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Sep 30, 2008 11:25 AM

Alinea - Tips for a virgin visit

I'm going to be dining at Alinea for the first time on October 16th. I'm coming into Chicago for the weekend and was able to score a reservation for that evening.

Here's what is known for sure:

1. We're each having the 12-course tasting menu.
2. We're dining later in the evening.

Here is where I could use some help/advice/thoughts

1. Would you recommend doing the wine pairings with the food? I'm a little concerned that the wine will start to over-power our taste buds and clog the minds as we get later into the proceedings. It should be stated that while we enjoy wine, we are by no means experts in the field. What I'm trying to get at is it worth it for someone who may not apprecaite it as much as an experienced wine drinker.

2. Is it possilby smarter to maybe just order a bottle of red and/or white and vary back and forth between the two depending on what is being served? I know they won't match up as perfectly as the pairings themselves, but would that be a better plan for non-experts?

3. Does anyone know what the pricepoint would be if we ordered the wine pairings? It really isn't a huge issue, but I'm figuring we're around $350 to $375 before we start getting to beverages. I'm just trying to get an idea of the different choices.

4. What is the dress like in there? Do men wear suits? How about the ladies? How formal does it get or is it casual as well? Just trying to get a feel as to what to pack.

Any advice that anyone has regarding this will be extremely helpful in terms of planning the night.

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  1. Hi Db Cooper -

    Mr CF and I went in September last year to Alinea and loved it. We also did the 12 course tasting menu.

    I would recommend the wine pairings. They were fabulous and when we didn't care for one of the wines, the wine steward opened a different wine for us. I do think it would be worth it. Plus it's easier (and probably cheaper), as it's much more difficult to pair 2 wines to 12 different courses than to sit back and let someone take care of you. Whether you're an experienced wine drinker or a newbee, IMHO, you'll enjoy it.

    I don't remember how much the wine pairings cost... the website lists the cost for the dinner ($145) but I didn't see anything regarding the wines. They have a nice wine list though. We had a Clarendon Hills “Hickinbotham" that was incredible, especially with that particular course - Lamb.

    I didn't see men in suits, but Mr CF wore a sport coat and I wore a dress, everyone we saw was dressed nicely but not formally.

    Hope that helps and have a great time. We can't wait to go again.
    oh and get a cab!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cookiefiend

      Thank you for your response Cookiefiend. We are both very excited.

      I've found a few other threads here that suggested possibly just splitting a wine course. We may do that. I want to experience the wines they suggest, but don't want to get too buzzed up that I lose the ability to taste the food.

      Db doesn't do ties so it's good to hear that suits aren't required. I will probably adopt my wardrobe to something similar that Mr. CF wore.

      We're staying at the Swissotel so we aren't that far away. I will take your advice about the cab.

      Thank you again for your thoughts and advice.

    2. You will LOVE LOVE LOVE Alinea. Here are my thoughts:

      1) Absolutely do the wine pairings - you don't always get a "fresh wine" with each course, so it's not going to be too much wine. The meal is paced so well that it isn't too much, in my opinion.

      2) Don't order a bottle. Get the pairing. End of story.

      3) The price with pairing adds (from what I can remember) $95 or so. Well worth it.

      4) To be comfortable, I would recommend men wear a jacket - no tie needed. It's a relaxed overall experience, but not "casual." Something nicer than you'd wear to work is a good rule for women, but leave the cocktail & evening dress at home.

      Enjoy - you'll LOVE it. Give yourself a 5 hour cushion time-wise.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jliebze

        Thank you for your advice jliebze.

        Based off this advice, we are going to do the pairings. We're not sure if we're going to split one or each get it. We'll talk it over with the wine stewards. Our reservation is later (9:45pm), but we aren't the types who usually go to bed early anyway on vacation :-)

        Here is the rest of the dining plan for the trip:

        Lunch at La Sardine
        Dinner at Giordano's

        Lunch at Mr. Beef or Al's
        Dinner at Graham Eliot

        Lunch at Mr. Beef or Al's, whichever one we didn't go to on Saturday.

        It should be a fun trip packed with some good eating. These places seemed to mentioned again and again here and in other food jounals about Chicago. The goal was to try fine-dining at Alinea, Charile Trotters, or Tru. I was lucky enough to get the reservation at Alinea which was our first choice. We also wanted to have pizza once, an Italian beef sandwich, and possibly a nice rare juicy steak. It appears that La Sardine has a three-course lunch menu with steak frites so that should work.

