Alinea in Chicago has been on our bucket list since watching the Chefs Table episode on Netflix and then solidified after watching Chef Grant Achatz guest judge on the Final Table. We’ve eaten at a few tasting menu restaurants in Atlanta and Florida, but really love when the items on the menu are unique, innovative, and also super delicious. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending money on tasting menu “tickets” only to eat something that you could have gotten at another restaurant down the street.
I know tasting menus are not for everyone — but WOW it was such an amazing experience!! The whole evening was more than just a meal – it truly was an experience, from the lighting, to the music, to the sensory overload during some courses. The whole atmosphere was light, inviting and fun — which was a breath of fresh air compared to other sometimes stuffy top restaurants. Even the waiters seemed to be having fun and cracked a few jokes throughout the night.
When we first walked in, we were a bit worried it might be a stuffy, fancy, super serious dinner. We were seated at one long table for all 16 of us in the 5pm dinner reservation. Timmer and I sat on one side while his parents sat across from us, but the table was so wide we couldn’t talk to each other. The room was dark with red lights, we had a formal dinner dish cover in front of us, and the table was decorated with Salvador Dali books. It was a bit uncomfortable, but still exciting. As the waiter was explaining the first course, our gold dinner domes lit up, revealing that the domes were actually transparent and we could see the dish inside! Cool magic trick #1 of the night.
For the second course, we were invited to go into the kitchen. THAT WAS SO COOL. It’s awesome to see a kitchen in action. Chef Grant was in there doing his thing – I was fangirling so hard!
Once we finished our second course, we walked back into the dining room and BAM our room had been magically converted into separate dining tables for each party. They moved the room around so silently, no one noticed anything was happening when we were in the kitchen! Cool magic trick #2 of the night.
Now let me back up and explain that when you are making reservations for Alinea, you have three different “tiers” or experiences to choose from. We chose to do the middle tier (The Gallery menu), which is limited to 16 people at a time, with only two seatings per night. The Gallery experience includes 16 to 18 courses, so I won’t go into detail with them. The menu also changes pretty frequently!
Anyways, my favorites were the scallop pasta, the squid ink octopus, and the bite sized “take on pad thai.” It was literally a bite sized piece that exploded in your mouth, tasting exactly like a bite of pad thai – and while eating that course, they had a bowl in the center of the table that filled the table with the aromas of Thai food.
The assembling of dessert was SO COOL. The chefs walked around the room, each putting a different item on the tables, while a smoke machine blew fog around and energizing music played in the background.
And then of course, we finished with the Alinea famous helium filled balloons! THAT. WAS. HILARIOUS. Tim and Timmer both have super deep voices, so hearing their helium voices was soooooo so so funny. AND – yes the balloon was also actually very delicious!
Overall, 10/10 recommend. Alinea was our first three Michelin star restaurant, and it has been on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for years. It is definitely a bucket list item, and a pricey one at that, but it was such a great experience with innovative and delicious food. And yes, we left full!!!