The Ultimate Dining Adventure at Alinea

November 16, 2008 at 3:53 pm | Posted in Dessert, Dinner, Travels | 9 Comments

This post is a commemoration of the dinner that my original foodie (Ned) and I had exactly one year ago at Alinea in Chicago! This was my first foray into the world of photo-documenting deliciousness and I thought that posting it today would be appropriate to bring it to the masses! This all started because my dear sweet friend Gina was to be betrothed to Jon Harrison on November 17, 2007 in Chicago, IL. Ned and I were looking for a way to celebrate our November 11 anniversary and (insanely for sure) we thought it would be amazing to toast to our times together at this fine establishment!

Now I have to sincerely thank Ned for bringing food, delicious and exciting food, into my life more than four years ago. This blog and my love for food would not exist if it was not for him imparting his true passion to me. We had the most amazing time doing the 24 course tour menu and the ten-flight wine tour. Dinner took nearly four hours and I am delighted to say we closed the restaurant that night (much to the chagrin of the waiters??)! I really cannot wait to go back someday.

This was not the first dish we received that night, but it was surely my favorite! Check it and the rest of the insane amount of dishes and descriptions out below!

Now you must excuse these pictures, as I had no clue what macro was back then, etc…

First things first- Our entry (entering) experience was one of delight. The building was unmarked but there was a man in a long coat to open the door. The hallway appears to be getting smaller as you look down it. I remember us remarking that we felt like we were in Willy Wonka land… As you walk down the “shrinking” hallway, two sliding doors pull apart (like an elevator) and then suddenly you can see the foyer and the maître d’ greets you by name! Fantastic! Our table was not ready yet so we got to hang out on the little seats in the front and excitedly peer around the corner into the kitchen of madness!!! Then the maître d’ took us up the stairs and into the middle room of that floor and directed us to a cozy table for two in the corner.

Pretty soon after we were seated they placed this interesting little nugget on the table. My first thought was table adornment?? like flowers? But no! These limes had purpose…

Since we were getting the wine flight, the waiters (there were at least six different gentlemen that would bring us our food and drinks (in addition to the sommelier) throughout the night!) brought us each a glass of champagne (which kind escapes me… 😦 ). Now that I’m on the topic of the sommelier: Craig Sindelar, (who, btw, happened to be very handsome 😀 ) was amazing and neither of us could believe how each wine paired sublimely well with the delicious fare.

On to the insanity!!!

First Course: DUCK – butternut squash, banana, Thai flavor

The interesting thing about the first course is that it was served in a perfectly round bottom bowl, requiring us to hold it in our hands while eating! The soup was nice and warm; and having this bowl forced an interaction between heat sensations and eating of soup, something not normally felt! This soup was insanely pure and creamy. There was an unexpected hint of banana in the soup which married well with the butternut squash.

Second Course: RAINBOW TROUT – cucumber, kombu, coriander

They first brought us chopsticks for this asian inspired course on a simple plate by themselves and then shortly thereafter we received the second course! The trout had a very nice crispy skin and the beautifully designed cilantro oil was tasty. The pairing of sake with this dish was unexpectedly pleasant.

Wine pairing: Masumi “Arabashiri” junmai Ginjo Namazake, Nagano Prefecture

Third Course: YUBA – shrimp, miso, togarashi

They first brought us warm towels for this elegant finger food! The container in which it was balanced contained a delicious flavored mayonnaise (which kind escapes me…) I could definitely taste the soybean nature of this dish. The crispy part was made from heating up soymilk and skimming one layer (the yuzu..)! It was a fun tasty appetizer.

Fourth Course: BEANS – many garnishes, pillow of nutmeg air

It was so interesting having the waiter bring a pillow to each of us. Lo and behold, it was filled with mase scented air! This was one of my favorite dishes. The navy bean base of the dish was very tasty, in addition to the dehydrated pancetta (YUM) and each garnish was incredibly interesting. There was guinness foam, a lemon marshmallow, toasted almonds and greens, a roasted garlic clove with chili pepper, and a mango & tomato leather!

