Alinea: Dinner and a Show (but not necessarily in that order)

We did the ultimate foodie thing and flew to Chicago to have dinner at Alinea, the top-ranked restaurant in the country. (I know, I know, but have you noticed that we kind of like good food?) All I can say is that the ranking is well-deserved. Alinea specializes in molecular gastronomy but where some restaurants with that specialization think about dinner as a show (and the food as somewhat secondary), Alinea provides both a fabulous show and a delicious dinner.
We started out at the communal table with a dish of parsnip, Osetra caviar, lemon, and white pepper accompanied by a Kurt, Grand Cuvée, 164eme edition. Simple, elegant, and delicious.
Then, we were asked to go into the kitchen and were served a made-in-front-of-us pomegranate shaker accompanied by a black walnut & mace cake. The combination was delicious and also served the purpose of giving the staff time to turn the communal dining table into various separate tables.
We then returned to the dining room and were seated at our own table. We were given an Asian pear, roe, and shiso snow with a Romaine, avocado, and tosaka spear. The wine was a 2015 Hans Wirching Iphofer Julius-Echter Berg Silvaner GG (I should mention at this point that we had chosen the eclectic wine pairing option). Beautifully presented and the flavors blended beautifully as well.

Next up was a crab, coconut, and curry ranina accompanied by a spiced orange glow. Again, flavors that you wouldn’t think would go together (spiced orange and crab?) were delicious together.

Course #5 was an olive and artichoke black and a squid, black garlic, and chrysanthemum ink. The wine was a 2015 Hatzidakis cuvée no. 15 assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece. The dish was darkly flavored (for the lack of a better description) without being overly rich and delectable.

One of our favorite courses was the langoustine, bouillabaisse, and olive oil paper that was served with a 2013 Paul Perone Les Chalmaux Pullgny-Montrachet from Burgundy. The paper did indeed taste just like a bouillabaisse should. Clever and delicious.

A venison, juniper, and huckleberry smolder was next up. This was probably my least favorite course but that is more due to my not being a fan of venison than anything else. (And even in a fabulous meal, there needs to be a least favorite thing, right?)

Next up was “clam chowder” or, rather, a clam, potato, bacon cape accompanied by an Old Bay oyster cracker. The potato had been baked in butter for 14 hours, then hidden in the salt bowl pictured above, which had been heated during the previous courses, before being unearthed and mashed up for the chowder. The chowder was amazing!

chowder making

Accompanying the 2014 Hansell Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley was a blueberry, black truffle, maitake glass, a matsutake, lemon, and thyme funghi, and a foie gras, shio kombu, and mushroom umami. Heavenly.

Next up was a squab, black forbidden rice, and binchotan coal served with a beet, mustard, and chili spiral and a tenderloin bean. The wine was a 2012 Chevalier des Andes from Mendoza, Argentina. (As a side note, when we asked how this wine aged, the lovely sommelier explained how it became more tannic and poured us a taste of the 2004. He was right—you would not have guessed that it was the same wine.)

And I was wrong. My least favorite course was the goat cheese and manuka air (I am not a goat cheese fan, which might be the understatement of the day). The accompanying pineapple, aloe, and shiso shot, however, was delicious.

The whimsical first dessert was a dark chocolate, birch, and marshmallow campfire and a green apple helium balloon (with the balloon string also made of edible green apple). I don’t know which was more fun—eating the balloon and string or listening to all of us talk in helium voices. The wine was a 2013 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Auslese Piesporter Goldtropfchen from Mosel, Germany.

And the final dessert show consisted of what Alinea calls the white chocolate, coconut, and silver paint. The videos don’t do the show justice but gives you a sense of the whimsy that is very much a part of the dining experience.

Beginning of dessert course at Alinea

Dessert course at Alinea

And by final dessert, we are not counting the sesame, brown butter, and gold nuggets that were presented to us to send us off into the night.

We staggered out of the restaurant complete with a sensory overload of taste, sight, and hearing. Dinner at Alinea definitely goes on the list as one of our most memorable meals ever!