Those of you not from Chicago might not be familiar with the restaurant Alinea. Basically it is THE restaurant in Chicago. It’s the only restaurant in Chicago with three Michelin stars. It’s got a AAA Five Diamond, has won a James Beard award, and routinely makes lists of top 10 restaurants in the world. People fly to Chicago just to go to Alinea.
I’m sure eating there would be an amazing experience, but it is also an expensive experience. For just me and Sara to go, we’d be looking at between $800 and $1000, minimum. For that price, the meal would literally have to change my life. And on top of that, this is like the fanciest of fancy dining….what if I didn’t like it? What if I accidentally used the wrong fork, or wore the wrong tie, or just stood up in the middle of the meal and screamed, “I AM AN IMPOSTER, HOW DID I EVEN GET IN HERE??” and ran out the door?
Thanks to everything that is going on right now with Coronavirus and restaurant restrictions, Alinea began, for a very limited time, offering take out for $50 per person!! Needless to say, Sara and I jumped on it immediately.
Fresh off our winning A Labyrinth and looking to celebrate, we originally planned to include the kids. As we excitedly described to them what an awesome opportunity this was to have an experience from possibly the best chef in the United States, their response was, “UGH, can’t we just have hamburgers??” And Sara and I said, “You know what? Yes. Yes you can.”
So the kids got Medici and an early bedtime, and Sara and I had probably the first “date night” we’ve had in, what, 3 months?
I’ll get into the specifics below, but I don’t want to bury the lede: it was everything I could have hoped for, and more.
The dinner came with FOUR PAGES of instructions on how to properly prepare and plate everything, but honestly that was part of the fun. It was so relaxing to do it at home too, where I didn’t have to worry if I licked my fingers.
Blis Steelhead Roe, with Coconut Pudding, Carrot, Turmeric, and Passionfruit Gel
Okay, so right out of the gate, we had something that I think is safe to say is out of my normal wheelhouse, but it was AMAZING. Each of the flavors was very strong, but very complimentary. This might have been my favorite course, actually. I just couldn’t help thinking about how I definitely, definitely am not a world class chef because how could you think to pair all of these different things and have them go together just so absolutely perfectly?
Along those lines, you know we were just drinking our own wine with this, and once I tasted this dish for the first time in my life I realized what it meant for everything to pair together the way it is supposed to, and how very, very wrong the wine was with it. A moment before I had been thinking it was a perfectly good wine, but all of these things were just so perfectly balanced, and the wine was very discordant with it.
But hey, that’s what you get when you do it at home!
Anyway, I can’t tell if I loved this course because it really was that good, or if it was because it was just the first one and right away I knew we were in for a treat. It exemplified how a good chef really is on another level, it was out of my comfort zone but still good, and it really just did set the stage for everything that was to come.
Chilled English Pea Soup with Chamomile Compressed Cantaloupe, Yogurt Custard, and Nueske’s Ham
So at this point I was thinking, “Chilled pea soup? Seriously?” I mean the first course seemed so fancy, and this sounded like unheated leftovers.
But of course, I was wrong, because it was amazing. The soup was almost peanut buttery, with a great texture, and once again, everything went so well together. This was a pretty decent sized portion, and Sara and I both finished every last bite.
Spicy Gulf Prawn with Cucumber, Thai Curry Sauce, and Thai Aromatic Salt
This was probably my least favorite course, but mostly only because I dislike cucumber, and that was a strong flavor. It was still really good, though, and I ate every last bite (even the cucumber itself).
The best part about this course is that it came with a container of aromatic salts to be heated and presented with the course, so that the aroma could heighten the experience of the dish. This was exactly the weird kind of fancy dining thing that I hoped for! I don’t know if it made a difference in my enjoyment or not, but it was hilarious.
“Rootbeer” of Braised Beef Short Rib, with Fennel, Vanilla scented 50/50 Potatoes, and Dark Dried Fruits
Okay, this one was absolutely amazing. So the “rootbeer” flavor was a combination of various seasonings, anise, raisins, and a plum, and, combined with the creamiest vanilla potatoes in the world, it absolutely reminded me of a rootbeer float. It was wild.
But also after this course, I was definitely full. And we had two more courses to go!!
Wild Mushrooms and Green Asparagus with Lapsang Souchong Tea Emulsion and Pickled Shallots
I thought this course was only okay. It was fine, in fact, better than most things I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant. But at this point, 5 courses in, just a good, regular dish wasn’t cutting it anymore! I thought that the mushrooms were really good, but Sara is not a fan of mushrooms, so I think this one didn’t do much for her either.
It also wasn’t helped by the fact that I was seriously getting stuffed at this point!
Chocolate 64% on Your Table with Strawberry, Vanilla, Hazelnut Praline, Blueberry, and Lemon
Alright, desert is tough to beat at any time, but this desert was just unreal. In addition to the instructions, we had to watch a youtube video on how to properly prepare this one, but honestly I feel pretty proud of how it turned out! It looked great, and it tasted better. It was a lot of desert for two people, but honestly it was pretty light! It would have been hard to eat that much if it were all heavy chocolate or something, but flavors, as usual, were all perfectly balanced.
We finished the whole thing in, I think, just under 2 hours.
I feel like I am repeating myself a bit, but it was just a great, great experience, and Sara and I had so much fun doing it. I highly recommend anybody who can to take advantage of it while they can; I don’t think they’re going to be offering it for long. I see they’ve already rotated out the menu we had, but they have some new options up.
In fact, I would say it’s a once in a lifetime experience but…did I mention they have some new options up? 🙂