There is no better way to experience food than by sharing a meal with good friends. A little over three years ago, we met our new foodie friends Kaitlyn and Aaron. Over the years we have formed a friendship around discussing restaurants, cooking, and enjoying new foods together. Our foodie entourage took our first trip together this past weekend to Chicago to have dinner at the renowned restaurant, Alinea.
In order to have the full picture about Alinea, you have to know more about its head chef and creator, Grant Achatz. We highly recommend watching his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix for a full history, but we will give you a quick background. Achatz is a rock star in the culinary world. He is known for taking molecular gastronomy and the dining experience to an entirely new level. His MO is to heighten all of your senses while dining through a combination of scent, taste, sound, surprise, and visual stimulation. Dishes at Alinea are rarely what they initially appear to be and the entire meal is an explosion of sensory experiences.
The Reservation Process
Alinea uses Tock to open monthly reservations to the public at 11:00 AM central time on the 15th of every month, two months in advance. This means our November reservation was available at exactly 11:00 CT on September 15th. Small tip: be sure to log into your Tock account in advance of the time reservations are released; this way if you get a table you won’t lose it during the login process. If you login at exactly the correct time, you should be able to get any table for any day that you are interested in.
There are a number of different seating options for Alinea. The Gallery is the main dining room of the restaurant, serving their full experience menu. It seats parties in groups of 2 or 4 people at either 5:00 pm or 9:00 pm. This seating costs about $400 per person which includes tax and gratuity, but does not include alcohol. The Salon at Alinea is an abbreviated experience of the restaurant. There are a number of seatings per night and that experience will cost you about $325 per person including tax and gratuity, not including alcohol. The final experience at Alinea is The Kitchen Table– the most exclusive of the experiences- at a private table in the kitchen. It seats six guests and costs about $530 per person including tax and gratuity, no alcohol. Because we were a party of six…. you guessed it…. this kitchen table was our dining destination!
The Experience (Spoilers Ahead!)
To give you some of the details without giving the entire dinner away, we will give you a full account of our first and last courses. After watching the Chef’s Table episode, we walked into the restaurant wide eyed and ready for everything. We were taken to our table in the kitchen, which was decorated like a fluffy ball of pink cotton candy. There were birds hanging above, flowers at the center, and a number of elements on the table that were clearly items to be eaten. The “show” began with the waitstaff pouring liquid into the vases that held the flowers. The result produced a smoke that smelled like pink lemonade. To accompany the smell, we had frozen pea soup (it looked like dip and dots) delivered to our plate . It was served with edible flowers and a cold broth that was hidden within the centerpiece of the tables. The birds hanging from the ceiling ended up being sesame stuffed cracker pastry doves that were cut down for the second bite. A gold dome on the table revealed the most delicate and perfectly cut melon with jasmine. The beautiful flower dish held two “puffs” flavored with tea and honey. Ladies and gentleman – that was JUST THE FIRST COURSE.
The rest of the courses throughout the meal were a similar adventure. We had a course in the kitchen, our room decoration completely changed while we weren’t looking, and a number of other surreal experiences throughout the night. Every single aspect of the dining experience is thought out while we ate our meal. The music, brightness and color of the lights, and scents being pumped into the room all changed with each of the foods we ate to heighten the experience of our dinner.
The dessert courses, and the conclusion of our dinner, were menu items that are mentioned in the Chef’s Table, so we don’t feel too bad about giving those away. Dessert starts with Alinea’s famous apple balloon. Each person at the table is served a balloon that is fully edible, string and all. The next and final performance is the dessert art that is featured in the episode. Two chefs come to either side of the table, remove plexiglass that was hanging from the ceiling, the music changes, and the lights go out. The chefs plate the dessert in a synchronized dance onto the glass; each element goes onto the glass one color at a time. The final product can only be described as beautiful, edible, graffiti.
This is one of the most unique and fun culinary experiences in the world. You will be hard pressed to find a more amazing, sensory dining journey. While we loved everything about our dinner, we would be hard pressed to go back again given that the menu would largely be the same and that the “show” would not have the same surprise that is did this first time. Should Alinea produce a new concept as they did a few years ago, you can expect a new review!