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A recent long-winded report from Alinea

Full review with pictures in my blog - 02/17/10

When I first ate at Alinea on August the 1st 2009 I stated it was the best dining experience of my life trumping an extended tasting at The French Laundry that cost twice the price...I knew at some point I’d go back, but there were many other places to try on my ever growing list. After Alinea I visited Savoy and Robuchon, L2O, Daniel, Picholine, Ko, and did an extended tasting at Per Se before Benno left - all save Ko were excellent and worth their price - but none trumped Alinea. When the opportunity arose on an Ash Wednesday cancellation when I’d conveniently have a layover at O’Hare I called my friend Dave and asked if he’d be interested – he said “Oh Hell Yes,” an appropriate response.

Arriving moments before my 6:00pm reservation I checked in with the hostess and as my friend was stuck in traffic I was escorted to the table, upstairs this visit. A larger room than the downstairs but with tables equally spaced I chatted with one of my multiple servers about the artwork – provided in this case by a local artist and changing with the season, my previous visit, and dining in general. Watching a few neighbors receive their dishes from the shorter menu I saw some familiar items but also some new ones I’d soon be experiencing. When my friend arrived the Sommelier stopped by and discussed the wine pairings, however Dave opted for a bottle of California Red and I had a few small pours along with my water.

In order to not belabor the discussion I will note that the service during this visit to Alinea was every bit on par with my previous experience – ever present but never obvious, descriptive without talking down, water and wine filled as if by an invisible hand. While the waiter-to-diner interaction I loved on my first visit was obviously less important (and less focused upon) since I was not dining alone, I still felt as though our servers wanted to know us as diners and went out of their way to ask and answer questions. Finally, while Alinea has done away with bread service in order to focus on the food (unfortunate as their butter was sublime) the courses flowed seamlessly without the need of bread to refresh the palate and while I myself left comfortably full my friend noted even before the main dessert that he was getting stuffed.

Beginning the meal approximately 10 minutes after Dave’s arrival our first dish was excellent – it wowed me and gave Dave an idea of what was to come. Entitled Char Roe - Plantain, Ginger, Papaya the dish acted to pair the salty roe with tropical nuance – per our waiter Char comes from cold water and they wanted to give it an island vacation. Served inside a nutmeg “glass” we shattered the elegant presentation like a crème brulee to release the amalgam of roe and spices that I believe included cilantro and basil into a foam and gel with strong hints of papaya, plantain, ginger, and lime. A great degree of texture, a great balance of sweet and salty, creamy yet spicy and acidic – an intense and beautiful opening dish.

Dish two was an Alinea signature and was seen by myself on the previous, Yuba - Shrimp, Miso, Togarashi. Like an old friend the pen-in-ink dish greeted my palate with a wonderful mélange of savory and sweet, spicy and aromatic, crisp yet texturally varied.

Dish three was a dish I’d heard about but didn’t understand until I experienced it. Entitled Chao Tom - Sugar Cane, Shrimp, Mint the dish was Alinea’s take on the traditional Vietnamese dish usually served as a skewer of shrimp. In this case the dish was indeed served on a skewer, but aside from that the presentation was entirely unique. Featuring a compressed piece of fresh sugar cane that had apparently been boiled in shrimp and ginger stock before being topped with garlic, mint, peanut, and shallot the diner was instructed to place the bite in his/her mouth and chew it up to extract all the flavor prior to spitting out the fibrous cane. Following the instructions I have to say I wasn’t entirely impressed by this dish in terms of texture but its taste was excellent and the concept certainly not something I’d seen prior.

Distillation - of Thai Flavors was the next dish and this time unlike prior it was served solo in a wine glass prior to the pork dish as a palate cleanser. Featuring prominent heat on smell the distillation had none on sipping – a total mind bender – and instead tasted like a salty fish sauce with hints of lime.

At this point in the meal our “centerpiece” of 2 flags came into play. Described on the menu as Pork Belly - Curry, Cucumber, Lime we were delivered a multi-tiered plate that we were instructed to subsequently disassemble and reconstruct into a hammock. Onto the hammock our flags, actually flowered rice paper, were then draped and topped with a heaping spoon of slow roasted pork belly. From here on out the dish is left to the decision of the diner as multiple accoutrements are provided with which to create a haute-spring roll. Including spicy, sweet, savory, and pungent ingredients I opted to simply use all and was greatly rewarded with a delectable admixture while my friend deferred on some of the spices and was equally impressed.

