SPECIAL Alinea Restaurant Review - October 2007 BunRabs Home Yummy Chow Home

1723 North Halstead
Chicago, IL


Stick a pin in it.

What kind of placeholder diner doesn’t like to read between the lines of traditional cooking? Not me. When it’s time to make an indentation in my chow, I return to Alinea.

Our dinner at Grant Achatz’s molecular gastronomy hub of Chicago began with a glass of champagne fortified with a splash of Lillet and aquavit - the ideal beverage to sip as we pondered the utility of our shrink wrapped, key lime centerpieces. Like many of the SF Bay Area restaurants, Alinea is filtering their municipal water as a hydration option with dinner. We will need to order smaller shoes to accommodate our shrinking carbon footprints.

The service is friendly and efficient and the dining rooms are modern and spacious. The dress code is jacket required with no denim or athletic shoe footnote.
The dark wood tables are left nude so a pillow for clean flatware is used as a surgical-style presentation of utensils throughout the meal. Unlike most dining establishments, these implements offer little clue of the course to follow. There aren't sauce spoons, fish knives and heralds of specific foods to be predicted from the neutral nature of the stabbing, cutting and scooping devices. When a dish is presented, it often has a built in mechanism to shuttle it to the appropriate orifice.
We were presented with weeble-bottomed bowls cocooning forkfuls of grilled surf clam happily resting on a bed of nasturtium, lemon, shallot and cuke. This was to be eaten before progressing to the turf of vibrantly green nasturtium leaf soup below. A monocle was placed on the table to receive the used fork.
Ayu was presented 3 ways (no, it's not Michael Fin-a) a filet, some fried skin and crunchy vertebrae swam atop a sesame pudding with crunchy Japanese barley. The brick of ahi-impersonator is really tamari infused watermelon. A dipping divet was filled with konbu braising liquid and a spiral of cilantro puree in sesame oil.
Next came a shotglass containing a sassafras orb filled with Concord grape juice in a pool of fennel juice. This detonation of flavor was to be taken in one "hi Bob" fraternity gulp. This amuse bouchement park ride of a starter was sassy fun.
The beginning of what was to be a parade of bread pairings for the foods (what a cool concept) began accompanied by two dairy quenelles arrived, a cow's milk butter topped with black lava salt and a goat milk butter that melted on your tongue with a velvety richness that required some restraint in its application.
Two pillows were placed in front of us for what looked like a mid-meal nap, but the fragrance of hardwood smoke slowly escaped from this culinary whoopee cushion as a plate of tomato and plum preparations weighted down our puffy placemats. Sherry vinegar soaked tomato, Explorateur cheese, frozen plum vinaigrette, olive oil jam, hazelnut oil jam and chopped hazelnuts were intended to be mixed up to create a depth of flavors and textures as we tucked into this bed of nutty nightshade.
They put food on a pedestal (albeit miniature) in this pressed, dried and fried sardine filled with a nicoise mousse. Arugula sprouts and sundried tomato salad deliver a fresh and tangy bouquet to this bouquet. We munched this down in the prescribed single bite.

A mini, orange-tinged, smoked paprika croissant was delivered to our bread plate to accompany what seemed to be an upside down picnic.

A Guinness beer blanket covered broccoli prepared 3 ways - fried, pureed, and ribbonized. Short ribs, candied peanuts, cilantro sprouts, whole grain mustard and pink peppercorns seasoned this beef and veg dish.

A hollow centered plate held a spoon with a black truffle, Parmesan and romaine topped raviolo which was filled with black truffle tea. One bite of this Italian take on a soup dumpling gave us an umami rush.
This blackberry patch was a fruity nicotine delivery system with tobacco infused cream topped with mint, flowers, smoked salt and pepper. All of these wine flavor descriptors were non-alcoholic yet still qualified as a vice.
A tasting of rhubarb began with a beet sphere immersed in hot rhubarb juice downed in one shot. The effect is an earthy eyeball with a bright tangy finish. A line up of rhubarb followed in which this red stalk was processed more than Phylis Diller's hair. It was dried, poached, moussed, gelatized, peppered and foamed into fun and tasty variations.
They used their anti-griddle freezing device on some huckleberry puree to create this Meyer lemon accented, micro parsley studded popsicle.
A slim Jim of marinated and dried Ahi tuna was tangled in a web of grapefruit zest, ginger, sesame seeds and micro-lemongrass. This sweet and sticky finger food was followed by some hot towels.
A couple of square tablets were presented to us (even though we had already entered the Matrix.)

