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Welcome to Samantha's Bread & Butter, where I (Samantha) document my adventures in all things slow food and slow lifestyle.

Alinea: A Life-Changing Experience

Alinea: A Life-Changing Experience

I first heard of Alinea in For Grace, a documentary on Netflix that follows long-time chef Curtis Duffy along the journey of opening his own restaurant: Grace. Formerly chef de cuisine at Alinea, there were several scenes in which Alinea was highlighted and its executive chef, Grant Achatz, was interviewed. The documentary left me nothing short of inspired, and hopeful for the chance to visit both Grace and Alinea one day.

Well, sometimes hopeful wishes are granted, and rather quickly at that. A few weeks later, I received an email from a good friend and fellow foodie, inviting me to join her and several others for dinner at Alinea. I promptly replied yes and without the slightest bit of hesitation, booked my plane ticket for a weekend of gastronomy in Chicago.

Flash forward to a few months later and there I was, sitting at Alinea’s Kitchen Table. A completely private room surrounded by floor to ceiling glass walls, The Kitchen Table has been deemed the best seat in the house due to its full view of the kitchen where chefs can be watched preparing the food. The room accommodates six people and allows the opportunity for diners to interact with chefs, ask questions, and even enjoy a cocktail in the kitchen.

A cocktail and small bite in the kitchen. Cocktail: gin, green tomato, chartreuse.  Small bite: cucumber, feta, caper leaf.

A cocktail and small bite in the kitchen. Cocktail: gin, green tomato, chartreuse.  Small bite: cucumber, feta, caper leaf.

The experience at Alinea was unlike any I’d ever had before, and that’s not simply because the food was delectable or the restaurant was beautiful. These were fundamental elements, of course, but it was the culmination of these things and the thoughtful preparation of every small detail that went into the evening – from the food, to the wine, to the table, to the people, to the dessert presentation – that made the experience so special.

As stated in their personal message about The Alinea Group, co-owners Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas believe the guest experience and cuisine should be “fun and delicious”. While this goal may sound simple, it can only be accomplished with hard work, fierce imagination, and dedication. From what I can see, the team of people at Alinea are extraordinary and appear to be living up to Grant and Nick's mission in its entirety.  

Here are a few highlights from the evening:

Surprise first course on the table when we entered the room: Ostera King Crab & Condiments. Wine pairing: Bollinger R.D. Champagne, France 2002.

Surprise first course on the table when we entered the room: Ostera King Crab & Condiments. Wine pairing: Bollinger R.D. Champagne, France 2002.

The wine pairing, which I obviously had trouble keeping up with. Plus mezcal in the small bowl, and sake and champagne (not pictured).

The wine pairing, which I obviously had trouble keeping up with. Plus mezcal in the small bowl, and sake and champagne (not pictured).

Surprise Thai vibes.

Surprise Thai vibes.

Maitake, blueberry, lapsang souchong.

Maitake, blueberry, lapsang souchong.

Gruyere, black truffle, pumpernickel.

Gruyere, black truffle, pumpernickel.

Taffy helium balloons, and lovely ladies. 

Taffy helium balloons, and lovely ladies. 

Dessert course #2: When the lights suddenly turned off in the kitchen, music started bumping, they removed a piece of art hanging from the ceiling above our table, and used it as the foundation for the communal dessert the chefs then "painted" for us. 

Dessert course #2: When the lights suddenly turned off in the kitchen, music started bumping, they removed a piece of art hanging from the ceiling above our table, and used it as the foundation for the communal dessert the chefs then "painted" for us. 

Dessert course #2, complete: Cherry, white chocolate, bourbon. Wine pairing: Corte Sant'Alda, Recioto della Valpolicella; Veneto, Italy 2011.

Dessert course #2, complete: Cherry, white chocolate, bourbon. Wine pairing: Corte Sant'Alda, Recioto della Valpolicella; Veneto, Italy 2011.

Intimate experience with chefs (pictured here: Mike Bagale), servers and sommeliers.

Intimate experience with chefs (pictured here: Mike Bagale), servers and sommeliers.

Gold: sesame, brown butter, feuilletine.

Gold: sesame, brown butter, feuilletine.

Thank you, Alinea, for an incredibly fun and life-changing experience!

Garlic & Butter Shrimp Penne

Garlic & Butter Shrimp Penne

Lebanese Tabbouleh

Lebanese Tabbouleh