Following the international trend set by previous dishes our next experience was sever in the hand bowl and featured Octopus - Green Garbanzo, Mint, Dill. First taking the intensely flavorful and smoky octopus with hints of coriander and dill and subsequently chasing it with a soup of what I can only describe as hummus spiked with sour yogurt this dish provided a unique flavor profile that started briny and savory but finished creamy and tart.

With each dish previous impressive it was dish seven that provided the first showstopper of the evening…or should I perhaps say three showstoppers? Entitled Lobster - parfait, salad, soup this dish was surprise after surprise after surprise. Featuring the air of chai the first presentation was a parfait of chilled lobster consomme, grapefruit, mint flavored cream, candied ginger, and pistachio ice cream along with a crumbly mixture of what our server stated was pistachio and lobster cracker. Hot/cold, sharp/smooth, tart/refined – and it only got better.

With my friend assuming this course was done he stood up to use the restroom and our plates were oddly not cleared. Assuming this meant there was more to the dish I waited and sure enough on Dave’s return the top of the plate was removed to reveal the salad component – poached lobster and eggplant confit, parsnip, mint, cilantro most notably and topped with a savory vinaigrette.

Finishing our salad (and guessing where this dish was going) the plate was again taken apart yielding the hefty aroma of chai in a lower bowl. Taking this lower bowl and straining it into a cup our server finally presented us with the “soup” of the dish – an admixture of lobster broth, cream, clove, cinnamon, and undoubtedly other spices that tasted like a thick and creamy chai at first but left a gossamer finish resonating of lobster and cinnamon (uniquely similar to the lobster at Picholine, actually.)

Dish eight (or perhaps eleven if you counted all the lobster dishes as separate) was Duck - Chestnut, Mace, Brussels Sprouts and given the amount of duck I’d consumed in the previous week I was looking for something great…and per usual Alinea delivered. Featuring honey accented duck breast and foie gras served in a sweetened duck stock with hints of mace the duck alone was beautifully prepared and only improved by its accompaniments of fennel, crisp Brussels sprout leaves, and what our server described as “chestnut pillows” that tasted much precisely like chestnut but with the texture of whipped cream.
Dish nine was perhaps Chef Achatz’s most famous creating and it once again wowed me. While Dave merely stated “that was interesting” upon mastication of Black Truffle - Explosion, Romaine, Parmesan I still contend that the only problem with this dish is that I can’t easily make it at home…or order a whole plate of them.

Dish ten through twelve constituted the the “dessert” portion of the first half of our menu and began with Peanut Butter - Dried and Spicy. A delicate bite of dehydrated peanut butter and what I assume was either cayenne or curry (or both) the most interesting aspect of this dish was the fact that the mouth-feel and taste was that of peanut butter while the palate and nostril essence was that of the spice.

Following the peanut butter was Thai Banana - Beer, Mustard, Pecans. Apparently a unique style of chewy banana called Hua Moa this dish was a small slice topped with candied pecan, mustard icing, and a somewhat hops accented finish.

Having already had peanut butter and banana it was only natural to end this trio with bacon – in this case Grant’s now-famous bow presentation of Bacon - Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme. More savory than I remember it the delectable pork texture poked through the caramel apple flavor this time with great effect.

Bridging from sweet to savory to begin the second half of our tour was something that would’ve likely seemed more novel had I not been to David Chang’s Momofuku Ko in January – but regardless the effect at Alinea was not only on par, but superior. Foie Gras - Pear, White Wine, Allspice was described as “pushed and pressed” and featured a confetti of creamy foie gras terrine with hints of allspice served over a sauternes gel and topped with crispy wafer thin slices of spiced pear. More textural than the famous version at Ko due to the pears and more nuanced with the allspice – I was impressed, Dave was “oh, wow – that is amazing.”

For dish fourteen, Sturgeon - Potato, Leek, Smoke, it is hard to believe that something with so much going on could have such great flow – it worked much like a Dali painting or fine jazz. Utilizing a beautiful sous vide preparation of sturgeon studded across the plate and complimented with purees of leek, chive, and potato plus slices of radish and celery the dish was served linearly and bridged by a long sheet of crispy potato above and a fruit roll-up like gel that tasted of both apple and liquid smoke. Eaten piecemeal or putting it all together this dish was a work of art and a study in food.

Moving along towards heavier textures was the tempura preparation of the evening, in this case Goose - Stuffing, Prune, Juniper Aroma. Presented as what appeared to be a bowl of pine needles with the wonderful aroma of juniper we were instructed to grasp one branch and upon lifting we discovered a single bite tempura attached to the end of the “skewer.” Featuring prunes soaked in alcohol, stuffing with accents of fennel and onion, and a central portion of fatty goose breast all perfectly prepared this was yet another dish I’ll not soon forget – as much as I loved the sweet potato with cinnamon, this one was even better.

