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My dining trip report

a
agaaga Mar 3, 2013 10:58 AM

*** Grace:
Hands down the best dining experience in Chicago so far! I enjoyed Grace much more than Alinea. Chef Duffy's beautifully presented dishes also tasted amazing! Each and every dish was carefully thought out in order to keep the balance and when the server named certain ingredients, I could actually taste those ingredients!!! (which is not always the case at too many restaurants, where they say certain ingredients are in a dish and I can never taste them. At Grace, each and every ingredient my server mentioned was oustandingly flavorful.)
I practically loved everything on the menu, but particularly Carrot, Truffle, Kanpachi, and Matsuzaka Beef were to die for.

Service was truly incredible too. I couldn't believe the restaurant was only two months old because the server was always there to clear up the table and serve next dish in time! Everyone was super friendly as well!

Chef Duffy was also a very kind, down-to-earth person and we cheerfully discussed things about food.

I will definitely go back to Chicago solely to try Grace's new menu in the future! Thanks chowhounders for introducing me such a mind-blowing place!

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*** Alinea:
The most disappointing experience in this Chicago trip.
I could have been impressed if it were 2006 but this is 2013 and I have already seen silmiar, if not exact, techniques somewhere in the world for the past several years.

At the end of the day, it's how the food tastes that counts and Alinea's food, while decently solid, was not exceptionally good IMHO to justify all the hassle and risks involved in purchasing tickets.
If I strip off the fun part of the course, I do not think the food is worth all the trouble I went through. Was the food better than Per Se, Daniel, or Jean Georges, to justify the extra efforts and risks involved? I don't think so.

Service left much to be desired. Servers acted like well-trained robots. Yes, they were smiling and efficient (So should I say 'smiling robots' rather?) but I couldn't feel they actually cared about each guest. For 20% gratuity they automatically charge us, that level of service was not acceptable. But why wouldn't they? There are hundreds of throusands of peple eager to dine here after us.

Would I go back? May be not. For me, TRU or Grace was way better in terms of food and service.

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*** Aviary:
Alinea was kind enough to make a reservation at Aviary for me.
I ordered some cocktail and bar bites a la carte. Fully enjoyed everything. Small snack foods beautifully presented and also tasty. I liked their white truffle egg nog.
Much better service than Alinea too!

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*** RL Restaurant:
Classic American cuisine in cool ambiance. Not a bad choice for lunch.

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*** Purple Pig:
I heard the line was crazy long, so I showed up 20 mins early and there were already two guys ahead of me.
As I was chatting with them waiting for the opening hour, one of them said he had lunch at RL the previous day. What a coincidence! I did too! LOL Every dish I ordered was grea~~~~~t! I liked foie gras, which was served with sweet and aromatic quince chutney. Tasty! Pork jowl and wagyu were also winners. Hands down the best lunch I had in Chicago!

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*** Topolobampo:
Unique Chicago experience. There were hits and misses, but I enjoyed it.

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*** L2O:
Unlike deknor, I enjoyed here very much.
There were some OK good dishes and very good dishes. Their quail was out of this world!
Service was also flawless.
Will I go back? Definitely.

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Overall, a very delicious trip!
Thanks chowhounders, you are awesome!!!

  1. d
    deknor Mar 6, 2013 06:00 AM

    I agree with your comment regarding the service of Alinea. It does seem like "smiling robots" were serving us. And for a restaurant that celebrates the experience as much as the food, it is quite annoying.

    Out of curiosity, at what time did you dine at L2O? We arrived at 8pm and were all alone... Nobody else at the restaurant. Not sure that had something to do with our food.

    And yeah, Grace is amazing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: deknor
      a
      agaaga Mar 7, 2013 01:09 PM

      > And for a restaurant that celebrates the experience
      >as much as the food, it is quite annoying.
      I agree. I guess perhaps their poor service made the dinner experience even less exciting, and may be that's one of the reasons why I was not wowed. Take Eleven Madison Park, for example, where there's lots of fun involved like Alinea and the FOH members are all caring, friendly, and wonderful, which makes the experience unforgettable ( As a matter of fact, I've just had lunch at EMP and these FOH people are great, not to mention their phenomenal food!).

      I was at L2O from 5PM, and by the time I finished my dinner at around 7:30PM, lots of tables were already occupied. May be you were there on a slow night.

    2. w
      willyum Mar 4, 2013 06:59 PM

      Thanks for the write-up ... we will be at Grace and Alinea (3rd time) in a few weeks ... will be interested in seeing how successful Grant is at keeping it fresh.

      You wrote: "Was the food better than Per Se, Daniel, or Jean Georges, to justify the extra efforts and risks involved? I don't think so."

      I'm surprised at this ... after six trips to those three restaurants I felt the food at Alinea and Per Se was clearly ahead of the other two, with Per Se more consistently excellent from dish to dish but Alinea more creative in presentation. Pretty much a tie for me and my wife as to which of those two is our favorite.

      JG was really tasty but a bit dated in style. Daniel has been hit or miss for us, with too many misses. I don't think Daniel deserves 3 Michelin stars based off the meals we've had there.

      Agree with you about the advance tickets at Alinea though ... just saw another Chicago restaurant with this same deal and thought "no way".

      2 Replies
      1. re: willyum
        a
        agaaga Mar 4, 2013 08:59 PM

        Well, I agree Per Se tends to be more consistent than JG and Daniel, but I didn't think Alinea's food was better than JG or Daniel, although I dined at Alinea only once. Nothing at Alinea really wowed me in terms of flavors other than the fun part or visually appealing presentations or creative ideas. Its Japanese inspired dishes in particular, tend to have seasonings that are way too overpowering as opposed to subtle.

        > JG was really tasty but a bit dated in style.
        I absolutely agree! Not only JG but many restaurants in New York are outdated in style. I find Chicagoans more open-minded and more trendy than New Yorkers, and their culinary scene seems to reflect this too, IMHO.

        1. re: agaaga
          nsxtasy Mar 5, 2013 06:50 AM

          My reaction to Alinea was different from yours. One of the things that really surprised me at Alinea was not the presentation techniques, which I had read all about in advance, but the fact that I found virtually every single dish amazingly delicious, course after course after course. More so than Per Se and substantially more so than Jean Georges. (I haven't been to Grace or Daniel yet, although I have plans to hit both later this year.)

          Thanks for taking the time to share. We don't have to all agree, and the more contributors and thorough reports we have, the better!

      2. camusman Mar 3, 2013 12:32 PM

        Thanks for reporting back. Great to hear that Grace was a hit.

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