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Alinea [split from Manhattan]

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(Note: This thread was split from here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7881... -- The Chowhound Team)

I had a kind of similar experience at Alinea in January.

The final dessert course is this elaborate chocolate affair.

They put a special mat/tablecloth down, and proceed to draw on it with all manner of sauces and things, and bring out a big freeze-dried chocolate mousse wad that they then crack at the table. you eat it directly off the table.

When complete, it looks kind of like a Kandinski painting.

I did not expect to see Grant Achatz at all that evening. But he came out and performed this ritually at every one of the tables in our room (about 5 of them) except for our one table. Another chef came out for us.

I would have been pretty excited to meet the chef, and in the end I did feel slighted and it really detracted from the experience. I went so far as to call the restaurant a week later, because it was sticking with me, and basically was told what everyone is saying here. There's only so much time, it's not something he always does, etc. And that's all reasonable and fine. But it left a bad feeling and as good as the meal was, I'd feel odd about going back.

Full disclosure: I might not have called if that were my only complaint. But I felt the wine pours were super stingy; I was stone cold sober at the end of the meal having paid $250 a head for their premium wine pairings. So I wanted to complain about that. The manager did reimburse me for the difference between the regular and premium pairings, which seemed fair. I might not have called if it were only one problem or the other; but given both, I wanted to make sure they knew.

  1. Good to know about Alinea since I'm hoping to take my sister there for her birthday in October. Now I won't feel too bad if Chef Achatz also skips my table.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ellenost

      ellenost -- since I feel that we have close tastes....

      ... the food is fantastic, without a doubt. And I know you are good at enjoying yourself, but this warning may help%3

      The service is oddly stiff, while trying to give the appearance of being informal. Hard to explain. I've felt more comfortable in both less formal (Ko) and more formal (Parisian places like Lasserre, or Japanese fine dining). They seem to want to appear friendly but with an underlying aloofness. Anyhow, if you are prepared to be thrown off, you'll be fine... And as always, your mileage may vary, mine may have just been an odd evening...

      1. re: pauliface

        When was the last time Chang even entered Ko, let alone served anyone anything?

        Alinea is every bit a Michelin 3-Star establishment and the service matches that.

        ...and, to be fair, Achatz served my table both times I was there.....he spoke perhaps 10 words save from naming the ingredients. Its not like having him prepare the dessert is anything incredibly different from the other chefs.

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: uhockey

          The issue we were discussing in the original thread was unequal treatment among diners who were present. If Chang isn't in the building then whether he visits my table is irrelevant in that context.

          And the other issue was the wine pours, which were generous at Ko, and stingy at Alinea.

          Everything else about Alinea was first rate.

          1. re: pauliface

            I've read reports this week that Chang has recently been in the kitchen at both Ma Peche and Ssam Bar. I am certain he'll be in the kitchen at Ko next week for the two Laurent Gras dinners (sorry I wasn't quick enough to get a reservation).

    2. I guess that's one thing I would suggest to the OP, call or write your complaints/comments. Even if there was just a disconnect between expectation and execution, vocalizing it probably offers more benefit than trouble.

      1. "Stone cold sober?" Who gets wine pairings to get drunk on? That might be your first problem. (Plus, I've always found that it's hard to get a buzz while eating a tasting menu simply because there's so much food!)

        15 Replies
        1. re: loratliff

          I've walked out of quite a few tasting menus with wine pairings quite tipsy. I don't care how much food you've eaten, having 6-8 wine servings along with the meal usually leaves me less than sober.

          1. re: loratliff

            I would bet most people leave the restaurant less than "stone cold sober" after a tasting menu with wine pairing. My husband is usually pretty tipsy.

            1. re: uwsister

              I get straight up smashed every time. A cocktail, 5-6 glasses of wine, and something to drink with dessert? Long tasting menus are particularly destructive.

            2. re: loratliff

              Have you seen Babette's Feast?
              I expect to walk out of a 3-star tasting menu with wine pairings like the little people of that village: tipsy, sated, believing in the glory of the universe and fine food and the joy of life, and feeling like dancing in a circle with my brethren. (Which by the way is precisely how I felt after Momofuku Ko, 3 weeks later).

              If you think that attitude is a problem, that is your problem, not mine.

