Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Chicago’s Alinea Restaurant: How to spend $1,000 on dinner for two . . . and not feel ripped off

By Ben Hart

Here’s what happens when two average Americans stumble into the #1 restaurant in North America (#6 in the world). It’s not just hype. The food really is amazing.


My wife Wanda and I had the good fortune of having dinner the other night at Alinea — rated by both Gourmet magazine and Restaurant magazine as the #1 restaurant in North America. And it’s rated the #6 or #7 restaurant in the world (depending on who’s rating it).

We had to make a reservation two months in advance to get in on a Thursday night for a 9:30 p.m seating.

The meal cost a cool $1,000, but could have easily cost $2,000 (or really just about any price) if we had really gone full hog. We ordered the standard wine medley, for example, rather than the premium wine medley. “Standard” was plenty good enough. Who knows what the “Premium” wine medley would have cost?

Grant Achatz: The genius chef who is Alinea

It would have been tough for a couple to get out of there for less than a grand. Perhaps you could do it by forgoing the wine completely, but then what would be the point?

Clearly, you don’t go to this restaurant if money is any kind of concern.

Fortunately, we had a gift certificate — a Christmas gift from some dear friends. So that was awesome. We got to see how the super rich eat.

Do you remember the restaurant scene in the Steve Martin movie LA Story?

Steve Martin had to fill out a credit application before they would take his reservation, and the restaurant had to put a lien on his house.  When Martin’s meal arrived, it was the size of a quarter. It was a satire on the expensive LA restaurant scene. Well, this could have been a satire of the Steve Martin satire, except this is real.

There was one female Asian patron who arrived, sat down by herself, and ate dinner alone. Apparently, she treats this place like McDonald’s.

Wanda and I seemed to be the only ones actually talking at the restaurant. I guess everyone else was just focused on the food.  We had a real little party going on in our corner.  Some of the patrons did not appear amused.

The couple closest to us said nothing to each other the entire meal.  Their age was 40-ish. I wonder how their marriage is going. They spent most of their meal staring at us.  I guess we were their entertainment. Only they weren’t smiling . . . at all.  Their look was more one of disdain. Perhaps they didn’t like Wanda’s tattoo.

We got quite a few glares when we pulled out the Flip camcorder to record some of the proceedings.

And when Wanda started taking photos with the flash, the staff rushed over and told us no camera flashes — but that it was okay to take photos without the flash.

Except at our table, there wasn’t a lot of laughing going on.  Actually, there wasn’t any. These people were deadly serious. This was not a fun crowd.

We really didn’t care much about getting good grades on “deportment”  here. For $1,000, we were going to have fun.  I always got terrible grades in school for “deportment” anyway. When I was 12, my teacher told my mom: “Your son is doing okay in most of his subjects, but he’s getting a D in deportment.”

“Deportment.” I love that word. Still not 100% sure what it means.  It just sounds like a word a teacher would use.  How should I deport myself?

Odd Artwork

One of the oddest features of the place is the “art” on the wall. When you first look at the “paintings,” they just look like white canvas.

Here’s what I mean. Take gander at this painting on the wall behind the waiter.

Look at this "art" at Alinea on the wall behind the waiter

But if you look really closely, you can see very faint gray patterns — the kind of patterns I might have made with my spirograph toy when I was seven. You have to look super closely to actually see this art. It would also help to have some kind of high-tech visual aid  – perhaps an infrared light gizmo (or something). Then you might be able to see it.

The thought did cross my mind that there’s something not right about spending this much on dinner. There are, after all, people starving in Africa and elsewhere.

Seems a bit over the top.  Of course, the value is determined by the laws of economics — supply and demand.

The fact is you have to make a reservation at least two months in advance to get a seat at Alinea.  That should tell you something.  No doubt, a big reason people go to Alinea is to find out how a meal can be worth $1,000 and why people are willing to wait two months for the privilege of paying the tab.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what George Carlin would say about this place.

Carlin’s response might be something like this . . .


Jokes aside, the food really is amazing and is the creation of the genius chef Grant Achatz, who is just 36 years old.

Ironically, he was diagnosed last year with cancer of the tongue. Some kind of diabolical cosmic joke, no doubt thought up by Satan himself.

Thank God Achatz appears to be okay now.

Achatz is clearly a genius, a perfectionist, who is driven by a passion for his craft.

If you admire and respect excellence, you can’t help but be impressed by Achatz and what he’s achieved here.

The value is always in the eye of the beholder.  To some, a Picasso is nothing extraordinary, while another was willing to pay $106,500,000 for this . . .

Clearly, this art patron would have paid less if he could have. He had to pay this, or he would have lost out in the bidding. So that’s what this Picasso is worth.

If you hand a pygmy a bag of gold, he won’t know what to do with it.  I felt a bit like a pygmy at Alinea, knowing that I did not know enough to fully appreciate the dishes that were being put before me.  But I did know what I was seeing and tasting was great.

We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience Alinea.  The experience is well worth the $1,000. Given the choice, I always prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things.

Experiences are priceless.  Things can always be replaced.  And this was an experience I’ll never forget.

What happens is you are served a 21 course meal.  Each course consists of between one and four bites of food. Then it’s onto the next course.

