Even though our October trip to Chicago was more business than pleasure, there was still time to enjoy a little of what was on offer. This being our first visit, I must confess to immediately liking it. Nice people, relaxed atmosphere and with a character different from the other American cities I´ve visited. The view from our hotel room was of Grant Park (famous from the Democratic National Convent riots of 1968), and beyond that Lake Michigan spreading out like an ocean. And then there was the restaurants. 25 Michelin starred establishments and a total of 31 stars in 2014. Not bad.
The first one sampled was seafood restaurant L2O (meaning lake to ocean), opened in 2008. Current chef Matthew Kirkley has been running the place since 2011. Receiving 3 Michelin stars in 2010 it has now settled for 2 this year.
The dining room felt both modern and tasteful, with an extremely friendly and attentive staff. Their spectacular 14 course menu with wine pairings can be seen here, and was in every respect a wonderful experience. Fresh and original ingredients cooked to perfection, with superb and innovative blends of tastes. And for those interested in aesthetics I must say that some of the courses were amongst the most beautiful I´ve seen. Check out their webpage if you don´t believe me.
After the meal we were treated to a full tour of the premises, including the kitchen, by one of the staff. While not requested it was still very much enjoyed as an extra bonus. Regrettably it seems like this great place is closing at the end of 2014, to give way for a more affordable restaurant. Too bad in my opinion, but I´m still glad I got to try it in its prime.
Receiving 3 Michelin stars ever since the Michelin Guide started covering Chicago, Alinea as well as chef Grant Achatz are legendary. This year Restaurant Magazine´s nr 9 in the list of the world´s best restaurants. Of course a place that needed to be visited during our stay.
Let´s begin with a few words on their booking policy. You can´t make traditional reservations at Alinea, instead you have to buy tickets from their website giving you the right to enjoy their tasting menu on a certain night. The tickets are released some weeks in advance and you need to follow them on facebook or twitter to know when. I logged in to buy my ticket as soon as I got notice of them being available for the time period we were going to be in Chicago, and managed to get a Sunday evening 9.30 p.m. spot. That probably says something of the popularity of this place.
Getting there by cab the driver actually missed the pretty unassuming entrance, and we had to double back to find it. Finally at the right place, we opened the door and entered into the universe of Alinea, and what a trip it was. The experience starts as soon as you set foot in the restaurant, and continues for a number of enchanting hours. The night´s menu can be seen here , but mere words fail to describe this level of culinary expertise. Here we have a world class chef who not only masters all the most advanced techniques of molecular gastronomy, but also excels at innovation in combining ingredients and tastes, as well as having a keen sense of the aesthetic.
A night at Alinea is more like a performance than a meal, with dishes wonderful on the palate and beautiful to the eye. Périgord truffle and Parmesan served on a concrete slab with balsamic vinegar from a spray can as graffiti. Helium-filled edible balloons made of apple toffee. A dessert literally painted on the tablecloth, like an alimentary Jackson Pollock. The courses at this restaurant certainly has a high wow-factor, while still managing the balance between inventiveness and gimmick.
All in all a wonderful evening with everything perfectly executed. This is absolutely a place not to be missed when visiting Chicago. Two months on, I´ve already started longing to go there again.