pepsican (54) @ $13.99, Iowa | July 6, 2014
60 AMBIANCE 4/5 SERVICE 8/10 SELECTION 1/15 FOOD 9/10 VALUE 8/10 OVERALL 17/20
Why is this on here? Whatever. I was served a sake, no beer, so the "selection" was pretty bad. Only 2 options for drinking were offered on arrival, a standard pairing and a reserve pairing. The standard runs $150, reserve was $250. Splitting a pour with your wife or getting a half pour is not allowed, which is a real bummer when most places of this caliber offer that option. Having had 2 or 3 cocktails before arrival and wanting to function after the meal, I ended up not finishing all of the alcohol offered. Bummer. Maybe a bottle of wine poured total per person btw, usually stuff in the $25 range. Some obscure options, others pretty familiar. All of the pairings were nice really, maybe not the sake.
Anyways, the ambiance of this place is fine. The hallway walking in, the 5 minutes of hanging out in the (spotless, quiet) kitchen, and the seating is more than comfortable for a meal of this length. That being said, we had a harsh blue light radiating our table which didnít feel quite right. Also, it feels a touch dated inside, probably why they are closing down and moving to New York for a few months to reinvent the interior.
Service is Spot on. A touch cold, arrogant, ruthless, damn near flawless. But still, only damn near flawless. A few miscues a night shouldnít happen at a 3 star level, but we are human. One of our taffy balloons popped on our waiter as he was approaching the table. I couldnít imagine what that would be like if it popped on my suit, ugh. Maybe itís time to retire that one. The hot potato/cold potato soup was dropped off improperly and the truffle fell in the dish before it was eaten. The waiter promptly removed all platings and brought each of us a new dish, but still. Finally, I noticed our waiters bringing one of our courses up the stairs just as I was getting up to go to the bathroom. He seemed a bit chuffed about it. Maybe he was just mad he had to walk up and down the damn stairs all day, I donít know. Near flawless, but not perfect. Fine.
The food overall was great, probably top 5 meal experiences Iíve had. They really try to hit you visually, aromatically, and personally. This is difficult to describe, but certain flavor and aroma combinations brought me to different places in my life Pretty damn neat. Like all tasting menus, you get some things that you donít care for. Ginger five ways was gross. The edible balloon wasnít much of a thrill, and the final dessert tasted like shitty hot chocolate. Also, for a final course itís way too large, probably the biggest portion of the evening. Probably the biggest let downs of the evening were the lack of courses and stale menu, and no Achatz in the kitchen. Items I had read about years ago were still on the menu. Alinea also built its reputation on having a 20+ course tasting menu where we were only served 14 dishes. And while Mike Bagale is probably completely capable as chef, I still have to wonder if he is creating food on a 3 star level. I donít blame Achatz for stepping down to focus on creating a brand name for himself, but I really hope Bagale can mature and produce food on a higher level and create a faster turn of new and unique dishes. Itís close, really close.
Value wise, itís about on par of other restaurants of its caliber. Expect to drop $550-$675 per person depending on what pairings you choose after tax and tip. Iím giving scores based on what I expect from this place, so my idea of "value" may be higher than yours.
Overall, Alinea was quite an experience from start to finish. A few tweaks and I could see it being the best restaurant in Chicago. I plan on returning again around the same time as I went last year as Iíve heard the menu has been overhauled quite a bit and course count is higher. Really looking forward to it for everything but the beer selection, which again, sucks.