Alinea for out-of-towner
boston 'hound here, coming to Chicago in about a week. i have a couple of questions about alinea:
1) how's the atmosphere and noise level? is it hushed and romantic, or is it raucous and social? is it at all stuffy?
2) how far in advance does one need a reservation for a party of ~5?
i've read all the other threadsa, but any additional insights to this place are appreciated...
Eating at Alinea is a rather formal experience - tables are well-spaced, and no one is noisy. It's very conversation-friendly. The formality is due, I felt, to the way the food is presented. It's simply a formal, rather ritualistic presentation - you, the patrons, sit in very comfortable chairs, attended by friendly (but not familiar) staff at a ratio of perhaps 2 to 1 (2 staff for each diner - at least that's what it looked like to me), and are served, at intervals of about 10 minutes each, a series of small but incredibly wonderful courses, accompanied by whatever beverage you've opted for. As I've said before, I felt that it wasn't really a "meal" in the usual sense of the term - it was an incredible culinary experience, one that we'll never forget - one that we don't expect will ever be surpassed (though who knows?). I wouldn't call it romantic - the focus is all on the food. The constant presentation of tiny edible delights and wine kept us from really focusing on our conversation (not that we minded - we were there to experience Chef Achatz's cuisine, after all).
I got a reservation only a week in advance, but for 5:00 or 5:30 (can't recall which). Since we were doing the 23-course Tour, this got us out at around 9:30 p.m., which was fine. We were also offered a table at 9:00, but didn't want to go home at 1:00 in the morning. Probably to have your pick of seatings you'd have to reserve two or three weeks in advance.
We tried to get a reservation three weeks in advance, for 5:30, and they said there was no chance. But that was for a Thursday -- try midweek and maybe you'll do better.