Alinea Restaurant, check out my tips and review for this unique dining experience in Chicago. This Michelin 3-star restaurant is a creative experience with an incredible menu.
I generally don’t do a lot of restaurant reviews, but I had such a unique experience recently at Alinea in Chicago that I wanted to share my tips and a quick review for others who may be contemplating trying it out.
So when I was recently in Chicago for a conference with my friends Marianne (Basil and Bubbly) and Lucy (Southern Food and Fun) and her husband, I jumped at the chance to try out this dining experience at Alinea.
Ok, so I did hesitate for a brief moment because it is a bit expensive. However, I figured it’s a one in a lifetime kind of thing and decided to splurge. More on the price later, but a little background and history first.
Michelin 3-Star Restaurant
Located in Chicago, Alinea is one of only 14 Michelin 3-Star restaurants in the United States at the moment. This rating system is used by the Michelin Guide to rate restaurants on their quality. Restaurants are rated from one to three starts, with three stars being the best and very difficult to obtain.
Chef Grant Achatz
Chef Grant Achatz is the brainchild behind Alinea. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and worked at several famous restaurants including Charlie Trotter’s and The French Laundry. Besides Alinea, he also operates a handful of other restaurants and bars.
Ok, so the obvious, this experience is NOT cheap. But hold on and keep reading before you rule it out based on cost alone…
There are several different dining and drink options at Alinea. Prices are subject to change of course but as of today (June 2019) here are the options:
- The Alinea Kitchen Table – A private and intimate dining experience. Must book as party of 6. $395/person for prepaid table of 6
- The Gallery @ Alinea – Seating is on the first floor with a 16 to 18-course menu. Must book as party of 2-4. $295-$360/person
- The Salon @ Alinea – Seating is in one of three, second floor rooms with a 10-14 course tasting menu. Can book as party of 1, 2, 4, or 6. $205-$275/person
PLUS there is a service charge (20%) and tax (11.5%) on top of the above prices.
Prices also do not include drinks. You can order drinks by the glass that night or can also order a wine/beverage pairing option for the entire experience. Price may vary depending on which option you choose above (not positive…) but the full wine pairing is roughly $145/person. Or you can just get water for free if you are watching the budget.
The menu changes regularly so expect the prices to change depending on when you go, but this should give you a rough idea. Prices are also listed on their website so be sure to check for the current options.
We opted for The Salon. Partly because the others sold out so fast and that was the only option left. Four of us went and we decided against the wine option. It came out to $300/person with the service charge and tax. We ordered drinks by the glass that night.
You have to prepay to book your reservation and depending on which experience you choose you may need to book the entire table at once.
Final summary, be prepared to pay at least $300-$500+/person depending on which option you choose and drinks.
Tables sell out fast! Be prepared to prepay for your table and keep in mind it’s non-refundable. You may have to be flexible with the date/time.
It’s best to keep an eye on the website as more dates are released but generally, dates/times are released the 15th of the month at 11am central time, two months in advance.
You don’t really need “tickets” but will receive a confirmation receipt after you book.
So I’ll admit I thought for sure I’d be starving after and thought I’d want to run out for a cheeseburger and fries. That was not the case whatsoever. I was actually quite full and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of food.
None of the courses were HUGE by any means, but by the end of the night I was satisfied and had more than enough to eat. Many of the courses also had multiple elements and were way more than just a “bite”. Several courses even included a small drink (one being a cocktail, spicy margarita to be exact…).
When you sit down they inform you that you don’t get a menu because they want everything to be a surprise. When each course is brought out, the servers give a lengthy description of all the elements and main ingredients. How the servers remember all of it is quite impressive. (Sidenote: The servers were fantastic all night!)
Don’t worry though, when your meal is finished, they do give you a nicely printed copy of the menu with a brief description of each course. Not the full description of everything you get from the servers, but a really nice memento to keep.
The menu does change regularly but to give you a general idea, here is what I enjoyed that night (as printed on the copy they gave us…):
- Contrast | Osetra, Sesame, Yogurt
- White | Asparagus, Jamon, Basil
- Kaeng | Scallop, Mustard, Chili & Glow | Lemongrass
- Ink | Octopus, Scallion, Black Lime
- Stem | Morel, Oxalis, Goat Butter
- Tail | Pork, Trumpet Royale, Huckleberry & Branch | Maitake, Acron & Tea | Matsutake, Lemon, Thyme
- Rossini | Wagyu, Frites, Fois Gras & Ear | Woodear, Truffle
- Transition | Yam, Delice, Apricot
- Wood | Hoja Santa, Tamarind, Chocolate
- Nostalgia – Corn | Popped, Caramel, Liquid & Balloon | Helium, Green Apple
So it’s kind of looks like it’s in another language, but don’t let that scare you, it was all very good. The photos and descriptions, do not do it all justice. Presentation is over the top, plus lots of surprises along the way.
One of the courses was even served in the kitchen so our whole room (multiple tables) walked down to the kitchen at the same time and enjoyed a small bite and cocktail right in the middle of the kitchen.
The balloon you see in the photo below was fully edible and filled with helium! Such a fun and crazy course that I will remember always.
Allergies & Dietary Restrictions
Alinea will make accommodations for severe allergies, religious preferences, and major dietary restrictions (such as vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan) with at least a 72-hour notice. However, they will not accommodate aversions and dislikes.
Let’s be honest here though. If you have a lot of food dislikes and a picky eater, this experience is probably not for you in all seriousness.
The “official” dress code on the Alinea website says “smart casual” including no ripped jeans, t-shirts, hats or tennis shoes. Jackets are not required although I did see many men wearing them. I would say I saw a wide range of casual to dressy, but nothing overly formal and nothing really casual. Dress pants/blouse or simple skirt or dress for women, and dress pants, button up shirt, and optional jacket for men.
- Keep an eye on the calendar for dates/times to open for reservations. They sell out quickly!
- Try not to ask for special dietary requests if possible so you can get the full experience.
- Leave the kids at home. Although older kids are welcome, I’d suggest not bringing them unless they are HUGE foodies and willing to try everything. I did not see any children the night we went and note there is alcohol (in some of the courses).
- Wear something comfortable. The experience can last 3-4 hours.
- Go with people who will enjoy the experience as much as you! You don’t want to listen to people whining for hours.
Who Should Go?
If you are a foodie, food blogger, food writer, adventurous, or just love new and exciting experiences, you most likely will enjoy.
Who Should Not Go?
If you are a picky eater, have a lot of food allergies/aversions, wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the cost, or can’t sit still for 3-4 hours you may not enjoy.
Yes, going to Alinea is a lot of money. No, this restaurant is not for everyone. However, it’s a 3-4 hour experience that is part theater, part art, and part food. From the centerpieces that changed throughout the night, to the wide variety of courses, to the drinks, to the smells and ambiance, it’s really like no other.
Would I go again?
The food and experience were incredible and WAY above my expectations. I can’t even begin to put into words how truly magical the whole night was.
I went into this thinking this was a once in a lifetime kind of experience but now I’m saving money wanting to go back to Chicago to try one of the other experiences.
So, that would be one big fat YES I would definitely go back and would highly recommend!