        Now we're just hoping we have good weather in the Windy City that weekend!

        1. re: Db Cooper


          Be sure to write back and let us know how it went! You're making a great decision.
          And tell us about Graham Elliot - I thought about going there in August but went to One Sixty Blue instead. We enjoyed it but I'm wondering what I might have missed!

          I'll be up next weekend for a concert but we're just going to do a casual early dinner... I too am hoping for good weather!

          1. re: Db Cooper

            Twice I've done the wine pairings at Alinea -- once split, the other whole. I prefer to split. The pours are pretty generous.

            La Sardine is a good choice for classic French bistro food. But why Giordano's? It's not bad, and in fact it's pretty good, but I find the various locations to be inconsistent. I generally think it's pretty good, but Lou Malnati's and Pizano's are much better in my opinion for deep dish (I assume that's why you're going). And order the butter crust at Malnati's or Pizano's (they're almost identical . . . both owned by members of the Malnati family).

            Al's on Taylor Street is the place to go for your Italian beef (make sure to go to the one on Taylor St., and not one of the awful franchised locations).

            I visited Graham Elliot's a little over a month ago, and I enjoyed my meal, but many others have not. Now I read that GE is reformatting the menu (, so be forewarned that you may be a guinea pig for a new menu. If that scares you, you might want to try Otom, which pre-reformatting, has been a similar concept and perhaps better than Graham Elliot's. (

        2. I would recommend the wine pairings. If you're worried about it being too much wine, they will split the pairings between you and your dining partner (i.e., you each get half pours the whole way through). The last couple of times I've been to Alinea that's what I've done and it's been a perfect amount of wine.

          1. Do the wine pairings, have a great time and BTW, they sacrifice virgins between the fourth and fifth courses.

            3 Replies
            1. re: hoppy2468

              I would like to thank everyone for their responses. They are all very helpful.

              -We are thinking we're going to split a wine pairing. That way, we'll get the tastes without the effects of too much alcohol.

              -In regards to the pizza, it came down to Giordano's and Lou Malnati's. The goal was to get a true Chicago deep-dish pizza experience. I went thru about ten pages of posts here and other places and those two came out on top. We picked Giordanos after looking at the web sites. From what I gathered, you couldn't go wrong picking either of them and there was a Giordano's closer to the hotel. We're going to Second City that night for the show so we wanted something close to the hotel too.

              -We are going to do Graham Eliot. The plan for that night came down to three places: Gene and Georgetti, Graham Eliot, and Sepia. We chose Graham Eliot. I think their new menu is up on their website and there were a number of interesting dishes we wanted to try. I am not afraid to try a new menu, especially when there is a chef I trust executing the menu. Everything I've read about Chef Bowles gives me the confidence that it will be an interesting and tasty menu.

              -We are for sure doing Al's on Taylor Street and not one of the other locations. I've heard that area is a fun place to hang out and visit too so it should be fun.

              Again, thank you to everyone for your advice. I'll post a re-cap here the week after we get back from the trip.

              1. re: Db Cooper

                please write a review when you go> my girlfriend and i have reservations on holloween and we would like to know ifit is worth it

                1. re: lestererik

                  Hi Lestererik,

                  I promise to post a review by Friday, the 25th of October. I have to travel to North Carolina on business on Tuesday and Wednesday and then to California early Friday, the 25th for the Breeders Cup. I am planning to write up my review on the plane to North Carolina and I'll post it here before leaving for California.

                  However, please know that we basically planned our whole trip after securing this reservation. We live in the Twin Cities and we're coming to Chicago for the weekend mainly because of the opportunity to dine at Alinea. So I may be biased somewhat in my review. I just wanted you to know.

                  Here's an article from Gourmet Magazine. I think it says a lot about if it is worth it and was really the inspiration for this trip in the first place:

            2. Giordano's is the best choice for pizza! Make sure you get the deep dish. I recommend sausage with whatever other veggie in it that you like (we prefer sausage and mushroom).

              I haven't been to Alinea, but last year I did go to Gordon Ramsey's MAZE restaurant in NYC (which also follows the tasting menu concept) and it was FABULOUS!

              Enjoy your evening and let us know how everything was!