ALINEA: Food porn

SPOILER ALERT: Don't read this if you're planning to go to the restaurant Alinea in Chicago anytime soon and want to be surprised (the waiter told us it's about a year before the whole thing changes over, done gradually over time).

For best background, watch the Chef's Table episode about Alinea (or click here to read a recap)

The space is dominated by a large communal table. Whimsical bird ornaments are hung, and the middle of the table is covered in a towering pile of tulle. So much that we couldn't see our friends on the other side of the table. When the meal starts, servers in unison pour a pile of what look like frozen peas, plinking gently in the room of silent staring diners (they taste like peas, but no peas you've ever seen) into a dish with flowers, and then pour a cold parmesan soup over it all. They each grab a hidden bottle in the tulle and pour it into their respective tall bottles. Immediately, smoke shoots out of the bottle and fills the room with an amazing floral scent. We are invited to help ourselves to the birds, made of black sesame and pea flowers. We are also handed a warm cheese ball (a Pão de Queijo, we are informed). Everything is absolutely the best tasting thing ever, particularly the whimsical crunchy birds.

After that, we are invited to join the kitchen for a bite. Everyone files in dutifully, appreciating the choreographed activity of at least a dozen people intently focused on mysterious tasks. A tiny woman describes the bell pepper ice she's shaving into glasses to accompany a spicy margarita with at least three ingredients I've never heard of before. Perched on a wooden pedestal is a puff of something that's a cross between an empenada and a quesadilla but more delicate and with a bean flavor but no visible beans. After what seems like mere moments, we are invited back into the dining room to discover a FULL SCENE CHANGE. Gone is the communal table covered in pink tulle; it's been replaced by small modern silver tables. The room has no doors except the one we came in (leading to a short narrow hallway), so it seems like magic that no one noticed what was happening. Excellent sleight of hand.

Our waiter quickly responded to our friendly banter and wasn't at all the stuffy sort you normally find at a Michelin rated establishment, which was quite fun. The meal continues for many courses, including one with animal print dishes and a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra music to accompany a steak Diane cooked in front of us. A course of shellfish, including a curry soup drunk from a glass conch shell, an amazing barbecued octopus, and a crab bite perched a glass crab. There's a rabbit themed course, where king oyster mushrooms are grilled in front of us (but they don't tell us what they are, just that we shouldn't touch the fire). It's unlike any other meal I've ever had, and I'm no stranger to foodie adventures.

It's all finished off by wait staff on ladders climbing up and taking down the lit up panels attached to the ceiling. One neon red sheet, and a black acrylic placed over it. While a sweet scented haze is pumped in, a chef comes to each table with an assortment of dishes and proceeds to make sauce art in green, orange,  and pink, occasionally dumping dusts and clumps about in a Pollock inspired masterwork, capped with two chocolate covered morsels and two large baseballs--the final gesture is that the chef taps the baseballs and they burst open (they are bananas of a sort, not ice cream as they first appear). Each table's artwork is different, not that I got much of a chance to check the other tables out before people dug in.

I walk out full (though not super stuffed, which is always great!) with amazing delicacies and a surprisingly good show, not to mention fantastic wine pairings throughout.

It was pretty gosh darn incredible.

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