Atmosphere: The Alinea intrigue begins the moment you get to the door and wonder if you are at the right place. You are greeted by 2 heavy black doors, with no identifying sign to be found. After stepping into a small foyer where a friendly face will greet you and confirm that you have indeed made it to the right place, you are led into a second room that houses the Gallery downstairs and the Salon upstairs (divided into 2 smaller rooms. The furniture and wall decor is fairly muted, but our table was kept alive all night with a procession of surprises, starting with a bowl of oranges that would be brought alive with dry ice, then a bowl of salt that as caught on fire, and finished off with an edible balloon. There will not be a dull moment.
Service: The wait staff at Alinea have mastered the ability to keep the service down to earth and fun, while still maintaining the level of finesse that is expected at a three-michelin star establishment. The servers knew every component of every dish (quite a feat when food is this complex!), the sommelier expertly guided us through the wine list and helped us choose the perfect bottle of wine, and food arrived out the of kitchen at a synchronized and precise pace. Despite this level of attention to detail, every server we met seemed more than happy to drop by for a chat, joke around and genuinely seem thrilled that we were in our glee. We left feeling like we had made a new group of friends.
Food: Grant Achatz and his team are producing food that is magical, whimsical and playful, while still maintaining a degree of sophistication, elegance and grace. Each of our dishes in our tasting menu was perfectly executed and the meal as a whole sought to stimulate all the sense. Aromatics were placed on the table to compliment and highlight the flavours in the food being served, and a few dishes had a "finger food" to bring in a tactile component. Achatz' team is anything but simple. Take one look at his cookbook, and you will learn that every dish he creates has no less than 5 different parts, which each have 10-20 ingredients in them. as such, every bite is bound to be a very pleasant surprise.
Here is a peak at the dishes that we enjoyed. As we were told by one of our servers, every dish is in constant evolution so you are unlikely to have the same meal from one week, or even one day, to the next. For a completely new menu, we were told to wait about 4 months between visits, after which most dishes (except the balloon!) should be completely new.
Spear- avocado, coriander
Osetra- banana pancake, allium (not shown)
Crunch- rouille, nori
Paper- langoustine, bouillabaisse, olive oil
Garden- orange, sherry, tomato
Bocadillo- manchego, jamon (onion jam substitution for pescatarian menu)
Black bass, shellfish, kuzu
Yellow- pork belly, curry, mango (not shown)
Yellow- squid, curry, mango (pescatarian substitute)
Glass- blueberry, lapsang souchong, maitake
Spud- truffle, midwest dairy (the potato was buried in this bowl of salt and fire at our table prior to being turned into a potato salad made tableside)
Toast- gruyere, black truffle, pumpernickel
Bean- tenderloin, spices (salsify in pescatarian menu)
Smoke- veal chekk, pineaple, hearts of palm (salmon in pescatarian menu)
Rock- sweet potato, truffle, miso
Nostalgia- bumblegum, cake, banana
Ballon- helium, grape (not shown)- they are never taking this one off the menu, so you will have to go experience it for yourself!
I had very high expectations for Alinea and it lived up to every one of them. My only regret? Not getting a spot in the Gallery or the Chef's Table to taste even more of Chef Achatz and his team's genius. Rest assured Alinea, we will return!