Dish sixteen, another classic - Hot Potato - Cold Potato, Black Truffle, Butter, albeit without the use of the magnetic wand to collect the pin on this occasion. Warmer than I remember last time the potage was still sublime and if possible the essence of truffle even more pronounced on this visit.

At dish seventeen our menus temporarily diverged because of my distaste for the texture of beef flesh (or so I thought.) Delivered to Dave was the classic Filet du Boeuf Goddard while I myself was delivered “Poussin - Winter Root Vegetables.” Classic recipes served with classic flatware and a French Bordeaux I was quite pleased with my dish of buttery chicken with crispy skin, potato croquettes and spheres, and caramelized onions alongside three different styles of black truffle. For Dave’s dish he was treated to a thick slice of sous vide Wagyu loin, sweetbreads, tongue, and mushrooms topped with a savory reduction. Insisting that I try the loin because it was “amazing and tastes nothing like ‘steak’ at all” I obliged and must admit it was divine – almost ham like in texture with a clean and grassy taste.

Dishes eighteen through twenty were a course of edible cocktails, a new concept Chef Achatz and team have been toying with and will apparently soon be implementing into a new restaurant. Served as a trio we started with Passion Fruit - Rum, Cranberry, Orange. Intended to represent a Hurricane cocktail I found this the most delicious of the three with a passionfruit shell containing an admixture of passionfruit seeds, rum, and cranberry orange juice that had a texture of tapioca.

Following the hurricane was Elixir Vegetal - Sugar Cube, Fennel, Lemon. Served on the silver tray and featuring a single sugar cube accented with Grande Elixer Vegetal plus sweet fenel bulb, and lemon I personally though this tasted of a Mojito without the mint – in general I didn’t taste any alcohol, however.

Having returned from New Orleans that day I found a degree of irony to the next dish - Kumquat - Rye, Peychaud's, Demerara in that it was intended to taste of a Sazerac (a drink I’ve never tasted but was omnipresent in NOLA. With heavy hints of anise and rye plus a sourness that tasted like lemon I have to say this was my least favorite of our 29 courses that evening and even Dave noted “wow, that is strong.”

In a meal that contained many wowing moments it was our final savory that provided the most oohs and aahs both for its presentation and its taste. Dubbed Venison - Fireplace Log, Pumpernickel, Licorice this seasonally inspired dish was described as the chef’s attempt to recreate the smell of a fireplace and actually served the dish on a charred log. Explaining to us that the organic feel of the dish was created with the concept that all black foods can logically be paired together we were left to explore. Featuring the hearty flavors of black trumpet mushrooms paired with sweet raisins in the sauce, bitter pumpernickel bread and black garlic in the “dirt,” butter braised vegetables to offset the crispy dried trumpets, and finally a sensual nearly raw sous-vide preparation of venison and a cranberry gelee this dish was truly an experience and the smell of the log led Dave to exclaim that he’d no longer accept foods not served in such a manner...though I’m pretty sure his wife will have something to say about that.

Transitioning to desserts was a quick palate cleanser - Lemon Soda - One Bite. Quite literally a dissolving packet this “dish” was the very essence of a lemonhead with a carbonated tingle not unlike a pop-rock without the pop.

Dish twenty three, four, five, and six were served together and featured three classics and one new taste. Beginning first with the Transparency – of Raspberry, Yogurt Dave was very pleased by the intense raspberry rock candy/fruit roll up hybrid while I noted a tad less of the flower essence from previous yet a more intent raspberry flavor.

Moving next to Bubble Gum - Long Pepper, Hibiscus, Creme Fraiche I’m not sure Dave liked this dish but I again was impressed by the manner in which the individual tastes peaked through as I inhaled the tube while the overarching flavor of bubble gum was indeed the essence that lingered on the palate afterwards.

Moving next to the novel item of the group (and my first experience with the antenna service piece) we experienced Quince - Hazelnut, Bacon, Thyme. With a texture like granola and a flavor not substantially different from the previous bow presentation earlier I have to say this dish did not move me, but I did like its inclusion – it will be interesting to see if this develops over time, perhaps into a course exploring manners of pairing bacon with fruit in unique presentations.

