Sunday, July 6, 2014


Location: 1723 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614
Alinea on Urbanspoon
For this blog post, I have decided to let the pictures speak for themselves.  Rather than describing each dish and why I absolutely loved it, I decided to give an overall opinion of the meal and of course highlight some of the best and my favorite plates.

The Experience:
First of all, I would like to say how the meal is more than just a meal... it is a full dining EXPERIENCE.  Honestly, the service is beyond 5-star (or in my case 5-mile rated).  They treat you like kings... no matter how young you look (our group looked real young compared to other diners).  Also, the dining is very informal for being formal.  You actually feel very comfortable inside the restaurant with everyone laughing and talking.  Tables are spread out to allow parties to talk without eavesdropping on the table next to you.  And finally, in terms of the experience... be ready for a show.  Anything and everything that is placed on your table may be the next course.  It is kind of cool to try and search for what the next bite could be!

Now for the food...

Right from the start, you see the creativity used by Alinea chefs.  The first course called hot potato, cold potato.  This dish is a timed bite... so listen to their instructions and enjoy the contrasting textures, flavors, and temperatures!  The next dish was definitely not my favorite, but the experience was hilarious.  If you can make it out, there is a camouflaged branch that is edible.  See it?  Trust me it is difficult... in fact, one table had to call over a couple additional waiters to help their guests.

A lot of my friends, including myself, really liked the dish above.  It was their take on an Indian-inspired lobster meal.  Those little puddles of orange are some of the richest "butter chicken"-like sauces I have ever had.  Use as much or as little as you like, but Ill be honest, I used it all.  There are little squares of earl grey gelatin and of course an Indian raita.  

When the fourth course came around, we received plastic Thank You bags.  Inside, we found a chinese take out box and cinnamon stick chop sticks.  The "take out" food featured veal sweet breads.  The best part about this course was how you ate it.  You actually have to lift the box with one hand and try to scoop everything out with those chopsticks!  Absolutely delicious and fun.  As you can see, the next picture was a one-biter course.  But, before we indulged in the ebi-topped seaweed cracker, a small fire was built in front of us.  It was a little confusing because we didn't think it enhanced the seafood/seaweed dish.  Instead, the fire was the following course (as now seen below).  They sliced some of the logs to reveal a perfectly cooked medium rare wagyu beef, charred parsnips, and a mushroom pudding.  It also was served along side a cuttle fish noodle.  The filet was a good size piece and as tender as could be.  It honestly melts in your mouth.  The prominent flavors here are very earthy with a subtle char.  They surprised us with this one!

After such a bold course, we needed some sort of palate cleanser to get us ready for the next courses. I like to think these two courses served that purpose.  The first was the bulb of the lily flower served with rambutan and caviar lime.  The lily flower bulb was very watery and simply fresh.  A little sweetness came from the asian rambutan fruit and those caviar lime pieces added a sharp bite that definitely cleared the palate.  Continuing the lighter dish trend, we received a rhubarb and celery course.  To make it, they pulled down the hanging rhubarb decoration and shaved it on top the celery root foam and celery pieces.  I found the celery to be very overpowering, but I didn't realize the sticky licorice garnish that was supposed to help balance out the flavors.  So make sure to mop up the licorice with every bite.

Another competitor for the best dish was the wood ear mushroom course plated above.  It was served with a parmesan cream sauce and a crispy pig ear.  Honestly, that sauce could be put on anything and it would be amazing.  It was rich, yet not too sharp.  And, it allowed the wood ear mushrooms to shine.  The crispy pig ear was a little random... in my opinion, I didn't really understand its purpose except for some crunch?  Regardless, dip it in the sauce and enjoy.

My favorite course of the night is the black truffle explosion (pictured above).  I like to think of this dish as a twist on the Chinese soup dumpling.  But instead, it is filled with liquified black truffle and topped with a little asparagus, a parmesan cheese shaving, and more black truffle on top. The entire tortellini needs to be eaten in one bite to appreciate it all.  The truffle flavor is bold and amazing.  Without question the best one bite dish I have ever eaten and I still think my favorite of the night.  Only problem is you only get one.  

Below, you find the duck course.  Not only did we have a nice chunk of duck breast, but we also had the duck heart, and duck foie gras dumplings.  This course came out with a dry ice presentation to help bring the aroma to the meal.

Dessert Time!
I decided to give the desserts their own section.  The first two were special enough to live up to the Alinea dessert reputation.  The first was called the Pistachio.  It had dehydrated strawberries, rose water gelatin, and an amazing lemon curd.  It looked fancy and tasted even better.  The highlight of the meal was the highly anticipated "Balloon."  This edible balloon is made with green apple taffy filled with helium and held down by a dried green apple leather for the balloon string.  So to eat... you have to first suck out the helium to change your voice and then enjoy laughing with your fellow diners.  Then, just eat the balloon followed by the fruity string.  Delicious!

The second most-anticipated course was the dessert finale.  Simply titled "Milk Chocolate," you may wonder how it can live up to Alinea standards.  Well, be sure to pull out that iPhone and have enough memory record the 2-3 minutes dessert presentation.  I honestly can't tell you everything in the dish, but it includes cooled hot chocolate that forms into a ganache-like consistency. There are different colored sauces and a wonderful creme fresh.  Also, freeze dried hazelnut chunks and candied basil help finish off the dessert.  Everything is drawn directly on the specially made silicon table cloth which is a spectacle by itself.  Is this the best dessert?  I can easily say it is definitely fighting for the top spot!

How far would I walk for this food?



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