Another memorable day in my life to remember: visiting the legendary Three Michelin Star Alinea.
Alinea is a world renowned restaurant that just needed no introduction. Headed by Grant Achatz’s, it was awarded Three Michelin Stars, and up until very recently, the only Three Michelin Stars in Chicago. It has also been within the top 10 in S. Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list consistently for the past few years, making it the best or second best restaurant in all of North America.
Before the visit, I was salivating at the pictures of its dishes. Its avant garde take on contemporary American cuisine was simply mind blowing. Many dishes had me wondering “how did they do that?” or “is that even food?”
I have been planning to go to this restaurant the last time I was in Chicago about 2 or 3 years ago. Sadly I could not secure a reservation then. I was laughing like an idiot when I managed to secure a reservation, and prepaid, for one of the toughest tables in the country.
The exterior was unmarked and unassuming: it didn’t even look like a restaurant. This was consistent with most top tier restaurants I’ve been to in Japan. I walked through the unmarked doors and into this sketchy looking, barely lit hallway, and finally there was a soul that greeted me behind the sliding doors at the end.
Entrance, where the magic happens.
Because my friend was out looking for a parking space, I had to wait for him in the restaurant. But instead of leading me directly to my table, I was made to stand at the lobby area where the kitchen exit was. Though I was invited to “take a peek” at the kitchen, the standing wait was really awkward even though our reservations was confirmed and already fully paid for weeks ago. I felt like a student waiting in the principal’s office. What have they got to lose?
Surf Clam, sunchoke, cucumber, lilac.
Steelhead Roe, English pea, olive oil, chamomile.
Skate, brown butter, lemon, herbs.
Graffiti, spring through the concrete.
Eggplant, banana, cocoa, curry.
Crab, rice, green curry, cilantro. Tamarind, young coconut, nam prik num. Siam Sunray, lemongrass, chili, soda.
Anglerfish Jaw, xo, coriander, scallion. Probably my least favorite dish in the menu, it was introduced as a popular Thai street food dish. It was basically fish and chips, completed with a page of Chinese newspaper. It just didn’t taste special enough, at least not in a restaurant of this caliber. It was bland and its texture chewy. Pretty disappointing.
Percebes, smoke seawater, ash. Tororo Kombu, smoked foie gras, ice fish cracker. Hamachi, shishito, bean, pine branch.
Pork Belly, parsnip, black truffle, butter. The pork belly was actually disguised as one of the charcoal logs that has been burning right in front of our eyes since the previous course. Pretty nifty. You would think eating a “charcoal” pork belly like that would be disgusting but it wasn’t. The pork itself was unbelievably tender, kind of like some meat flavored tofu.
Hot Potato, cold potato, black truffle, butter. An Alinea signature, we were instructed to quickly pull to pin out so the skewer of hot potato and a truffle shaving gets dropped to the cold potato soup. The rich, creamy, truffle-infused mixture was absolutely orgasmic. Signature-worthy dish indeed, this was one of those dishes that will burn into my memory forever.
Rabbit, morel, ramp, mastic.
Chocolate, frozen distillation. My brain was having the hardest time processing this. It looked like a shaved ice dessert from a Taiwanese place, but it tasted like chocolate!
Cheesecake, matcha, berries, hibiscus
Balloon, helium green apple. The Alinea signature dessert. Basically, you would suck on the surface on the balloon until the sticky taffy splattered all over your face while half the restaurant laughs at you, especially when you try to talk with a squeaky voice from the helium.
Tropical Fruit, rum, vanilla, kaffir lime. The final “dish” was when the chef himself came over and proceeded to paint the table with his “palette” of ingredients. I strangely like this awkward feeling of eating off the table at a restaurant, especially one that was Three Michelin Stars.
It wasn’t for show either, the “painting” was delicious with me and my friend almost licking the table for every last drop.
Coming to this amazing restaurant was like attending a show. Waiting for the next dish was like anticipating for the next scene, you just don’t know how these wizards will surprise you next. Every dish invokes a sense of bewilderment and wonder. The chef and the front of house staff, the actors on the stage with you as the volunteering assistant.
No one comes here for the food, or to get full. You come here for the experience and memories. And it delivered.