Restaurant Review: Alinea (Warning – iPhone pics!)

I had no idea what was coming.  All I knew was… I was late.  Standing in my undies, hair half-dried and make-up questionable, the door rang simultaneously with the phone.  I fumbled with the call box of our new apartment to let my separation-anxiety ridden dog’s “baby-sitter” up, as I answered my brother’s call with a falsely cool, “we’ll be right down!”  I’m amazed nothing was broken as I tore through the house and down the stairs.  I was almost surprised to see my husband sitting next to me in my brother’s new conversion van; he made it, too!  And yes, I said conversion van, circa 2004, very “my brother.”  He makes a nice living for himself, nice enough to treat us all to an amazing evening out at possibly the nicest restaurant in the States, yet he couldn’t give a flip about money, and instead, gets really jazzed about his hand-me-down van, one that allows him to put a mattress in the back for long road trips.  Not to mention, he just got the van that day, so we were driving to Alinea sans license plate.  Maybe the first ever illegal conversion van to pull up to that valet stand, a badge of honor we wore with pride.

As we walked down the red neon-lined hallway that appeared to shrink in size, I knew we’d be eating for 3 1/2 hours and that molecular gastronomy would be involved, a culinary art about which I knew virtually nothing, except that Richard from Top Chef is into it, and I like Richard.

I’d been waiting on this day like it was my birthday, which it wasn’t; it was actually my sister-in-law Megan’s, lucky us.  To prepare, she’d been reading chef & owner Grant Achatz’s biography, Life, On the Line, and peppered the evening with interesting little details.  For example, Alinea is the only Michelin 3-Star restaurant that doesn’t have tablecloths on their beautiful black wooden tables, which presented the unexpected problem of table condensation.  Therefore, the staff calibrates the water to a specific temperature to avoid unsightly water.  Who would have thought?   Being a laid back, family-style chef myself, I was fascinated by the attention to detail and near perfection achieved.

The food is beyond.  I want you to go.  Save a little bit each month to make it happen, and you won’t be disappointed by the effort.  Some 20-25 courses were served that evening and not one disappointed any of us.  Eating at Alinea is like visiting a Science Museum, one where your napkin is folded when you get up to pee.  Plus, they called ahead of time to ask my brother for any allergies in his party, allowing me to eat with a gusto alleviated by the fear of soy.

One of my favorite dishes (above) looked like a little mushroom forest.  Pictures don’t do this food a bit of justice because scale can’t be translated easily. Each dish is only a couple of bites, and the detail created a masterpiece in each spoonful.

After we’d been eating for many, many hours, the chef decided to clean our palate in preparation for another several rounds of desserts.  To do so, he set the above contraption in front of us with a spoon, asking us to avoid a Christmas Story episode, by not licking the cone directly.  It’s hard to fully capture without experiencing, but we used a spoon to scrape away the softest, fluffiest citrus ice, which left our mouths feeling crisp & freshly scrubbed.  Delightful.

A favorite amongst the men in the group, the above “aquarium” was lifted to our lips and sucked on like a cigar, which released the edible cork and flooded our mouths with a sweet gourmet kool-aid.  I had a bit of trouble, probably because I don’t smoke a whole lot of cigars, until I sucked so hard the cork chimed my uvula (gross name, I googled it), harmlessly choking me and providing entertainment for the whole table.

As the table grew tipsy and someone noted we’d actually been eating for 5 straight hours, out came the grand finale:

Time to fetch the conversion van… what a night.

xo – Organic Spark

* Many thanks to my cute sister-in-law who provided us with the photos & videos above.

3 comments


  • Lucky you – what was your favorite dish?

    April 8, 2011
    • Molly Chester

      Lucy – I loved the dish that came out looking like a mushroom forest. So fun!

      April 17, 2011
  • Wow, such a fun & special night Molly :)

    April 10, 2011

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