L20 or Alinea?
I am looking to go to one. Which one would you choose and why?
I've been to both and I would definitely go back to Alinea, not to L2O.
Alinea is a transcendant experience, just amazing and totally different from what you'll find anywhere else. One of the best descriptions of Alinea I've seen anywhere is in the comic strip at http://lucylou.livejournal.com/555828... What I discovered, that all the descriptions don't necessarily convey, is that (a) dinner there is a lot of FUN, and (b) everything they serve is amazingly DELICIOUS. I'm sure you're aware that Alinea is more expensive than L2O; it's around $140 for the smaller tasting menu and $200 for the larger one, and that's without beverages (alcoholic or otherwise), tax, or tip, so all together it's easy to spend $300/pp or more. We had the smaller menu and it was a great experience, three hours long, so don't feel that you MUST get the bigger menu.
I found L2O a bit disappointing. It wasn't BAD (and heck, it might be the most beautiful restaurant in town). Most of the food items were good to very good, but it seemed as though they were bigger on appearances than taste; few were amazingly delicious, and several were just plain bland. Also the dessert portion sizes were too small, and the wine service was not very professional. All in all, it would have been a perfectly fine meal if it were a casual fine dining restaurant charging $100/pp (including moderate alcohol, tax, and tip), but at twice that amount, it ought to "wow" and it didn't.
So Alinea would be my first choice. If I wanted to try something slightly less expensive and extravagant but still a high-end experience, I would consider Everest or Spiaggia rather than returning to L2O.
I've been to both multiple times. First of all, both are some of the finest the city has to offer. I think it comes down to the kind of meal you want to have. Alinea is in a league of it's own. It is not a traditional dinner. You're looking at 25+ very small courses. The L2O courses will be more traditional. You'll have 3-5 courses of very good size portions. The food at both are top tier. I wouldn't even question that. Some people are turned off to Alinea cause it's a little to out there. Some of the food you won't know what you are eating, etc. L2O will be high end fine dining, traditional in style. I hate to use the word tradtional, cause it's not but when you are comparing to Alinea, everything is traditioanal haha. Some people really dislike Alinea because it's so different. So keep that in mind. If you are looking for an adventure of several small dishes, go with Alinea, if you are looking for some of the finest seafood prepared in a modern way over 3-5 courses go with L2O. Oh and price wise, Alinea is more expensive.
13 course tasting menu for $150
29 course tasting ("tour") menu for $225
The menus are shown with a circle next to each item; the size of the circle indicates the relative portion size of each item, and its positioning represents how sweet (to the right) or savory (to the left) it is.
As noted above, dinner with the smaller menu takes three hours, nicely paced; allow five hours for the larger menu.
4 courses for $110 (normally consisting of two starters, one main, and one dessert)
12 course tasting menu for $165
10 course luxury ingredient tasting menu for $245
When I was there, L2O also expressed a willingness to accommodate any other requests, such as a la carte ordering.
Both restaurants provide several complimentary "amuse bouche" and "mignardise" courses in addition to the ones on their menus.
Of course, these prices are per person and do not include beverages (alcoholic or otherwise) or tax/tip.
I've never met anyone who has actually eaten at Alinea who didn't like it. Not to say that it's not possible for someone to not like it; I've just never come across one.
I was one of those people who disliked THE IDEA of Alinea before I tried it. I've posted this here before. I would say things like "I want to eat my food, not play with it." Boy was I pleasantly surprised. It was the most extraordinary food/eating experience of my life. Nothing that Ackatz does -- no matter how unconventional -- is extraneous to enjoyment of the food as the food. Everything is inside of enhancing the pleasure of experiencing the sight, smells, tastes, even sounds of the food.
I know that L20 is very good. Alinea is in a class by itself.
>> I was one of those people who disliked THE IDEA of Alinea before I tried it. I've posted this here before. I would say things like "I want to eat my food, not play with it." Boy was I pleasantly surprised. <<
I had a similar experience. It's not that I disliked the idea of Alinea. Rather, I care whether or not the food is delicious (and I'll choose "delicious" over "creative" every time), and that's not how people generally characterize it, concentrating instead on its creativity. When I actually went there, I discovered that the food there is amazingly delicious. It was one of the rare meals where, afterwards, I think through all the different dishes and have a tough time deciding which one I liked best, because so many were so wonderful. All the "smoke and mirrors" don't matter to me. But the food there was just superb.
Alinea is not the only high-end restaurant in Chicago, but it is head and shoulders above all others. It was recently named by Restaurant magazine as one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD, and it deserves that accolade. (You can see the complete list at www.theworlds50best.com/module/acms_w... )
This is a timely question as I was just debating the same question- whether to go to Alinea or L20 for my birthday. I had the same concerns about Alinea- that it might be more creative than delicious- which like you, I am primarily interested in delicious food! Thanks so much for your input- we just made reservations at Alinea!
On a side question- do you have thoughts about whether to do or not do the wine pairing with the tasting menu- I've seen where some has said it's too much? And what is the cost for the wine pairing- with the 12 course tasting?
re: ms. mika
I don't recall the cost for the wine-pairing, but it was superb and if we didn't like a particular wine it was removed and replaced. I do recommend the wine pairing. If it seems like too much, you might want to consider sharing a wine pairing.
One thing that might be helpful to you as you view the tour and the tasting on line is that the circle next to the item is an indication of the size of the portion. A large circle (e.g. the duck) is a substantial proportion. A very small circle (e.g. the chou tom) is probably not much more than a bite.
Alinea is really special. Do enjoy it and report back what you think.
We went two weeks ago and I got the pairing with the "Tour" and my wife didn't. However, once dinner stqrted she wanted a glass of the champagne and then at various points during the dinner a glass of this or that. Finally they just asked her if she wanted a "mini" wine pairing, which she agreed to. I don't recall the cost of the full pairing but they charged her $110 for the "mini". My point being that they are extremely accomodating and will work with you in any way you want. Dinner was wonderful and it lasted about five hours.
I have reviews of both in my blog - you can't go wrong with either.
That said, I've done Extended tasting Menus at both The French Laundry and Per Se ($450 each with 20+ courses at each) and I enjoyed Alinea more at $225.
Having been to all but MASA on the US Michelin 3-Star list I'd rank Alinea over all of them - my top 5 restaurants being: Alinea, The French Laundry, Per Se, L2O, Providence.
If you can get into Alinea don't miss it.