Alinea – Transcendental

In one way this is an outdated post as our meal at Alinea was in May 2008 but given the astonishing pace of Grant Achatz putting out new dishes it doesn’t matter to write it now or a couple of weeks after the actual meal. The style of cooking has not changed since (as Laurent’s fine review of his end of October meal showed) and my admiration of this all-encompassing experience is greater than ever – especially as I am now a proud owner of the Alinea book.

Chicago has been on our culinary landscape for quite some time but it took us till then to actually be there. A group of five, four days of non-stop eating – that was a fun trip full of ideas and inspirations. We started off with the classic Charlie Trotter’s which turned out to be a rather soulless experience, no single plate clicked. Disappointing!

Alinea was next on a nice Sunday evening – compared to other restaurants from the outside it is unspectacular – only the numbers of the street address show that there might be something behind:



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9 Responses

  1. Wow, Ingo. What a review of a dinner beyond so much of experience. I love it when enthusiasm is expressed out loud. And I see where your top photo is from 😉
    Next time I get a chance to go to the US I have to fly via Chicago!
    Thank you fir sharing!

  2. its great that you had such an incredible experience at alinea!
    i hate to be negative, because i understand there is a team there breaking their backs to produce what they do. regardless, heres my 2 cents…

    i recently dined in alinea at the end of a bit of a tour of restaurants. i was so disappointed it was shattering! i thought most of the dishes were excessive in amounts of ingredients, with little over all effect, or lingering sensation.
    ridiculously complicated construction – sort of like a parody of modern fine dining. some dishes, however, like the cauliflower, were so over seasoned they burned out my palate before i could finish them. some of the senior floor staff have a bit of an attitude and they have them dressed like they should be on the starship enterprise! even the powdered caramel finale was just a tapioca maltodextrin gimmick! flawlessly assembled, yes. finicky and unnecessary, absolutely! i ate in moto as well during the chicago leg and my friend ate in trotters. i enjoyed moto as an overall experience because there was such a lovely friendly feel to everything about the place.
    just previous to chicago, we flew to copenhagen to eat in paustian the first night then noma the second. i liked paustian a lot. nomas 12 course lunch changed everything for me. its up there, slightly ahead truth be told, with a lunch at the fat duck i was lucky enough to have. the balance, and most importantly, the focus and honesty in renes food is so mind blowing. it also feels HEALTHY, i truly believe that this is being neglected in restaurants everywhere! and how welcome you feel! EVERYTHING was effortless. in fact, i cant stop thinking or talking about it.

    man, i WISH, i loved my alinea experience like you did! it wasnt an off night either. i just dont understand his food. i dont even mind the cost of flying over and back – i was just so excited after drooling over the book!

    something Herve This said at a talk i went to a while ago rings true. what is it you are doing when you give someone food you have prepared? you are saying ‘i love you!’ amazing words from an amazing scientist.

    everyone in noma is aware of this.

    • Will be in CPH soon. As I wrote in another article, Grant’s food is polarising some like it some not… But most diners I know have loved it so far… So, try to undestand it… And, if the starship enterprise staff would have been wearing Zegna I would have watched it more often;-)
      How was Paustian in more detail?

  3. paustian was nice. i felt that it fell short in a couple of places. i might be wrong in my reasons, however . im used to cooking and seasoning things quite highly – but there seems to be a movement away from this – ive heard this is true of mugaritz too. and its definately the case in noma. what appears under seasoned on first bite, transforms before the actual dish is finished to clean, fluid, and delicate. so one dish seemed rather bland to me. i suppose maybe it needs to be approached with this in mind. although, to be honest – i think it was just bland! another dish was a total miss for me – veal marrow with celeriac and an unusual puree that tasted to me like pureed tootsie rolls! the service was good as you would expect.. the bread was absolutely amazing. probably the best bread ive ever had. youll LOVE it! we got a great pre dessert cleanser. it was a bite of frozen air served at – 196 degrees. similar to the fat ducks nitrogen palate cleanser but WAY more violent in its the abilty to send ‘smoke’ shooting 4 foot out of your nose. 5 mins of hysterical laughter followed.
    the room itself is interesting. maybe it can feel a little cold on first appearance. they have an amazing, heavily matured comte on display. i highly recommend it. savage! id say go to paustian before you go to noma. youll have one very nice, simple, but interesting meal and one life altering (i hope) one! and if all else fails theres great hot dogs available everywhere! btw its a great review you gave of alinea – very concise. getting the menu really helps because i really struggled to remember each dish. one thing i really enjoyed was a frozen taster that had 6 (i think) distinctive flavours that literally came one after the other. very charlie and the chocolate factory. inspiring actually – i wonder if he used various hydrocolloids to ensure that each flavour was released at a different time?

    • I’m doing both Paustian and noma but in reverse order so noma is first… Bo is clearly more “molecular” and can be a hit and miss as you have experienced it. But overall it is worth going as it is slightly different than the usual suspects of the new Danish cusine…

  4. First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

  5. Just a quick question for you. I will be visiting Chicago for few days soon and considering few restaurants: Alinea, Moto, Trotter, and TRU. I am sure you considered them as well. Why was Trotter a disappointing meal?

    • Trotter is an institution and do admire him for his achievements but he tries too hard to be modern in some way and fails dramatically. No single dish was remarkable although it got better i the course of the meal. Service was kind of automatic and soulless, the wine pairing with American wines was mediocre at best and quite expensive (a little less than the premium wine pairing). Overall this performance would be on the edge of getting one Michelin star here in Europe. Given roughly 500$ per person it was very disappointing. Have to add that my fellow diners unisono agree and were really experienced diners and chefs…

  6. […] Recent Comments Michael on Wonderful nomaTrine on Wonderful nomaLaurent on Wonderful nomakent paul on Christian Bau – Continuous Evo…IFS on Alinea – Transcendental […]

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