The final pre-dessert was Pound Cake - Strawberry, Lemon, Vanilla Bean and again it truly did bring forth memories of Junior’s strawberry cheesecake, though I actually quite liked it as the “mignardise” course during my first visit moreso than its current pre-dessert placement in the menu. Dave particularly liked this dish, as I recall.

Heading towards the larger desserts we were next served something I’ve never eaten – Hay. While some may state Hay is for horses, I’d be quite alright with Hay - Burnt Sugar, Coffee, Huckleberry any day of the week. Intended to bring forth memories of fall and winter this dish features a custard made by steeping hay in heavy cream and the overall flavor of the reduced pudding is quite grassy and nutty, not unlike a chestnut or hazelnut. Paired with a bitter coffee accented cookie and sweet huckleberries with additional visual appeal and texture added by a burnt sugar crystal perched on top the dish is finally served atop a pillow of mellow air that to me resembled the smell of dry leaves and flowers – sweet yet earthy much like the dish.

Finishing the pre-dessert we were next brought the now-famous silicone sheet and my mind flashed back to my previous meal – a meal I stated would be once in a lifetime “unless Chef Achatz presents to my table to prepare a course again” in the future. Thankfully, both for myself and for Dave, while the dish I had on my previous experience was perhaps once in a lifetime the chance to watch the Chef work was not. Entitled “Chocolate - Coconut, Menthol, Hyssop” the video can be seen here and is most certainly worth 1,000 words or more http://www.youtube.com/user/uhockey1#.... Like a peppermint patty only infinitely more nuanced the most impressive aspect of the dish was the strong contrast between the warm 68% Valrhona chocolate and the medicinal cool of the menthol while the coconut in its various forms balanced the two by enhancing the chocolate tones and mellowing the menthol. Additionally playing with hot and cold concepts – the hot liquid pudding and the liquid nitrogen mousse, chewy and crunchy – the coconut rocks and the menthol/chocolate crumbs, and finally adding a spicy component with the anise hyssop I was glad Dave was getting full so I could sneak a few extra spoonfuls of the mousse.

The final taste of our evening was a fitting end to a winter menu - Eggnog - Pedro Ximenez, Benedictine, Buffalo Trace. Similar to the Watermelon-Lime, Nasturtium dish from the summer menu in presentation the dish consisted of an eggnog shelled sphere filled with a spicy and vegetal cocktail with notes of cinnamon floating in a shot of sweet Pedro Ximenez. Taken as a single bite the sphere ruptured on mastication filling the mouth with a balance of sweet and cinnamon while the end effect was punchy with a hot bourbon finish.

Settling the tab and thanking our servers we finished coffee and espresso before making our way to the street, finding the car, and headed for the ‘burbs. Throughout the drive we discussed the food and experience, each of us loving both similar and different parts, but both thoroughly impressed and trying to decide when to make a return visit – yes, me, the guy who rarely dines at the same place twice even in his home town planning for a third trip…yes, it really is that good.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com/

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. Hi again,

    It's funny. You happened to be getting in from NoLA, while I was leaving for my first trip there. The primary focus of the trip, quite happily, was food. But enough about NoLA (for now)

    Thanks again for your lovely description in describing the tasting menu at Alinea. I still haven't had the pleasure of dining at Alinea, but must admit that I think I'll be saving up some money to go after the experience.

    I love food. It can be wrapped up in a well prepared dish (which seems harder to achieve than one may think) or plated as a simple ingredient. A good example is good salumi. So delicious and many times best left alone. Which is quite like fresh harvested olive oil.

    I'm certainly going to be on my way to navigate my way through your blog. I am wondering though...you seem to have a real understanding about the balance of flavors, textures and temperatures. You also hinted that you cook. Do you get into the advance balance of flavors and cooking at you blog?

    No matter! I can't wait to read more about your adventures while dining. Chicago really does have some nice restaurants, but we've also got some duds. Thanks for posting your experiences so I can further refine my "short list"

    good day :)
    dan

    5 Replies
    1. re: gonefishin

      Thanks - my daily cooking is utilitarian (IE, calories and macronutrients) because of my job and healthy lifestyle. When I do cook it is usually at holidays and no, the blog is only a travel blog, not one of the cooking sort.

      1. re: gonefishin

        do you know whether or not taking pictures of the food is appropriate?

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        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: jguskadoo

          Yes. It is entirely acceptable, but don't use a flash or bring crazy things like a Tripod.

          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

          1. re: jguskadoo

            Chef Achatz has an opinion summed up here: “Documenting the food is one thing,” he writes. “But I wonder why people so passionate about food would sacrifice the integrity of the courses, instead prioritizing the documentation. Courses get cold, or melt while the images are taken, and in extreme cases the intended effect of the dish is completely lost.”
            More of his reply here:

            http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.co...