These freeze dried pineapple and bacon dust doses were encased in pineapple shrink wrap and packed a sweet, smoky, meaty, fruity, crunchy, soft and peppery parade of sensations like a Beta test version of the Wonka pill (without turning you into a giant berry.)
Blis maple syrup is used in a raviolo wrapper encasing Michigan brook trout roe. This roe-violo swam in a corn emulsion with kernels giving off their own caviar-like texture. Grated dried bonito and sage finished this sweet, salty, gelatinous, creamy, crunchy fish dish.
A milk and honey roll landed on our bread plate as we took in the scent of hyacinth blossoms and orange peel as they were being awakened with a stream of hot water to release their oils. In the center of this floral tea rested a bowl of butter poached lobster in a lobster custard strewn with parsnip. An acupuncture-style pin held a cube of orange pate de fruit which we treated ourselves to during this aroma-lobster therapy. This regimen proved successful, but my HMO refused to cover this treatment.

A palate cleanser came in the form of honeydew in a mint gelee with Blis sherry vinegar, mint and salt.



We then preceded to their famed “hot potato, cold potato” which comes in a paraffin dish punctured with a long pin. A black truffle topped hot potato, a cube of Parmesan and one of butter are suspended on this skewer over a cold potato soup. You pull the pin on this flavor grenade to lower the innocent ingredients into their pool of doom. You then shoot it back like an oyster.

A nail poked out from a bowl of fragrant, heated cedar branches. A perfect bite of wagyu beef was flavored with yuzu and a duxelle of matsutakes (which grow on cedar). This dish justified a bough in the direction of the kitchen.


A Japanese style shot of chilled dashi broth with mirin and shoyu held little, gelatinous, junsai shoots that had a bubble tea feel.

The last bread was a seaweed doughnut hot from the seaweed doughnut maker.

This miniature golf course was a hole-in-one of lamb and peas. A crunchy lamb puff, tender dice of sous vide meat and some loin were strewn around the green along with yogurt chips, radishes, maitake, pea shoots and a water hazard of consume.


A metal clip wobbled with a raspberry transparency blooming with dehydrated rose petals and yogurt. This concentration of berry was the supermodel of the fruit roll up world.


Foie gras was incarcerated in a crisp meringue cinnamon prison. An apple pate de fruit acted as the cel mate to this peppery scoff law that we scoffed down.

A Neo-neopolitan of brie and avocado semifreddos were topped with a basil ice. This dessert unlocked the key lime to our centerpiece. The shrink wrapped citrus was pierced and squeezed over the frozen bits to give a tangy fresh dimension to the creamy, herbaceous ice blocks. A guava soda was added to brighten the plate and bridge the sponge of guava that rested on the banks. An orb or brown sugar and rum sat in pine nut dust on the other shore.

We were instructed to eat the brie encased in sugar first. It was surrounded by hazelnuts and basil - we happily obeyed.

Next was a hands free dining course although there were no apples or bobbing involved in the consumption of a frozen licorice spice cake at the end of a thin metal pole. A spun licorice sugar afro made this look like an edible orange scented microphone for a hyssop M.C. The licorice flavor was too amplified for our taste, but it was still fun.

They serve a wonderful Ethiopian Intelligentsia to go with a single origin Ocamare chocolate ganache which was looped around a lemongrass ice, soy sauce powder, rice pudding, candied orange rind, passionfruit and some seriously yummy soy sauce marshmallows. These are meant to be savored in combinations, not in antiseptically separate bites.

A metal device called "the squid" held a tempura of caramel with Meyer lemon and cinnamon sugar. This followed the one bite rule (of course you don't eat the stick.)

They don't do mignardises and the only music is the sound of the conversations in the dining area.


Three and a half carrots out of four

We were sorry that this goofy and delectable meal had come to an end and we plan to return next time we are in this neck of the woods.

Check out Gutenberg’s blog entry to see the menu layout (and thinking) that goes into this mole-lectible meal.



Alinea Bathroom Rating

The bathrooms are kept immaculate and well stocked.


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