We will never forget our first time dining at the infamous Alinea Restaurant in Chicago back in 2014. I never thought we would ever live in the Windy City, way too cold for me. What we discovered in this marvelous city has changed our palates forever!
What makes Alinea so unique? The menu is art meets science in the most imaginative ways. Now after eating at over 50 Michelin restaurants, we know its multi-sensory menu makes it the most unforgettable dining encounter patrons have ever experienced. Today’s post is an Insider’s Look to one of the world’s finest restaurants and why it’s the ultimate indulgence you can’t miss.
We lived in Chicago for 3 years and it wasn’t until the latter half did we discover the Michelin Restaurants. A restaurant awarded stars from Michelin is like winning an Academy Award in the culinary world. The Michelin Company is based in Paris and was the first in the world to rate restaurants since 1904.
Alinea was the second Michelin restaurant we have ever tried. The first was Blackbird and the experience from a 1 Star to a 3 Star was night and day. The Michelin prestige did not even register with us at the time, we just thought, “cool, we’re going to our first Michelin restaurant,” whatever that meant.
We went to Blackbird restaurant on November 15, 2013 and when Mike first tasted Sturgeon with Caviar he became obsessed, but not sure with what exactly. He just knew he loved the flavors and textures and it was an instant connection to food he’s never experienced before.
For me, I thought everything was very good and definitely above average, but it wasn’t as explosive to me as it was for him. That is until our second Michelin visit to the infamous Alinea, one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world.
“Alinea” means the beginning of a new train of thought. Since it opened its doors in 2005, Chef Grant Achatz continually reinvents the menus that WOW! patrons from all around the world. It earned its first Michelin 3 Stars in 2010 and hasn’t lost a star since.
PRO NOTE: There is no such thing as an “a la carte” menu at Alinea. Every guest enjoys the seasonal Chef’s Tasting Menu that includes anywhere from 13-18 courses depending on the journey.Travoodie Queen
Don’t worry, tasting menus are just as they sound. Each course is not a regular sized entreé, it’s literally only a few bites each. We left definitely satiated but not ridiculously over stuffed.
It is not all about the cuisine, that’s only part of the experience. At Alinea, Chef Achatz likes to incorporate as many senses into the dining adventure as possible.
Chef Grant Achatz
Chef Grant Achatz has a miraculous life history which defies all odds of his success. He began his career at Charlie Trotter’s in 1994 and afterwards moved on to washing dishes at the famous French Laundry in Yountville, California. Owner and Celebrity Chef Thomas Keller took Achatz to be his Protégé where he worked extremely hard to become Sous Chef of The French Laundry.
Achatz moved to Chicago in 2001 and eventually opened up his flagship restaurant Alinea in 2005. Prepared with the finest training in the industry and his imagination, his restaurant was quickly noticed by elite critics in the culinary industry.
Ironically, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer around 2007 when his career began to succeed. The only way to remove the stage 4B cancer was to remove 75% of his tongue!
When many prominent medical doctors saw little hope for a normal life, The University of Chicago would not let such talent fade without a fight. They were able to preserve Achatz ability to taste and quality of life with advanced medicine from UChicago.
Image by Eater.Com
Chef Grant Achatz
With his miraculous recovery, his menus never seem to skip a beat. His food is made with so much inspiration, it can be tasted with every bite. No other restaurant brings such sensory into their menus like Chef Achatz, one of the most memorable dining experiences you can have.
The 5-Sensory Ultimate Experience
We’ve been to Alinea twice during our time in Chicago. We were part of the first group of diners that were seated on January 9, 2014 and part of the second group to be seated on June 24, 2015. I did not realize at the time that there’s an advantage to being served first. If you like surprises, get the first seating time available. You’ll be the first to be served of what’s to come next.
The menu is a multi-sensory journey and every course that comes out is a unique work of art. Each course is meticulously crafted, like art on a plate that you can see, touch, taste, smell, and even hear at times.
The visual plating at Alinea is spectacular! Food can be placed all around you and even suspended above you at Alinea. Chef Achatz style is vibrant and modern. The use of odd plates, bowls, and molds are deliberate and part of his riveting imagination.
Chef Achatz Signature Dessert
The most memorable dessert we ever had was Chef Achatz signature dessert on table canvas. The table is cleared and becomes covered with a blank canvas. Then the dessert chef comes out to festoon your table in delicious edible art that looks like Jackson Pollock just stopped by.
Being such a rookie at that time, I did not realize our dessert chef that evening was King Chef himself and owner of Alinea. My hubby knew and he was calm as a clam.
If I would have known, I would have bombarded him with all kinds of questions. Perhaps it worked out for the better, because Chef Achatz’s demeanor was definitely saying, “no time to talk, just create.” I literally thought about what I call an “Odyssey in My Mouth” for at least a week, as the sensations from the food continued to tantalize my taste buds.