            His opinion hasn't stopped people but I wouldn't.

        2. This trip to Chicago, went to three restaurants; Topolobampo, we disagree, waiter was in our face servers spoke little English thus did not know what we were eating and found to be salty complexely silly and ran the gamut from too spicy to muddled and uninteresting. Spiaggia was no, wish l had read your review before wasting a fortune there. Wine list great but ludicrously expensive and food rich but not my style. However, last night Alinea, l now have another choice in the race for my favorite meal in USA. Service was French Laundry quality, food was more enjoyable than El Bulli, and the service things were worth the trip alone, eg: the silicon sheet for the chocolate nitrogen dessert. Most expensive meal ever, but a true WOW.

          13 Replies
          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

            Perhaps you mean that French Laundry service is Alinea quality.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Alinea cost you more than the Laundry? And El Bulli??

              1. re: uhockey

                Not even close, have been fortunate to have been to El Bulli three times, all before big fuss started, all before 2002,with wines like Clos St Hune and equivalent, ran about 280 for 2 to 410 for 2. French Laundry 2 years ago was in the high $ 600's. Alinea, get ready, with the full tour and winepairings, tax, tip, and a charge for coffee(?) was $1080 for 2. Full tour $ 225, basic winepairing $ 170. Yes, the coffee charge of $ 8 does steam me.

                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Just to add a data point, the smaller 13-course menu at Alinea (which is still eminently enjoyable) is currently $150, so if you're not a wine aficionado, you can get through there for as little as $200 or so per person, including everything, as I did last year. I'm not doubting that you CAN pay over $500/pp, but you don't HAVE TO. Most people I know have been paying around $300/pp lately.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    All of the three people who recommended this restaurant to me and who l respect, recommended the full tour rather than the shortened menu. On review l most heartily agree and would repeat that choice on the next visit. Sommelier at Alinea, there are five, said for first visit do the basic pairing, did and do not regret at all. Yes, next time will order my own wine from the list so save about $300 net, but even with that is the most expensive in USA and my second only to a wine bash at Guy Savoy in Paris last year.

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      >> All of the three people who recommended this restaurant to me and who l respect, recommended the full tour rather than the shortened menu. On review l most heartily agree

                      Have you and your friends actually dined on the tasting menu at Alinea, or are you merely recommending the longer one because that's what you/they had?

                      The "shortened" menu, as you derisively call it - the restaurant calls it the "tasting menu" - consists of around 13 courses and dinner takes approximately three hours. The "tour" consists of around 24 courses and takes 4.5-5 hours. Both menus will leave you comfortably full at the end. The courses that are exclusive to the tour are interesting and creative, just like all the courses in the tasting menu are, and either one is an excellent representation of the Alinea experience. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the tasting menu is any less elegant or less creative than the tour; it's not. This is NOT like the difference between, say, Everest vs Brasserie Jo, or Chez Panisse vs their upstairs cafe, where the less expensive restaurant has a completely different menu and style. At Alinea I've observed the courses other tables have missed when I've had the tour, and the courses other tables had and I've missed when I've had the tasting menu, and I'd rather have another chance to go to Alinea for $200/pp with the tasting menu than not to return at all. Anyone who is interested in dining at Alinea should not shy away thinking they MUST pay over $1000 per couple, because that's just not true. Have whichever menu you prefer (and your budget allows), and be confident in the knowledge that you will be enjoying a true Alinea experience either way.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        'Derisively', when did l imply anything less than great at any level? Both menus are long involved and wonderful. l never mentioned anything different. Of the tables near us one was having what we were having, the others were having the tasting menu. All dishes in the tasting menu were included in our tasting. The additional dishes with few exceptions were 'conceits', clever additions without much food or volume to add to more than enough food already. They, IMHO, made greatness a bit better. That tasting only cost $75 pp more, thus it is the wine pairing that makes this a big buck occasion and not the food you are implying.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          The tasting is merely a shorter version of the tour - it does not contain items that are unique to itself.

                          Full tour + coffee + tax/tip it is easy to get out of Alinea for $300, similar to the Laundry.....29 courses vs. ~14 (if you count the amuses and mignardises).

                2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  I just re-read this - re: most expensive mela ever.....how's that considering the places you have dined? I'm assuming the list has changed since that visit.

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      Wow - I think of Alinea as a "good bang for the buck" all things considering.

