Chicago, Illinois        Date of Visit  11/18/16

Here we are. Currently ranked the 6th best restaurant in the world? Don’t really care about the rankings, I’ve lusted after the experience for years. I take great solace in the praise of some and the disdain of others. If everyone likes it…you probably aren’t doing much and we are here to see some doings. Too the two dummies who got all of this actually happening, I hope your lives together are as surprising and satisfying as our meal together. Mazel tov.



I must first apologize. I’m usually better at keeping up with what’s in a dish and can organize it to share. Ain’t gonna happen here. It all moves so fast and at some point you get deliciously lost in the experience and enjoy yourself instead of taking notes. I enjoyed myself and I’ll do my best to remember why. This is all we knew going in...

 The Gallery Menu

The first floor gallery provides seating for 16 only. A multi-sensory 16-to-18 course menu combines fine dining with experimental moments. With two seatings per night we ask that you arrive on time or the experience may begin without you. Wine and non-alcoholic pairings available. Parties of 2 or 4 only please.

 The four of us split a wine and non alcoholic pairing. Both were superior, the sommelier stopped by the table several times to answer any questions about the wine pairing. Even more interesting though were the non-alcoholic pairings which I expected would be some fruity this or that, but ended up mimicking nearly all the facets of the wines. To do this they tap their staff at The Aviary…their new high concept cocktail lounge which sent us glasses filled with combinations like cherry, pear, black garlic and togarashi spice. Amazing.


Course After Course

Wildly Imaginative Beverages Arrived

The service is impeccable and takes new forms with every course. At times there are three people attending to the room and at others it seems like the floor staff, kitchen staff and all the upstairs diners are swerving between the tables with maddening purpose and the elegance of the Bolshoi.

Our room captain Joe from Chicago with a break for education in Wyoming? Yes…Wyoming. Joe was smooth, polished and refined…but at the same time he was pleasant, funny and willing to spar with us a little. It’s fabulous when you get the benefits of serious efforts without an discomforting rigidity. Top marks all the way around.

Now the experience and food, by courses. This is going to be a lot of words…no complaining. If you don’t like it, go do something else. Or go ahead and complain, what do I care?

A Terrible Picture Of Wonderful Joe, Regaling Us With Tales Of Wyoming


We arrive and are led to a large table which dominates the room. Candelabras, white linen, spoons and spoons and spoons. There is a dish waiting but we are asked to wait until everyone arrives. There is enough I completely miss the fact the entire floor is covered with leaves!

One couple…the one we chose to despise all night long was late (I guess multiple reminders all day long, or staying off your stupid phone, or following simple directions, or not grinding on each other while others are eating is too much for some people made stupid by money or narcissism). Did I say we chose to despise them all night, I meant forever apparently. But honestly, screw them. I did see her blink and chew at the same time once so maybe I’m being harsh.

The dish was a boat of ice holding five cups. The cups contained an egg yolk mousse, Oestra caviar, micro greens and pickled onion, rounds of King crab leg and a Périgord truffle mousse topped with truffle pieces. Plates of toasted brioche were continually served so you could mix and match as you pleased. Lush, rich and decadent. Talk about starting at the top of the ingredient ladder. The only downside was thanks to our doltish and witless companions, the time sitting froze some of the ingredients at the bottom of the cup…tragic to treat something like Osetra so coarsely. I don’t think I was alone in worrying we would be sitting with them (the dummies) and so far apart from each other all night. Alinea knows.


The Art On The Ceiling Mimics...

...The Fresh Carpet Of Leaves On Floor...Just A Few Had Snuck Under The Table

A Frozen Boat Awaited With

Bounteous & Gilded Ingredients

Shaker Dough

We were ushered into the kitchen where the staff produced the freshest doughnut/cocktail combo you are ever going to get. The doughnut was a Parmesan cake nugget, which the kitchen topped with a sweet date spread and then showered with walnut shaved on a microplane. This was served with a cocktail containing more than I can begin to recall outside of quince, egg white and pine. Boston shakers were attached to a hefty machine (I think they said it had recently arrived from Europe and was 1 of 30 left in the world) and hand spun to frothy goodness. Both the drink and treat were wonderful examples of “bet you never thought of pairing these together before” and were a stunning combination. I thought we were far down the rabbit hole but it was actually the next course where my head started coming apart…and a dish I think I will remember forever.

Microplaining Walnuts On Date Paste & Parmesan Doughnuts?!?

