Updated: May 21, 2015

Alinea Restaurant Review:

Let's start with the basics - 18 courses for $210. Don't be put off by the large amount of courses since many are only bite size and you should be able to make it through all of them. Grant Achatz opened Alinea in 2005 and it has grown in reputation ever since with his inventions based around molecular gastronomy. My wife is a huge fan of his and we were lucky enough to get reservations for September 2011. Earlier this year we had been able to try the French Laundry in Napa so I had the ability to compare two of the best restaurants in America head to head. Alinea is quite unassuming. The taxi driver had not heard of the restaurant in Chicago, but he was able to get us to the correct address at which point we saw a small 'valet parking' sign with Alinea written on it. Otherwise you could drive right by this place and not even notice it. Alinea sits on Halstead, just north of the downtown region of Chicago. The building is grey/black (see photos below) with 2 large black doors that lead you in. There is a parking attendant out front, but without him we may have wondered where to go. You go through the doors into a space age walkway which is quite dark and it leads to an elevator looking door that opens up without you having to push any buttons. At this point you are met by staff and you can see into the kitchen area. We were then taken to our seats for the dinner.


I have tried to include several pictures from our meal down below. To give you an idea on size and presentation. The room we ate in was downstairs and sat maybe 15 people with 5 tables. The overall atmosphere was quiet with little conversation that rose above the room. The waiters did do an excellent job of presenting these unique dishes and describing how to eat them and what was in it. Most of the courses required some direction on how to go about eating. The mackerel and black truffle explosion were to be eaten all at once - a big mouthful. Others like the razor clam, scallop, or oyster leaf (presented on a piece of drift wood with kelp) could be taken one at a time. I have to say the food was good (not sure how it couldn't be for that price), the experience was unique, and I'm glad I went. You get to try a big variety of food and it's done in a way that you may never see again in your lifetime. Grant has been practicing his craft for decades now and he has worked at places like El Bulli, French Laundry, and Charlie Trotters (in Chicago). We did not get to see the chef himself, but the staff allowed us a quick peak into the kitchen to see all the people at work. The last course of the evening is one in which they bring out a tablecloth (not sure exactly what it is made of) that covers the table. A waiter comes out to start laying down the groundwork with different sauces that he spreads out cross the table (see the picture below). Finally, a frozen chocolate mousse is brought out and put in the middle of the it all. You can crack it open and it's amazing. The artistic presentation to these courses was phenomenal. The entire meal took us from 5:30 to just about 8PM. There was only 2 of us and we noticed that the table with 4 people next to us (started at the same time) was about 2 courses behind us at the end. We had the wine pairing with the meal. No, you don't get a glass per course, but you do get about 4 glasses total (8 wines roughly). I was full but not overly when we left and I'm not a big eater at all. A great experience if you are ever in Chicago. We made reservations well in advance and I advise the same for you. You can find out more online at http://www.alinea-restaurant.com/. Be sure to check out their menu here. Dress attire - that was one question I had before going. Most men are wearing sports jackets or suits for the dinner. Women can get away with a variety of clothing options - nothing to casual I guess. I had read that some guys were showing up in designer jeans, but I didn't see any of that when I was there.

Alinea Location:

Alinea isn't in downtown Chicago, but just north of the city center at 1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Their phone # is (312) 867-0110 and they are open Wed-Fri 5:30pm-9:30pm; Weekends 5pm-9:30pm. If you are traveling to the restaurant on the Red Line train, it's rather easy. Take the red line to the North Clybourn stop and exit towards N Halsted Street. Go north for a block. If you hit Boka (another excellent restaurant), then you have gone too far. It's on the right hand side of the road. We took a cab up there from the Affinia Chicago hotel, but the train may have been just as easy. That part of town seems pretty safe and there were people on the streets when we left at 8PM. They will get a taxi if you want one.



Alinea Restaurant - Was it Worth It?:

The question we got after going to the French Laundry was "Was it Worth it?" and the same goes for Alinea in Chicago. I would say I enjoyed the food better at the French Laundry as there were less courses and a touch more food. Alinea has a well trained staff and trust me they need to be with the presentation of the food. The test tube course and the short rib one were really memorable. The menu changes each season although some items seem to stay consistent. At over $200 for the dinner (not including wine), it's not the type of evening out you are going to do all the time. If you enjoy food and art, then this restaurant is a must eat for you. Most of the reviews online that we read that were negative were based around people not appreciating the art factor of the meal. I would say that is 40 to 50% of what you get. It's looking at food from a different perspective and trying to include more than just your taste buds in the final analysis of enjoyment. The wine pairing was $160/each and although good, I would probably have just went with 2 bottles of wine to share. It may not have been cheaper, but I wouldn't have felt so rushed at times to drink up. Alinea is a special spot and always will be if Grant continues to create culinary masterpieces for all of us to taste. If you enjoy dining out and want a different experience, give it a try.

Restaurant from across the street looking over.

The only sign we saw along the sidewalk that mentioned Alinea. Pay attention for it.

Hamachi - West Indies spices, pineapple and ginger.

Flags of pasta - used later in the short rib dish.

Foraging for wild mushrooms. Very creative dish.

Agneau (lamb) - sauce choron, pomme de terre noisette.

Famous black truffle explosion. One bite and your done.

Peach, jasmine, basil, and balsamic.

Test tube delight - lemongrass - dragonfruit, thai basil, finger lime.

Frozen chocolate mousse dessert waiting to be eaten. Gorgeous presentation.

Kitchen staff at Alinea working away.