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                      Alinea
                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        Alinea's website menu says it's $195. And you don't have to do the "standard" wine pairings; you can order wine by the glass or by the bottle, or you can ask for an abbreviated or more affordable wine pairing, or you can get a more elaborate wine pairing. They're very accommodating, and what you have to drink is entirely up to you.

                        Alinea is not necessarily the most expensive restaurant in the country, although it may be the best. Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas charges $385 for their 16-course tasting menu, which is twice as much as Alinea, although Robuchon also offers an a la carte menu and Alinea does not. (Both are among the very best dinners I've ever had.)

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Again, I don't think Mr. Cheesemonger was saying he felt ripped off - merely noting the price.

                          Robuchon is indeed fantastic, but Alinea sets a bar that nothing in Vegas (or the rest of the United States in my experience) can yet clear. I simply hope they can maintain their high level as Achatz diversifies

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                          Alinea
                          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                  1. So I'm new to the Chicago board. Alinea over Moto? Originally planning on Moto because it seemed a little more affordable, but definitely willing to spend more for a better experience.

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                    Alinea
                    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                    Moto Restaurant
                    945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                    30 Replies
                    1. re: Rosedale

                      There's no comparison. Alinea is a high-class experience in every way. Moto is interesting, to be sure, but it's not "an affordable Alinea". Not even close.

                      1. re: Rosedale

                        The differences are myriad and the experiences quite different, but its not even close. Moto, IMO, isn't one of the 20 best restaurants in Chicago while Alinea is the best restaurant in the United States. If you want "crazy" go to Moto. If you want "amazing" go to Alinea.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                        Alinea
                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                        Moto Restaurant
                        945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                        1. re: uhockey

                          I have a meeting in Chicago towards the end of March and am trying to decide between Moto and Alinea. The caveat is that I have been to Alinea once before (Late 2006).

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                          Moto Restaurant
                          945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                          1. re: MVNYC

                            I'd go back to Alinea. If you're looking for something "new" I'd make it L2o, Schwa, Bonsoiree, or something that isn't Moto.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                            Alinea
                            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                            Bonsoiree
                            2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                            1. re: MVNYC

                              I don't know, I think they're such different kinds of places, it really depends on what you're looking for. If you think you'd like to go to a place that uses unusual molecular gastronomy techniques but without the high level of service, ingredients, formality, or entertainment of Alinea, then give Moto a try. OTOH if you're looking for a high-end meal, with all that goes along with it, then I'd instead recommend Everest, Spiaggia, Charlie Trotter's, or Avenues.

                              1. re: MVNYC

                                As you are from New York you have MUCH better French options than Everest (though it is good) and.......wow, I can think of at least 10 places serving better Italian and 15 with better service than Spiaggia.

                                As you were last at Alinea in 2006 MUCH has changed - I'd head back there without a second thought.........and without any thought of Moto.

                                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                                Alinea
                                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                Moto Restaurant
                                945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                                1. re: uhockey

                                  Nope. There isn't a single French restaurant in New York City that has as wide a selection of Alsatian wines as Everest, and there isn't a single French restaurant in New York City that looks out for miles at the city of Chicago and......wow, I can think of 50 places serving better seafood with better service than L2O and 500 where it's easier to make a reservation than Schwa and 5000 where they're less likely than Schwa to call you right before your dinner to tell you they're closed that evening without giving you an explanation. :)

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    Haha..... I can't think of a single restaurant in NYC that looks out over Chicago regardless of the view! ;-) Agreed about Schwa & reservations.

                                    Indeed Everest probably has the best selection of Alsatian wines in the country. The list is no better, all around, than Daniel IMHO. I've only been to Daniel once but in that single experience the the food was at the very least as good as Everest and the service, though a bit stuffy, superior.

                                    Before Gras left I would have asked you to return b/c I think you would have changed your mind. Post-Gras I don't know what to tell you.

                                    Alinea deserves that accolades it gets and, from my experience, as good as any place I've been in the US. The French Laundry and one of my meals at Le Bernadine being up there, too.

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                                    Alinea
                                    1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                    1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                      I've been to some of the best this country has to offer - and I've been to Alinea twice. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I did extended tastings at Per Se under Benno and at TFL under Lee.......my first trip to Alinea topped them both at 1/2 the cost and my second trip to Alinea topped Per Se, but not TFL. On my "all time" list - Alinea fist visit, The French Laundry $450 extended tasting, Vidalia24 under RJ Cooper, Alinea second visit, Per Se $450 extended tasting, L2o.

