1723 north halsted street
chicago, il 60614
see here and here for my first two posts on alinea if you are unfamiliar with the restaurant...
this was our third meal at alinea and first since the inception of the prepaid ticket system. the decision to make alinea part of this trip was made almost two months in advance, and the only time we were able to book was 9:30pm. on a wednesday night. when we arrived on the big night, i was filled with just as much nervous excitement as the first time around and was surprised to find the famous hallway transformed with a furry carpet and a plethora of glowing vases hanging from the ceiling. we were seated upstairs in the front room (the only area of the restaurant we hadn't seen before), and after being welcomed back to the restaurant and confirming our desire for the wine pairings, the meal began.
champagne jean lallement 'verzenay, grand cru' brut nv
monchong, banana leaf, sugarcane
hapu'upu'u, lemongrass, star anise
blue prawn, tamarind, mint
shrimp head, togarashi, pincage
onaga, white soy, ginger
pineapple, slush, shot
ginga shizuku 'divine droplets' junmai daiginjo-shu, hokkaido-ken
dr. thanisch 'berncasteler doctor' riesling kabinett, mosel, 2010
artichoke, octopus, eggplant, allium
lopez de heredia, 'vina gravonia' blanco, rioja 2003
ar pe pe grumello 'rocca de piro' valtellina superiore 2006
chateau musar, bekaa valley lebanon 2004
the rare wine co. 'boston bual - special reserve madeira
disznoko '5 puttonyos', tokaji-aszu 2005
carpano 'antica formula' vermouth
casual professionalism is the phrase that i think best describes alinea's service style. servers clearly know the dishes inside and out, and are very approachable and open to questions and comments about the food while never taking anything too seriously.
as expected, the meal was completely delicious and also lots of fun. the seafood presentation that filled the table at the beginning of the meal was incredible, and the three spring themed courses that followed were fantastic, with the rabbit dish being my favorite. from there, however, the meal was a bit too similar to our visit last april. six of the final eight presentations were either exact repeats (hot potato, black truffle explosion, ginger, balloon) or similar concepts (duck???!!!, final dessert) from our previous meal. while theses dishes were certainly awesome to have again, i wish that we had gotten to try some new dishes that wowed just as much. i have no problem with the hot potato and bte staying on the menu permanently (i prefer hot potato by the way) as they are too incredible to remove, but i will say that after three services, i am a bit tired of the final dessert (even if the ingredients change).
this meal made me wonder where alinea is going from here. is the tray with 60 ingredients now a mainstay? will the balloon be replaced by something equally novel? can chef achatz come up with a finale that tops the tabletop presentation? at one point, i figured that the restaurant would definitely be a once a year stop, but now i am not so sure. after having two meals over a year apart that were so similar, i can't say that a return next year is inevitable. i still feel alinea is easily the best restaurant in chicago (and maybe america?), but i doubt i will go back until some serious changes to the menu/format are made.