Sure, there’s a fair amount of cockiness to a restaurant that doesn’t even bother to put its name out front. But Alinea, which has been named among the top restaurants in the world, clearly isn’t having many issues drawing diners to its unmarked Lincoln Park digs. A 10-to-18-course tasting menu with wine pairings at Chef Grant Achatz’s fine-dining Xanadu may cost as much as a mortgage payment, but think of it as dinner and a show. Serving vessels might be made of hand-carved ice; food could be smoking; dessert just may come in the form of an edible helium balloon. Three different options for dining are available: The poshest is the Kitchen Table, which overlooks the food preparation drama; next is The Gallery Menu, which is 16 to 18 courses; The Salon Menu is the most subdued (which isn’t saying much!) at 10 to 12 courses.
The menu changes in number of courses and offerings (the current one is 18 courses), but is consistent in its blow-your-mind factor. Take that famous dessert course of a translucent, floating, apple-flavored balloon that you suck in, only to then talk like Mickey Mouse from the helium. Past highlights have included a dessert that’s literally painted on the table as you watch, taking the form of modern art; leafy branches used as skewers for a goose course; and aromatic pillows that release scents, such as nutmeg, as you dine.
I should note that if you do go to Alinea, you may want to make arrangements for someone to watch your kids. You’d think that would be a given, but there was an uproar years ago when a couple brought their 8-month-old baby to the restaurant. The child was actually allowed to stay, mind you, but the couple, who were never named, were completely castigated by media (and, of course, online commenters) for taking their child to dine in a library-quiet restaurant for a meal that, without wine pairings, will run two people more than $730. If you can afford that, you can afford a sitter.
You must purchase a ticket in advance to dine at Alinea, and prices change according to the date and time that you plan on dining. It’s best to nab tickets months in advance, to be safe.