It takes two people to bring each course, each of which arrives with a new glass of wine that is specially suited to that particular course.

Don’t be fooled by the small designer portions. After 21 courses, we felt plenty stuffed.  I could not have eaten another bite.

You do not choose your food. There is no menu.  They ask if you have any food allergies. You then just accept whatever they bring you. You get a menu at the end of the meal that tells you what you ate.

The meal was not just a meal. It was high art.  Achatz is the Picasso of the kitchen. Not only is the food gorgeous, it’s absolutely delicious. I have never experienced tastes like this.

Here’s a review from Gourmet magazine, which (unlike me) actually knows what its talking about when it comes to restaurants and food . . .

GOURMET: You couldn’t believe it when you heard it. The story of Grant Achatz’s health seemed too cruel, too ironic, the stuff of Greek tragedy, not real life: the brilliant young chef, just reaching the height of his powers, stricken by cancer … of the tongue. Shakespeare would’ve scrapped it, going out for a long walk to clear his head. But it was true, and a year later, Chef Achatz is doing well. I’m glad for him as a person, certainly, but I’m also relieved for us. Achatz and his restaurant, Alinea, are important.

There are restaurants where, after I’ve eaten, I badly want to work in the kitchen. I want to see what goes on in there, to learn the food with my head and my hands. After eating at Alinea, though, what I want to do there is to work as a waiter. Grant Achatz is a genius. I don’t use that word lightly, and I don’t see the point in my trying to learn to be a genius. I want to be a waiter at Alinea simply so that I can see the looks on people’s faces as they eat his food.

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CRAIN’S: Lincoln Park’s Alinea has again been named the top North American restaurant on a list of the world’s best, adding yet another

Genius Alinea Chef Grant Achatz. Age 36

accolade to its growing list of awards.

The six-year-old establishment was ranked No. 6 on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The rankings, compiled by U.K.-based Restaurant magazine, were announced Monday at a London ceremony.

Last year the restaurant landed at No. 7, making it the top-rated spot in the United States.

“We are incredibly proud of our staff and appreciative of our patrons,” Nick Kokonas, who co-owns Alinea, said in an email Monday. “What an honor to be No. 1 in the U.S. and North America for the second straight year.”

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TIME MAGAZINE: We live by a saying at the French Laundry: Do a little better each day. This lesson Grant Achatz, 36, took to heart very

early on in his career. He got it. You saw it in his intense gaze. This singular purpose allowed him to overcome many adversities and successfully establish Alinea and Next, distinct, thoughtful restaurants that refine the standards of our profession through Grant’s visionary take on modernist cuisine. I have always believed that there are many cooks in the world but not many chefs in the true sense of the word. Grant exemplifies the modern chef — and nothing, not even tongue cancer, has impeded his vision and desire.

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The 50 best restaurants in the world, according to Restaurant magazine:

Rank Position Restaurant Country Awards
1 Noma Denmark The S.Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the World. The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant in Europe
2 Up 2 El Celler De Can Roca Spain
3 Up 2 Mugaritz Spain
4 Up 2 Osteria Francescana Italy The Chefs’ Choice sponsored by Electrolux
5 Down 2 The Fat Duck UK
6 Up 1 Alinea USA The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant In North America
7 Up 11 D.O.M Brazil The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant In South America
8 Up 1 Arzak Spain
9 Up 2 Le Chateaubriand France
10 Per Se USA
11 Down 3 Daniel USA
12 Up 12 Les Creations de Narisawa Japan The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant In Asia
13 Up 3 L’Astrance France
14 Up 15 L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon France
15 Up 2 Hof van Cleve Belgium
16 Down 3 Pierre Gagnaire France
17 Up 2 Oud Sluis Netherlands
18 Down 3 Le Bernardin USA
19 Re-Entry L’Arpege France
20 Up 28 Nihonryori RyuGin Japan Highest Climber Sponsored by Lavazza
21 Up 1 Vendome Germany
22 Down 1 Steirereck Austria
23 Up 7 Schloss Schauenstein Switzerland
24 Up 26 Eleven Madison Park USA
25 Up 9 Aqua Germany
26 Up 1 Quay Australia The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant In Australasia
27 Up 1 Iggy’s Singapore
28 Up 7 Combal Zero Italy
29 Up 4 Martin Berasategui Spain
30 Re-Entry Bras France
31 Up 15 Biko Mexico
32 Down 12 Le Calandre Italy
33 Re-Entry Cracco Italy
34 New Entry The Ledbury UK Highest New Entry Sponsored by Silestone
35 Down 12 Chez Dominique Finland
36 Down 5 Le Quartier Francais South Africa The Acqua Panna Best Restaurant In The Middle East and Africa
37 New Entry Amber Hong Kong
38 Down 2 Dal Pescatore Italy
39 Up 1 Il Canto Italy
40 Down 14 Momofuku Ssam Bar USA
41 Up 2 St John UK
42 New Entry Astrid Y Gaston Peru
43 Up 6 Hibiscus UK
44 Maison Troisgros France
45 Down 4 Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee France
46 Down 9 De Librije Netherlands
47 Down 33 Restaurant de l’Hotel De Ville Switzerland
48 New Entry Varvary Russia
49 New Entry Pujol Mexico
50 Re-Entry Asador Etxebarri Spain

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