Thursday, May 10, 2007

Alinea: More Complete Account, Part 1

[Tyler] I know a lot of people are going to be asking (a lot already have), so here's my rundown of our whole Alinea experience. Thanks to Fat Guy of eGullet for the picture -- since Rob and I chose not to take any. I'm going to post this in several parts, to make the posting easier.

First off, Alinea is about the experience, not just the food courses. In a previous post, I talked about the almost spiritual, and yet playful, atmosphere of the restaurant. The entrance works as a metaphor for that. The front of the building is pretty nondescript, just a building in a suburban neighborhood of Chicago. However, as you walk in the entryway, you enter an austere atmosphere of gray walls and hidden lighting. The hallway gets narrower and narrower as you walk back, and it seems like you're going to have to squeeze behind the last jutting light. Then, suddenly, the wall to your left opens and the restaurant is visible. The friendly staff greet you and take you to your table.

So, from the very beginning, you have a sense of zen playfulness and surprise, which will carry you through the entire evening.

Keeping with the theme of simplicity and surprise, we weren't given a menu until the meal was over. The idea was that we would simply sit at our black table (no tablecloth) and let the courses come to us with no preconceptions. Then, at the end, they would give us a paper menu, which we could take home as a memento of the night and a reminder of the courses.

The first thing the servers did (after greeting us, checking in with our plan to do the Chef's Tour, our lack of food restrictions, and chatting a bit about New Mexico, which they remembered from our reservation) was to place two rosemary stalks on our table. They informed us that these would serve as our centerpieces, and would enter into one of the courses later on. I was a little surprised that they served filtered tap water, but I guess Chicago is supposed to have really good water.

Our first wine was a Champagne cocktail. They served this before the meal, when the only thing we had on the table was our water and the rosemary centerpiece. Alinea has a two-tiered wine pairing system, and we chose the top tier (if you're going to splurge, why not go whole hog?). However, I'm not going to talk about the wines in these posts, unless there's something substantive to add. Suffice it to say, the pairings were mostly phenomenal, and I don't know enough about wine to say anything substantial about what we drank.

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