I was excited for months about Alinea, expecting most incredible meal of my life. I was sure my hard earned 300 dollars would be more than worth the experience. Perhaps these expectations were too high.
The most disappointing aspect of the meal was the service. I normally do not make a fuss about service, even when it is sub-par, but when I pay 300 dollars for a meal I at least expect it to be pretty good, and for most of our meal the service was good, but there were a few things that just seemed unprofessional. Granted, my dining partner and I were only 18 years of age, but I do not feel we were treated properly, especially considering the price of a meal and the reputation of the restaurant. One specific instance in which I experienced less than ideal service was when the "Garden" centerpiece for the salad course was brought to us. The gentleman explained that this was a garden made of local lettuces, that we should admire it and it would later play a role in one of the courses. He then went on to say that we "shouldn't play with it" as it "could make a mess" and that that "wouldn't be fun for anyone." I found this somewhat condescending at the time, and tried to forget about it in order to enjoy the meal.
Another aspect of the service I found to be unprofessional for a restaurant of this caliber was the way some of the waitstaff acted in front of the guests. I noticed the waiters looking over at the tables(including ours) while whispering to each other, and occasionally laughing. While I do not know whether or not they were simply trying to be attentive to the guests while joking with each other, or if they were actually making jokes about the guests, this behavior seemed unprofessional regardless.
Now to the food
Most of the food we had tasted very good, and some of the courses(Hot Potato Cold Potato and the Wild mushrooms with pine mousse) were some of the best Ive eaten, but some of the courses were not as good as I was expecting. The Hamachi( hamachi with ginger, pineapple and west indies spices, battered, fried and served on a vanilla bean skewer) tasted more like a funnel cake than it did hamachi. The yuzu snow was underwhelming as well: an very small amount of something that resembled sleet more than it did snow. The Agneau(Lamb with choron and little browned potatoes) tasted pretty good, but the way it was portioned and plated, it was very hard to eat using the provided silverware. The yuba stick with shrimp and miso sauce tasted like a good bar snack you might get at an Asian inspired Gastropub but was a complete mess to eat; I got sesame seeds everywhere. It seemed some of the courses(Yuba, Lemongrass straw, Hamachi) emphasized novelty over superior taste. Some may say that's the norm with the type of cuisine Alinea does, yet I've had at least one meal (Town House in Chilhowie, VA) where both novelty and originality did not eclipse incredible flavor in the dishes. Let me say no dish tasted bad, or even ok; all of them were good. I just wish more of it tasted incredible.
Perhaps I had created unrealistic expectations about the food, but the service was clearly disappointing for a restaurant with three Michelin stars. I do not regret spending my money for the meal there, as I had some incredible dishes and learned more about my own philosophy of food, but I can't say I can't wait to go back.
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614