Walking into Alinea was like walking into a fall wonderland.
There’s a long communal dining table, fresh leaves crunching under my feet, small cups of delicate treats on ice waiting for me to explore, and smell of fall in the air.
Brain: WAAAAAAT! This is amazing!!! Wait…Is it okay that I’m stepping on all the leaves? Can I start tasting things yet? But it’s too pretty to ruin! I need more instructions!
Server: Hello, please do not eat anything just yet, we will give you more instructions once everyone has arrived and we are ready to start.
Seeing my obvious relief, the server laughed and handed me some champagne.
Soon everyone was seated and the journey began.
The staff was extremely attentive the whole time and eager to explain in great detail about what is happening, what is expected of the guests, and what is going to happen. This instantly broke my fear of doing something inappropriate and allowed me to just be myself and enjoy the adventure.
Each dish starts with the visual presentation: the way the plate looks, the way the food is arranged, the way each dish is revealed. From the moment it is brought out from the kitchen or taken down from the ceiling, you are pulled into the adventure.
Even the room itself was transformed multiple times throughout the night! For instance, we began at a communal table and started by digging into the small vials of truffle mousse, sweet king crab, cilantro and onions, osetra caviar, and lemon spread that was resting on ice before us. There was no wrong way to eat it, so I played with different variations of ingredients slathered generously on the toast.
Then we were lead into the kitchen to meet the staff and Grant (EEEE!!) We were served a hand cranked cocktail and a small donut with a sweet date sauce and shaved parmesan.
When we were guided back to the dining room, it had transformed. The communal table was gone and in its place were several small tables for parties of 2 and 4. The leaves that were underfoot were also gone, and some of the tapestries on the ceiling where hanging down to create a sort of curtain that divided us from the entrance hall.
When experiencing each dish, ALL of the senses are intrigued: the smell of the crushed leaves, the warmth of a fire on the table, the texture of a silicone plate in your hand, the sound of rock music accompanying the sense that some great and passionate art is happening all around you but you can’t see it until the lights are turned back on and the masterpiece dessert is revealed in it’s full glory.
One dish had a giant center pieces of various citrusy fruits, but they were only there for the scent portion of that experience, not for eating. The fruits were covered with yuzu infused liquid that came in contact with dry ice hidden under the fruits, and began to create fog that overflowed and covered the whole table. In this swirling mist of yuzu and citrus scents and waterfall like sounds, we enjoyed the 3 contrasting textures of creamy, foamy, and refreshingly crunchy.
Even just eating the food itself was an adventure: the taste, texture, hot, cold, light, creamy, bold and subtle, the surprise of biting into what you thought was a grape, but turns out to be a bubble of orange juice with hints of cinnamon and cloves, the wonder of digging to what looks like rocks, but actually delicious desserts. And the balloon. Eatting that balloon made from sugar and inhaling that helium, until you’re reduced to nothing but high pitched voices of wonder and childish giggles of delight. It made me fall in love with food all over again.
As the journey drew to a close and I slowly woke from this dream, I got the opportunity to go back into the kitchen and say hi to Grant himself. EEEEE! I had this whole spiel prepared. About how we’re celebrating a birthday, and we came from Los Angeles, and that we were furiously clicking refresh so we could secure a table, and that we had always wanted to visit Alinea, and had planned our whole Chicago trip around this dinner. But once I was standing in front of Grant Achatz and shaking his hand I fangirl’d so hard that all I could say was “HI”. Perfect.
For a complete map of all locations featured in this blog, please follow this link: The Grand Appétit Map