you feel so good and so happy that you go to bed dreaming about them and wake up thinking about them? It’s the times when you’re walking alone and you suddenly smile or smirk just thinking about that moment. This is usually followed by pursing your lips so you don’t feel like an idiot laughing by yourself. But in this case I just let it out because I wanted to relive those beautiful moments. I wanted to relive the joy and taste the food from this legendary dinner all over again. It was a moment I cherished and one that’s best shared.

Those tingly and giddy feelings have won me over for the last few weeks and I feel like I’m on a cloud I can’t come down from. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope to have happen more than once in my lifetime. This is Alinea.

If the name Alinea or Grant Achatz draws a blank stare I almost want to pull a “What?! You don’t know what Alinea is?! Or what?! You don’t know who Grant Achatz is?!”, but I won’t… although I kind of just did. (Sh*t Foodies Say). To sum it up, a visit to Alinea is likely on every food lovers “Must Dine Before I Die” list. It’s a 3 Michelin Star that was #7 on the World’s Top 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and it has more accolades and prestigious awards than I know of. It was basically my main reason for coming to Chicago and I made it my last meal. (Actually a Chicago style hot dog at the airport was, but let’s pretend this was).

Chef Achatz worked under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry for four years before opening Alinea. Being trained by arguably one of the best chefs is only part of what makes Alinea world class. Chef Achatz was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on his tongue in 2007 and during treatment he lost his sense of taste. Therefore at one point everything he cooked was reliant on memory, sight, sound, smell, feel and help from his supporting staff. He is now cancer-free and has regained his sense of taste, but that life changing experience has made him even stronger. It’s an emotional story that has translated to what Alinea is now, and it gives a better understanding of his culinary vision for it.

What Chef Achatz does is avant garde style New American or Modern American cuisine. He uses global and local ingredients and experimental cooking techniques. It’s typically referred to as “molecular gastronomy”, but that term is often misused and methods abused. Experimental cooking is a modernist way of cooking. It embraces cooking as an art form that is led by science, and just like any song and dance this craft stems from passion, and is rehearsed in a timely and technical manner.

At Alinea, it is not just about the food but the complete dining experience. I was living in this heavenly moment that felt created especially for me. I didn’t care that all the other tables were getting the same 18 course tasting menu (only option), I felt like the experience was mine. I didn’t notice anything else and I was enchanted and fascinated by what was in front of me.

I’ve seen his recipe book, watched his videos and gushed about his culinary brilliance with many chefs and food snob friends and now I finally experienced it. I had an idea of what to expect and I was still in awe. Every bite I took I didn’t want to let go and every flavour in my mouth was near impossible to describe… even for me. It was just so beyond what I know. It left me enough to feel satisfied, but also so much more to be curious about.

As “modern” as the menu is, the way I experienced it was as if I was a child. It was eating the food of the future, yet I felt like I was the one going back in time. He creates a sense of discovery with every dish and I have no doubt he is inspired by his life experiences and kids. The dishes are sophisticatedly playful and every dish is made with a plethora of ingredients, but the way they came across is not confusing.

He encourages you to create your own flavours and to be inquisitive. He stimulates all your senses and reminds you to value them while enjoying your food. His vision keeps me interested and entertained and it is sensory overload in the most tasteful way. He brings out emotions while creating memories that I remember by touch, sight, sound, feel, smell and of course taste.

Chicago is known for its performing arts and I consider Alinea one of the venues. It’s not listed under “Performing Arts”, but it is a culinary production. I was invited to play along in his dream which is a playground full of fresh ideas and new beginnings. This is the craft of a truly talented and passionate artist who is driving the modernist side of the culinary world. There are other chefs doing similar things, but each one has their own voice. The impact, influence and inspiration Chef Achatz has on many chefs of today is the mark of a culinary legend.

 On the table:

See – Alinea Act 1/5

See – Alinea Act 2/5

See – Alinea Act 3/5

See – Alinea Act 4/5

This is Alinea Act 5/6

The name Alinea is the Latin name for the pilcrow (), a typographic symbol that is used to start a new paragraph. In Old English it would be used to start a new idea and that’s the guiding philosophy and the character of the restaurant, literally and figuratively.

Black Truffle – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Explosion, romaine, parmesan
  • Along with the “Hot Potato, Cold Potato” this was another Alinea signature course.
  • Both courses have truffle and butter, a winning combination every time.
  • !!!!! Gah! I can hardly contain my excitement for this dish. I’ve always wanted to try it!
  • This is major elitism, but the words “Black Truffle”, “caviar”, and “foie gras” denote the same kind of feelings as the words “bacon” and “cheese” might in everyday “foodie vocabulary”. Basically you automatically start drooling when you hear them. It’s a placebo effect.
  • Black truffle may be seen as overdone in the fine dining world, but it’s still one of the world’s most highly prized ingredients. This dish just embraced it.
  • The ceramic dish was hollow so the spoon touches the table and there is no sauce.
  • It was supposed to be an “anti-plate” and this was somewhat of an anti-ravioli. It was executed quite non-traditionally.
  • It is a one biter and it was essentially the truffle version of a Shanghainese soup dumpling or “xiao long bao” or “XLB”.
  • It was topped with a piece of wilted romaine and a shaving of black truffle and Parmesan cheese.
  • I’m not sure why he would use romaine instead of basil, but it was likely intentional and for some unknown artistic reason.
  • The ravioli pasta skin had somewhat of a thicker skin and it was al dente with a bite.
  • As soon as my teeth pierced the skin my mouth was filled with a sudden explosion of rich and buttery truffle broth.
  • It was pure liquid and no stuffing. It was as if someone had extracted the juice from 50 truffles.
  • The truffle flavour was intense and potent creating that savoury umami flavour.
  • The broth was hot enough not to burn your mouth, but it also melted the shaving of cheese, and that extra hit of salty Parmesan and fresh earthy truffle just topped off the bite.
  • I couldn’t even swallow the broth because I knew I couldn’t get it again! I didn’t want to let go of the flavour and moment.
  • It was very rich and decadent. He first came up with the recipe when he was making the black truffle reduction with butter at The French Laundry.
  • The broth is just truffle juice, truffle oil, salt and butter and it is very simple, but the execution is what makes it special.
  • The execution is a bit similar to the ancient Shanghainese methods of making soup dumplings.
  • Chef Achatz uses gel sheets and turns the truffle broth into gels before stuffing them into ravioli, whereas the Shanghainese technique would use pork fat and soup broth to create that gel.
  • This Black Truffle Explosion leaves you shaking and I wanted to order another 50.

