Reporting back on my Chicago trip:
Thank you again for your recommendations Chicago chow hounds. Let me preface by saying, I've been very fortunate to dine in world class cities such as Yountville, Manhattan, Vancouver, Tokyo, Paris, London, Shanghai and Sydney. In case my review seems harsh.
1) Alinea did not knock my socks off. It was like a dinner and theatre setting. Kind of gimmicky. It was playful and whimsical but I did not get the usual euphoric food high. I actually found some of the flavor notes similar between courses - too salty or too sweet or recycled sauce bases. It met my expectations but did not exceed them. I also found the service lacking. It was good but not the top notch, well orchestrated service I've come to expect from Michelin starred restaurants. I've gone ahead and uploaded my menu. My favorite part of dinner was the pastry chef's free form painting. Perhaps, I'm just not a fan of modern gastro molecular cuisine. I've been told Alinea treats their repeat diners much nicer by sending out additional complimentary dishes that make first time diners feel underwhelmed. Alinea's food preparation and execution was exact though. I'm sure numerous hours went into making a real life looking strawberry and tomato gelatin taste yummy. I did not feel I was overcharged for my meal. It just wasn't one of the best meals I've had.
2) Boka was a dark horse and undiscovered gem. I was slightly trepidatious I was able to book so easily last minute. However, my worries slowly alleviated starting from the minute the host, Aaron?, opened my door once he saw me walking towards their entrance from a distance. By the time the appetizer course came out, all worries had dissipated. Their service is STELLAR, just superb. Reminds me of my NYC dining experiences which makes sense because chefs are EMP alumunus. Let's face it, most of us are not dining out at fancy restaurants every night of the week. It's normally because we are celebrating a special occasion or our meals are being expensed. Hence, service is a pivotal point of the whole fine dining experience. Boka is able to walk that fine line between warm friendly professional. My server Nicole was genuinely enthused about her job and very knowledgable about the menu when I asked for recommendations. I tasted quite a few dishes:
Beet salad*- my favorite; compliments of the kitchen
Poached egg - also very tasty
Foie gras - very interesting (good) rendition; not like the usual pate we've been accustomed to
Chicken*- I'm not a fan of chicken but this dish knocked my socks off. I was amazed they were able to make chicken breast so moist
Duck - also delish
Beef short ribs- probably my least favorite out of the three but still good
I was beyond stuffed at this point but still managed to order the pumpkin beignet dessert to taste. That was really good. The kitchen sent me another complimentary dish - a cute square box with cocoa dusted marshmallows and chocolate hazelnut.
I discovered Metropolitan Brewing Beer through the server's recommendation. It's a locally based brewery that's quite tasty. The beer can be hard to procure at liquor stores in Chicago. Trader Joe's Lincoln Park used to carry them but not anymore. Let me say the cocktails are just amazing at Boka. I ordered four and for reference I can barely finish half a glass of wine because I am such a lightweight. The previous night, I overheard Alinea sending patrons over to Boka to try their cocktails.
Boka also serves La Colombe coffee beans, which a lot of the fine dining establishments in NYC also use.
Boka's food was the highlight of my Chicago trip. Colleagues had recommended I try the restaurants under the BRG group such as Girl and the Goat, Little Goat and Momotaro. Perhaps, next time.
3) The Purple Pig was just a random place I went to because I got hungry strolling along Mag Mile. I strolled in and proceeded to order a couple dishes to tie me over until dinner. I was very surprised how tasty the food was. I ordered the tuna, burrata and octopus.
Thanks again Chowhounds! Cheers!