At Alinea, Grant Achatz is conducting a symphony. He’s performing a magic show. He’s painting a masterpiece. He’s not just cooking food.
Alinea is a three Michelin star restaurant in Chicago open since 2005 and headed by Chef Grant Achatz. “Alinea” means the beginning of a new train of thought, and the dishes here are certainly new and unconventional. Achatz incorporates all of your senses in the dining experience: confusing your eyes and your taste buds with strawberries that look like tomatoes, adding a certain scent to dishes via a pillowcase of air that your dish sits on top of, putting parts of the meal on the ceiling, or playing an overture to accompany certain courses.
There are three tiers of dining experience you can have at Alinea: the private, immersive Kitchen Table, the first floor Gallery, and the larger Salon area, which is the cheapest you can get in to Alinea. I ate in the Salon, consisting of a 10-12 course set menu and a great wine pairing.
Dishes this night consisted of a course of corn – one creamy and warm, and one cold like ice cream; fresh trout roe; a fantastic prawn chili soup and octopus covered in squid ink; rabbit in the shape of a bean; truffles hidden in a pile of leaves; a fire-roasted mushroom; and beef, with a side of symphony.
And, of course, the dessert. If you’ve seen Chef’s Table before, you know what this is about. The dessert is the one thing that stands still within Alinea’s ever-changing menu, and it consists of two items: a dish called “paint” and a balloon.
The first dessert is literally painted in front of you like a Jackson Pollock painting, with strawberry glitter, red velvet cake, macaroons and ice cream.
Last is the balloon, which is green apple taffy filled with helium.
And here, with a mere balloon, Achatz turns fine dining on its head. Yes, you’re in one of the best, fanciest, most expensive restaurants in the world. But, that doesn’t mean it has to be stuffy or unapproachable. Similar to how the minimalist artist Carl Andre upends your experience of an art museum with his metal floor tiles that encourage you to walk on them like you were in a hardware store, rather than having to stand five feet back or risk getting yelled at by the museum docent. At Alinea, they encourage you to suck the helium out of the balloon like you did back in middle school. And they may even turn a blind eye to you singing Mr. Brightside to the entire room…
With inventive dishes and superb service, Alinea continues to find new ways to make your experience unconventional, unexpected and, of course, fantastic.