I had VERY HIGH EXPECTATIONS for Alinea. This was on the top of my list of restaurants I wanted to go to (French Laundry being second.) I was headed to Chicago in late August, and searched how to get tickets. I found out they opened up their online reservation system on the 15th of the month 2 months in advance at 11AM CST (meaning all August reservations were available on June 15th.) I had totally forgot the day of and was 15 minutes late and all the 2 top and 4 top spots were taken. The only opening left was the Kitchen Table for 6 people on Saturday at 9:30PM. Luckily I had another couple who also loved fine dining, and I was able to find 2 others who wanted to join us. It turned out that the Kitchen table experience was even better than the normal table. Total cost – $500 per person all in and prepaid and non-refundable.
We had drinks next door at Boka before our reservation (pretty good) and we arrived at Alinea around 9:15PM. While jackets were optional, we were fine with a button-up and dress pants (Lululemon ABC pants FTW.) We walked in, past a long table of about 12 dinners (may have been a private party because when we left, the tables were broken apart.) Right past them was a small glass room next to the kitchen. That was our table for the night. We were giddy.
The head waiter then confirmed if we had any allergies (we had already told them no in an email earlier that week.) After that, we had the choice of 3 wine pairings – a standard one for $255 or so, a second tier for $295 or so and a 3rd big baller tier that was close to $500 or so. It was recommended we all got the same pairing, and we all got the standard pairing. They also do shared pairings, which was one glass versus the two glasses / less pour. I thought some of the pours were on the light side, meaning around 1 oz whereas other places were around 1.5 or 2 oz. (meaning, I didn’t notice this at Per Se or Le Bernadin.) It was funny because I had made that comment mid-way through our course and the sommelier came in and refilled our glasses (it was either a freaky coincidence or they had tapped our conversation.)
They started our meal by pouring everyone a glass of champagne. I had looked at the label and recognized the champagne! It was a bottle of Bollinger La Grande Annee, which was what Ethad served in First Apartments! I just found it amusing that I was able to recognize the champagne. And yes, it was just as delicious on the ground as up in the air.
Shortly after our champagne, the first course was served. It was 3 small bites that they put on our table setting. Let me pause here to say that when they bring out the courses, we’re talking 3-4 waiters coming at the same time and putting the dishes down in synch. It was a well oiled machine. After the 3 small bites were served, someone else came by and poured liquid nitrogen in the hanging flower pot. Now our room filled with this woodsy aroma while eating our first course. It reminded me of the 4DX movie experience. It’s one thing to eat your meal, but it’s a totally different experience when you add the sense of smell to eating your food. It would be like you were eating your food in the middle of a forest.
The second course had us go into the kitchen to see a chef make us 6 drinks in an old hand cranked tumbling contraption. I asked if this is a “kitchen table only experience,” and indeed it was.
Another course had a bowl of salt with some aromatic wood burning in the middle of the table, which you could smell. Once that course was done, they then brought out twigs of sushi on a bushel of rosemary leaves that they put on top of the leftover burning wood to infuse the smell of rosemary into the sushi.
At the end of the meal, they brought out helium balloons that were edible. You just put your face on the balloon, sucked in the helium, and was talking like little kids. A very cool experience. Lastly, the finale had them bring out a step ladder to remove one of the hanging decorations, which turned out to be a plate. Then, each chef came into the room and threw stuff onto the plate like a Jackson Pollock painting.
Was it worth $500? For sure. YOLO! I think this is now my new favorite restaurant PERIOD. The food was great. The “theatrical experience” was great. There’s no other restaurant like this in the US. Would I go back? Probably not for a while since it is pretty expensive. I do want to try Next though.