Have you ever eaten a helium balloon? It’s wonderful when made by Chef Achatz. At the end of the meal, every guest receives a helium balloon that you can not only play with but also eat! It was delicious and uniquely fun to end our meal.
I sounded like a chipmunk!
At Alinea, you never know what you’re going to get. After our first experience, we just knew any elements are possible to show up on our table. Fire and ice seem to be some of Chef’s favorites to use. We never knew what a course entailed by just looking at it.
There must be a myriad of textures we went through during our dining experience. You could feel each element uniquely contribute to the whole concept of each course. Don’t touch the table fire, it’s real!
One of our favorites is a wagyu that cooks right on the table, but we had no clue it was even going in until the server revealed it. It was the most delicious wagyu we ever had. Wish we could have had a slab of it.
Black Truffle Explosion!
One of my favorite sensations is the burst of flavor that literally exploded in our mouths while eating the Black Truffle Explosion! It’s a one bite dish served on a spoon. You eat it whole and BAM! It explodes with goodness in your mouth. Unforgettable.
The aromas that linger at Alinea Restaurant are divine. When the courses are presented in front of you, it’s difficult to not quickly dive in. Because the plating is so intriguing, we would give each plate 7 seconds of due respect before devouring each one.
The herbs and spices are used to make each dish smell incredibly fragrant and fresh.
The tastes of Alinea are distinct and complex. I would have no idea how to make any of his creations, but I know the flavors are phenomenal. Chef Achatz practices molecular gastronomy in his cooking. He studies the chemical and physical transformations of the ingredients he uses to create innovative dishes.
What makes Chef Grant Achatz unique is how he knows where the limits are from innovative to bizarre. Even though it feels like you’re eating art, the flavors meld together seamlessly in our mouths. Too many times, Chefs push the envelope too much. The result is disaster on a plate. Rarely have we had an awful Michelin meal, but when it goes wrong, it’s also unforgettable.
See our tragic Michelin meal in Italy here.
It’s important to know that in molecular gastronomy, the way you eat the ingredients in a dish is important. Each serves a deliberate purpose to deliver the overall flavor to the dish
HOT TIP: When you dine at a Michelin Restaurant, be sure to eat the elements on your plate as suggested by your server. They have been trained by Chef to inform guests on how to eat dishes in a certain manner for the best experience.Travoodie Queen
You may see a deconstructed interpretation of a dish and may want to eat it piece by piece. You’ll be surprised how different it tastes when combined with all the other elements. Alone, it may not taste good at all but then together- it’s harmonious!
PRO NOTE: Alinea can accommodate dietary restrictions with advanced notice.
To dine at Alinea, you have to purchase advanced tickets on Tock.com. Tickets can range from $300-385 per person.Travoodie Queen
After experiencing Alinea Restaurant, we were never the same. It was the first time a restaurant appealed to all five of our human senses. It was like art meets science, flavors and textures in perfect harmony. Our palates and curiosity were yearning for more! It was then we decided to eat at every Michelin restaurant in Chicago before leaving Illinois in 18 months.
Between 2014-2015, there were 25 restaurants on the list and we accomplished all but 2 restaurants, Graham Elliot and Senza, both closed down sadly before we could dine there.
What we learned about eating at these types of restaurants is the fine craftsmanship, ambition, art, and passion that can be tasted through the best of Chefs’ creations. Every Chef has a story that they try to convey through food: much like your favorite singer through song, actor through theatre, artist through paintings.
Food can tell so much about a person, a place, and everyone has to eat! Every celebration and failure I can remember all involve food. Which is why we have plans to eat in every country that Michelin has to offer.
Because of Alinea, we were inspired to eat at as many Michelin restaurants as we can. So far we’ve been to 52 across 3 countries since the end of 2019. Currently they’re in 25 countries and we’ve been to France, Italy, and U.S. We’re excited to have so many more countries to visit on the list.
We want to know the person, the story, and the inspiration that drives these extraordinary Chefs to do what they do. It is also an amazing time to spend with each other.
My hubby and I bond through endless conversations over many topics eating the most incredible food. It just makes these moments even more memorable and life that much sweeter.
If you’ve never dined at a Michelin Restaurant, learn more about the etiquette and FAQ’s in this post:
With recent mandates to stay home due to COVID-19, Alinea has been able to transition it’s fine dining model into Takeout. See how they sustaining and helping the restaurants all across the country to save jobs and bring smiles to communities.
Is The Carryout Model Sustainable? How Michelin Restaurant Alinea is Rescuing Fine Dining Amongst COVID-19
Ultimately, the perfect meal is when those things come together – circumstance, the food, ambiance, and you’re with the person that you want to be with.Grant Achatz- Chef and Co-Owner of Alinea Group