Here We Go...Amazing

Fiercely Shaking The Cocktail

Even More Impressive Together & We're Just Getting Rolling

Crunch Paper

So we turn around and walk the 20 feet back to the dining room we had just left and the place has been completely transformed. Leaves, gone. Big table, gone. Cozy little enclaves had been established, the lighting allowed a view of the room and its art, including the pieces hanging above us with autumnal branches. A bowl of crepe paper looking things hit the table followed by a plate of weird looking green tubes filled with something. Our servers arrived at our sides and poured hot liquid from pitchers over the paper to melt it into the bowl. So here’s what was actually going on.

The tubes are Nori wrapped around (I think) cornbread mousse. The paper strips are actually shaved strips of diver sea scallops, which have been dehydrated and are being rehydrated with a dousing of sweet corn consommé. I have never had such an intense blast of sweet scallop, let alone one basting in perfectly sweet and buttery corn awesome! Mind blowing. The texture the paper (now noodles) (still all scallop) maintained was stunning. The crunchy nori bites were perfect alongside and added yet another texture to the dish. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that one. Genius.

No Kidding...Scallop

Amazing Corn Broth Transforms The Already Transformed Shellfish

Little Nuggets Of Happiness On The Side

Absolutely Mind Blowing

Contrast & Espańa & Swirl

I almost forgot to add, when we returned to our table there was a bowl with enough citrus to stock a road side stand in the middle of the table. After drinking the very dregs of the consommé and sadly watching the bowl depart, servers came in to pour liquid nitrogen into the bowls, which started a cascade of white “smoke”. Fun. But then you realize what’s clinging to the smoke is a spectacular citrus aroma which fills the room better than a case of wall plug-ins, but smells more real and honest and perfect. It affected the taste of the three dishes sat into the very torrent of cold smell.

The first was a meticulously peeled apple, wrapped into a little cave, soaked in yuzu and the cave contained a sprig of lemon verbena. The second bowl had some combination of apple cider, orange and maple foaminess. The third was a jamon iberico (really expensive ham) mousse. That’s right…ham pudding, topped with God knows what…it was moving so fast…and I almost licked the three bowls clean.

Hmmmmmmmmm...Fruit Just Hanging Out On The Table...Then...

...It Looks Fun...But The Smell, Oh The Smell Is Amazing

Amused Confusion Was The Look du Jour, All Around

Out Of The Smoke Appears Three More Wild Dishes

Unknown word

There was a menu on the table, just a printed card, mostly tongue-in-cheek hinting at what was coming. The word for this dish contains letters from a language with which I am unfamiliar. A bowl filled with white snow looking stuff (surprise the snow was hot…as was the dish atop) in the hot snow was a half coconut shell, in the shell was turbot, some kind of shellfish in some kind of form and kuzu. Delicious fish and accompaniment. A small dish contained what was termed a rare treat…sprouted coconut. A little slice of this stuff was sprinkled with a cinnamon sugar. I don’t like coconut. Cause, it don’t taste like this…I would do coconut all day if it did.

The Menu Of Mystery...I Didn't Even Recognize The Word For This Course

Looks Cold, It Ain't

Beautiful Fish And Tropical Happiness

Where Has Sprouted Coconut Been All My Life?


Coconut fish plates disappear down the hall to the kitchen and big ceramic bowls with charcoal fires smoldering away are placed on the table…we are told not to touch the fire, it’s hot. I think I heard the simpletons next to us squeal in pain a little. Then the lights went out. Poof. We are handed a soft silicone painters palate of a plate with the crispiest of pork belly squares and some banana curry. Encouraged to hold the plate and therefore eat with your fingers made me less self conscious about draining the corn consommé from the bowl like a Philistine. Not that I wasn’t going to do it…just a little self-conscious. Super fatty belly was eclipsed in the dark and ameliorated by the curry. They just don’t miss.

The Lights Went Out, And We Had A Fire

And Some Superbly Fatty & Crispy Belly In The Dark

Glass, Branch & Steam

The fire came to play when the server brought a bough and a half of fresh rosemary sprigs. The sprigs had skewers of matsutake mushroom and Hamachi on one end and a wedge of yuzu on the bottom. The idea is the fire and herb steam the fish and shroom to light doneness, get a blast of citrus and away you go. Along with that came a (I think) mushroom sandwich cookie. No kidding…and it was extraordinary. One of the larges plates arrived while the skewers steamed…I think there was some kind of fish seasoned with tea (lapsang souchong) and topped with glass. The glass was blueberry by the way. There was also a small dish containing slices of another unique shroom, pickled in something or other. No wonder I can’t remember it all…I was trying to wrap my head around so much.


The Fire Was Not Done Working

Hamachi Skewers Being Steamed Over Rosemary
Smoke/Steam Rises Between The Leaves

Fish & Perfectly Sliced Shrooms
These Are The Cookies For The Fish Course!?!

