Destinations/ Food Porn/ Illinois/ North America/ Restaurants/ United States

Alinea – February 10, 2018

Alinea had been at the top of my list for years now. I’m drawn to surprising molecular presentations and Grant has a reputation for deep concepts. It’s always dangerous to have such high expectations which have disappointed me in the past. I had specifically avoided looking at past menus there to keep the surprise at its best. But the expectations are there whether you know it or not. There’s a part of me that kept waiting for that mind blowing molecular trick which I realized most of the way through wasn’t coming. Grant’s approach (to this menu at least) was more symphonic than explosive. There were layered themes that progressed in connected arcs. This melding of time concepts with elemental themes. Splashes of surprise and misdirection. And a playful revealing that was always going on. Layers of deep smell components that aimed at nostalgia and sense memory. And a bit of fun still peppered in over the concepts.

I have to say the mystery of finding the place was pretty fun. It’s a dark building with no view inside and no sign. It sets your mind to searching.

The nature of the interconnections between elements makes it difficult to just show pics of each course as standalone food porn so you must indulge me in a bit more exposition.

Initial table setting

When we were seated the center piece was a large bowl of oranges. A pervasive citrus smell. It asserted itself as a flavor element even before the first course arrived. These smell motifs would continue throughout.




First course

The first course were small bites. These included some elements of citrus tied to the center piece but also elements of ice and cold.


Wet Snow | Asian pear, roe, shiso


Spear | Romaine, avocado, tosaka


Second course

For the second course the center piece is moved to the side. Another ice dish arrives with the orange motif. Water is then poured into the oranges. And what once was a simple center piece starts pouring dry ice fog. The dry ice had always been in the center piece but it must have been sealed to prevent leakage.



Glow | Spiced orange


Ranina Ranina | Spanner crab, coconut, curry


Third course

For the third course the oranges are removed and replaced with a similar sized bowl of white sand with burning coals and the whole thing is lit on fire with a decent flame. The dishes are slick, black, and sea-like.


Ink | Squid, black garlic, chrysanthemum


Black | Olive, artichoke


Fourth course

By the fourth course the fire has subsided. On top of the coals is set a nest of juniper branches formed into nest with two “eggs” inside. The branches smoulder and fill the room with a deep forest smoke and singed juniper which also smokes the “eggs”. Themes of transformation are brought in.


Smolder | Venison, juniper, huckleberry


Paper | Langoustine, bouillabaisse, olive oil


Hot broth was poured over the langoustine “paper”.


Which turned into a soup with “noodles”


Smolder | Venison, juniper, huckleberry


Fifth course

For the fifth course we’re lead downstairs to the kitchen. While the cooks and waiters bustle around us a dish is presented and a cocktail is made. The drinks are made with an old timey shaker contraption that has been rebuilt from a turn of the century patent.





Sixth course

When we return a station has been set up at the table with a bowl of sauce, ingredients, tongs, and a shaving brush. We’re left to muse the purpose. The server then takes the tongs and removes a potato that has been slowly cooking beneath the hot sand and coals for the previous courses. It’s dusted off with the shaving brush, added to the bowl where it is smashed up and mixed with the other ingredients. Each of us gets a portion which is topped with a chowder. We then crumble Old Bay seasoned crackers over the top and add house made hot sauce to complete.


Old Bay seasoned oyster crackers






The Cape | Clam, potato, bacon


Seventh course

This course is a more traditional plating with huge plates. The fire motif continues through the charred whiskey barrel rib used as a serving tray.

Glass | Blueberry, lapsang souchong, maitake


Umami | Foie gras, shio kombu, mushroom


Funghi | Matsutake, lemon, thyme


Eighth course

Another traditional plating. To each piece of meat a hot coal is added searing it at the last minute table side. The coals are left at the table to smoulder to transmit the smell.

Coal | Squab, black forbidden rice, binchotan



Spiral | Beet, mustard, chili



Bean | Tenderloin, spices



Bean | Tenderloin, spices


Ninth course

A quirky interlude. A savory bite and a shot you have to suck through a tube that’s been sealed on both sides with gel. The server suggests the liquid sort of explosion is similar to the orange spheres and the black spheres of previous courses.

Shot | Pineapple, aloe, shiso


Air | Goat cheese, menuka



Tenth course

Rock | Sweet potato, chocolate, miso




Eleventh course

Fire continues from the charred serving block and toasted marshmallows.

Campfire | Dark chocolate, birch, marshmallow



Twelfth course

The famous helium balloons.

Balloon | helium, green apple


Birthday course

It was my birthday so they brought me a candle and a special drink.


Champagne with essence of birthday cake


Thirteenth course

Nugget | Sesame, brown butter, gold








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