                                      For comparsion sake I'd not put Moto or Spiaggia in my top 50. Schwa would be at 15, Trotter's at 17, Everest at 23.

                                      Perhaps to some it is silly to keep such a list, but I love having that frame of reference. The top 10 all left me absolutlely floored when I walked out.

                                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                                      Alinea
                                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                    2. re: nsxtasy

                                      @nsxtasy: Just curious why you specifically cite the wide selection of ALSATIAN wines at Everest in the context of a superior "French" place vis-a-vis NY over Chicago. It goes without saying that France has more than just Alsatian wines...
                                      ??

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        Yes, France has more wines than just those from Alsace. Everest has the biggest selection of Alsatian wines in the United States - not French wines overall, although with 1700 bottles on the list, they have a darn good selection of those as well.

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          I'm not nsxtasy, but I would guess that it's because Everest Chef Jean Joho, himself, is Alsatian and his emphasis is typically on both Alsatian food and wine.

                                          That being said, we all have different experiences and at a recent visit I found the view stunning, the food fabulous, but the service really not even close to acceptable for a restaurant of that caliber. I know that my experience is not isolated.

                                          1. re: chicgail

                                            The service was notches below Chicago's best, but lightyears better than Spiaggia.

                                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                                            Spiaggia
                                            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                      2. re: uhockey

                                        That is kind of what I thought. That Alinea meal was one of the top dining experiences I have had and it was a long time ago. If I had more time, I could probably sneak in something else (like Schwa, from your review). Too bad I don't think I can expense a $195 tasting menu.

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                                        Alinea
                                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                        1. re: MVNYC

                                          Moto is all style and no substance, Alinea is both at a very high level. Just go back there - you'll not regret it.

                                          Schwa is like Ko but less uncomfortable - though they certainly are quirky with their closures.

                                          For a less expensive experience (Alinea being $195) I'd consider Bonsoiree over Moto if you're shooting for that style of food.

                                          As I said before - Spiaggia is so much worse than the New York Italian scene it shouldn't even be in the same sentence. Everest, while good to great, is not Daniel level. If you've not been to Trotter's that could be worth the experience - and though I've not been to Avenues a few trusted palates have reviewed it well.

                                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                          -----
                                          Alinea
                                          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                          Bonsoiree
                                          2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                                          Moto Restaurant
                                          945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                                          Spiaggia
                                          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                          1. re: uhockey

                                            As I said before - L2O is so much worse than other high-end places it shouldn't even be in the same sentence. Everest beats Daniel for the view and the wine list, and the food is terrific. And Spiaggia is simply wonderful - easily the very best Italian food with the very best service of any Italian restaurant in Chicago! :)

                                            1. re: nsxtasy

                                              Clearly many others do not share your opinion on the service.

                                              L2o = 3 stars. I think the 'experts' spoke.

                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                              1. re: uhockey

                                                >> Clearly many others do not share your opinion on the service.

                                                And still many others do indeed share my opinion on the spotty service at L2O. You'll find negative opinions as well as positive ones in the L2O topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/546690 And the reports there were done before Chef Laurent Gras left the restaurant.

                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                  For whats it's worth if anything. Recent sad to hear tweet by MichelinGuideCH quoted below.

                                                  "Oh no oh no L2O, how I loved you so….why did Laurent have to go?"

                                                  .

                                                  -----
                                                  L2O
                                                  2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                                              2. re: uhockey

                                                I agree with your comments and so much of your advice here, uhockey. Bonsoiree is head and shoulders over Moto for food, service and ambiance. It is, however, just a little further off the beaten track.

                                                I can't wholeheartedly recommend Everest either. Yes, Chef Joho is Alsatian and the restaurant's food and wine reflect his background, but while I had excellent food recently at Everest, but service blunder after service blunder - and at that price, it was totally unacceptable, not unlike your experience at Spiaggia.

                                                Without knowing how L20 is doing or even if it has a new executive chef at this point, I, too, would go with Alinea again.

                                                -----
                                                Alinea
                                                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                                Bonsoiree
                                                2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                                                Moto Restaurant
                                                945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

                                                Spiaggia
                                                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                                1. re: chicgail

                                                  Everest had good to great food, but the quality doesn't match the pricetag in my opinion. Spiaggia's pricetag VASTLY outpaces the quality of ingredients and the 'service' - if you'd like to call it that - was laughable. The fact that they refused to acknowledge the gaffs is perhaps even more offensive than the fact that they happened.

