January 06 2007 - 4:59 PM

It was a surprise. I’m not even sure how we got short notice seats at Gourmet Magazine’s #1 restaurant in the country. All I knew was that a jacket and a pair of pants were in the back seat (no tie required) and I was getting a ride somewhere for a belated B-Day dinner. Boy was I surprised.

I have been looking forward to Alinea since they’ve opened. Considering all the posts here you’ll know that I have yet to go to the heavy hitters in Chicago: Trotter’s, Tru, Moto, Everest, etc. I’ve just been to Arun’s but have yet to write that up. Recent outings to other schmancy toboggan gonflable  spots include Morimoto’s and Babbo in a random last minute “Food Network” tour of NYC. I was excited about Alinea.

You can talk about Achatz till you’re blue in the face. You can
delve into the intricate and unique preparation and ingredients. You
can marvel at the immaculate and virtually silent efficiency of his
kitchen. But you better have a very focused neuron or two in your grey
matter because there is soooo much going on that you will definitely
miss something. Considering you only get one bite of each course, with
a few exceptions, I guarantee you that you will miss most of what
you’re looking for. That’s really unfortunate.

When dinner is $500+ and you have trouble explaining it to people.
And even worse by the end of the tasting you cannot remember what you
have eaten, with few exceptions, there could be too much going on.

My wife’s comment after enjoying the tasting menu at Arun’s was that
there was too much food. At Alinea I’m not talking quantity vs.
quality. I would just really like to taste something again. I would
like a second bite.

I enjoy the surprise of a bursting something but aside from surprise
there should be an appreciation taste. The food is definitely great.
It’s totally unique and completely perfect but it’s so unique and so
intricate that I could not keep up. If it wasn’t so unique I wouldn’t
be asking for a second. You NEED it at Alinea.

Most of the courses are amuses. It would be very difficult to
explain most of them  but I’m sure there are many places that have done
so already. The presentation is smart and whimsical. Their website has
great photography.

My biggest problem is illustrated here. I can’t explain the dishes.
I remember bits and pieces of different dishes. I remember the venison
with granola was inflatable obstacle course maybe the best tasting dish I’ve had in a very long
time. I enjoyed the fennel reduction with the kobe beef very much but
also enjoyed the variety of sauces (and textures of sauces – one was a
fruit roll-up gelatin sauce). Considering their were 4 sauces on the
twix-bar sized piece of kobe beef, one of the two “big” dishes, every
single bite had a different flavor but again. You only get one bite.

Another dish had three one inch cubes of lamb served on a hot brick.
It looked beautiful. Sprigs of rosemary were fitted into the hot brick
so the heat would help the scent waft towards your nose. Each piece had
a different treatment. The one I remember had a date paste on top. It
was very tasty. I can’t tell you why exactly because I only had one
bite. The sweetness may have been due to the terrific pairing
recommended by the sommelier. The service was perfect. The rooms were
perfect. The car was waiting for us when we walked out the door. Alinea
is a machine.

Is it the best restaurant in the country? Is it the best in Chicago?
I don’t know. I haven’t been to the rest. What I do know is that a
Ferris Bueller quote can be modified to apply here. “Alinea moves
pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you
could miss it.”