              1. re: loratliff

                You were "stone cold sober" on a premium wine tasting??? Why not ask them to pour some Wild Irish Rise for you next time??? Wine Pairings, especially premiums, are not meant for you to get drunk...certain establishments are heavy handed, but pairings are meant to enhance not hinder your taste buds. I'd your main purpose is to get drunk and have the chef personally plate your silicone table, you be looking in the wrong place

                1. re: vinopatti

                  Very witty, you are.

                  There are many gradations between stone cold sober and sloppy drunk. This was far to the wrong side of that equation for me.

                  And as I've said 3 times now, I was not looking for the chef to plate my dessert. I did not even expect to see him there. But he did every table in the room but mine, and I felt left out. If you had the same experience, I'm sure a refined individual such as yourself would have taken note.

                  1. re: pauliface

                    I'd feel slighted too. But if I do go to Alinea and Chef prepares all the desserts except mine, at least I know I was in good company.

                    1. re: pauliface

                      You have to look at it through Grants eyes. Alinea isn't about him, or him getting the attention while your there. It's alinea and what it represents that he wants you thinking about. Something he created thats become bigger than him as an individual..-And the man that prepared your desert, is someone Grant has gone through excruciating efforts to select and groom to the point of trusting him at your table. -And whoever he was (matt I'm guessing), he is by far the bad-est ass cook, stager, chef you have or will ever meet.

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                      Alinea
                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                      1. re: xjas005

                        I think the issue is that the diner wanted the Alinea to be all about him/her, which in a way is a fair expectation considering the cost of the meal, but in my experience at the restaurant it seems Grant only does 1/2 the tables in total while Matt does the other two (and to be fair, Matt seemed much more talkative.)

                        In the end the greatness of a meal has a lot to do with the diner's expectations as much as it does with the restaurant's execution and in this instance those two things did not match. So it goes. One more open seat at Alinea just as I'll leave the seats to others at Ko when I'm in New York.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                        Alinea
                        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                        1. re: uhockey

                          Where is the "like" button? Well said, uhockey.

                          1. re: chicgail

                            Has NONE of you but ellenost understood that I had no expectation of the chef until after I saw him prepare everybody's dessert in the room but mine? Do you all have some kind of filter on your chowhound reader? This is surreal. I need to check out of this thread now.

                            Chowhound, if you are reading this, I think I would prefer that you just delete the thread entirely.

                            1. re: pauliface

                              With all do respect, I do believe readers got your point about not expecting the chef to prepare your dessert. I speculate that the raised eyebrow reaction is to your comment about calling the restaurant and given a explanation. Only after that to state still having a bad feeling and would feel odd returning.

                              I can't speak for all but my very first reaction after reading it was. "Maybe he had to use the restroom" or other pressing concerns faced with during service.

                              Restroom analogy is my attempt at humor. :)

                              1. re: oysterspearls

                                Thanks oysterspearls. I would never have called them if I had not felt I had seriously overpaid for the wine. Moreover, I thought calling the restaurant was preferable at the time to any other course of action, for example mentioning it on chowhound, since it gave them a chance for direct customer feedback instead of just complaining into the ether. Judging by the response here, clearly that was a wise decision at the time. But within the context of a completely different conversation on another thread on another board I thought I'd bring it up, as I felt it shed some light on what they were discussing. I had no idea it would be split off into a separate thread on the Chicago board, and I truly wish it had not.

                                As for the 'odd feeling' bit: to be honest, I had a bad feeling about saying that I had that odd feeling. I even went to edit my post to redact that statement, in part because I feared people would take that to mean I would not return, which is not the case. But by the time I went to do so, this thread had been split off and I don't have access to edit the initial post.

                                Ah, the internets.

                    2. re: vinopatti

                      Hmmmm....I was quite tipsy, if not downright drunk, every time I've left per se and le bernardin. I guess they were swapping out the nighttrain instead of my wine pairings.

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. If you want to be tipsy after a wine pairing at an Achatz restaurant I guess you will have to try Next. They often leave the bottle on the table for one or more wine pairings regularly. When we visited, the bottle remained for every single one.

                      When I last visited Alinea, we saw Chef Achatz and other chefs preparing the dessert onto the mats. When it was our turn, it was served on a plate. I must admit that I was disappointed, because part of the experience was lost. The servers told us that there were some technical problems with the dish that came up and the chefs made the decision to plate in a controlled environment. Still, it felt like we missed a dish in a way.

                      Worth noting: chef achatz only plated for one of the 4 or 5 tables we saw receiving the mat-based dessert earlier that night.

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                      Alinea
                      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614