                                                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                  -----
                                                  Spiaggia
                                                  980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                                  1. re: uhockey

                                                    I disagree about Spiaggia 1000 percent, and to quote another poster here, "clearly many others do not share your opinion on the service". :) Spiaggia features the very best Italian food along with the very best service of any Italian restaurant in Chicago. The ingredients are the finest quality, regardless of whether you're ordering their special white truffle menu or just their fine "regular" dishes. And the food is phenomenal. That's why it was nominated for a James Beard Award as the best restaurant in the entire country. There is no higher honor (as there are only five such nominations each year).

                                                    Since it's now been quite a while since your one and only visit there, perhaps it's time for you to give it another try. :)

                                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                                      Spiaggia was the worst high level Italian meal l ever had. Food was fussy, teeny and overly rich. Wine list was very good, but both the food and list were priced higher than anything in my experience, and l have had some experience in upper level restaurants. You could not take me there on your nickel

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                                                      Spiaggia
                                                      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        ...and you were drinking, so at least you got good service. If you say no to wine there you are essentially blackballed.

                                                        Add on an elbow to the head and overly rude service - plus the fact that they did not acknowledge these gaffs in person or when I directly e-mailed the manager. I agree - it is the only bad restaurant experience I've ever had where I'd be hard pressed to go back even if it was comped. They don't care about the diner - they care about the check.

                                                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                        1. re: uhockey

                                                          >> ...and you were drinking, so at least you got good service. If you say no to wine there you are essentially blackballed.

                                                          Absolutely NOT true. I don't drink and I have received outstanding service in all of my meals at Spiaggia. They care about the diner, and serving terrific food with outstanding service. That's why they have been so widely acclaimed as among the best restaurants in the country. And any claims about "blackballing" those who don't drink are simply not true.

                                                      2. re: nsxtasy

                                                        Here is my take on Spiaggia... I think the ingredients are top notch. Service is great...once you get to your table. I have a problem with the "have a glass of wine while we prepare your table" or "your table isn't quite ready, enjoy a glass of wine at the bar". So, they gig you for a glass of wine while you wait for your reserved in advance table. I've been at least 5 times and they've done it, if not every time, all but one or two. Very tacky, IMHO.

                                                        I can get by that and I've never had the slightest issue once seated. My issue is the outrageous wine pricing. I am in the food & wine business and I know approximately what they pay for the wine. And I think their pricing is among the worst (highest) I have ever seen-anywhere. I would go back but when I do I'm taking my own wine.

                                                        The pricing of the food is also pretty high but I don't really take issue with that, either. We will be returning this spring but, again, only if I can bring in my own wine.

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                                                        Spiaggia
                                                        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                                                        1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                                          Agree with the wine list - the markup is high. Plus the Chianti Classico they have are not very good (and I'm not a fan of the Super Tuscons). I will definitely bring my own bottle if the corkage fee is reasonable.

                                                          I do think the food is fantastic. For Michelin one-star Italian restaurants, Spiaggia's savories are better than that of A Voce in NY. The pasta dishes were especially exceptional, albeit overpriced. The desserts, on the other hand, were not very impressive. This is definitely something they should work on if they want another Michelin star!

                                                          I don't have a problem with their service, even though it is certainly not as pampering as places like Alinea. I do think that uhockey's experience is unfortunate and I understand how an experience like that might be a deal-breaker. But I must say that IMO that was probably an anomaly for the restaurant.

                                                2. re: MVNYC

                                                  Do I have to request the extended tasting in advance? How much does it cost?

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                                                  Alinea
                                                  1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                          2. How far in advance does Alinea take reservations? Thanks.

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                                            Alinea
                                            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: fm1963

                                              2 months in a unique manner. Essentially if you wanted a reservation for ANY day in July it would be recommended to call May 1st as soon as they open - on that date you could request a reservation for July 1st or July 30th, or anywhere between.

                                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                                                1. re: uhockey

                                                  You really don't have to call as soon as they open. It's not like the French Laundry, where you have to call THAT MINUTE because you're probably going to only get a busy signal and they'll be full by the time you get through. (Been there, done that!) Based on my own experience with Alinea, you've got some leeway. If you call any time the first of the month (even later in the day), or even a day or two after that, you'll probably get the date and time you want. And if it's for a weekday reservation, you can even call a couple weeks later and you'll still probably get the day/time you want. Of course, it won't *hurt* to call shortly after they open on the morning of the first (unless you start wasting time getting busy signals). But it's really not necessary.

                                                  And if you forget for a few days, or you can't make plans that far in advance, don't just give up for fear you won't get the reservation you want. Just give them a call. You've got nothing to lose by asking.

                                                  HTH