The Rare Wine Co. ‘Boston Bual – Special Reserve’ Madeira (Madeira, Portugal) – It was a beautiful medium bodied sweet and rich dessert wine with flavours of walnut, molasses, cinnamon, cloves and some citrus orange or lemon peel. It was more sweet than acidic with warm spices and a mild smokiness. It was a great pairing for the next course which was the cheese course.

Anjou Pear5/6 (Excellent)

  • Onion, brie, smoking cinnamon
  • It came out in a device that looked like one of those scalp massagers.
  • The cinnamon stick acted like an insent and it was lit at the top hence “smoking cinnamon”.
  • I could smell the cinnamon initially and it just scented the air.
  • Again he was encouraging the diner to use their sense of smell for this dish, just like he did with the lavender air from the “Squab” course.
  • The cinnamon scented smoke really made the cinnamon and smoky notes in the wine sing.
  • It was a ball of creamy, rich, and salty melted brie with a sweet contrast and bite of tender pear, caramelized onion, and a crisp shell that was gently dusted in cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • The tempura batter was very light, slightly lacy and crisp and it was almost detached from the chunk of cheese.
  • It was likely an alcohol laced siphoned batter and I just loved how delicate, thin and flaky it was.
  • It was a fruit and cheese platter in a single bite and I would have loved a walnut crunch inside, but I did get some walnut notes from the wine.
Ginger4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
  • Five other flavours
  • This was the palate cleanser for the next course.
  • Usually I would expect a palate cleanser to be some sort of refreshing sorbet, but at Alinea I shouldn’t expect the expected.
  • I don’t know when I’m ever going to experience 5 other flavours [of ginger] as fresh as this in one seating, so I really valued this course.
  • I like ginger, but I normally don’t eat chunks of it raw. I do like raw ginger though and I appreciated this for its quality.
  • We were told that ginger takes 5-6 weeks to arrive at the grocery story after it is picked so it looses a lot of its flavour by the time it gets to the market.
  • At Alinea, Chef Achatz is building relationships with Hawaii ginger farmers and this course showcases that.
  • This ginger is brought in from Hawaii every week so it is very fresh and juicy ginger that is non fiberous.
  • From the bottom up this was Galangal, Kona Blue Ginger, Turmeric, White Ginger and Yellow Ginger.
  • Technically they weren’t 5 types of ginger because galangal and turmeric are just in the ginger family and Kona Blue Ginger is not really ginger at all.
Galangal
  • It is a type of ginger commonly used in South East Asian cuisines, but especially in Thai cuisine.
  • It was a bit sweeter, milder and less spicy than regular ginger.
  • I’m not sure if it was candied dried coconut on top, but it was so small I could hardly tell.
  • The sweetness could have been coming from the coconut if it was.
Kona Blue Ginger 
  • This was my first time trying Blue Ginger.
  • This is called “Blue Ginger” because it produces purple blue flowers and has ginger like qualities.
  • It grows in other parts of the world too like Brazil, but this one is from Kona.
  • It is actually not ginger, but it tasted like it and it was spicy sweet, but stronger than the galangal.
  • The garnish was so tiny I couldn’t taste it, but I’m guessing a coconut jelly.
Turmeric
  • I think I was most excited to try this one.
  • I’ve never tried fresh Turmeric before.
  • I didn’t think about it staining my teeth, but turmeric is often used as a dye.
  • I associate it with Indian spices, but it grows in South East Asia and is used in their cuisines as well.
  • It was a vibrant carrot orange colour and again the garnish was almost specs so I couldn’t taste them.
  • It tasted like a starchy vegetable with a powdery texture.
  • It was again sweet and spicy, but more mild than typical ginger.
White Ginger
  • This tasted more like regular ginger to me, but slightly floral and it was the spiciest of them all.
  • I thought it would go last because it had the strongest kick and it was pungent.
  • It wasn’t fiberous and just very fresh, but I couldn’t tell what the tiny bit of garnish was again.
Yellow Ginger
  • This was sweet and candied and although it could have been spiciest (being last I would think it was supposed to be), the sweetness masked that spice.
  • It was a nice way to end the ginger tasting and lead into dessert.

 Intermission

See – Alinea Act 1/5

See – Alinea Act 2/5

See – Alinea Act 3/5

See – Alinea Act 4/5

See – Alinea Act 6/6

See – Alinea Grand Finale/Encore

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Alinea on Urbanspoon

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