Wine pairing: J Hofstatter Gewürztraminer “Kolbenhof,” Alta Adige 2005

Without this presence of this wine in this meal, I would have never tasted the sweetest nectar so amenable to my palate. 😀

Fifth Course: SWEETBREAD – cauliflower, burnt bread, toasted hay

Sweetbreads are God’s gift to humans (no, seriously). There was a burnt bread puree, a chestnut puree, vermouth spheres all with a toasted hay cream sauce. The presentation of these morsels reminded me of a little forest! The delicate flavors got kind of skewed with the burnt bread morsels…

Wine pairing: Luis Pato Baga “Vinhas Velhas,” Beiras, Portugal 2000

Sixth Course: BLACK TRUFFLE – explosion, romaine, parmesan

I would have to call this Italy (except for the fact that the truffle is French…) in one spoonful! With a fresh slice of truffle atop a truffle liquid filled raviolo. The dish was to be eaten all in one bite and there was literally an explosion of the most intense truffle flavor I have ever experienced.

Seventh Course: BEEF HEART – fig, long peppercorn, celery root


I had never had beef heart before, but it was very tasty (kind of life roast beef) and the celery root was very refreshing. These figs were also so delicious!

Wine pairing: Robert Biale “Stagecoach Vineyards-Biale Block” Zinfandel, Napa Valley 2005

Eighth Course: PORK BELLY – smoked paprika, polenta, pickled vegetables

This one was not my favorite, but it was definitely innovative. There was a smoked paprika shell surrounding the pork belly on top of polenta.

Ninth Course: CARAMEL CORN – “liquified”

This was a treat from the chef! Apparently something they had been testing, and we were one of the first of the “masses” to taste it! There was a warm buttered popcorn liquid in the bottom with a caramel froth. It was intense! And tasted just like buttery caramel corn!

Tenth Course: ROASTED QUINCE – foie gras, candied fennel, sweet spices

The most scandalous dish of the evening! Because at that time foie gras was not allowed to be sold in the city limits of Chicago, but the chef, as Grant did, could so choose to serve it gratis! The yellow melted looking layer was covering the whole surface of the bowl like a lid, and then the waiter brought and poured hot broth into the bowl, melting the “lid” away. Inside was roasted quince and the most delicious cubes of foie gras!

Wine pairing: Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen Riesling Spätiese, Balthazar Ress, Rheinghau 2002

Eleventh Course: CRANBERRY – frozen and chewy, bitter orange, chervil

This was the only course that was strongly suggested to injest immediately, lest it melt! Consequently, I neglected to take a picture…

Twelfth Course: PINEAPPLE – bacon powder, black pepper

Isn’t my manicure great?? Not… This was very interesting, eating a bacon pineapple piece of candy… since when do you find pineapple and powdered bacon married together in candy form! The pineapple was as thin as a breath strip and dissolved instantly leaving the intense bacon flavor, in such a small bite!

Thirteenth Course: BROOK TROUT ROE – corn, Blis maple syrup

Sweet! Caviar with a corn foam. These flavors paired amazingly well and there was some cool bonito shavings as a garnish.

Wine pairing: Domaine Huët Vouvray Demi-Sec “Clos du Bourg,” Loire 2005

Fourteenth Course: APPLE CIDER – walnut milk, cinnamon, vegetable ash

This dish is a little ball made with white chocolate and containing apple cider in a walnut milk “broth.” The ball explodes instantly in your mouth and immediately you are inundated with apple cider flavor!

Fifteenth Course: SCALLOP – parsnip, orange, chamomile vapor

The chamomile and orange vapors were ever so pleasant, and it came about when the waiter poured hot water into the base bowl. The skewer was piercing a cube of orange gelatin. The scallop was cooked perfectly (duh!) and went very well with the orange cream sauce and parsnip chip!

Wine pairing: Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru “Hengst,” Alsace 2005

Sixteenth Course: HOT POTATO – cold potato, black truffle, butter

You see that thing that looks like a leaf? Why thats a truffle! My favorite mushroom in the whole wide world, and served with hot potato ball and cold soup? Sublime mix of temperatures and flavors. The approach to eating this is also awesome, you pick up the paraffin bowl, remove the skewer, and the hot potato falls and you have to instantly slurp it up!

Seventeenth Course: KUROGE WAGYU – matsutake, cedar branch aroma

They serve you a bowl of branches…Oh but wait! There is the most tasty and decadent piece of cow created on the face of the earth hiding inside there on a skewer with a bit of matsutake mushroom…

Wine pairing: Château Canon-La-Gaffalière, Saint-Emilion 2001

Eighteenth Course: LAMB – in cubism

This was the most entertaining dish because after partaking in its flavors, the waiters quizzed us as to our recognition of the “cubes.” The sauce flavors included yogurt, mint, eggplant, lemon, pomegranate, saffron, and mustard. Atop the lamb sat pom seeds, mustard seeds and some other micro sized garnishes! Ned loved the lamb (tenderloin in the back and panko crusted in the front!), whereas I have a strange flavor response to that meat.