Marinated Mushrooms
More Fish & Blueberry Glass

The Table Got A Workout


The crazy continued. A little sammitch arrived. Talk about a blast of flavor in a tiny package.

A small round of pumpernickel bread is topped with Gruyere cheese, which has been turned into something akin to a soft marshmallow…just wonderfully nutty and salty.

The "cheese" is then topped with a slice of black truffle.

Queue the explosion.   

Powerful Tiny Sandwich



Smoke & Bone

A fancy dancy little topped bowl arrived with a slab of bone. The lid is lifted from the bowl, releasing a blast of aromatic smoke. Inside the smoke rests fall apart braised short rib beneath a round of gelatinized cassis. There is also beet to be found under the fruit leather. The braising liquid and the fruit split the difference between savory and sweet in a satisfying manner. The bone has bite sized treats atop. Rare and tender Wagyu beef is sitting atop a sort of rice crispy treat without the sweetness, and topped with pickled(?) Japanese ginger. The beef is not going to be outdone by the seafood here.



Pretty Outside...

Gorgeous & Smoky Inside

Cassis Fruit Leather Encapsulates...

...Beet & Gloriously Done Beef Rib

I'm Sure This Was The Course Called Bone...Ain't I Smart?

Kobe Beef Atop Adult Rice Crispy Treat With Pickled Ginger!!!


Then they served us rocks…yes rocks. Good luck figuring this one out. I can’t and they were telling us. I do know it contained chocolate, and miso, and sweet potato and was sweet and delicious. First dessert course. Rocks. Keep it coming.


They Said Rocks...We Got Rocks...

...Rocks Full Of Delicious Surprises


This was something. An iridescent spoon and fork were placed on the table and followed by what they called your grandma’s plate. There’s nostalgia for you. Huge decorative glass plate held what looked like cake post detonation with a clear plastic drinking cup on top. There was cake. There were also nuggets of cold tasting of the most perfect 80’s bubble gum flavor. I can’t remember what the flavors of the glass (you got to shatter btw) or the blob of white holding it up…but it was all phenomenal.

Then came something we hoped had been carried over from previous menus…floating dessert. A banana flavored sugar helium balloon with a dehydrated apple string soared down the hall to each of us. Take off your glasses, stick it to your face, inhale, be hilarious. I’m not sure how funny we were…but we were laughing like idiots. Just struck me…we were all absolutely children again…in the nostalgia course. Damn you Chef Achatz…I don’t know I could ever be so focused as to build a team to create something like this. Ain’t done trying yet, our field could use a bit of a shake-up as well. Thanks for the continued inspiration.

It Is Grandma's Plate...Isn't It?

The Bubble Gum Flavor Was Perfect

Iridescent Silverware...Every Detail

Warm & Damp To Assist With Nostalgia Part 2
Dessert Floats At Alinea

Tastes Like Banana & Apple

And Makes You Sound Like A Muppet & Laugh

Before It Sticks To Everything

Room Of Adults Are Instantly...



Server comes in with a ladder and takes down the art from above our head and places them on tables. Boom, lights are out again…and we are under attack! I think every employee is back, they are on amphetamines and taking a learning annex class with Jackson Pollock. Lights flash, music continues. Two swirl sauces, two more arrive to spread something else, one tosses some powder across the table, another plops down white dice, light brown bricks are stacked on the table. You can just make out the motion of the smash as the back of a spoon demolishes the frozen chocolate mousse as it’s remains spin into cherry sand, bourbon sauce, cherry sauce and only God and Grant know what else.  Another classic we were hoping to see. Scratch that, experience.


The Art Came Down From The Ceiling

And Then The Place Went Dark And Crazy

With The Entire Staff Wildly Painting On The Paintings

A Tenth Of A Second Before The Smash

Which Left Us With This, Smoking Frozen Chocolate Mousse & Much More...

Looking Like This With Lights On


The night is ending. As people are settling up, we get one more plate. Crunchy sesame nuggets with brown butter and chocolate all wrapped up in edible gold. Start rich and fancy…end there as well.

For me it hasn’t and won’t end. I got to share a wildly unique, pleasant, and rare privileged experience with folks I care about, which we will share forever. I also leave, a little confused, a little drunk, way  food drunk, a little dazed, and even more challenged and inspired to do what I do in a way that doesn’t get handed through the window in a drive thru, a way that challenges the status quo and starts interesting conversations. Alinea = the start of a new train of thought. Amen.


One Last Course

Wrapped In Gold...Of Course



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