Wine pairing: Henschke “Johann’s Garden” Grenache, Barossa, S. Australia 2005

Nineteenth Course: MAYTAG BLUE – ginger, pear, tarrago

There was a gelatin ginger disk atop a pear gelatin disk with maytag blue cheese in between! It is sitting directly onto a metal chip, that you scrape your teeth on in order to remove the dish! The strong flavors of the ginger and pear were perfectly offset by the creamy and salty blue cheese.

Twentieth Course: TRANSPARENCY – of raspberry, rose petal, yogurt

It was like cotton candy/rock candy, but so much BETTER and with better flavor for sure! It was served in a metal clip, garnished with yogurt powder, was very messy and dissolved in our mouths! Strange but tasty…

Twenty-First Course: GUAVA – avocado, brie, key lime juice

This dish was the one where the table limes were finally utilized! This dessert was so interesting and was surely our favorite. The split avocado brie ice cream was insanely delicious with the basil ice! The middle top sits a ball of warm rum and butter (yay for explosions!). The plate was shaped to have tiered levels and that was put into play as the waiter poured the guava sauce!

Wine pairing: La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti “Bricco Quaglia,” Piedmont 2006

Twenty-Second Course: LICORICE CAKE – muscovado sugar, orange, hyssop

This course was served purposefully without a utensil, requiring you to eat off the protruding wire. It was a sweet morsel of anise flavored cake!

Twenty-Third Course: CHOCOLATE – passion fruit, lemongrass, soy

I would have thought this was my favorite dish, (ummm chocolate??) But the chocolate was very dark and there was not too much sugar going on in the other parts of the dish.. There were strips of candied passion fruit and spheres of ricotta, definitely elegant, but a little off.

Wine pairing: Abbazia di Novacella Moscato Rosa “Praepositus,” Alto Adige 2006

Twenty-Fourth Course: PUMPKIN – brown sugar, pie dough, burning leaves

True to the fall season, our last course served on the end of a smoldering oak leaf branch and contained deep fried piece of pumpkin pie filling with an orange gel to brighten up the flavors. Quite satisfying! And look at that strikingly handsome man o’ mine! The most enthusiastic and excited dinner date I could ever ask for!

In terms of cost, it was nearly an arm and a leg, but the experience was utterly memorable (and is still fresh after a year!) and the food was incredible. One would think that this sort of meal would prove to come along with a “stuffy” atmosphere and feel, but the waiters and sommelier were very gracious and uber excited to speak frankly and simply about each course and wine choice. It made us very comfortable and it was so nice to be amicable with the staff!

All in all, if you have some cash and love exciting food, GO TAKE ON THIS ADVENTURE!!!

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  1. So jealous…. Nice to hear that it was relaxed despite the status of the restaurant. Nothing like excellent food with easygoing staff, right?

  2. holy smokes!

  3. You neglected to mention how your abuelita had a melt down when she heard how much this interesting dinner cost.

  4. Wow bis, pretty freakin cool. That is a lot of pretty creative food. Everyone needs to experience a dinner like that at least once(even if it costs an arm…and a leg), can you imagine making that many different things for one dinner, let alone a dining room full?

    On another note, I am watching Top chef now, Jill Snyder is going to be out this episode. If not now, then very soon, she doesnt have “it”…but at least Balmer is represented, albeit poorly.

  5. It sounds like an adventure. 24 courses? Holy crap! I’m wondering if that would be dazzling or simply overwhelming.

  6. This meal looks AMAZING! I am soooo jealous of you!

  7. […] dishes. It is so refreshing to see a chef who puts so much thought into his food (reminds us of Alinea and we know how awesome that was!) And they have a $18 wine bottle list which we took full […]

  8. […] to each other! The presentation of this dish very much reminded me of dishes that Ned and I ate at Alinea, and its true because the pastry chef at WD-50 came from […]

  9. […] time. The service was amazing and the food was even better, really reminded us of being back at Alinea with how sublime everything was. So take a minute and go see our tasty lunch – it was really […]

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